Does Your Budget Matter? Build Wealth With Small Sums

Does Your Budget Matter?

When it comes to investing money and building up a nest egg, does your budget matter? It’s commonly assumed that it’s impossible to save for the future unless you have thousands of dollars stashed away. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Today, more than perhaps at any time in history, it is possible to start a nest egg for with minimal expense. Here are some steps to take to build wealth at any income level. Even a dollar a day can really add up over time.

Your Budget Doesn’t Matter: Pay Yourself First

These three words make up a very important piece of advice. When you fail to save money on a monthly basis before you pay all of the bills, it’s likely that there will be nothing left over to save. This savings should be automatic. If your employer allows you to save in a 401k, have the funds taken out before you see them. If you only have access to a savings account, be sure to have a bit taken out of every check. Even $5 or $10 a week can build up over time.

Choose Your Investing Platform

There are many different options when it comes to investing. Your local bank or credit union probably has savings accounts and certificates of deposit that you can use to stash money in the short term. They won’t earn much in the way of interest under most conditions. When you get up to $500 or $1,000 in savings, it’s probably a good idea to move toward a brokerage. While the bank might have a broker that can help you buy stocks and bonds, it’s likely that they’ll charge an arm and a leg.

There are tons of online brokerages, and many of them are discount brokerages in nature. It’s possible to invest via Loyal3 and pay nothing in brokerage transaction fees. I’ve used both Loyal3 and TradeKing for cheap brokerage options.  TradeKing only charges $4.95 for trades and offers options trading.

Think About Index Investing

I’ve personally started using a dividend growth model for investing. I’m looking at the amount of income that my portfolio can provide. If you’re looking more toward capital gains, this might not be the best option for you. Even Warren Buffett told his heirs to invest his estate in index funds. These funds have minimal fees and track an index like the S & P 500. They do not attempt to beat the market like regular mutual funds. Traditional funds that try to beat the overall market tend to charge high fees, and these fees tend to cut down on your actual investment returns.

Warren Buffett and Barack Obama
Warren Buffett and Barack Obama, public domain via Pete Souza

Buffett often points out his optimism for the American economy over the long term. Therefore, he’s committed to investing in America. He’s been pretty successful so far, so it’s probably a good idea to listen to what he thinks about investing.

Look For Additional Income

If you’re asking the question, “Does your budget matter?” because it’s pretty tight, it might be a good idea to look for additional income. This might involve getting a second job. It might involve starting a business as a side hustle. It might involve trying to earn bonuses for opening bank accounts or credit cards. Here are some ways to earn money online without spending a penny.

This additional income, even a few dollars every week, can be the basis for increasing the amount that you have in your nest egg. As the nest egg starts to grow, it will build its own momentum. Many people have talked of building a dividend snowball that starts to grow on its own as more capital and dividends get added to the snowball. Over time, you might l awake to find that your snowball is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Even index funds will tend to pay out dividends that can go toward buying more shares.

Regardless of how much you make, anything above your actual expenses can go toward building wealth. The time to start is today. The younger you are, the more time you have to build your nest egg over time.  The answer to the question at the beginning of the article, Does Your Budget Matter? is a definite no.

Disclaimer: Some of these links are affiliate links that can may compensate me should you sign up for a product or service. Also, I am not an investment professional. This article is intended only for educational and informational purposes, so be sure to perform due diligence before investing in any securities.

Travel Hacking: My Introduction to a Great Opportunity

One of the coolest opportunities that is out there for most people is travel hacking. This “hobby” gives ordinary people who are far from trust fund babies like Donald Trump’s or Bill Clinton’s kids the chance to get out and see the world without spending a fortune. I had no idea that it even existed until I was well into adulthood, but I soon learned that it could really benefit me.

My Idea of a Great Vacation as a Kid

When I was a youngster, I really enjoyed going to amusement parks. My family went to Kings Island in Ohio just about every year in my youth. I really liked it and pushed to go back. My youth group at church would go. My family would go. Some years, we’d go to Kings Island and Carowinds in North Carolina if we were lucky. My parents got bored with the whole “let’s go back to Kings Island” spiel, but it’s what I was comfortable with. I went on a few trips to church camp and three trips in high school, one of which took me to Arizona, that I really enjoyed, too. Flying across the world never really crossed my mind at this point.

The Eiffel Tower at Kings Island
Replica of the Eiffel Tower at Kings Island in Mason, OH

My Introduction to the World of Travel Hacking

After I proposed to my now wife, I set toward planning a honeymoon. I’d never been outside the US at this point, and we decided upon a week in Cancun. This would be my very first time ever on a plane. It would also be pretty much the last vacation that I’d pay full price for. About this time, a new accountant started working at my office. This guy told me he’d been to Hawaii. FOR FREE. I pretty much thought this was an impossibility, but I asked all about how he got to a tropical paradise that I figured I’d never visit because of the cost.

Enter Marriott Rewards

He then proceeded to tell me about the Marriott Rewards program. Needless to say, I wanted to learn more. He told me about the vacation package that you could get through Marriott’s loyalty program. Enough points would give you a free week at a Marriott hotel and frequent flyer miles to get you there. Wow. How can one get these here Marriott Rewards points? I wondered.

He then told me about the Marriott Rewards credit card that gave you points every time you stayed in a hotel owned by Marriott and a point for every other dollar you spent. Beside that, if you got approved for the card and made a single purchase, you’d get a bonus of 10,000 free points. This bonus is laughably small compared to what Marriott offers today, but back in 2003, it sounded like a good idea.

My First Travel Card

I talked to the new wife about this idea. She was cool with it, so I ditched my old AT & T Universal card that acted as a calling card and a credit card (I’d gotten it before the days of anyone and everyone having a cell phone. People actually used pay phones and hotel phones in those olden days). I applied for the Marriott Rewards card. I excitedly used it as soon as it came in to get the bonus points.

Not long after, we decided that perhaps my wife could qualify too. We saw an ad for 20,000 bonus points after the first purchase, plus a FREE NIGHT. We thought this was a great deal. Again, this bonus is pretty laughable compared to what’s available today. The newer Marriott Rewards Premier card now offers 80,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in three months. It also offers a free night to offset each renewal of the annual fee.

Off to Hawaii Via Marriott Rewards

It took more than two years of spending on the card, the two bonuses, and staying at Marriott hotels when out of town to build up nearly enough to pay for a week at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Honolulu. Back in those days, seven nights at what was then a category 5 hotel took 110,000 points. I was just short and bought a few thousand points to make it happen.

My account didn’t have enough to get the package deal with the airline miles, but I did get tickets for $448 from my small-town airport in the Eastern US. I also had a $50 coupon for a United flight from an Entertainment book that I bought to get buy-one-get-one deals at restaurants. This brought the final cost for $398 for each ticket to Honolulu. Needless to say, I thought this was a big score. I got to Hawaii for about $1,200 total and got to stay in a nice resort.

Travel Hacking Since

In those early days, I rarely got new credit cards, thinking it was a good idea to avoid having too many. I’d heard that too many would hurt your credit score. If you’re responsible with them, they really don’t. It took me several years to get enough miles and points to get my next trip, which landed me at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino, another Marriott property in a tropical paradise.

CasaMagna Marriott Resort Puerto Vallarta, part of a travel hacking trip
Entrance to CasaMagna Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta (photo, again by your’s truly) I actually paid for this hotel, but got my flights for taxes only.

Since the trip to Aruba, I’ve been more aggressive with the travel rewards cards. I’ve earned bonuses from the new Chase Sapphire Reserve, as well as the older, but still good, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Chase Freedom. An upgrade with a new Marriott Rewards Premier card also earned me a hefty bonus. I’ve been able to take highly discounted trips to Los Angeles/Disneyland, Paris, and Mexico over the past few years. Additionally, I’ve got another trip to Europe planned with points and miles taking care of most of the cost.

Bottom Line on Travel Hacking

If you’re responsible with your finances, and you can pay off all of your credit card bills every month to avoid interest costs, you too can travel the world. Signing up for one of the cards listed above can be a good start that can help you achieve some dreams you might have thought outside your ability to achieve. Travel hacking has changed over the past couple of years, and it’s more difficult to score as many bonus points. However, the opportunities that remain are definitely worth taking advantage of.

Have you been able to take advantage of travel hacking? If so, let me know in the comments. Also, be sure to sign up for updates by filling out the email form at the top of the page or follow me on Twitter.

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How To Get To Israel Cheaply

There are few places on earth that hold the special place that Israel does for Christians (and Jews). When it comes to taking a pilgrimage to a religious site, none will rank higher than the geographic location that Jesus actually inhabited during his time on earth. Here are some tips that can help you get to Israel without totally breaking the bank.

Most Christians will likely think that getting to Israel is beyond their means. This is not necessarily the case, and singles and couples can find it fairly easy to check Israel off of their travel bucket lists with fairly small out-of-pocket expenses. Even families have options that can help them alleviate many of the costs. The following post will look at 1. How to get to Israel with frequent flyer miles, 2. Cutting down on lodging costs, and 3. Saving money on day trips from Tel Aviv to some of the leading sites within Israel.

How To Actually Get To Israel

The first step to take when looking at how to get to Israel cheaply is to find out what airlines will actually get you there from the US. Fortunately, there are three major alliances that allow travelers from the US to get to the Holy Land without actually flying on United, Delta, or American all the way over. With partner airlines, it is possible to fly to Israel without breaking the bank. Unless you’re looking to stop over in a European city that allows for cheap flights to Israel from the continent, you’ll probably be better off using Star Alliance, which is United’s partnership, or SkyTeam, which is Delta’s. You’ll want to search for flights to Tel Aviv (TLV), as it is the main airport in the country.

It should be possible to get enough frequent flyer miles to travel to Israel with one or two credit card signup bonuses. United will get you to Tel Aviv for 42,500 miles and $5.60 in economy class, depending upon the airport you leave from. Periodically, the United Mileage Plus credit card will offer a signup bonus of 50,000 miles, and this cache of points would pay for a one-way ticket on its own. It’s also possible to get to TLV for 35,000 Delta SkyMiles and $167 or to get back for the same number of miles a $208.49.

Have Plan, Will Travel

Once you have a plan in place, you can start to look for actual flights to get to Israel. Note the image below that shows a flight from the US to Tel Aviv on United in April 2017 for 42,500 Mileage Plus miles and $5.60. I chose to search from Fargo, ND, to show that it’s possible to get to Tel Aviv on points without departing from a major hub.

United Airlines flight to Tel Aviv
Fargo to Tel Aviv, on United Airlines award ticket

American Express frequently offers bonuses that are higher than the 35,000 needed for a one-way flight to or from the Middle East on a Delta credit card. Additionally, both American Express and Chase offer flexible points programs that allow for transfers airlines that could help. Both of these programs allow for trasnfers to the Flying Blue program that’s run by KLM and Air France. Flying Blue treats the Middle East as part of Europe so it might be possible to save points this way. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months after approval. The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year.

Staying In Israel

There are some pretty reasonable lodging options in Tel Aviv. Expedia lists several apartment options. The cheapest rate for one of these apartments is lower than $100 a night for Spring Break. There appear to be similar options available for Jerusalem although they are fewer in number. Those who want to stay on points at the same time could have nearly enough for three free nights at the Sheraton Tel Aviv just by meeting the minimum spending for the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express.

Get To Israel, Then Use Free Nights

It would also be possible to get two nights from the signup bonuses from the Marriott Rewards Premier card or the IHG Rewards card. The Marriott card has an $85 annual fee, but you could use its 80,000 point bonus in coordination with the Starwood bonus to get five nights at the same hotel in Tel Aviv. Marriott recently bought out Starwood, and it offers the fifth night of a stay on points for free. The Hilton properties that are available would be cost prohibitive when paying with points, but the Hilton HHonors Reserve card offers two free weekend nights for a $95 annual fee. All of these cards could be mixed and matched to extend the length of your free stay.

Get To Israel, See Temple Mount in Jerusalem
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem CC BY-SA 4.0 via Andrew Shiva, Wikimedia Commons

When considering how to get to Israel cheaply, lodging is definitely a portion of the expense that you need to take into account. On that note, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card offers users at least $530 of free travel that could go toward lodging or the taxes that arise from flying to Israel, but this might also be useful for another purpose as noted below. When thinking about where to stay in Israel, remember that Jerusalem is going to have more of the holy sites, while Tel Aviv is going to be better for those who want to spend some time on a Mediterranean beach. Of course, staying in Tel Aviv and taking day trips from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or other famous sites could give you the best of both worlds.

Day Trips In Israel

Now that you’ve figured out how to get to Israel, regardless of where you’re looking to stay during your time in the Holy Land, it’s probably going to be necessary to take a couple of day trips to places like Jerusalem, Masada, the Sea of Galilee or the Dead Sea. There are Christian and Jewish (and even Muslim) sites all around Israel, and if you’re looking to walk in the steps of Jesus, these trips can help you check some important items off of your bucket list. Again, credit card signup bonuses can take care of some of the costs. A card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus could reimburse you for your day trips in Israel if your tour operators code their transactions in the travel category. Here are some of the best day tours from Tel Aviv as noted on Trip Advisor.

When Looking At How To Get To Israel Cheaply, Credit Cards Can Make It Happen

With even one or two credit card signup bonuses, it is possible to substantially cut the cost that you might think necessary to visit Israel. With three or four, it could be possible to spend just a few hundred for ground transportation , food and souvenirs. You can handle lodging, flights and tours with points and miles. Families might have to be a bit more creative, but it is still possible to save hundreds, if not thousands, on a trip to Israel. You just need to pool the bonuses and thinking about one-way tickets and other nontraditional options.

Have any other ideas about saving money on a trip to Israel? Any questions? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

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Setting Goals To Achieve Success

Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. This is a common refrain that I’ve heard many times in my life. Another example is the statement that those who aim for nothing will hit it every time. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want to fail to hit anything. This is why I’ve decided to start setting goals. The beginning of a new year is a good time to set up new goals.

Consider How To Get There

The most important step in setting goals is knowing where you want to go in life. Perhaps you want to become an engineer. This would require going to school for an engineering degree. The same goes for becoming a teacher, a lawyer, or a doctor. If you’d rather become an entrepreneur, schooling might not be quite so necessary. There are many successful entrepreneurs who haven’t completed a degree, among them are such billionaires and Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. However, these innovators had big ideas and the technical know-how to achieve their goals.

Set Up Checkpoints To Measure Success

It’s a good idea to break up major goals into smaller chunks. This is where short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals come into play. In the example of getting an engineering degree, the long-term goal is getting the degree and getting licensed. A good short-term goal might be passing Calculus 1. After getting through the short-term goals, the medium-term goals will become the new short-term goals. Evaluating goals is a constant necessity.

Here are some goals that I’ve been interested in.

Setting Goals for Passive Income Can Lead to Financial Success

I recently read the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin. Questioning some of the purchases that we frequently make can help us cut expenses that require life energy to pay for. When we make more money than we spend, what’s left over is capital that we can use toward an emergency fund or toward building passive income. I’ve decided after reading up on blogs like Dividend Growth Investor that trying to build up a portfolio of dividend growth stocks like Omega Healthcare Investors and Coca-Cola can provide a growing stream of passive income through growth in the annual dividend payments and through the deployment of additional capital. My long-term goal is building up enough passive income to pay for living expenses. My short-term goal might be to get to $1,000 in forward dividend income by the end of the year.

Setting Goals Can Lead to Passive Income
B&O Stock Certificate, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Online Earning Could Be A Smart Goal

While it’s possible to build up passive income with many jobs, many people will have a problem having enough excess capital to grow much passive income on their main salary. This is where earning a bit of money on the side can help. This excess money can then go toward savings if it’s not required for paying ordinary living expenses. It’s also possible to earn quite a nice sum from making money online. There are many lists online that offer ways to make money, some without spending a penny. I’ve used these methods to earn thousands over the past few years.

Paying Off Debt

Debt can really be a drag. The more you have, the closer you might be to financial ruin. It’s hard to grow a strong stream of passive income and a solid net worth with massive amounts of debt. Setting goals for paying down debt over time can lead to a great achievement that can definitely aid in your overall financial success.

Achieving Travel Goals

I love to travel. Therefore, some of my goals have to do with visiting some cool places around the US and the world. I had a goal of taking my family to Europe on the cheap, and I was able to do so. However, before I could, I had to figure out a way to pay for most of the trip’s possible expenses with frequent  flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. I achieved this goal with some well-timed credit card signup bonuses like the ones offered on these five credit cards that you could get in 2017.  I’m already strategizing two trips ahead with the credit cards I’m using.

The process of setting and achieving goals can be a great process that can help you gain the success that you’re looking for.  Setting up mileposts along the way can help you gauge how you’re doing in the process. If you don’t set any goals, one thing is certain. You won’t accomplish them.

Have you set any goals this year? Let us know in the comments.

Also, if you’d like to keep up with new posts and ideas for maximizing your resources in life (including time), be sure to sign up for email updates in the box at the top of the page and via our Twitter account @moneyinpajamas.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Take Two–Approved

Back in August, when the Chase Sapphire Reserve card first came out, I was super excited at the opportunity to get the killer 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points that came with the card after meeting a minimum spend. I’ve referred to this as the “Mother of All Credit Cards.” As I’ve noted before, I was rejected when I applied for the Sapphire Reserve.  I decided then to bide my time and wait a few months before applying again. I intended to wait until February or March because I wanted to make sure that I was able to offset the entire $450 annual fee , which is quite hefty, over two calendar years.  Imagine my surprise when I woke up on Wednesday morning and found out via Million Mile Secrets that the Reserve’s sign-up bonus was about to get halved.

Applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve

I decided to jump immediately and go ahead and try to get the top travel credit card that I wanted to get in 2017, albeit a bit earlier than I wanted to get it. Applying was the first thing that I did after logging onto my laptop that morning. I sat down and filled out the three pages on the application and then waited on the decision. It seemed that it was taking quite a while, but it was probably less than a minute. Regardless, I was a bit nervous that I would again get the notice of a pending application, which generally means no. I was thrilled, however, when the next page popped up and noted that I’d been approved for the card.

Visa, MasterCard, and American Express
Credit cards via Wikimedia Commons

After I get the Sapphire Reserve in the mail, I intend to start using it exclusively so that I can meet the $4,000 spending requirement so that the 100,000-point bonus will kick in.

What To Do With the Sapphire Reserve’s Bonus

There are several different options when it comes to spending 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points. You could take four round-trip saver flights within the US on United Airlines.  I’ve seen one-way flights from Denver to Las Vegas or Los Angeles for just north of 2,000 Rapid Rewards points on Southwest Airlines. This bonus would take care of nearly 50 one-way flights between many US cities, and could also pay for at least four flights to Mexico from the US on Southwest, depending upon the date and whether any sales are ongoing from your departure city at the time you book. I got four tickets to Puerto Vallarta for about 23,000 Ultimate Rewards points when transferring them to Southwest last year.

It’s also possible to get two round-trip tickets from the US to Europe on Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue frequent flyer program with some of the discounted options that these companies offer from time to time. 100,000 would also be more than enough to get a one-way business-class ticket at the saver level or a round-trip economy ticket to just about any region of the world on United Airlines. These are just a few of the options that you could use to spend this massive cache of points, as they transfer at a 1:1 ratio to some of the leading loyalty programs around.

Additionally, if you’re looking to pay directly for flights, you could get 1.5 cents per point in value by going through the Chase travel portal. This could allow you to get multiple tickets to Europe with some of the sales that have been going on recently. Finally, you could just redeem them for 1 cent apiece and get a cool $1,000 in cash which is a pretty easy way to earn money in pajamas. Keep in mind that the sign-up bonus gets halved on January 11, so if you’re looking to get the Sapphire Reserve and the bonus, be sure to apply sooner, rather than later.  Also, be sure to check out more of my top credit card recommendations for 2017.

December 2016 Passive Dividend Income

2016 is nearly in the books. It’s now officially December 31, and all of my dividend payments for the month, and year, have posted to my various accounts. I can’t believe that it’s been more than a year and a half since I first started the process of purchasing dividend-paying stocks in an attempt to increase passive income over time. As I’ve noted on more than one occasion, I truly believe that passive income is the best income. The more passive income that I have coming in, the better my cash flow, and the better my ability to retire one day will be.

I earn dividend payments no matter what I’m doing in a given month. I’m currently on a trip to visit relatives for the holidays. I’ve had some passive income show up in my accounts while on the road. I’ve read several personal finance blogs that have effectively stated that your money can work harder than you can. This is decidedly NOT the case for me at present, but over time, if I’m able to continue the process of saving and investing in companies that pay me, I’ll be able to have money that works harder than me.

View from CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta
A view that I’d like to see in (hopefully) early retirement.

How is this possible, you might ask? I get tired. I have to sleep for hopefully somewhere around 6-7 hours every night and then take a nap on some afternoons. The money that I’ve deployed doesn’t have to sleep. I own shares of McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Unilever, and these companies sell their wares all over the world in just about every time zone that’s inhabited. Therefore, while I’m sleeping, my companies keep on making money for me, a small percentage of which will come to me in the form of dividends. I occasionally get sick. My companies still make money and pay me from their income. It’s a pretty good deal, if you ask me. In the month of December, I did better than I’ve ever done. Without dragging on the suspense any longer, here are the payments that I received in December:

Taxable Accounts:

Starbucks (SBUX)                                                                  $0.68
Unilever PLC (UL)                                                                 $0.26
McDonald’s (MCD)                                                             $2.10
Coca-Cola (KO)                                                                      $2.14
Kraft-Heinz (KHC)                                                               $0.86
Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDS.A)                                    $0.42

IRA

Southern Co. (SO)                                                             $11.20

401(k)

JP Morgan Equity Income R5 (OIERX)                  $8.11
Cohen and Steers Realty Shares (CSRSX)         $40.99

TOTAL Dividend Income in December:          $66.76

This total of $66.76 was by far and away my highest dividend income ever in a single month. I had not been including income from my 401(k) account, but decided that there were dividends coming in through it and that it would be a good idea to include it since I’m tracking dividend income. The dividend income that I reported last year was only $9.67. Had I included my 401(k) income, it would have raised that amount to $29.55.  My December 2016 income therefore more than doubled over the amount I received the previous year.

My income of $66.76 for December increases my total dividend income for the year to $241.61 if I go back and add in my 401k dividends for the year that I’ve not reported previously. These came to a total of $81.57. The $241.61 was slightly more than $20 a month on average, which would allow my to take off about one hour each month. My estimated dividend income for the coming year of 2017 is now up to $281.24 in my taxable and IRA accounts that I manage myself. I will not add in the estimated income from the 401(k) account at this point, because I have no idea how much it will be because of variations in the payouts that can be expected from mutual funds. If I estimated the same dividend income from the 401(k) in 2017; however, that would put my forward income at more than $360, or 18 hours when thinking of how much work I would have to replace in a given year at a wage of $20/hour. This is nowhere near enough to pay for my lifestyle, but its much more than the $0 that I was making just 18 short months ago.  I’ve updated my monthly dividend income earnings page to reflect my December earnings.

How was your dividend income in December? Feel free to let me know in the comments.  If you’d like to keep up with my progress, be sure to go to the top of the page and sign up for updates. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter.  I appreciate any support that you decide to give. Happy New Year.

Disclaimers: Long SBUX, UL, MCD, KO, KHC, SO; I am not a financial professional. Information listed in this post does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only. Equities can increase or decrease in value, and losses up to and including all money invested can occur. Consult with a licensed professional before making an investment decisions. 

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards To Get In 2017

What Are The Top Travel Credit Cards?

2016 is about to pass into the record books, and 2017 is about to commence. One of the major strategies I’ve been thinking about as I get ready to embark upon the new year is what the best travel credit cards that might help me achieve my goals in the near future would be. I’m already planning what cards I might like to apply for to maximize my travel benefits over the next few years. Here are 5 cards that I’m seriously considering having myself or my wifedoodle apply for in 2017.

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve

When Chase first announced its new Sapphire Reserve card in mid-2016, I must admit that it piqued my interest. 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points made up what I’ve been referring to as the “Mother of All Credit Card Bonuses” and puts the Reserve at the top of my  list of travel credit cards for 2017. Unfortunately, I ran afoul of the infamous 5/24 rule with Chase and was denied getting the Sapphire Reserve in a fail of epic proportions.

Fortunately, the wife got the card, and we set up a European itinerary of epic proportions.  While I’d like to start on the bonus ASAP, I’m waiting until around February to try my luck with another application so that I can maximize the travel reimbursement to offset the hefty $450 annual fee that comes with the card. I’ve already gotten this card as of 1/4. I learned that the 100,000 bonus was getting slashed in half on 1/11, so I risked the hard pull and got approved.

2. Chase Sapphire Preferred

I already have this card, so you might wonder why I’d want another. It’s not for me. My hope is to cancel my card when I (hopefully) get its more impressive brother, the Reserve. However, the 50,000 Ultimate Reward point signup bonus is nothing to sneeze at. For this reason, I’ll have the wife attempt to cash in on this card around the time that her Reserve card is up for a renewal of the annual fee. That way, we’ll earn more than 150,000 Ultimate Rewards points this year from the signup bonuses and minimum spends.

Keep in mind that this is all subject to approval in relation to the infamous 5/24 rule.  While the two Sapphire cards might not seem like the best credit card for travel miles, the ability to transfer them to airlines like United, Southwest, British, and Air France/KLM, among others, make them a great flexible option. They’re also two of the best credit cards for travel because they don’t carry any foreign transaction costs.

If you’d like to help support this site while signing up for a credit card, you can apply for the Sapphire Preferred with the 50,000 bonus after spending $4,000 in three months. This card has a $95 annual fee, and Chase waives it for the first year if you’re worried about having to pay out the $450 that the Sapphire Reserve requires.

This is the best offer that’s currently available publicly, but I’ll also earn 10,000 points for the first five approved referrals if you apply through the link above. You can go straight to Chase to get the same benefits, but I definitely appreciate any support you might choose to give.

3. CitiBusiness AAdvantage Card

Another of the travel credit cards I want to get this year is the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Card. This card currently has a nice 50,000 mile bonus in return for spending $3,000 over three months. These miles are limited to the American Airlines AAdvantage program, and I’m looking to top these off as we go into 2018 as I have another family vacation that I’m hoping to take to Europe and perhaps a bit beyond.  Both the wife and I have recently had the personal version, so this is likely the only chance we’ll have to score a bonus in the near future because of tighter restrictions with Citi approvals (although there is also the new 40,000 bonus from Barclaycard and the AAdvantage Aviator Red card). H/T to Million Mile Secrets for this last little bit of info.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, arrived at via AAdvantage miles and Marriott Rewards points.
AAdvantage Miles and Marriott Rewards Points got me to Paris with my family to see the Eiffel Tower.

4. Starwood Preferred Guest (Personal Version)

I’ve already earned the bonus for this card, which was 35,000 StarPoints when I first picked it up. I transferred all of my points to American Airlines when there was a 20 percent bonus promotion going on, and it went along with 10,000 bonus miles because of the 5,000 bonus for every 20,000 transferred. Now, I’ll have to let my wife apply for this one. The reason? You can transfer all of the points from the bonus, currently at 25,000, to Marriott, which is my favorite hotel chain. They’ll transfer at a 1:3 rate, which means that the bonus plus the automatic spending would be worth at least 84,000 Marriott Rewards points.

Pair Starwood With Marriott

I’ve never done this before, but I’m thinking of attempting to get one of the vacation package deals with Marriott that give a week at a nice resort (hopefully in some tropical location in Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean) and some frequent flyer miles to get there in addition to the hotel stay. I would recommend going directly through the Starwood site to get this card. I could refer you, but I think that the flexibility of the points is better than the two nights you’d get from my referral, so I won’t even give it. If you’d like to build up some Marriott points, however, feel free to check out my link to that deal by clicking on the Twitter link like the example above. Again, I appreciate any support that you decide to give the site.

Also, if you’re not yet a member of the Marriott Rewards program, you can get 2,000 bonus points for each of your first five stays for a possible total of 10,000 bonus points by letting me refer you to the program. You should let me know you want referred in the comments of this blog (you have to give your email address to post a comment), and I’ll send the email.

Then you can also apply for the Marriott Rewards Premier card. You’ll get 80,000 points, which is the current standard offer, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll get 20,000 points for the referral. Again, I appreciate any support you feel free to give me.  I would also point out that there is the possibility for 5 points on the first $30,000 of spend in the first year with another link, but the 80,000 points for $3,000 in 90 days is easier to attain and you could earn even more signup bonuses from other programs during the same year.

A Room at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino in Oranjestat

You could use your points for a room like this one that I enjoyed at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino.

5. American Express Gold Card (Personal Version)

The last of the travel credit cards I’m looking at is the American Express Gold. This card does not come with a massively huge signup bonus at this time. It’s only 25,000 Membership Rewards points, but Amex waives the annual fee of $195 for the first year and the minimum spending level is $2,000 in three months to earn the bonus. This will pair quite nicely with my recent acquisition of my first business card, the Amex Blue for Business.

I’ve avoided Delta after having been pretty much locked into them because of geography for about three years in the fairly recent past. I also ignored them because of their reputation of having a loyalty currency derisively known as SkyPesos by those in the travel rewards community. However, I recently did a few searches and found quite a bit of low-level availability to Europe…in the summer even. This made me rethink the value of Membership Rewards, and since neither I, nor my wife, has had many Amex cards, I decided it might be time to start collecting them.

Other Options?

These are only five of the travel credit cards that I’m considering this year. There are others the I might get depending on what comes down the pipe. Perhaps Amex will offer another 70,000 bonus on the Delta cards, or the Alaska Airways cards will increase their bonuses to 50,000.

Maybe a card issuer will come out with a card that no one yet knows about that will have a bonus that even eclipses than the “Mother of All Credit Card Bonuses” of the Sapphire reserve. My goal is always to find the best credit card for travel miles at any given time. These five applications are not set in stone, but they are definitely on the radar. What cards might you want to get this year to help fund your travel goals? Be sure to let us know in the comments

Disclaimer: You can go into serious debt with travel credit cards. I recommend only using them if you can pay them off in full on a monthly basis. Otherwise, the interest charges eat up the travel or cashback rewards. Apply at your own risk.

Offsetting the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s Annual Fee

Earlier this year, I wrote about getting rejected for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and its bonus that I’ve since started calling the “Mother of All Credit Card Bonuses” because of having too many recent accounts opened in my name.  Luckily, however, my wife was able to get this card because she had not run afoul of the infamous 5/24 rule that Chase has instituted. This led to our getting enough bonus points to book a round-trip flight with stops in four European cities on United Airlines for only $165–and most of the points came from this one signup bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the top five travel credit cards for 2017.

The big downer for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, however, is the massive $450 annual fee. This would cause many people to take pause. If you time your application and travel purchases right, you can also do much to alleviate this annual fee. You can actually get a $300 credit for travel each calendar year (defined by the statement end date). This means that you could possibly get paid $150 in free travel for the first year you have the card, in addition to the huge sign-up bonus. I was running down to the wire, but as the article linked above regarding booking our tour of Europe noted, I still had to book a flight from Prague to Lisbon.

I searched on Expedia.com for flights and the date that I wanted because the aggregator shows just about any flight that you can take on any airline. For a bit, the best price on this trip was a $127 direct flight on TAM Airlines, a Portuguese carrier. Just a couple of weeks ago I ran the search again, and a $95.50 flight on Czech Airlines came up. I snagged it and dutifully used both my wife’s and my Delta  Skymiles frequent flyer numbers in the process. I’m not a huge Delta loyalist, but I try to get every single mile or point I can and I figure that I’ll be flying Delta at some point in the future for one of the trips that I have planned after 2017. It took awhile for the charge to go through, but when it did, it was automatically refunded.  Furthermore, while doing a bit of traveling to visit family for Christmas, I had to stop at a hotel. Thanks to the remainder of the $300 credit, I paid a whopping $6 for the night, all while earning some Marriott Rewards points in the process.  Here’s a graph that shows we completed the credit for 2016.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel Credit of $300

I’ll have to stop at a hotel on the way back. Marriott will be the chain of choice, because one more stay before January 15 will result in the regular points for the stay, a credit for the night since the $300 calendar year rebate clock will start over again, and 5,000 bonus points that are a part of Marriott’s Fall MegaBonus. That’s what I call stacking rewards that are beneficial to my both my bank account and my rewards account. How have you been able stack rewards like this? Let me know in the comments.

Earning Money in Pajamas With Real Estate

One of my favorite sayings is that passive income is the best income.  Passive income is money that you don’t have to put any effort toward earning. It’s money that you get just by waking up in the morning. Passive income would definitely be a form of earning money in pajamas. You might wonder where that idea of earning money in pajamas and real estate investing would come in.

You Can Make Money in Real Estate

When most people think of investing in real estate, they think of the common slumlord who owns a property or ten that they bought to make some money of some poor, unsuspecting college student or fast food employee (sometimes these demographics are one and the same).  This is definitely one way that people have made money in real estate–buy a property with other people’s money and then have your renters pay the loan back. After the property gets paid off, the rent that hopefully continues to come in becomes a solid cash flow, or if you don’t want to continue to deal with renters, you can sell the house off and pocket the cash. At least this is how it’s supposed to work.

Real Estate image. Wikimedia Commons via GregoryJ77, Public Domain

You Can Make Money in Real Estate, But…

Many landlords find that they can make money at times, but there is the issue of finding people to rent out the property, or more importantly, the right people to rent out the property. Some renters will stiff their landlords and fail to pay on a regular basis. If you’ve bought the house and still owe on it, this lack of cash flow from derelict tenants can lead to negative consequences for your budget. Then, if this problem becomes habitual, you might find that it’s necessary to evict the renters. I don’t know about you, but getting the courts involved does not really sound like passive income to me.  Furthermore, renters are less likely to treat your property with care. Many landlords have found that they have to clean up big messes when their renters move out, be it voluntarily or in a more forcible manner. Some of this cleaning might require some  light construction work. I’m not terribly handy, nor do I like cleaning up messes. How then did I come to decide that I’d like to become a landlord?

Enter the REIT

As I’ve been noting in recent months, I’m investing in equities in an attempt to slow down how much I have to work for money as more of my money goes to work for me on a daily basis. If landlording sounds like a lot of work, it doesn’t have to be. I’ve decided that my real estate investments (at least outside of my own personal residence) will come through Real Estate Investment Trusts, otherwise known as REITs. These companies own properties that they then rent out to make money. The REITs that I’m investing in directly have businesses that tend to sign multi-year leases with annual increases built in as renters. I’ve owned some shares of Omega Healthcare Investors (OHI) for a few months, and I just pulled the trigger on 10 shares of Realty Income Corp (O) this past week.

Both OHI and O pay out healthy dividends at this point. They are also on sale from the levels that they were at in the summer. Additionally, the dividends that these REITs have been paying have also been growing on a regular basis. Where most companies who increase their dividends on a regular basis do so annually, Omega Healthcare Investors has been increasing its dividend on a quarterly basis for the past few years, and Realty Income has been announcing multiple increases each year. Additionally, Realty Income pays out every single month, much like a property that I’d own outright.  That’s 12 payments a year. I’m planning to build up the position over time, so my income should grow from a small beginning.

I’m getting a dividend yield of nearly 4.5 percent on O and nearly 7.5 percent on OHI. I don’t have to find renters. The management of these companies do that for me. I don’t have to clean up for tenants who move out. The companies will do that for me. Finally, I don’t have to evict anyone. The companies will do so should it come to that point. I don’t have to do anything related to management of the property. I get all of the benefits of being a landlord (as well as some of the risks) without actually having to deal with most of the hassles that come with the territory. Of course, there are risks with any investment, but I feel that the passive income that I’ll hopefully be earning while sitting in my recliner or in my office for years or decades to come will pay off big in the long run.

Disclaimer: Long O and OHI, I am not an investment professional. Information on this site is intended for educational/informational/entertainment purposes. It is NOT a recommendation to buy. Please do due diligence before investing in anything at all. 

Reminder: If you’d like to be entered into my drawing for an Amazon.com e-Gift card code that’s closing down on Christmas Eve, be sure to sign up with my email list via MailMunch. This is the popup that shows up when you first visit the site. If you’re interested in the rules for the Amazon giveaway, be sure to check them out here.

 

$10 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

Welcome to those visiting from my interview that’s the latest installment of Investment Hunting’s interview series.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. We’re about halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m thankful for many of the blessings that I have in life. This year has been pretty good so far, and I’ve been able to take a couple of trips that were enjoyable cultural experiences.  I’ve also seen my dividend income grow exponentially.

View from balcony at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta–by me

In keeping with the season of giving, I’ve decided to give a $10 Amazon e-Gift card to one lucky winner. This can be used toward a present for yourself or someone else. I’m actually going to be cashing in some of my earnings from Swagbucks, and you can earn e-Gift cards or cash by signing up at the site and completing various easy tasks like using their search engine or playing videos while you’re watching TV in your pajamas (or a business suit if that’s how you roll).  You won’t get entered into this giveaway by signing up for Swagbucks, but you can start earning points toward other e-Gift cards or PayPal cash if you do decide to sign up.  Please note that if you sign up with my link, I may earn a commission on your earnings.

Entering the actual contest is going to be pretty easy. All you have to do is sign up to get updates from the website via MailMunch. This is the pop-up that asks you to sign up after you’ve been on Earn Money in Pajamas for a few seconds. I’ve you’ve already X’d out of the pop-up, you should be able to leave the site and come back to get another chance.  Sign up. That’s it. Here are the rules for the giveaway:

Contest Duration:

The contest will run until 12/24/2016 at 11:59 pm GMT. Anyone who signs up before this deadline will be eligible to win.

Contest Prize:

One Amazon e-Gift card code that’s worth $10. The total value of the prize is $10. The winner will be responsible for putting in the code on their own Amazon.com account.

Odds of Winning:

The odds of winning are 1 in however many people sign up for my email list via Mail Munch before the deadline.

How will the winner be selected?

I will count up the number of entries received by the Christmas Eve deadline. Then I’ll input the number of entries into an online random number generator. The first person to have signed up on Mail Munch starting today will get assigned number one. The second will get assigned number two, and so forth. The person whose number comes up will get an email from me informing them that they’ve won. If they do not reply within 48 hours after I send the email, I’ll get another number from the random number generator and repeat the process until I get a winner who responds.

What will you do with my email address (AKA privacy)?

By signing up, you agree that you give Earn Money in Pajamas permission to use your email address for two possible purposes. The first is to get updates from Earn Money in Pajamas.  The second is to put you into contact with opportunities to earn money and/or travel/cash back points (for example Chase or Amex referrals). Names and email addresses are all that might be shared under this arrangement. I appreciate your support.

Making Money without Leaving the House