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Money Management

So, you’re thinking about adding some plastic to your wallet. You want to take advantage of as many bonuses and offers as possible, and you definitely want to earn cash back where you can. You may even be thinking about travel hacking, where you open a number of new accounts in order to reel in a number of introductory point, mile, and cash back offers. Where do you look first?

524 rule

Chase offers a wide variety of credit cards with different perks, including low-fee balance transfers, travel rewards, rotating cash back categories, and even 5% back at Amazon. They are one of the more prominent card issuers, and frequently issue large sign-up bonuses to encourage new customers. Chase, however, has an interesting rule that makes them stand out when it comes to travel hacking.

The 5/24 Rule

You may have heard about their 5/24 Rule, especially if you’ve spent any time researching card hacking.

Simply put, if you’ve opened up 5 new accounts in the last 24 months, you’ll be denied for most Chase credit cards. This rule is all but inflexible, even with calls to customer service to beg them to reconsider. This is unfortunate, as it could lead to you missing out on some of the largest sign-up bonuses seen on credit cards to-date.

One important note: there are numerous reports that being pre-approved in a Chase branch for these cards leads to approval for the card. Anecdotally, I traveled to New York City last November and was approved in-branch for the Chase Sapphire Reserve at 12/24 accounts. So, this work-around could be a possibility if you live near a Chase branch.

Check Out Its Brother Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you’re considering taking on the travel hacking game (beware: it requires strong organization skills and a lot of attention to detail!), Chase should be high up on the list of issuers to pursue. You’ll be applying for credit cards regularly, so you’ll quickly exceed the limitations for the 5/24 rule. For example, in the last 24 months, I’ve applied and been approved for 15 cards. In the world of travel hackers, that’s not even on the high side of new accounts.

Cards Not Under 5/24

The following cards are reportedly not under Chase’s 5/24 rule:

  • Amazon Prime Rewards Visa (I was approved last month at 13/24)
  • British Airways
  • Fairmont
  • Hyatt
  • IHG
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Disney (both Rewards and Premier)
  • AARP
  • Marriott Business (note: there are conflicting reports on this but I was approved last October at 11/24)

Note that these credit cards will still result in a hard pull and the opening of a new account. So, if you’re interested in them, you should prioritize them after you’ve put yourself past the 5/24 threshold.

Which Card First?

First of all, a disclaimer: if you’re getting into travel hacking, here’s the criteria you need to meet:

  • Have an excellent credit score (I would put this at 720+, if not 740+)
  • Pay off your credit card statement balances in full each month
  • Be disciplined and organized with your money
  • Be able to meet the minimum spend on a new credit card without being financially irresponsible
  • Be unafraid of spending time doing research — there are no shortcuts here!

I would prioritize Chase cards as follows:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  2. Chase Sapphire Reserve
  3. Chase Ink Preferred
  4. Chase United MileagePlus Explorer
  5. Chase Marriott Rewards
  6. Chase Freedom
  7. Chase Freedom Unlimited
  8. Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier

Note that there are more than 5 on this list, so you’ll have to do some research as to which card is right for you. The Chase Sapphire and Ink lines earn Ultimate Rewards points. These offer flexible and valuable redemptions across a number of airlines and other travel partners. The Chase Freedom line offers cash back perks as statement credits. The other branded cards like United and Marriott offer brand-specific points and miles.

I’ve prioritized the United and Marriott cards ahead of the Freedom cards for a few reasons. First, it’s possible to change your credit card to the no-fee Freedom cards after some time. So, if you’re a Sapphire Preferred cardholder and you’d like to discontinue paying the fee, it’s possible to change that card over to a Freedom.

Second, the bonuses for those two branded cards are relatively valuable at the moment. The United offer at 50,000 miles is higher than it was in 2016. The Marriott points are now eligible to transfer to Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express at a good rate (3:1).

If I were just getting into travel hacking, I would be going straight down this list. You may be put off by the Ink Preferred being a business card, but applying for a business card isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Many people run small self-owned business through eBay selling or Etsy shops, and it’s perfectly reasonable to have a business line of credit for those expenses. The process is nearly exactly the same as a personal application; you’ll just need to provide some information about the type of business you operate.

To 5/24-ers and Beyond

My advice to the unfortunate folks who are past 5/24: don’t worry about it. While some of these bonuses are stellar (the previous Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus at 100,000 points was great while it lasted), the sheer number of other card issuers and bonuses means that there’s no shortage of great perks to be had.

Lately I’ve been focusing my efforts on airlines like Delta and American, as well as Membership Rewards points through American Express. New cards are constantly being rotated in and out. So, it’s more important to be able to jump on the higher bonuses when available, than to worry about getting back under 5/24.

Best of luck out there, and happy travels!

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Whether or not you should pay more for quality is a decision that comes up often when shopping. The answer varies depending on the product.For some purchases, paying more is a giant waste of money which would be better spent elsewhere. For other items, it’s well worth the additional investment up front to ensure a quality product that lasts. So, how do you decide?

buyright

This question could be asked of virtually any purchase, so we can’t cover them all. However, here are seven examples of popular purchases and our verdict on whether it makes sense to pay more for quality:

Cars: Pay More for Quality

When it comes to buying a car, especially a used car, going with the cheapest option could be a big mistake. There are plenty of stories of people who bought used cars thinking they were getting a deal, only to discover the car needed costly repairs. Although state “lemon laws” exist to protect consumers in situations like those, you may not discover the car’s problems right away. Ultimately, you could be left with a vehicle that costs you more than expected.

It’s worth it to pay more for a quality car that has a clean history and is up-to-date in its maintenance. Buying cheap will likely cost you more in the long run. A completely new car might be out-of-budget for many people (and isn’t the best idea from a personal finance standpoint, anyway!). Buying a late model used car can be just as good as new, though, and you’ll likely be able to extend the warranty on it.

Homes: Pay More for Quality

Things like location and square footage are important factors to consider when purchasing a home. These shouldn’t be overlooked solely for the sake of price.

Unlike an ugly kitchen that can be remodeled, the big concerns will be difficult (or impossible) to change later on. Buying a home that’s in a bad neighborhood or is too small for your family can make you incredibly dissatisfied after a while. Turning around and selling the home too soon after buying is not only a headache, but can also make you lose money.

Learn as much as you can about the homes you’re considering for purchase. If you don’t find the ideal place right away, that’s absolutely fine. House hunting can take months before you find the right property for you and your family.

Smartphones: Don’t Pay More for Quality

You’re probably familiar with absurdly high-priced smartphones like the Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S series. With these phones costing $500 and up, many consumers opt for payment plans. They have a monthly installment added to their cell phone bills in order to even afford the device.

However, if you want a high-functioning smartphone, a $500+ device isn’t your only option. There are competitors who make comparable smartphones that come with top of the line specs as well. For example, the ZTE Axon 7 will cost you about $400 and comes with a sharp camera, generous storage, and an attractive design. Another example is the Moto G4 Plus, which costs $299. It comes with an HD display and a long battery life.

Part of the reason high-priced smartphones are so popular is because they’re seen as a status symbol. If you’re just looking for a reliable smartphone, you can definitely forego the brand name and still get good quality.

Mattresses: Pay More for Quality

You go to sleep on a bed every night. Why not pay a little more to ensure your mattress is comfortable?

Getting a mattress that’s made from durable and high-quality materials can make a big difference in how well you sleep and how pleasant your body feels. Whether you choose a bouncy innerspring mattress or a firm memory foam mattress, you usually get what you pay for in terms of quality. A good mattress can last up to 10 years. But a poor quality one could have broken springs or stagnant memory foam after just a couple of years.

Mattresses can cost thousands of dollars. But you don’t have to pay that price. Department stores like Macy’s have sales throughout the year that can save you a considerable amount of money on such a large purchase. Be sure to also shop around at local mom & pop stores near holiday weekends (like Labor Day), as many of them will be willing to negotiate the price with you.

Walking/Running Shoes: Pay More for Quality

Foot health is important, but often overlooked. Many see foot pain as unavoidable and as something you just have to deal with when you’ve been on your feet for long periods of time. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. High quality walking/running shoes can not only prevent foot pain, but can also support your soles and offer breathability.

Although high quality walking/running shoes offer better support, they do experience wear and tear just as any other pair of shoes would. If you use them daily, it’s recommended to replace them about every six months. This may come as a large expense to you if you’re not used to buying top of the line shoes or replacing them that often. But it’s worth it if it means preventing pain and promoting good foot health.

Batteries: Pay More for Quality

If you have small children with lots of electronic toys or otherwise use electronics often, you know how important it is to have long-lasting batteries. Dollar store batteries just don’t hold up to the trusted brands, Duracell and Energizer. In fact, some electronics specifically call for high-quality batteries in order to function properly. I’ve experienced this with my digital camera.

If you look at some dollar store battery packages, you’ll even see recommended purposes for the batteries. The recommendations are usually for low-drain devices like alarm clocks or television remotes. When it comes to high-drain devices, like a video game remote control or a digital camera, you’ll want to pay more for high-quality batteries.

Sunglasses: Don’t Pay More for Quality

Sunglasses are eyewear that protect your eyes from the ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. As long as your sunglasses protect from both types of UV rays, you don’t have to worry about the price of them. Beyond that, you often pay more for style. Just look for the sticker that indicates the UVA/UVB protection. It might also say “100% UV protection”, which means the same thing.

Sunglasses, in general, are fragile. To decrease the likelihood of breaking them, try not to keep them in your pockets or hanging from your shirt. The best place for them when they’re not on your face is in a case.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of times when paying more for quality equals a better product. There are also times when, clearly, it doesn’t. When you’re considering a purchase, really take time to think about and research whether the increase in quality is substantial enough to warrant paying a lot more. This is when it’s important to do things like read online reviews, to further examine your choices.

What other purchases can you think of that warrant paying a bit more for quality… or some that don’t?

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The concept of the Latte Factor is one of the most divisive in personal finance. Money gurus get so worked up over whether the Latte Factor is a valuable lesson in money management, that one might think the issue were as important as the national debt. Most of the time, passionate responses pertaining to the Latte Factor are based more on book sales and page views than any rational consideration of the issue, though.

latte

The Latte Factor is a term coined and trademarked by financial author and guru David Bach. He posits that small, repeated savings — of which people can make into habits — can aid the growth of wealth over time. The math supports this as truth: Assume you spend five dollars every weekday on a fancy, coffee-related drink on the way to your office. Now, imagine you cut out the coffee, or replace it with a $1.50, less-fancy drink. You would save at least $20 a week, or about $1,000 a year.

Take it a step further and put that money in a bank or invest it. Then, assume that you can earn a return from interest, dividends, or investment gains on that cash. Over the next ten years, you’ll have somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 more to your name than you would have, had you continued buying your daily gourmet drink.

Take it a step furtherLatte Factor Coffee

This concept isn’t limited to expensive coffee-related drinks, though. Any habits that result in spending money that could be deemed unnecessary can qualify for elimination due to the Latte Factor. Cook your own food rather than dining out once a week, and you could save just as much money (or more) over the same period. Cut out your premium cable package in exchange for Netflix or Amazon Prime streaming, and tuck that cash away.

Most people, however, don’t bridge the gap between reducing spending in one area and increasing savings with the difference. Unless there’s a concerted, conscious effort to transfer money from a checking account to a savings account or an investment, the money formerly spent on lattes or other repeatable expense will often just be spent on something else.

Furthermore, families that have already reduced their spending due to personal or economic situations may not have much room left to scrape the barrel. Finding additional savings can be too much to ask.

Yet another criticism of the Latte Factor is that it minimizes the importance of reducing large expenses. If a family gets into the habit of saving money ordinarily spent on lattes and uses that attitude to justify buying a more expensive car, all the work will have been for naught.

Well, I take that back: the work would have been for a more expensive car. But, in my opinion, there are about 100 better uses for that extra, squirreled cash.

Do what works for you

All spending is a choice. It’s easy to remember this when a friend refuses to spend time with you, citing the expense of the activity, while they continue to purchase unnecessary electronics equipment, for example. You can identify someone’s priorities by looking at how they choose to spend the money they have and the time they have available. If you look at your own priorities, your budget should match.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re broadcasting your priorities to the world. Spending money and time in one area of your life, at the expense of another area, is really all the evidence you need. If there’s incongruence between the priorities you think you should have and how you spend your time and money, consider changing something. Or maybe, you need to accept the idea that your priorities may not be what you expect. Your real priorities are evidenced by how you spend your limited resources.

So, what if the pick-me-up you receive by drinking a fancy latte in the morning is important to you? As long as you realize that your habit results in a hypothetical “loss” of $10,000 or more over the course of ten years, spend the money. Sure, buying a practical car that requires little care, uses fuel efficiently, and will last a long time can save money over the course of several decades. But if buying a less practical car makes you feel happy and won’t be a financial hardship — even if it means leasing a new car every three years — then go ahead.

Just remember, though: Your spending reflects your priorities.

I see this in my own spending. For example, I still drive my old Honda Civic. In one respect, I haven’t purchased a new car because I see it as an unnecessary expense. I’m more than comfortable with keeping the money I would need to buy a new car in my savings account. Meanwhile, I spend money on things other people would see as frivolous, such as photography classes and equipment, hiring a maid service for my apartment on a bi-weekly basis, coin collecting (though not much recently), and travel.

Is the Latte Factor relevant to your personal finance experience? What does your spending say about your priorities? 

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Along with losing weight, getting out of debt is the most popular New Year’s resolutions in the United States. This resolution, like all others, unfortunately tends to be forgotten within weeks. Well, if you resolved to get out of debt this year — and haven’t yet abandoned that idea now that we are at the end of January– here are some ideas for not losing sight of the goal.

CLIMB DEBT

Don’t focus on zero debt, focus on financial freedom

Debt is at worst slavery; at best, it’s willful indentured servitude.

Say your family takes home $2,500 per month from your job after taxes, but your credit cards, loans, and rent/mortgage total $2,000 each month. This means that you work only one-fifth of your hours for yourself. The remaining four-fifths of your time at your job is exclusively for your creditors. You might as well just hand your paycheck over or work off your debt directly with the credit card companies.

Unlike slavery, though, you are free to leave this arrangement (your job) at any time. You just need to simply quit and look for another job with a pay increase. However, that is not always a simple or practical solution.

If it motivates you, think about what you would do with your freedom from debt. Without having to pay credit card companies, you would have the freedom to choose where your take-home pay goes. If you want to save up for a vacation, place pictures of your favorite getaway spot around your house.

Replace bad habits

Excessive shopping can be a habit. Many compulsive shoppers who go into debt do so because shopping helps them deal with difficult emotions like anger, frustration, and stress. The excitement of shopping helps to temporarily improve a person’s mood. But this habit can be replaced with a healthier alternative.

If starting a shopping trip helps you deal with difficult emotions, replace shopping with jogging, running, or another physical activity. While the act of spending money improves the mood of habitual shoppers, physical activity improves anyone’s mood. This is due to endorphins — natural, mood-altering chemicals released by the body in both situations.

Make getting out of debt fun

The concept of “fun” is personally subjective. One thing that I find fun, someone else might find mundane.

For example: when I was in debt, I liked watching the colorful monthly reporting graphs in Microsoft Money get close to crossing the x-axis of $0 net worth. I fully understand that might not motivate everyone the same way.

Related: How and Why to Track Your Net Worth

Rewards can be great motivators, too — just make sure they aren’t big rewards that will impact your finances negatively. Paying off a student loan and then blowing $200 on a steak and lobster dinner, for example, isn’t very smart. Do something small, yet still enjoyable. You could treat yourself to a movie night every time you pay off a credit card, or plan that weekend hike that you’ve been meaning to do. Celebrate at every possible milestone, but within reason.

Visualize your debt reduction

Losing weight is easy to visualize. Improving finances? Not quite so easy. I’ve seen videos posted online involving time-lapse photography to illustrate weight loss over time. One photograph is taken each week at the same location and in the same position, so when played consecutively from start to finish, the change over time is apparent. You may not realize it, but you can do the same with your debt.

Here are a few visualization tips:

  • When you pay off a credit card, cut it up using a shredder. Save the plastic confetti in a bag and watch it expand as you blow through card after card.
  • Look at your credit card statements before you go to sleep each night. The bad dreams you have will subside when your statements are small enough that they don’t cause anxiety.
  • Here is an extreme option, for those who REALLY need a motivator: If you’ve paid off 20% of your mortgage, paint 80% of your house in a color you don’t like. Once a year, determine how much more you’ve paid off, and paint the corresponding amount in a color you do like. You’ll be encouraged to pay off your mortgage in full just so you can live in a house painted the way you prefer.

Learn More: Should You Ever Cancel a Credit Card?

Do something positive every day. The key to making a resolution stick is to keep it in front of you every day. If your loan or credit card allows you, and if you are not charged an extra fee, make small payments every day before you go to work. Look at your net worth in Mint if it reminds you of your goal. Work an extra hour if it means you’ll get more money for paying off your debt.

Recruit your family and friends. Having a support system is vital, but many people don’t want to let people know about their financial troubles. I think it’s important to have at least one person you trust to talk to about financial issues. It helps to share goals like this because they are often not real until they are spoken out loud with a witness. If no one is aware of your goal to pay off debt, it’s easier to admit defeat without first offering 110 percent of your effort.

Consider your financial options. To truly get started you need to make some financial decisions. It is true that anything you do is better than nothing, but you need to have a plan. First, can you consolidate your debt onto one low-rate card? Call your credit card issuers and ask; the phone numbers are on the back of each credit card. Do you qualify for a loan through a peer-to-peer network? If you have a good credit score, you might find favorable loan terms.

Decide how fast you want to get out of debt and how much you want to pay. If you want to pay the least and succeed the fastest, you’ll want to examine the Debt Avalanche method. If you believe that a small success earlier on the path is important to keep you motivated, check out the Debt Snowball. Research your options and give it thorough thought.

What tips do you have for keeping a resolution to get out of debt?

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Millennials Don’t Use Credit… But Should They?

by Abby Hayes

A recent survey by Bankrate showed that many millennials don’t carry credit cards on a day-to-day basis. In fact, just 33 percent of those surveyed in the 18 to 29 crowd even owned a credit card at the time of the survey. People in the 30 to 49 category carried significantly more plastic, with about 55 percent […]

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Can You Afford to Stay Home With Your Kids?

by Mike Collins
stay home

This is a guest article by Mike Collins, creator of Wealthyturtle.com. He shares with us how he and his wife decided to become a single-income family, and he offers some useful advice for those struggling with the same decision. Most new parents will at least consider the idea of living on a single income so […]

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The Financial Checklist Manifesto

by Jeff

There are so many different ways to organize, prioritize, and classify your tasks and responsibilities. You’d probably need a couple years just to sort through all of them on your own. You can have an organizer on your computer, your phone, in your pocket, or a notebook. If you’re short of paper, you can just […]

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How to Create the Ultimate CD Ladder

by Rob Berger
cd-ladder

The low interest rates offered by even the highest-yield savings and money market accounts are disappointing for savers. Even as the Fed starts to raise rates, savings account yields haven’t budged. So, do we just give up the idea of earning anything on our savings? Well, not necessarily. One alternative is to create what’s called a CD […]

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11 Ways to Start Preparing for the Holiday Shopping Pinch

by Abby Hayes
holiday-pinch

Does your New Year usually start with a resolution to pay off all that debt you racked up during the holiday shopping season? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Holiday retail sales increased 3 percent in 2015, and many consumers carried that extra spending into the new year in the form of new debt. The key […]

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A Review of the Personal Capital Financial Advisory Dashboard

by Kevin Mercadante
percap-dash

Looking for a way to simplify how you manage your finances, from your spending to your credit cards to your investments? Personal Capital’s financial dashboard may be just the tool for you. This all-around financial management tool is easy to use, tracks all of your financial information, and offers investment advising, to boot. The free […]

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