About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

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Down $4,000 & feeling nervous this month – September 2020 Freedom Update

September 2020 Freedom Update

September is drifting past; Virgo season is over. Summer grass to fall leaves. I feel like I’ve been plugging away – and then I look at the numbers and I’ve actually slipped.

This month, I’m reminding myself that progress is slow and steady and every month won’t have big eye-popping gains. Plus, I’m getting three paychecks in October and anticipate that will help me get caught up. As cash-heavy as I’ve been, this month my stocks took a tumble.

September 2020 Freedom Update

Life was simple in September. It’s OK to feel stuck sometimes

I napped a lot. Continued meditating. Being so heavily invested in the stock market, I feel the fluctuations even more – especially now that I don’t own real estate any more.

And several things caught up with me: a big Costco run, a higher than expected phone bill, and a few nights out with friends now that restaurants are slowly re-opening here in Dallas. So while there wasn’t a lot of growth, I used money for the here-and-now.

With the election so close and headline news affecting the stock market, I didn’t realize any gains. But I’m still putting away 30% of my paycheck into my 401k and getting stocks at a discount. I do wish I’d saved more pure cash, though. That’s why these reflections are so helpful for planning each month.

September 2020 Freedom Update

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Chase Freedom Vs Freedom Unlimited: Which Is Better for Your Spending?

chase freedom flex vs freedom unlimited

Chase has 2 great no annual fee cards that pair nicely with premium Ultimate Rewards cards: Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited.

The Freedom Flex card earns 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points in rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 per quarter in combined spending. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points on all purchases with no cap.

Chase Freedom Flex Vs Freedom Unlimited

Really gonna depend on bonus categories and how much you typically spend

Lots of peeps ask which is better. To which I always answer: it depends on how much you like the bonus categories. But there’s a longer answer beyond that: how much to you plan to spend on the card each year?

Let’s talk about the break even point and which is better for your finances.

Chase Freedom Flex Vs Freedom Unlimited

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Progress & setbacks, but up $18K anyway – August 2020 Freedom Update

august 2020 freedom update

It’s been a weird month. Financially, things have been great. But I’m getting antsy about the next life phase and been doing a lot of “hanging in there” recently.

I had the idea to buy a little house in the Memphis area and move closer to family. But waiting for things to reopen. And keeping an eye on the upcoming election. And hoping to keep my job for a bit longer.

If I can make it through September, October will be a lost month (2020 is already a lost year, so it’s almost moot). There’s going to be so much election stuff that I wonder if anything will get done. And then the results will be explosive no matter what happens. Then holidays. And my lease in Dallas is up in February 2021.

august 2020 freedom update

Meditating until 2021

I’m over Dallas. I’m only here to live in an apartment and drive to an office one or two days a week. If anything, this pandemic has shown me what I want – and don’t want.

There’s a lot of wait and see going on from every angle. But time passes, as it does. Despite everything, I’ve been socking funds away for my near- and long-term future. So I’ll be prepared for whatever that might mean for this Freedom journey I put myself on.

And tomorrow’s my birthday. 36 years on planet Earth! 👽

August 2020 Freedom Update

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5 Easy Ways to Earn Points for Airbnb Stays (Updated 2020)

save on airbnb

My friend Meghan asked if I knew of any ways to save on an Airbnb booking. I gave the obvious one – get up to $35 off a booking with a new account.

save on airbnb

New to Airbnb? Save $20 off your first $200+ stay, plus get $15 off your first $50+ experience booking

Most everyone has an Airbnb account by now. But if you don’t, here’s my link if you’d like to sign up (and I’ll get a $10 travel credit as well).

That’s honestly the biggest savings. Still, there are other ways to get a return on your Airbnb stay: earn points or miles for it. Depending how you like to redeem them, you can get big value by stacking a few of the methods I’ll tell you about.

Lezz begin, shall ve?

5 ways to earn points and miles for Airbnb stays

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What’s your credit card and points strategy these days? (The 3 cards I want now)

credit card strategy

I’ve always said, “earn and burn.” Meaning earn your points and miles, then burn them in short order. I keep my points balances low – having 100,000 points is a good enough minimum cushion for me.

Because with that amount, I can get to most places in business class one-way (and to a few in business class round-trip). It’s also enough for me to begin planning a trip. And if I need more, I can start earning what I’ll need. Usually, the easiest way is to open a new credit card.

credit card strategy

I’m accumulating points but have no idea how to use them

These days I can earn, but there’s no way to burn. I have a few cards I want, but keep waiting to apply for them. It feels pointless to have a storehouse of points and miles when most places are closed to Americans and there’s uncertainty about when we can travel again.

But my wanderlust is kicking up big time and I know when I’m able, I’ll be off like a rocket. 🚀

I’m torn between earning lots of points while I’m still in lockdown and waiting to see what happens. Who knows what devaluations and program changes are coming down the pipeline, especially with basically every airline and hotel chain massively struggling right now? It’s keeping me in a holding pattern. Not only with this topic, but with pretty much everything.

My current credit card strategy

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Allbirds: The perfect travel shoes? (Updated 2020)

allbirds review

It’s weird to write about travel shoes in the middle of a pandemic. But I wanted to refresh this article since it’s been up for a while and I have more experience to reflect on.

My first encounter with Allbirds was an article with the kinda clickbait-y title, “The Most Comfortable Shoes in the World.” I rolled my eyes a bit but definitely clicked on it. Because I like to take one pair of shoes with me when I travel: the ones on my feet. So I was curious what had been singled out as “the one.”

Before Allbirds, my go-to was New Balance. They have that appearance of “casual athletic” – and of course the big reflective “N” logo – so I’m comfort-over-style.

For the last three years, I’ve been wearing Allbirds more often than not.

allbirds review

Hanging in my Allbirds

The idea of a comfortable and attractive shoe lured me in. They come in basic colors, they’re $95 a pop, and the founders are committed to design, sustainability, and ethical standards.

What began as a six-month test evolved into a brand preference. And I still get comments about them all the time.

Each pair lasts me ~9 months. I’m on my third or fourth pair by now. Safe to say I’m now a fan.

My Allbirds review, three years later

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Inventory: The 23 credit cards I currently have – and why

Dang, the last time I did a full credit card inventory was three years ago. Can you believe?

Back then, I had 29 cards. These days I have 23, and currently have my eye on three more (ironically, all cards I’ve had before: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Premier, and US Bank Altitude Reserve).

Of the 29 I had, some I closed, some were discontinued, and others were canceled for me. And I still have a lot of them today. Let’s hop to it!

Recent mainstays

I set up each section with:

Name of card – annual fee amount – # of years I’ve had it – keep or cancel

Amex

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My first $100K: How to start investing

how to start investing

You know how bloggers say they started their site because their friends kept asking for pointers? This post on how to start investing is exactly that.

I posted on Insta and Facebook about my first $100K invested in the stock market for my retirement – separate from the cash I’m setting aside.

This milestone happened yesterday! For the first time in my life, seeing six digits when looking at my accounts – finally – was exciting.

It didn’t happen fast for me. But once I buckled down, momentum built and I nearly doubled what I had in just the past year.

This pandemic, horrible as it is, has been an advantage for saving. I’m not traveling any time soon after my weird vacation earlier this month, can’t go to happy hour because bars are closed, and have most meals at home. So my “fun slash going out” and travel budgets are going directly to savings.

If you’re in a similar spot, this is an excellent time to begin investing for your future.

how to start investing

Money Alley is a great place to be

So here’s my mini-guide. Written especially for my friends and those looking for direction. 🤑

How to start investing

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Reminder: Put a charge on all your credit cards every so often (Oops!)

use credit card

There are a lot of promotions out there right now. Due to coronavirus, many banks added bonus categories to their cards to encourage more use – which is great! The downside is it becomes easy to forget your other cards.

I often recommend downgrading cards with annual fees to their no-fee counterparts to preserve the credit line and history. Older accounts in particular can age your overall credit and lower your utilization rate, which can help your credit score.

But! Because these cards are free to keep, it’s easy to stick ’em in a drawer and forget about them. Like I just did with my US Bank Radisson Rewards Visa. 🤦🏻‍♂️

I got a letter in the mail saying my card was closed effective immediately and to destroy it because the account was inactive. Dang, US Bank – you know how to break up, don’t you? Give a guy a warning!

use credit cards

Goodbye, valiant soldier

So this is your reminder to use ALL your credit cards. Especially if you have a couple dozen floating around out there like me.

Use credit cards at least once a year

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My first vacation during coronavirus was really weird

I had to get out. My last trip was to Cabo San Lucas in early March. So for the July 4 “holiday weekend,” I met my mom and stepdad in Heber Springs, AR. It’s a cute mountain town ~45 minutes north of Little Rock.

We booked two nights at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Heber Springs. I had plenty of IHG points – and they’re the only pet-friendly place in town for a road trip with the pup.

After being home for 4 months and only leaving to get groceries, I was ready to be anywhere.

my first coronavirus vacation

What a unique name for a sandy beach

I started out by taking photos of the hotel room as if I was going to do a review and trip report like old times. Well that lasted about two seconds before I realized traveling during this pandemic is just a really weird experience.

From what I saw, about half were taking the virus seriously. And the other half were carrying on like nothing was happening. It was a really strange vibe to reconcile in my mind.

Now that I struck out and traveled, I don’t think I can enjoy trips the way I used to. It wasn’t the same. Maybe I’m not ready for the new normal?

Heber Springs, AR: The site of my first coronavirus vacation

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Condo sold, net worth return to form, & up $35K – July 2020 Freedom Update

july 2020 freedom update

Big news first: I closed on my condo on June 29! It hit the market April 22, and I got the offer on May 30. As y’all know, I’ve been on veritable pins and needles waiting for this. Now that it’s over, I’m almost embarrassed at the sheer amount of mental and psychic energy I put into it.

It drained me and consumed my thoughts. For the first time since I was little, I got down on my knees at night and prayed (for a smooth, quick sale).

This whole thing started in January when I got a small ceiling leak and morphed into this whole debilitating thing. But it’s done. And I finally feel like I’M BACK.

july 2020 freedom update

Now I live in an apartment in Dallas with the goodest boy

I’m always amazed (in a bad way) at how consumed I get with situations to the point where it zaps me so fully. That said, the last couple of weeks before closing were absolutely freaking crazy. In no way would I describe myself as being “calm.”

I didn’t post a June 2020 Freedom update because I knew the sale was pending and that it would shake up my financial situation. It did. And now I’m heading into the best financial shape of my life.

July 2020 Freedom Update

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Plastiq Payments Earn 5X Points (up to 7,500) With Citi Prestige Promotion

If you have a Citi Prestige card, there’s a promotion running through the end of August 2020. You can earn 5X points per $1 spent on “online purchases” – up to 7,500 Citi ThankYou points.

My friend Angie tipped me off that Plastiq payments are working to trigger the bonus points, so I took the opportunity to make a $1,500 auto loan payment. Plastiq is a bill payment service that allows you to pay most bills (and even individuals providing a service) with a credit card.

citi prestige plastiq 5x

Details of the Citi Prestige 5X promotion

Sure enough, I earned 7,500 Citi ThankYou points for the payment. So while that’s great, a word of caution. Plastiq is increasing the payment fee from 2.5% to 2.85% on July 1, 2020.

If you wanna get in on this easy win, you only have a few more days!

Citi Prestige Plastiq 5X points

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