Finance

Category Archives for Finance.

The 10% Plan: Save 10 Percent of Everything You Make

10% of everything!

10% of everything!

I’ve started a new savings routine that is blowing me out of the water. That sounds weird to say, but it’s true. It’s an idea I directly lifted from a book called “The Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach.

The crux of the idea is that you put 10% of everything you make into a savings or retirement account. Everything.

If someone hands you a dollar, you put a dime into savings. You make $1,000, well, $100 goes into your savings account. 10%, all the time. From the savings account, you can distribute the money in a few ways:

  • Leave it in there to serve as a cushion (it’s a good idea to have 3-6 months of expenses saved)
  • Transfer to IRA
  • Save up for a goal (down payment on a car/house, repairs/renovations, etc)
  • Pay down student loans or other debts
  • Simply save it for peace of mind

After I read “The Automatic Millionaire” I started putting this into practice. It’s been about 2 months by now, and I’m kind of amazed at how much I’ve already been able to save – automatically.

It also signaled a shift in my mindset.

Why 10%?

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Exploring Amex Serve for free money and handy uses after April 16th

Also see:

 

Since I’m without REDbird and just have Serve as an option here in NYC, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to best use Serve following its move to Amex-only cards after April 16th.

They’re really not leaving consumers with a whole lot of options, but there are a few ways to get some great value and/or handy uses out of Serve using just American Express cards.

But don’t get them from American Express

In this post, I produced a list of all the Amex cards that are not issued by American Express.

Why?

Credit cards issued by American Express will not earn points and will not count toward minimum spend when used to load Serve. Which is so lame. I’d love to be able to use the Amex EveryDay Preferred to load this puppy up.

But alas, we take what we can get.

The FIA Fidelity Amex (!!!)

Why don’t other bloggers talk about this card more? This is my number one use of this card following April 16th. I’ve written about this card in detail many times before.

The transactions post flawlessly and are coded as purchases and earn free money.

I loaded up my Serve this month with my Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard for $990 to take AAdvantage of the 50% bonus that I was targeted for a few weeks ago to earn some extra free miles.

But then I loaded up the remaining $10 to my FIA Fidelity Amex to see how it would post.

Serve reloads code as purchases with FIA

Serve reloads code as purchases with FIA

And points post without any issue

And points post without any issue

What does this mean?

You can earn an extra completely, totally 100% free $240 to credit toward an IRA, brokerage account, or checking account for 1 minute of “work” each month. I use the Serve iPhone app to blearily load up my Serve account from bed the first 5 days of each month. It takes me literally seconds. This is the easiest money I’ve ever earned in my life, I think. I consider this, by far, the best use of the Serve card after April 16th.

Why?

The FIA Fidelity Amex has no annual fee and earns an unlimited 2% cash back on every purchase… including Serve reloads.

Say you get the FIA Fidelity Amex, which is free, and the Serve card, which is also free, and load up $1,000 each month and then pay it off.

You’d be stashing away a free $240 annually into a retirement account with very little effort.

I plugged in my own numbers into Bloomberg’s retirement calculator, and, assuming I contribute nothing but the $240 each year (and it grows at 7% annually) between now and when I’m 68, I’d have a totally free $40,000+ waiting for me on the other side.

My $240 a year would grow to over $40,000 for my retirement

My $240 a year would grow to over $40,000 for my retirement

This whole Serve reload thing probably won’t last for the next 38 years, but take the free money while you can. I like to stash away at least $200-$400 per month into my IRA, and the extra $20 isn’t much but with compound interest on your side, a little truly goes a long way. And this is completely free money. Which is awesome, and there is no reason not to take advantage of this if you can.

Get some free miles

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Airbnb by the Numbers: Q1 Update

Also see: 

A few of you guys have asked for an update on my Airbnbs. There is a strong, thriving, and supportive community of Airbnb hosts here in NYC that I am happy to be a part of. My original articles about my foray in Airbnb were meant to analyze the financial investment/business sense behind setting it up, and were met with a good amount of interest. I received some messages spurred by curiosity, some seeking advice, and others that were downright nasty (which is fine).

The atmosphere surrounding Airbnb in New York is definitely a hot topic, and I deal with that on a daily basis. For the purposes of this article, I’m gonna treat it as I do daily: as a business, by a passionate traveler for other passionate travelers.

Tax time

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Earning Points with Serve Reloads After April 16th

Also see:

I haven’t fallen off the earth or anything like that. Real estate in NYC is heating up, and my past few days have been pretty crazy with gearing up for the busy summer season.

I still intend to post the remaining 2 reviews from my recent NOLA excursion and have a few other things in the pipeline for ol’ Out and Out. And of course I’ve been keeping up with the latest points and miles news.

And here is a post in which I clutch at straws.

REDbird Part 2

Boo hissss

Boo hissss

After having a terrible time reloading the REDbird card at my local Target in Brooklyn, I brutally dumped it and opened a new Serve account.

So, I was pretty dismayed when I found out they were going to restrict credit card reloads to only include American Express cards starting April 16th.

“Manufacturing spend” in New York City is already hard enough, and this is definitely an added blow. But there are 2 things I can find here that still might make Serve worth it for some people.

1. Even without earning points, this is a great way to pay bills that would not otherwise accept credit cards

2. There are at least 2 Amex cards that are NOT issued by American Express that may still earn points

The first point. Although there are better ways to pay rent than with Serve, if you need to float your payments through a charge card for a month or so, you can still use your Serve account to pay your bill and give you a little extra wiggle room, which could help a lot with cash flow from month to month.

The second point. It is up to the individual card issuers about whether or not to issue points for a purchase. American Express has decided they will not issue points for their own credit cards. But what about Amex cards that are not issued by American Express?

FIA and Citi + others

Two that I can think of right away are the FIA Fidelity Amex and the Citibank Platinum AAdvantage Amex. Both banks do not currently impose cash advance fees for Serve reloads (someone correct me if I’m wrong here), and both banks should continue to issue points since the reloads code as a purchase.

American Express may not give you points, but FIA and Citi still might. And this might continue to be a good way to get either 12,000 AAdvantage miles per year for minimal effort or $240 free dollars contributed toward an IRA with Fidelity.

Then, going back to the first point, you’d still earn miles and/or points for loading up your Serve card, and then can pay rent, student loans, mortgage payments, etc. to merchants who wouldn’t otherwise accept credit cards.

List of Amex cards not issued by American Express, by issuer

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A warning about Flint for manufactured spending

Just a quick note.

I was poking around last night and came across a mention on Rapid Travel Chai’s Week in Points about a new way to earn some extra points via manufactured spending from a service called Flint (HT to Miles Remaining – I just discovered the blog and loved it! I instantly subscribed on my feedly).

I toyed around with the idea of signing up for the service for about 1.5 minutes before I decided to go for it.

I downloaded the app, got my US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature card ready, snapped it in, and ran up a purchase for $750 (the max daily allowance).

This was after I entered in my bank info for direct deposit.

I saw the charge on the US Bank website. There it was, for $750, and it looked like it was gonna code as a purchase. Sweet. 18,000+ Club Carlson Gold Points for free? Yes, please.

The Flint charge at US Bank

The Flint charge at US Bank

So I was going to use the same plan as Miles Remaining to run $750 through 5 times in 30 days: on Days 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29.

And now, the warning

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Bye, REDbird; Hello again, Serve

Also see: 

From the I-knew-if-was-too-good-to-be-true files…

Well, consider this a data point if anything.

Oh, kwitcher cryin'

Oh, kwitcher cryin’

Tonight, I decided I was done messing with the REDbird card in New York City. It’s just too hard. The closest Target to me is the one at Atlantic Terminal, and they no longer accept credit cards for reloads – only cash and debit cards – which makes this product useless to me.

I’ve heard the one in Harlem is still accepting credit cards, but from my vantage point in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, it might as well be on the other side of the moon. I will go far for points and miles – but not that far.

At about 6 hours round-trip (yes, I am serious. New York City is huge and the MTA is a nightmare), I have to weigh my opportunity costs as well as my time. And while loading $5,000 per month is obviously more than $1,000 per month, at least I can run my Serve reloads from the app on my phone while I’m still lying in bed.

Time required: seconds. Opportunity cost: slight delay on coffee in the morning. 

My REDbird story

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Atlantic Terminal Target no longer accepts credit cards for REDbird reloads

Well that was fast.

Last night, 2/14 (V-Day), I went to load up my brand new REDbird at the Atlantic Terminal Target store.
All things REDcard... except credit card reloads

All things REDcard… except credit card reloads

The employees have definitely been trained to look out for these cards and reloads.

Here’s what happened

So I went in, went and got in line at the normal registers just like last time, and presented my REDbird (REDcard). The cashier glanced at it and instantly dismissed it. “You have to take those to Guest Services.” Ugh. Started to get a bad feeling then.

So I went over to Guest Services, as instructed, and again presented my REDbird card.

 

“Are you trying to pay with a credit card?”

“Yes.”

Cash or debit only.

“Oh, but I loaded it here just last week with a credit card.”

“It’s a new rule. Cash or debit only,” the cashier repeated.

“But I can still load it with a credit card at other Targets.”

She rapidly shook her head. “All stores are cash or debit now.


I knew that wasn’t correct, but who knows what sort of information she’d been fed. I didn’t press her any more, and left.

The upshot was that:
  • The cashiers at this location are trained to look for these cards now
  • It is indeed cash or debit only
  • I wouldn’t waste my time trying here again
  • This is a huge missed opportunity for us New Yorkers as it’s already a barren wasteland for manufactured spending
  • It’s really disappointing to lose this opportunity so early on
  • Unless you travel often to other places that have a Target store, you are better off using Serve instead of trying to play with REDbird

But why?

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Money transfer works between REDbird and Serve

Screenshot 2015-02-02 11.40.35

The funds were sent from REDbird

There’s nothing too remarkable about the image above, except that I received funds in my Serve account – and they were sent from a REDbird account.

It’s not surprising given that it’s literally the exact same interface copy and pasted (and turned red instead of blue).

To send money between Serve and REDbird, you just click “Pay & Transfer” then “Send Money.” Just be sure to use the email address associated with the account, and you should have no issue. The funds transferred right away, and I logged into my Serve account and paid a bill with the online bill pay.

Just make sure the emails or phone numbers match

Just make sure the emails or phone numbers match

This might be useful for some.

I am in the middle of loading up my Serve for the last time (day 2 of 5 right now), after which, I will cancel my account online and activate my own REDcard. The timing is great because I can max out the limits on both cards in February – even if it is a short month!

I know some of you are currently waiting on REDbird to arrive or don’t have a Target nearby – but in case you need to send from from Serve to REDbird, or vice versa, you’ll be totally fine.

Bottom line

Just wanted to throw this up, PSA-style, in case anyone else was in an in-between phase with these two cards and needed to send money to a friend or family member. I suspect it would also work with Bluebird, but I’d do a small transfer (like $5) just to test it out before I went full hog.

Having this transfer capability allowed me to pay my rent on time this month, and I was glad the two cards “talked to each other.”

In any regard, between Serve, REDbird, and PayPal My Cash cards, I am pretty well set for this month.

I *do* want to make sure US Bank cards are good with REDbird at Target because I really love Club Carlson points. I’ve heard US Bank is super weird about the REDbird reloads, so aside from that – now that I’m 100% I can load REDbird in NYC – I’m ready to get my permanent card and start this ball a-rollin’.

Using credit cards + REDbird to pay off large debts – and earn major points

This topic came up a lot last night at the NYC Miles and Points Meetup, so I thought I’d do a post about it.

Lots of people were planning to use REDbird + points/miles credit cards to pay off large sums of debt, meet minimum spend requirements, and reach threshold bonuses offered by certain credit cards.

It’s an incredibly easy but effective idea.

Run all your bill payments through REDbird

REDbird

REDbird

REDbird lets you load up $5,000 per month – for free – using a points or miles credit card.

If you max that out for a year, that’s $60,000 run through a credit card.

My own personal example is my student loan. I’m so tired of it hanging over my head and I’m about ready to turn around and kick that sucker in the face – but I’m gonna get a free vacation out of it!

For roundness or whatever, let’s say you owe $50,000 to:

  • Student loans
  • Your car payment
  • A mortgage
  • Medical bills
  • Credit cards
  • Or any or company or even person

You can add any company as a payee on the REDbird website.

At the top of the site, hover over “Pay & Transfer” and a dropdown menu will appear.

Where to add payees

Where to add payees

From there, click “Add Payee” and get rockin’ and rollin’.

What you get out of it

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Confirmed: You can load REDbird at Target stores in New York

Here at Out and Out, I had this idea to make February “Manufactured Spend Month.”

With the impending blizzard, and then frigid single digit temps on the horizon, I used this nearly 50-degree day to manufacture some spend ahead of schedule.

First, I went to CVS with my Chase British Airways Visa Signature and got $1,000 worth of PayPal My Cash cards. The transaction went through flawlessly. And later this evening, I will pay my first round of rent utilizing RadPad.

After CVS, I dared to face the Target at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, New York.

My heart was pounding as I went in. It’s perhaps the busiest Target store in the entire United States and some say one of the busiest in the Northern Hemisphere (Target does not officially publish their busiest locations), so I wasn’t sure what their stance would be on ol’ REDbird. Would it be par for the course or the one store where credit cards were NOT accepted for reloads?

My experience

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Smart Debt: Is carrying a balance ever a good idea?

Ahem: text-heavy post ahead!

The toolbox

The toolbox

Recently, I was talking to a friend about getting the Airbnbs up and going. We were weighing the pros and cons of charging the upfront costs (~$7,000) to a credit card and carrying the balance until the business became profitable – usually 1-2 months in this case.

He said, yes, of course it’s worth it. It’s “smart debt.” 

smart debt

Let me think about that…

It got me thinking about this hobby and all the points and miles we love to earn.

The points and miles cards we all hold earn us, obviously, point and miles. But, beyond that, they are important financial tools. Your credit is one of your most important assets, and I feel no one talks about the credit cards as an avenue for anything beyond earning points and miles – and that avenue is great – but by extending us credit, the banks open up other opportunities for us.

Now, in starting up my side hustle, there was no way I wasn’t going to run all the expenses through a points or miles card, but I’d never considered the idea of not paying it back at the end of the billing cycle. I’m of the mindset of never paying a dime of interest – but is it OK, in certain situations, to carry a balance?

Smart debt

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Confirmed: CVS accepts credit cards for PayPal My Cash reloads in NYC

I couldn’t wait until February to kick off Manufactured Spend Month: I just got back from CVS, where I successfully purchased two $500 PayPal My Cash reloads with my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard.

New York can be kind of a barren wasteland for manufactured spending, but today it was a gold mine. It was like the Vanilla Reload days all over again.

I walked into a CVS in East Midtown in Manhattan. The gift cards were on an endcap, prominently displayed, near the registers. I immediately saw the bounty.

cvs paypal my cash credit cards

PayPal My Cash cards at CVS

I grabbed two of them and walked to the register – there was no line (the joy of shopping mid-day on a week day). I pulled out my license and credit card. The cashier looked at them and asked to see both. She didn’t say anything like, “Cash only,” or “We don’t accept credit cards,” which I was kinda bracing for. Whew.

She scanned the reload cards, then my license (because with activation fees, the transaction was over $1,000). I was a little worried that Barclays would flag the transaction like they did when I got my temporary REDbird card last month, but the little signature screen popped up, I signed, and all was good to go.

It was SO EASY and took all of a minute. I walked in, checked out, and was done. It was JUST LIKE Vanilla Reloads in every regard, including the loading up (which I will get to in a sec).

Then, in Brooklyn…

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