The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card has re-launched with a new sign-up bonus and purchase rewards structure. Get 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points as follows:
- Earn 20,000 bonus points after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
- Earn an additional 30,000 ThankYou points after you make another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember.
- First year annual fee waived, $125 after that.
50,000 ThankYou points is enough to redeem for $500 in gift cards or $625 in airfare when you redeem through their ThankYou Travel Center (25% travel bonus only works if you have the Premier card). Details below. You can also redeem 50,000 TY points for a $500 check towards your student loans and/or mortgage.
The new rewards structure lets you earn:
- 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment.
- 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for airfare and hotels.
- 1 ThankYou Point per $1 spent on other purchases.
$625 in Airfare (ThankYou Travel Center)
With the new Citi Premier card, you get a 20% discount on the standard travel redemption that a “regular” Citi card offers. The reverse math means 1 TY point = 1.25 cents towards travel. For example, with my non-Premier card, I found that a flight that cost $360 including taxes and fees on Expedia would cost 36,000 TY points from Citi Travel. But with the Citi Premier, it would only cost 28,800 TY points.
ThankYou Travel Center screenshot:
So 50,000 TY points will get you $625 in airfare. The Citi Travel pricing seems fair, with no inflated prices as compared to Expedia, Orbitz, etc. Since you can book any flight that can be found on Expedia, there are “no blackout dates”.
Can a person live in the US on only $5,000 a year? According to this NBC News article and this Youtube video, Dan Price has been doing it for 20 years. I enjoy these kinds of interviews as they reinforce the fact that we all make choices every day, it’s just that most of them are the “default” choice. I like being presented with people who make different “opt-out” decisions, even if they are extreme. The article uses terms like “intentional poor” and “voluntary poverty”. Why not just “conscious simplicity”? I enjoyed this quote:
I don’t believe in houses or mortgages. Who in their right mind would spend their lifetime paying for a building they never get to spend time in because they are always working?
Lessons and takeaways from Dan Price’s $5,000 a year lifestyle:
- Lifestyle-based income. His rare lifestyle partially funds itself as the “wilderness zine” described in the article is simply a print journal of his own thoughts and activities (remember those things before blogs?). Sponsors also provide things like tents and clothing in exchange for mentions in his journal. A brief search locates his website: Moonlight Chronicles. (It annoys me when articles don’t just tell you these things.)
- Rent. He managed to find a place that only costs him $100 for entire year. I gather that in exchange he also serves as a caretaker for the 2-acre undeveloped plot of rural land in Northeast Oregon. Deals like this are never advertised; nobody lived there and he asked the owners directly. He rebuilt all the fences and helps maintain the property.
Ally Bank just announced that they will be changing the early withdrawal policy on their CDs starting on December 7, 2013. Found via Ken Tumin’s DepositAccounts post, the details are now officially outlined in the fees tab of their certificates of deposit page. A screenshot:
I have several 5-year Ally CDs earning between 1.8% APY and 3.1% APY, bought largely due to their uniquely short 60-day interest penalty as it meant that I could effectively have access to my funds if required and still earn an interest rate that was higher than anything any other bank CD.
For example, let’s look at their 5-year CD currently paying a 1.60% APY (as of 10/27/13) with no penalty, a penalty of the last 60 days of interest, and a penalty of the last 150 days of interest. Here’s how your actual annualized interest rates would look like based on time of withdrawal:
Due to birth of our first child, we haven’t been traveling much the last 24 months. However, I’ve still been racking up the miles (via credit card bonuses, credit card rewards, dining rewards, and shopping portals) and have built up a sizable pile with the three major “superpoints” programs – those that allow transfers to a variety of air and hotel partners. Everyone has their own preferred programs and unique travel needs, but here is a quick reference guide to simplify things. My favorite transfer partners are bolded, but all of the other options are also included. These days I’ll probably just be topping off an account off to qualify for an award ticket or free hotel night. Ratios are 1:1 unless otherwise noted.
Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) Points
- United Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- British Airways
- Korean Air
- Virgin Atlantic
- IHG Rewards Club
Credit card bonuses and rewards are the fastest way to jumpstart your miles balance. Here are related offers:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card review – 40,000 Ultimate Rewards point bonus, 2X points on travel and dining.
- Chase Ink Bold Business charge card review – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards point bonus, 5X points on office supplies, internet, phone, TV service, 2X on hotels and gas.
- Chase Ink Plus Business credit card review – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards point bonus, 5X points on office supplies, internet, phone, TV service, 2X on hotels and gas.
American Express Membership Rewards (MR) Points
American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Bonuses – British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Choice Hotels
American Express occasionally runs limited-time promotions that increase the transfer rate from their Membership Rewards points. To see these bonuses, visit MembershipRewards.com. Currently promotions:
- British Airways 20% Bonus. That makes 1,000 Membership Rewards® Points = 1,200 Avios. Points must be transferred in increments of 1,000. Promo expires December 31, 2013.
- Virgin Atlantic 30% Bonus. That makes 1,000 Membership Rewards® Points = 1,300 Flying Club Miles. Points must be transferred in increments of 1,000. Promo expires November 30, 2013.
- Choice Privileges Hotels 20% Bonus. That makes 1,000 Membership Rewards® Points = 1,200 Choice Privileges® points. Points must be transferred in increments of 1,000. Promo expires November 30, 2013.
Chris Taylor of Reuters has been writing some mini-interviews about the first jobs of well-known finance gurus like Warren Buffett and Jack Bogle. They include newspaper delivery boys, retail stockboy, gofer, shoeshine boy, USPS mail sorter, bowling alley pinsetter, and soda pop vendor at baseball games.
The initial takeaway is that these are humble beginnings for people who ended up as rich and powerful. It made me think of my own first jobs as a restaurant worker and parking lot attendant. Does this mean we all have hope?
However, while working my minimum-wage jobs I also remember a lot of teenagers and adults being really bad at those entry-level jobs. Based on the short descriptions given in the Reuters articles, the people interviewed all displayed certain successful traits at their first job. Perhaps doing well at your first job requires most of the same basic skills that you need to succeed at future high-level jobs. I think these critical skills would include:
- Reliability. I remember many people not showing up on time repeatedly, or even at all for their shifts. Charlie Munger lists reliability as one of the most essential traits for success. He explains that while something like quantum mechanics may be unlearnable by many, reliability can be learned by anyone. If you can master the ability to always be reliable, that alone can overcome many other disadvantages.
- Persistence at trying to do your job well. You may not be very good at first, but if you keep trying and learning chances are you’ll get there. I recently heard an interview about chef Geoffrey Zakarian landed his first job with limited skills at the famous restaurant Le Cirque. How? He walked, asked, got denied, offered to work for free (!), got the job, and learned his way up starting with peeling potatoes.
- Good (basic?) social skills. The other way that I’ve seen people mess up minimum-wage jobs is that they just can’t get along with people or control their emotions. They get into heated arguments with customers and/or coworkers, and either get fired or are just never seen again (disturbingly common). The current chairman and vice-chairman of Ariel Investments both started out working together as baseball stadium food vendors. Look at Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, who met through common friends. Take advantage of any opportunities to partner with good people when you come across them.
Amazon.com recently announced changes to their Free Super Saver Shipping program. First, the minimum order size for “free shipping” has increased to $35 from $25. Second, it is officially getting slower:
With free shipping, your order will be delivered 5-8 business days after all of your items are available to ship, including pre-order items.
So not only will it take up to 2 weeks to get your stuff, that is only after every single thing is ready to ship. I’ve already noticed their “Free Super Saver Shipping” getting slower and slower. “ParcelPool” seems to be code for “let it sit around until you absolutely have nothing else to do.” Personally, I’m okay with a $35 minimum. But the slower shipping is why I don’t shop at Amazon as much anymore.
Various media outlets have their theories on why this happened – higher shipping costs? Amazon about to record huge losses? Shareholder revolt? My interpretation: The loss-leader party is starting to wind down.
Up until now, Amazon has taken a “loss leader” approach to building up their business. Their margins are razor-thin… In 2012, they sold over $60 billion dollars of stuff yet still lost money. Why?
- To crush the competition. Is there any direct competitor to Amazon? Buy.com? Ha. There are some tech places like Monoprice and Newegg that have a loyal following. eBay is cheap but inconsistent. So we’re left with the brick and mortars – Walmart, Target, and Costco.
- To change your shopping habits. They also need to promote a huge behavioral change where when you need something you don’t think Walmart or Costco, you think let’s go on Amazon and just click and buy. It takes lots of repetition to gain that kind of trust and habit formation. Low prices and fast, free shipping will do that.
During this time, consumers like myself have been happily buying things cheaper from Amazon than anywhere else, from laundry detergent to diapers to hard drives. Why waste the time and gas going anywhere else? I’m afraid they are almost done giving out the free drugs. Are we addicted enough to finally allow them to make big profits?
It seems like they are switching to the Costco model. They want your $79 Prime membership fee, and then they hope to break even on everything else by giving you a nice solid low price along with free 2-day shipping. (Free 3-month trial with Amazon Mom, Free 6-month trial with Amazon Student)
This Vanguard article included an infographic (see below) that shows the growth of international bonds as an asset class. If you were to consider the world’s investable market as split between bonds and equities, internationally-issued bonds are now the largest piece of the pie at 35%. This includes both government and corporate bonds.
Vanguard believes that holding international bonds is an important way add diversification to your portfolio, and in mid-2013 added international bonds to their Target Date Retirement and LifeStrategy all-in-one mutual funds (currently 20% of the total bond allocation). The Vanguard Total International Bond Index Fund Investor Shares (VTIBX) has an 0.23% expense ratio. I’m still not convinced of their necessity and don’t own any foreign bonds. Back in 2000, international bonds were still 19% of the global market, yet they took up 0% (none) of their Target Retirement and LifeStrategy funds.
If you have an American Express card, log into your account online and scroll down until you see the “Offers For You” tab. Many people (seems to work once per account username) have found a $25 off $75 Staples offer. The fine print specifically says “Gifts Cards are eligible” (AmEx really can’t tell what you bought anyway). E-Gift cards are not eligible. So save $25 on physical gift cards from Home Depot, Lowe’s, Starbucks, Subway, Kohl’s, etc. Expires 12/10/13.
You may also see a $10 off $50 at Lowe’s if you didn’t do the Twitter version. Fine print:
Updated. It’s time again to try and check my credit scores from all 3 bureaus for free. You probably know about AnnualCreditReport.com for free credit reports. But what about your numerical credit score? If you want some relative comparison of your creditworthiness, here is a compilation of different ways to grab a free credit score without the hassle of annoying trial offers or providing a credit card. The goal: No free trial membership required, no credit card number required, nothing to cancel. Here are the best options I could find.
Remember, everyone has three credit scores, one from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion.
Every month, Credit Sesame can offer you a credit score based on your Experian credit report, ranging from 300-850. They also offer tips to improve your score and qualify for a mortgage. Here’s a screenshot of my current credit score.
New: You can also opt-in to free daily credit monitoring of your Experian credit data at Credit Sesame.
CreditKarma.com is an ad-supported site that offers you the ability to check your credit score based on your TransUnion credit report, updated every week for free. The score range is the same as FICO, from 300-850. You don’t get your credit report details, but you do get a few tips on what recent changes to your credit report have impacted your score.
New: You can also opt-in to free daily credit monitoring of your TransUnion credit data at Credit Karma.
Fidelity Investments recently made a 40% reduction on the management fees for their direct-sold 529 Index Portfolios, with total expense ratios now ranging from 0.19-0.29%, down from 0.25-0.35%. Fidelity runs 529 plans based in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, and Arizona. From the press release:
The index portfolio fee reduction applies to all Fidelity-managed direct-sold plans including The UNIQUE College Investing Plan, Fidelity’s nationally distributed plan, offered by the State of New Hampshire; the Massachusetts’ U.Fund® College Investing Plan; the Delaware College Investment Plan; and the Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan. Total fees for the 529 Index Portfolios, including underlying mutual fund expenses, now range from 0.19 percent to 0.29 percent of assets, down from 0.25 percent to 0.35 percent. Unlike several competitor plans, all Fidelity direct-sold 529 college savings plans continue to have no annual account fees, low-balance fees, or fees to receive paper statements.
This should also serve as a reminder that Fidelity does offer low-cost index options in addition to their (inferior in my opinion) higher-cost actively-managed portfolios. The choices can be confusing – for example their “Portfolio 2030 (Fidelity Funds)” has a total expense ratio of 1.01%, whereas their “Portfolio 2030 (Fidelity Index)” has a total expense ratio of just 0.25%. You can change your investment option by sending in a form, usually limited to once a year unless you change beneficiaries.
Here is a screenshot of all the Index portfolio options and fee breakdown.
I think people are getting more aware of the impact of fees on performance, and this move makes Fidelity’s plans more competitive with other top 529 plans. See rankings by Morningstar and SavingforCollege.com.
There are also Fidelity-branded credit cards that credit 1.5% cash back (Visa) and 2% cash back (American Express) towards any Fidelity account. I choose to have mine directed to a 529 account, specifically their New Hampshire UNIQUE plan which they advertise as their national plan (you can live in any state, but your state’s plan may have better tax perks). I have also opened plans from Utah (lowest costs, flexible options) and Ohio (inflation-protected bonds as investment option) for my new kiddo and deposited her birthday gifts there.