As the years have gone by on the blog, I don’t talk much about my own money anymore. There’s no real ‘news’ to tell. I don’t have a dramatic debt makeover story. I’m not on quest to be financially independent in two years. And there’s not even a mortgage to steadily pay down each month.
Nothing exciting to see here, because I am squarely in the dull optimization stage of my financial journey. The systems are in place, and things are just chugging along. Plus, I often feel like my situation is not very relatable, especially for people who are just starting out. It takes years of patience, some strategic sacrifices and risks, and a dose of good luck to get to where I am.
But if you’re curious what kind of money decisions I’m making, and optimization strategies don’t bore you to tears, here’s a peek into what’s happening in “my wallet.”
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My Husband We Needed a High-Yield Savings Account
My husband and I “reverse budget,” which means that each person has to save a set amount of money per month. How that’s achieved is up to them. My husband loves and thrives with rules, so his savings account has been approaching down-payment levels. I got curious how much interest that account has earned in the past few years.
$68. Which was both cute and sad at the same time.
Like most people, my husband opened that savings account because it was the same bank where he had a checking account. It was easy. But having the money sit in a basic, low-earning account meant literally losing out on hundreds and even thousands of dollars in passive income.
My opinion of high-yield savings accounts: it’s not worth doing hours of research to pick the most optimal one, so I spent 10 minutes setting up my husband with Capital One, the same place where I’ve had several savings accounts for years. The interest is currently 1.90%, so not the highest interest, but all of them are subject to change, and to me, the time and effort to chase a 0.04% increase isn’t worth it.
While I was on the Capital One site, I logged into my own account and made an embarrassing discovery:
I am a personal finance blogger without a high-yield savings account!
Yes, that’s right, I’ve preached about picking the right bank, and yet here I was earning a paltry 0.80% in my own accounts. I must have been grandfathered into an old account, but was able to quickly convert to the 360 Savings Performance account, which earns 1.90%.
Stacking Up Our Chase Credit Card Points
My husband and I don’t carry balances on our credit cards anymore, and typically don’t spend more than we make, so that’s why we feel comfortable playing the rewards game.
I’ve never broken down our full credit card points portfolio before, but here it is in all its glory.
Chase Ultimate Rewards = 197,712 points
After draining our Ultimate Rewards points for three trips this year, I was left with only 22,000 points, so my strategy this year was to build them back up again. Chase points have been a consistently valuable tool for saving thousands of dollars on travel.
That ship has long sailed for me. So this year I’ve been focusing on the business cards. Specifically, and in this order:
- Chase Ink Business Preferred – 80,000 bonus points, after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
- Chase Ink Business Cash – 50,000 points (redeemable for $500 cash back), after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
- Chase Ink Business Unlimited (the one I’m currently working on) – 50,000 points (redeemable for $500 cash back), after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
These cards aren’t technically travel cards alone, but you can transfer the points to your Chase Sapphire accounts, so that’s a nice little hack.
Right now I’m at 168,660 total Chase points by myself.
My husband has also been applying for the same cards. If you’re married you can combine points, so my husband has 29,052 points of his own to contribute, and so if everything works out right, here’s how much we’ll earn, starting with 197,712 points:
- +50,000 points – my Ink Business Unlimited bonus
- +15,000 points – referring my husband for the same card
- +50,000 points – my husband’s Ink Business Unlimited bonus
At the end of this run, we should have at least 312,712 points.
As a cash value, I could trade those points for $4,690 worth of travel through my Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
Or convert them to airline points and fly three people in premium-class (valued at $18,000+).
Or I could spread the points out over two years for multiple trips (probably what I’ll do).
American Airlines = 86,254 points
To diversify my points portfolio, I also got the CitiBusiness / Aadvantage Platinum Select Mastercard and earned 70,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 after four months. The bonus offer is usually 50,000 points, so whenever I see an elevated bonus, I’ll always investigate, even if I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with the points just yet.
JetBlue = 65,283 points
This summer I was browsing plane tickets to go to LA for a wedding. Two tickets cost a little over $1,000 total, so I looked into how I might optimize that spend.
The flights were on JetBlue, so I had my husband sign up for the JetBlue Business card to earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days.
With the multipliers of buying the tickets directly through the JetBlue site (6 points per dollar), plus the 6 points per dollar for using the JetBlue card, we earned a boatload of points through the one transaction. I hope this illustrates the power of being strategic about how and where you put your money! This all happened in a span of one month:
Japan Airlines = 126,000 points
I keep forgetting about these points. I moved some Marriott Bonvoy points to my Japan Airlines account when I found a pair of rare business-class flights to Europe, but I hesitated too long, and the seats went away. So, I still have these points hanging out with no real plan for them just yet.
Marriott Bonvoy = 125,963 points
Like the Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I also highly value my Marriott Bonvoy points, and almost never use them for hotels. Once you get the bonus it’s hard to earn these points unless you actually stay in Marriott hotels, so I was happy to earn ~7,000 points through recent work travel. Luckily, the city I traveled to had a big Marriott footprint, so it was easy to find a points-earning hotel. If you have a Marriott card and are a member, you earn 10 points per dollar, so staying in their hotels can be a super efficient way to rack up points.
United Airlines = 30,000 points
Lastly, I have 30,000 points sitting in my United account, because I transferred Chase points over for a specific flight, but then the seat disappeared. No idea how I want to use them yet, but knowing I have 30k points in there now means I’m probably going to build them up next. It’s easier to work with what you’ve got instead of starting from 0.
Alaska Airlines = 0 points
Speaking of 0, Alaska points are ALWAYS on the list to build up, but other enticing offers seem to crop up, and so I never end up signing up for the Alaska card. One day!
Investing More with a Brokerage Account
When I met my husband, his investment activity was limited to his company’s 401k. But he makes enough money to do more, so since then, I’ve set up Traditional IRA and Roth IRA accounts for him in Vanguard. And this weekend, and after two years of marriage, I added a brokerage account. Hey, I never said money moves weren’t a process!
Then I moved some of the money from the down-payment-level savings into it, since we don’t need that much cash sitting around.
Earning More with Bank Signup Bonuses
Earlier this year, I opened up a Chase checking and savings account, completed the requirements, and earned a $600 bonus.
That was easy enough, so I saw Chase was offering another bonus for opening a business account. Over the weekend, I stopped by the Chase branch and spent 40 minutes setting up the account. If all goes as planned, I’ll earn another $300 by early next year.
No Time to Shop
The most effortless way to stop clothes shopping?
- Be busy. If your mind is always preoccupied by work, hobbies, or whatever you enjoy, you have no mental space left to even think about shopping.
- Spend all your money on lamps.
Since September I’ve bought one item per month: a Madewell tank top and a Uniqlo shirt jacket (yet to be delivered, so pray for me) and have spent around $60 total.
Less Intense Travel, Please
After a busy and self-indulgent travel year, my husband and I decided we want to stay low-key next year. We’re planning to travel mostly to see family, or taking family trips around the US.
Kauai is calling my name.
It’s always a challenge coming up with a destination a diverse group can enjoy, and we loved Hawaii. But then I thought about the 13-hour flight, and how to get five people there from the east coast, and…I’m not mentally ready to do that level of work just yet.
I’m sure my attitude will change when February rolls around and I’m desperate for some sun. But for now, I’m excited to plan something a little more rustic and less logistics-heavy, like a national park. Here are a few I’m interested in seeing:
- Olympic National Park in Washington
- Badlands National Park in South Dakota
- Zion National Park in Utah
- Glacier National Park in Montana
Save to Spend / Sinking Funds
Money is as much mental as it is about numbers. When the time comes for me to buy stuff I need, sure I could buckle down and budget hardcore that month. But I personally like to “save up” for bigger purchases I know are coming down the line. I’m currently setting aside money for:
- A bag – $25 per week
- A new phone – $50 per week
I noticed the straps on my work bag are really thinning out, and the corners are getting increasingly worn. I don’t have a new bag in mind, but I want to be prepared in case I see a great secondhand deal.
A phone is a perfunctory purchase, as the batteries on BOTH my phones are draining crazy fast. I’ve changed the battery on my iPhone 5S twice already, but I still have to be extra mindful of being near a charger. Not a fun purchase at all, but inevitable!
Revisiting Our Work Benefits
If you work in an office, chances are it’s around open enrollment time, which means that for a limited time, you get to re-review and change your benefits elections for the following year.
Last year, there was a big miscommunication at my husband’s office, and we missed the boat on changing our health insurance plan. This time, we’re not letting that happen. So, my husband and I are staying on top of reviewing all our benefits together.
Specifically, I’m trying to decide whether or not to go to with Health Savings Account (HSA) again. I had it for a few years, then went back on a regular plan, because I anticipated higher healthcare costs that year.
OK, so I can’t believe I wrote almost 2,000 words on optimization strategies! After reading my draft, I guess I really do try hard to be efficient with my money. Money is almost never spent for nothing. And when I do spend, I try to get the highest value I can in return.
What money wins are you currently working on? Where should I travel to with the points that I have? Do you have an HSA? How did you decide?
Featured Image: Unsplash