Saving You Money through Simple Methods


Current Strategy: Exactly What I am Doing! Stop Everything You are Doing and Act Now! Hint Southwest Companion Pass!

Here’s a link to the 50,000 point offer!

Let’s face it, with the internet there is always a deal to be had.  Many times it’s extremely difficult to determine where a “deal” falls on the spectrum of “meh” to “stop everything you are doing and act now (SEYADAAN)!!!”.  The problem with this scale that I just created is that a deal that is “meh” to you may be “stop everything you are doing and act now!!!” to another geyser.  If a hack existed to save $25,000 on a new BMW M3, this would mean nothing to the majority of us because we are not in the market for a $40,000 car, even if it is normally $65,000.  However, to the guy who is pulling up to the BMW dealership with $65,000 in $20 bills in his lap, this is a “stop everything you are doing and act now” moment.  If pulling over and doing this imaginary deal would save this bloke 25 grand he would be a fool not to use it.   This is a problem with many blogs, deal sites and other resources that are out there.  In an effort to reach more readers you must create broader content and post things that do not appeal to everyone equally.  This is not a good thing or a bad thing really, it’s just something you must be aware exists.  Sometimes I will post an opportunity that you will want to jump on and sometimes you will sit out.  One way that I am going to attempt to clarify great all around deals is to let you know which opportunities I am using myself or those that have me grabbing the ear of family members trying to get them to join my cult.

The first opportunity is one that I have already started acting on, but is a process over the next 3 months.  As you may already know my Southwest Companion Pass is set to expire on 12/31/2014.  You can click to read more about it, but in summation anyone holding a “Southwest Companion Pass” gets a free flight for their named companion anytime they book one.  It doesn’t matter if you book with cash or points any ticket you book instantly offers the opportunity of adding a companion. Since you are only allowed to change your companion twice it is not as useful for the tinder and grinder set that would like to have a different companion at the drop of a hat. This is the perfect deal for families or couples (couple does not need to be romantically involved) that travel together.  Once you earn your companion pass it is good for the rest of the year you earn it and the entire following year.  Therefore, if I earned the pass on October 31, 2014 I would be able to use its benefits for November, December and the entirety of next year, 14 months of the perk not expiring until December 31, 2015.  That’s a hella sweet deal, but if I can hold off just 2 months and instead earn the pass in January of 2015 it will be good for all of 2015 and 2016 which gives 24 months of use.  So, what am I doing to achieve this benefit?

Currently, Southwest is offering 50,000 rapid reward points to sign up for their credit card, all you need to do is spend $2,000 in 3 months to earn the bonus.  On the application you simply fill in your rapid rewards account number from Southwest.  If you don’t have one go sign up for one, it’s free and you do not need to fly or be flying anywhere soon.  Fill in that account number on the application.  After you spend your $2,000 you will get 52,000 points (50,000 bonus and 1 point per dollar spent).  These 52,000 points will be good for over $700 worth of airfare!  Keep in mind that you do pay a $99 annual fee for the card (which does not count toward the $2,000 spending requirement so make sure the balance in 3 months is at least $2,099), so in essence you’re getting over $600 worth of airfare for free and this is without even scoring the companion pass.  The trick is to hold off hitting your $2,000 until January 1st.  If your points hit in December the points needed for a companion pass will reset on January 1st.  In order to get the companion pass you need to earn 110,000 points in one calendar year.  So we get 52,000 points from a credit card where will the other 58,000 points come from to earn this?

The way I will do it is to sign up for the business version of the Southwest Credit Card which is offering the same terms.  It will cost another annual fee up front, but will earn you an additional 52,000 points.  Just be certain that when signing up for the second card you put the same Rapid Rewards account number on the application.  If you don’t do that you will be sorry.  If you leave the account number off of the application one will be created for you.  Now that you have earned 104,000 points you will still be short by 6,000 points.  In order to earn these you could do a number of things including using your Southwest credit card to charge another $6,000.  You can go to and use their portal to earn points.  Booking a hotel or rental car through their website can also earn additional points.  If you get to the 104,000 point mark it would be nearly criminal to not figure out a way to get the other 6,000 points you need.

This is a deal that I am already acting on currently and have advised my parents to look into as well.  If you’re thinking, “our family doesn’t fly” well it’s likely because it costs too much.  At minimal, even without the companion pass these cards offer value.  Keep in mind that with the companion pass we were able to fly our family of 4 to California for just over 60,000 points.  That’s only slightly more than you receive from signing up for one card.  As always, with Southwest, even when shopping using points always wait until sales are best and fares are lowest.  On their sale last week their shortest distance flights were $49 each way, which meant a roundtrip ticket would only cost < 5,000 points.  Assuming you had 110,000 points you could take 22 roundtrips, if you earned the companion pass that would translate into 22 roundtrip tickets for you and 22 roundtrip flights for your companion.



Does Saving Money Save You Money?

Clearance Deal of the DayCould not live without!  (never used)


When you read a blog about saving money, you already possess the most important aspect needed, proper mindset.  Financial awareness is a key component in saving money over the long term.  It’s very easy to think that saving a dollar here or there is no big deal.  For instance, I always use those credit cards which give me the highest return on every purchase.  I have an American Express Blue Cash Preferred card that gives 6% cashback at the grocery and I will use it every single time.  My wife on the other hand will go to the grocery store and just grab any card available.  Her rationale is that if she is only spending $20, that card would only save $1.20 so it’s no big deal.  However, every trip to the gas station, grocery store, or other retail establishment offers a chance to save.  The way I see it is that if I’m going to be making the purchase either way, why not put it on a credit card that will reward me for that purchase?  Why use cash when I can pay with a credit card and get an instant discount a discount that comes after I shop for the best prices and use cashback portals!

The biggest problem for many of us comes from trying to save significant amounts of money by purchasing things we otherwise do not need.  The “Extreme Couponing” craze is one such example of this as those people who follow these methods clip every coupon every week.  If I can buy a can of beets for 10 cents each why not do it?  Because nobody likes beets, they’re garbage, they taste gross and you just wasted your money! This is the opposite of not using your discount when the amounts are small.  You use the discount on items that are deeply discounted, but do they offer a value to you?  If you were some kind of masochist with a beet addiction 100 cans of beets is a fantastic deal and likely saved you about $100, but if you are a normal human being then you probably would have been better off burning the $10 you spent.

This phenomenon is not only present in the extreme couponing circuit.  In fact, every trip to Target provides an opportunity for those demons lurking on the endcaps to claw at your soul.  As you walk the perimeter of the store you see the red homing beacon that are the red clearance stickers.  They sing to you from the cream colored shelves like Sirens in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Powerless over the possibility of saving tremendous amounts of money you are pulled into their orbit.  Assuming you are not currently reading this while at Target, let’s speak rationally about these fine deals.  Clearance items are only a deal if these are things you would normally buy anyway.  If you have been looking for a bedding set, and had decided on one that was $300 and you find one on clearance for $50 this is a superb deal.  By contrast if you are walking down the aisle and see 80% off a camo beer coozy that says , “My neck may be red, but I’m well read” don’t buy it.  Actually, you’re probably getting this ironically, you can go ahead and get that.  The point is that these items that are “only a dollar” really tend to add up over the course of the year.  In fact these can add up far faster than the “only a dollar” rewards my wife loses when she fails to use the right credit card.

It’s far too easy to base your savings off the MSRP rather than what you truly value an item to be worth.  A better exercise would be to look at these clearance items and ask, “Do I need it? Do I really want it? Would I buy it anyway?  What is it worth to me?”.  So if you walk past the endcap and sunscreen is on sale at 75% off go ahead and pick some up because you probably need it and if you don’t buy it now you will buy some day.  If you walk past the aisle and there is something you have always wanted, but price has kept you from buying it then I think this is a fair purchase.  The Suze Ormans of the world would disagree and advise you to only buy absolute necessities,  fund your emergency savings, fully fund all retirement accounts and then with anything leftover spend money on your wants.  My opinion on this is that sometimes you need to spend some money on the things you want.  So if there is a lamp or shirt you think looks great buy it.

The problem with these deep discounts is that we often go overboard on these clearance items.  In the haze of getting a great deal we often make purchases of things that we do not need or even really want.  As I am composing this my wife came in the door with 3 big bags from Target.  She purchased an $18 lifejacket for $5.38, not a bad deal since our kids will need a lifejacket next year and if she did not make the purchase on clearance we would have paid closer to 20.  However, she also purchased a rug which was on sale for $7.50, she wanted a rug, but I have a feeling that all things equal she never would have bought this style.

My wife happened to be the person who peaked my interest on this topic.  She said, “I used to never look for sales and just buy things I wanted.  I think that I spent less back then than I do now.”  Her hypothesis was that when you go into a store and do not look at prices (but have limited funds) you only purchase things you really want.  Both of us have been guilty of going to Target and buying multiple items, especially clothing, which were on sale.  When my beautiful wife last cleaned out her closet there were multiple items new with tags.  Just as bad there were countless items that she wore only once.  She is not the only one guilty of this either.  I have gone into the store at certain times of the year and bought 5 pair of shorts, but only ended up wearing 3 of the pairs and only a couple times.  Once it’s time to wear them again I’ve undoubtedly gained or lost weight making them useless.

Rather than buying multiples of things you like a little, buying one thing that you really love can be a better deal.  At the beginning of the summer I bought one pair of golf shorts for regular price, but only bought one pair.  I wore these shorts a couple times per week all summer long.  At the end of the year they were 50% off so naturally I bought 5 pairs!  Yet I have worn each pair only once.  One pair is still in my closet untagged.  Basically I spent $20 and wore the shorts 30 times (60 cents per wear), but spent $50 on the discounted shorts and worn those only 5 times ($10 per wear).  So even though my closet looks better with more choices, I’ve likely wasted money overall.  Of course the best option would have been to buy only 1 or 2 pair on clearance and then wear them and I’m saving money.  The problem with clearance deals is they usually don’t work like that.  You end up overspending on things that you don’t need because you feel like you’re saving money.  Unless we think about this consciously we are all subject to doing it.  Which brings me to the question, does anyone want to buy a case of corn on the cob holders?  Accidentally bought too many.  Asking for a friend.


How We Bought 4 Plane Tickets, 7 Nights Hotel and 7 Nights SUV Rental for $40

Anyone who has read previous entries to this blog knows that two of my favorite things to do are spending time with my family and getting good value. This year for our fall trip we decided to, once again, fly to California. This is usually a trip that would be beyond our grasps financially due to the immense expenses involved with flying across the country. To make this trip a reality I relied on various points and miles programs offered by hotels.





The trip included flying into San Francisco then looping around to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Monterey and back to San Francisco. This itinerary required 4 round-trip tickets from Louisville to San Francisco, 7 day SUV Rental and 7 nights of lodging. The total cost for only these expenditures would have been $3,256. If you were pricing this out you probably could have searched for better deals and alternate lodging, but the prices I included were for the exact same flights, rental car and hotels that we used. This MSRP value assumes that you just booked the going rates without using other discounts. If you are not interested in the details of each portion of the itinerary scroll to the conclusion section where I will outline all the details including points used and the price without points.




We flew Southwest using Rapid Rewards Points, which are tied to the actual cost of the flights. Therefore when flying Southwest whether purchasing tickets with cash or using points it is extremely important to purchase tickets at the lowest fare (which also means the lowest points). Since our youngest child is 25 months old he is over 2 years old his ticket costs the same as an adult fare. This required us to purchase 4 tickets. As soon as the month of October opened up for booking I started checking Southwest on a weekly basis (at least). They offer new sales every Tuesday, some sales are great and some sales are pretty weak. The great thing about Southwest is that there is no fee to cancel your flights, so if you book at one price and the next sale is better you can cancel those tickets and book again.


In June the price of tickets round-trip dropped to $350 each (plus $10 for taxes and fees). If I had not prepared for this then the cost for tickets alone would have been $1,400 (plus $40 for taxes and fees). Since I qualified for the Companion Pass, any ticket that I book on Southwest allows me to add a companion to travel with me free of charge. Anyone reading this who has the companion pass, but not enough points to book tickets that way would have paid $1,050 for the tickets (plus $40 for taxes and fees). Since we had the Companion Pass and enough Rapid Reward Points I was able to book this flight for 61,734 points. Alternatively Chase Ultimate Reward Points transfer to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio meaning I could have transferred as many points as I needed from Chase Ultimate Rewards with no cost.


Car Rental


Since our itinerary required a great deal of driving renting a car was a necessity. Since we have a stroller and a few bags I decided to go with an SUV for this trip. I used to look up rates and found that Alamo offered the most value. I then went to my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to book through them as they offer a “pay with points” option which gives these points a value of 1.25 cents per point.


We rented a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee which would have cost $433.68 for 7 days booking directly through Alamo after taxes and fees were applied to the total. In lieu of this I was able to book the week using Chase Ultimate Reward points. The total was 20,696 Chase Ultimate Reward Points which actually ended up getting me 2.1 cents per point. To put this into perspective my wife and I both got 25,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points when we signed up for the Chase Freedom card which has no annual fee. So that amounts to about $500 worth of signing bonus for each card.


If you are considering this particular itinerary keep in mind that we drove the rental car over 1,000 miles. We spent $152 on fuel that we paid for using point earning cards, but did not pay with actual points.




When creating an itinerary involving multiple destinations the hotel accommodations are the most difficult and arguably the most important of the trip. Using Google Maps I plotted out the trip to the best of my ability. We arrived in San Francisco, saw some sights in the city and headed toward Yosemite. I found that the Modesto and Turlock area was about half way between these two locations. Finding lodging near a national park is very difficult and you pay dearly for the location and often give up a lot in quality of hotel (unless you pay much more). I decided that Comfort Suites worked well for our night in Turlock. We booked a double Queen suite which had two queen beds and a pullout couch. This room was one of the bigger hotel rooms that we have stayed in and it was very nice. The normal cash cost for this room was $139 plus tax per night. It cost us 16,000 choice hotel points. If you sign up for the Choice Hotels Visa you get a 32,000 point signing bonus which would cover 2 nights. Comfort Suites Turlock


After visiting Yosemite we made our way toward Fresno which is almost directly between Yosemite and Sequoias. Our plan was to have 2 nights in Fresno, one night between Yosemite and Sequoias and another night spent after our day in the Sequoia National Park. Using Club Carlson Reward Points we were able to stay in a Country Inn & Suites which worked out quite nicely because when you have the Club Carlson credit card you get your last night free on a stay of 2 or more nights. Obviously there is more value if you only stay two nights. Normally a room costs $92.50 per night or 15,000 Club Carlson points. Since we have the Club Carlson Visa we used 15,000 points for 2 nights which is 7,500 points per night.


After our second night in Fresno we headed to Monterey. This is the only portion of the trip that I did not book in advance. We could have stayed using points for the night, but instead we opted to use Hotel Tonight. Hotel Tonight found us the Best Western Plus in Monterey which is directly on the beach. The normal cost for this is $160 per night plus $18 per night parking. On hotel tonight it was $132 plus $18 parking. A total of $150 for the night. Using American Express Membership Reward Points to wipe out this charge cost 22,000 points. 17 Mile Drive Monterey17 Mile Drive in Monterey, CA


After our day in Monterey we traveled back to San Francisco. I decided that stopping halfway between Monterey and San Francisco would not only be more economical, but it would allow for us to get to the hotel a bit earlier and relax. We stopped in Silicon Valley at the Four Points by Sheraton – San Jose. This hotel usually runs $180 per night, but I was able to book a room for 4,000 SPG points. My wife and I both have an SPG Credit Card which awarded us a bonus of 25,000 points for signing up. This offered a great value. Although this was a lower category hotel for the chain it was still beautiful. Starwoods Hotels include W, Westin, Sheraton and many high end brands. Four Points Sheraton Lobby

Picture of the Four Points by Sheraton Lobby


Our final stay was for 2 nights in San Francisco. We stayed at the Radisson in the middle of Fisherman’s Wharf. The location was superb and the hotel was updated in 2012. We were very impressed with the accommodations. The normal rate at this location is $299 per night and parking is an additional $50 per night. Like Country Inn & Suites, Radisson is also part of Club Carlson and we were able to use 50,000 Club Carlson Reward Points for this stay. The normal charge for points is 50,000 points per night, but having the Club Carlson Visa allows your last night of a 2 night (or longer) stay to be free. Along with this huge benefit you are given Gold Elite status which we found very beneficial at this hotel. When we arrived at check-in they told me that as a VIP member my room had been upgraded free of charge to a balcony room on the top floor. As a Gold Elite member they also waived the $50 per night parking charge. When we arrived in our room there was a “welcome gift” of a bag of kettle corn waiting for us in the room. Attached to the gift was a card thanking us for choosing to stay at their hotel for our trip. My children and I went to the pool while my wife got comfortable in the room. Someone stopped by the room during that time to bring us extra towels and a couple bottles of water to welcome their “VIPs”. The sign up bonus for the Club Carlson Card is 85,000 points, plus you get the last night booked with points free and are automatically upgraded to Gold Elite status. On this stay alone we used 50,000 points, but managed to save $299 per night on the hotel, plus $50 each night on parking. So for this stay 50,000 points equaled over $700 in value! That’s not even considering the free upgrade to the balcony room closest to the bay with a tremendous view of Alcatraz.


IMG_5123                                                                                                                    Actual Unobstructed View From Radisson Balcony – Blue Angels Flying Over Alcatraz




All told we received $3,256 in value but paid only $40 for flight, lodging and SUV rental. I put a valuation of dollar per point received. Many of these calculations depend on how they are used. For instance, American Express Membership Reward points used for this stay were worth less than a penny each, but can be used much more beneficially when transferred to another program. SPG points were worth 4.5 cents each used at this particular location. The value of hotel points can be a bit skewed because if I had not had hotel points I would not pay $180 or $350 per night for a hotel room. I would probably sacrifice a bit of quality for a lower price. However, using points allows the user to splurge and afford things that normally would have been out of reach.


Retail Price                   Actual Paid               Points                $/Point


Southwest – Louisville to San Francisco                                          $1,440                                $40                61,734                   .023

Southwest Rapid Rewards


Alamo Mid-Size SUV Rental (7 Days)                                                 $434                                  0                  20,696                   .021

Chase Ultimate Rewards


Choice Hotels- Comfort Suites Turlock                                             $139                                   0                  16,000                   .009

Choice Priveleges


Country Inn Fresno (2 Nights)                                                           $185                                   0                 15,000                    .012

Club Carlson Rewards


Best Western Plus Monterey Beach Resort                                    $178                                   0                  22,000                   .008

American Express Membership Rewards


Four Points by Sheraton – San Jose                                                $180                                 0                    4,000                    .045

Starwoods Preferred Guest


Radisson Fisherman’s Wharf                                                         $700                                  0                   50,000                   .014

Club Carlson Rewards



$3,256                             $40                   189,430                   .017







Could You Live on $800 a week?

Recently on Real Time with Bill Maher there was a heated political debate (is there any other kind?) between those members of the panel.  One of the guests, Nicolle Wallace, believed that the minimum wage was fine where it is and that the government should let businesses decide what employees should be paid.  Then Mr. Maher posed the question, “Could you live on $800 a week?”,  Nicole Wallace look shocked and answered jokingly yes, immediately responding with “of course not”.  Keep in mind that $800 per week is $20 an hour which is far beyond the $10.10 that was being talked about.  $800 per week is about $42,000 per year which is not a king’s salary by any stretch, but also represents a much greater standard of living than our current minimum wage earning families.  Nicolle Wallace laughs that she cannot live on what amounts to double the proposed minimum wage and apparently sees no problem with this reasoning.

On the surface these words and actions may not seem overly callous, but to me they cut deep.  People who have no trouble following this line of thought obviously have a sense of entitlement that I cannot fathom.  Ms.  Wallace sees $42,000 a year as a paltry sum of money that the mere mention of living on that amount is laughable.  From her vantage point everyone is paid what they are worth and she is worth more.  She would never even have to entertain the notion of $42,000 a year, much less the $21,000 per year that closer represents the proposed minimum wage.  She imagines that the only people who make minimum wage are high school kids and those too lazy to go out and get “a real job”.  Perhaps those people making less than $10 an hour enjoy making such a small sum of money and find it hard to give up such a great gig.  These people are not only earning these low wages, but expected to live off them and often support a family.  I’m sure they would relish the opportunity to make $800 a week, not laugh at how living on it is unrealistic.

If I was posed the same question I would respond affirmatively because I know that I could survive on $42,000 per year.  However, if someone asked if I could live on $400 per week I would honestly say that I could not do it.  If I were asked additionally if I think everyone should be paid at least enough to make $400 per week I would agree and find it difficult to argue otherwise!  I think I am setting the bar pretty low at half the wage you scoff at the idea of being able to live off.  The minimum wage needs to be a wage that is large enough to cover necessities, including health insurance and food.  If you are viewing twice the proposed minimum wage as not enough to cover your life expenses, but feel comfortable with others trying to support a family on that do some self reflection on why you feel so entitled.

Do not get it wrong or try to spin my words, I am not saying that everyone should be earning enough money to own a yacht or be Jay Gatsby.  I am not even advocating a wage that supports lighting imported Cuban cigars with $100 bills (much less $1,000 bills).  However, in a civilized society we should at least have some minimum standards in place for those citizens who go to work for us every day.  Not only do these workers make more in their jobs, they are less reliant on government supplementing income and have more money to spend in the economy.

I look at money as a necessity for life in the same way that I view drinking water.  If someone asked me if I could live on 4 glasses of water per day and I say, “of course not”, it seems like I have a pretty good barometer of what should be the minimum available to sustain their life.  If I was then asked if half that amount should be the minimum water consumption I feel confident that I would want people to earn an amount of water that would at least support their life.


How we did our California Vacation on a Budget (across the country)


In June of this year planning commenced on a 6 day fall vacation.  We had initially planned to fly from Louisville, KY to Orlando, FL, but Southwest had a special sale for flights into San Diego for the same price.  Since we had never been to California we decided that a California Vacation would be the best choice for us.  I purchased the plane tickets using points earned from signing up for Southwest Airlines.  I booked a flight for daughter and me, which cost about 36,000 points total.  At the time of booking I had only earned 105,000 Southwest points and had not yet earned my “Companion Pass“.  Once I earned the additional 5,000 points to reach 110,000 I earned my companion pass and simply clicked on my flight to “Add a Companion”.  At this point my wife was added to the itinerary.  Total out of pocket for our cross country flight was $15 round trip.

Car Rental

I knew we would need a car to get around California.  I wanted to rent a vehicle that would be big enough to accommodate our car seats and luggage.  With these options in mind we decided to get an SUV, although my wife was really pushing for a convertible.  I searched online coupon codes and used .  I found this website to be the best because it included the best coupon codes.  I looked at many different sites and found this one to be at least $30 cheaper for the week. Other sites may have been comparable or even cheaper if we had a normal rental, but ours was one way.  This meant we picked up the car in San Diego and dropped off our car in Santa Ana as we flew out of John Wayne Airport.  The car included unlimited miles and was a very nice car.  We had no trouble at Alamo and even used the kiosk when picking up the car, which allowed us to forgo getting hassled about all of the extra insurance and other upsells.


IMG_6042First Hotel 

Obviously we needed to find a place to stay each night of the trip.  Since we were staying 3 days in San Diego, 1 day in Anaheim, 1 day in LA and 1 night near our departing airport a condo or house were out of the question.  Finding an area in San Diego for our home base was not a problem at all.  We stayed near La Jolla and Torrey Pines as it provided better prices, access to La Jolla and was only a 20 minuted drive back to San DIego Zoo.  We knew we needed a hotel close to Disneyland in Anaheim so that was not much of a problem either.  Our day in LA proved to be a bit more difficult because the city is so big and traffic is not great to drive through.  I ended up booking a place that was vouched for by my cousin.  It was near Burbank, supposedly close to Universal Studios, but actually ended up closer to North Hollywood.  The last night we stayed in Huntington Beach which was a quick 15 minute drive back to the airport.

IMG_6696View from Country Inn Room

We stayed at a Country Inn and Suites in San Diego which I highly recommend.  It was in a beautiful location with a nice view of the mountains out our window every morning.  They also had an excellent breakfast which really worked well to save us money on food as one meal was included in the price of our stay.  Most travel blogs emphasize staying in really expensive hotels.  One of my problems with sites such as Priceline is that their rating system puts no value on free breakfast.  I strongly disagree with this valuation because if we were to go out for breakfast and get eggs, waffles, sausage, juice, yogurt and milk it would end up costing us at least $20.  Sure we could go to a fast food place and the 4 of us could eat for less, but it would be far less substantial.  We ate breakfast in our hotel 5 out of 6 days.  The last day we had to be at the airport before breakfast was served.  We ended up buying breakfast at Carl’s Jr. and it cost $9 and that was just for my wife and daughter.  My daughter was complaining that she was hungry 2 hours later.

In Anaheim, our hotel was literally across the street from Disneyland.  Probably 5 blocks if we walked, but since our Disneyland tickets included parking we just drove to the lot.  This ended up being a great idea since by 11:00 PM Pacific Time both kids were passed out.  Which would have made the extra 5 blocks perilous.  I booked our room through which advertised a rate $20 less than booking through the hotel itself.  Unfortunately they add taxes and unnamed fees which put the total at only $2 less than booking directly with the hotel.  I did book through which earned me 10% cashback on the stay, which was pretty nice.  The hotel was the Best Western Plus Stovall Inn, which had very nice updated rooms, but they also charged $10 for parking.  The breakfast there was acceptable, but there were so many people that the staff couldn’t really keep up even with the large dining area.

Best Western Stovall's INN Pool Area

Our 5th night was spent in a Comfort Inn near Universal Studios.  The area was in North Hollywood, which is a bit grittier than we would like.  My daughter looked out the window of our room and asked, “Why would they build a hotel here with this terrible view?”  The view out the window was a local mechanic shop, so we did have an excellent view of oil changes.  This room was also recently updated and seemed clean.  It’s not exactly a hotel I would rave about, but for the price and a place to sleep it was okay.  The breakfast area was very nice and clean.  They had cheese omelets, juice, sausage and typical hotel breakfast items.

Our 6th night took us back south to another Comfort Inn in Huntington Beach about 10 miles from the airport.  It was updated, nice and looked (and smelled) very clean on arrival.  The area is also very nice just a few miles from the ocean.


Many of the activities that we did on the trip were very low cost or even free.  Walking along La Jolla in San Diego was not only free, but it was among our favorite parts of the trip.  The seals on the beach were amazing to see and the views were breathtaking.


The San Diego Zoo is how Disney would do a zoo.  I know, you are thinking, Disney basically did a zoo, it’s called Animal Kingdom.  Having been to both the San Diego Zoo and Animal Kingdom I believe San Diego Zoo is superior.  That being said, I’m sure that Animal Kingdom will be pretty great in their 97th year as well.  There was something to see every step of the zoo.  Whether it was an animal exhibit or just the assortment of botanicals.  If you enjoy zoos it is definitely worth seeing.

We also visited Torrey Pines State Reserve which offers a beach and beautiful overlooks.  We paid $15 for parking and that was it.  The only problem is for some reason the restrooms and water were all turned off.  This is problematic when you play in the ashy sands of the Pacific and need to get back into your car.


We decided to go to Disneyland on Tuesday for “Mickey’s Halloween Party”, it’s a special event that is ticketed separately from the rest of the park.  Disneyland closed on Tuesday at 6PM and Mickey’s Halloween Party took place from 6-11, but you could enter at 3.  We arrived at the park at 3 and enjoyed it immensely.  Instead of the normal price of admission Mickey’s Halloween Party only costs $59 per person.  They only sell a certain amount of tickets, you can trick or treat throughout the park and most attractions are still open.  There were characters out in full force even when we were leaving.  More things for guests to do means that any one line will be shorter.


In LA we went to the Getty Center, which is fantastic.  It’s a billion dollar art museum that opened in 1997.  The museum was free which I did not know going into it.  Parking is $15, but that is definitely a bargain price even if you were going by yourself.  It’s not exactly the most entertaining for small children as it is not a hands on science museum.  If my wife and I had gone alone we could have spent nearly the entire day touring the massive collections, but with our kids a few hours was ample.  Just seeing the building itself was worth it to me.

We went to Hollywood to check out the sights and typical tourist type things.  We paid $7 to park at the Hollywood and Highlands Center.  It is a very ornate shopping center built around its view of “The Hollywood Sign”.  My daughter wanted to see Hollywood, hoping she would be discovered.  She looked at the sign for about 30 seconds and said, “cooool” then was ready to see the next thing.  We followed the Hollywood walk of fame.  Saw that TCL Chinese Theater and had fun comparing our hands to the stars.  My daughter was a bit disappointed because she wanted to have her footprints and handprints immortalized in the cement, but alas that will have to wait.  I guess seeing Hollywood is worth the $7 parking charge, but otherwise the experience was ruined by the vendors, celebrity impersonators and people in cheap costumes hoping to hustle tourists out of money.

Huntington Beach was a nice way to end our trip watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.  They charged $15 for parking, but only $13.50 if you used a credit card.  Since I was going to use a card anyway this worked out perfectly.  The beach was huge over 100 yard from the parking lot to the ocean.  We were also basically alone on the beach which was nice for pictures.


One way we save money on a trip is to minimize our food costs. When we arrived in California we were expected to be absolutely blown away by the prices for food.  I fully expected that if I went into a Subway asking for a $5 footlong they would oblige me with, “Okay sir, that’s one $5 footlong, that will be $28.75.”  This was not even close to reality.  The first night we went to a nice Mexican restaurant that was having huge frozen Margaritas, 5 flavors to choose from for $3 each.  We ordered a margarita, beef nachos, pepsi, and 10 tacos and paid $19 plus a $6 tip.  $25 is cheaper than we eat at the Mexican restaurants in Kentucky.

We try to eat breakfast in our hotel which saves an immense amount of money.  If we had stayed in a condo or rented a house we would have tried to prepare meals at home which would provide huge savings.  Ultimately though, my wife and I value food in much the same way.  I fell like food only gets so good.  Meaning that a $100 meal is not 4 times better than a $25 meal.  We have gone out to very expensive restaurants, but usually feel that they could not live up to expectations.  We might splurge for a meal or two on vacation, but for the most part we try to keep our spending in line with what we spend on food normally.

Total Spent

Flight (3 paid tickets and 1 lap child)                               $30

SUV Rental                                                                      $287

Gas                                                                                  $86.37

Travel Total                                                                  $403.37                                 AVG. $67.23 per day

Food Total                                                                    $166.40                                 AVG. $27.73 per day

San Diego Zoo (2 adults, drink, child free October)     $116.30

Disneyland (3 tickets)                                                   $177

Getty Center                                                                  $15

Torrey Pines                                                                  $15

Hollywood                                                                       $7

Huntington Beach                                                          $13.50

Total Activities                                                             $343.80             AVG.  $57.30 per day

Country Inn & Suites (3 nights)                                      $236.40          The best hotel we stayed in, great staff, great pool, great breakfast.  (78.80 per night using discount, normally $105 +tax)

Best Western Stovall’s Inn (1 night)                              $133.43           Paid for the area near Disney.  Nice Rooms, Awesome pool and topiary area, Adequate Breakfast.  ($10 parking, worst value)

Comfort Inn Universal Area                                            $110.88           Nice room, good breakfast, terrible parking lot, not a very nice area

Comfort Inn Huntington Beach                                       $61.94            Great room, very clean, did not eat breakfast (left too early).  Best value.

Total Lodging                                                                $542.65              AVG.  $90.44 per day

Total Miscellaneous                                                     $66                     AVG.  $11 per day

Trip Total                                                                        $1,522.22          AVG.  $253.70 per day

We could have done the trip for cheaper, but we would have sacrificed some things.  We could have gotten a smaller car and saved a hundred dollars or so.  Driving less miles or having a fuel efficient vehicle could have saved gas.  We could have saved more money by only buying tickets at the zoo ($88), but I am not going to avoid spending at the cost of fun.  We had also budgeted to go to Sea World, but we were enjoying San Diego too much to sacrifice a day doing that.  All around there’s not too much I would change.  Although the Best Western and Comfort Inn were both pricier than I would like and neither was as good as the Country Inn and Suites or the Comfort Inn in Huntington Beach, both about half the price of the Best Western.


Philosophy on value? Pay the Least Anyone has Paid.

I recently overheard a salesman tell a potential customer that for their budget they needed to lower their expectations.  This kind of mentality drives me absolutely crazy.  Obviously there are situations where people have champagne tastes on a beer budget.  In these cases it’s absolutely reasonable to lower expectations to be more aligned with your budget.  For instance, if I go to a car dealership and expect to get a brand new BMW for the same price as a used KIA, then I probably need to adjust my expectations with reality.  Usually though, if you do your research, you will realize that there is always a better deal to be found.

The couple that I observed were looking for the biggest television that they could get for their money.  From what I gathered they had about $1,000 to spend and did not want an off brand television, they also wanted an LED.  The salesman basically told them that the biggest they could get was a 50 inch.  They seemed to listen to him, but were disappointed.  He presented, as fact, that they either needed to lower expectations or raise their budget.  I knew from personal experience that this was just a blatant lie.  I just purchased a 60 inch LED television for $847 after taxes and everything.  I have seen cheaper televisions this size, but my goal was to maximize value.  On that particular day the salesman was not lying to the couple as there were no great deals going on, but the point is that the better deal will come to those who wait.

It’s easy to just assume that you could sacrifice quality at the expense of value, but this is a false choice to make.  If I go to the grocery store today and bananas are $1.90 a pound unless I cannot wait another moment to buy bananas I will forgo them because I know the price will fall.  The grocer will not come over and say, have you thought about dry beans instead?  I know what I want and I know what price I want to pay.  I will buy bananas at 38 or 48 cents a pound, but even at 58 cents per pound they are not out of the question.  I think the same holds true to many purchases.  If I am looking for a vehicle and want to spend $8,000 and find a used Honda Pilot that books for $14,000 on sale for $9,000 I will still consider this car even though it is 25% over my budget because that extra $1,000 will get me an extra $5,000 in value.  In this example I am making the assumption that the car is really worth 14k, but the seller is motivated.  My point in this exercise though is that even with a budget number in mind it’s good to stay flexible.

When I research prices for an item, my goal is to find a good price and then buy the item for a great price.  If I am looking at a TV I do not want to compromise, but I want the item I want cheaper.  Basically, I want to buy any item at the cheapest price anyone else might have paid.  It’s not that I think I am special, but I do think that if a company can sell a product to one customer at a certain price, and make a profit, then why shouldn’t I get it at the same price?

This is true of products where I use the MSRP and average price as a guide, but will research to find a better price.  Then I try to adjust my expectations accordingly and take advantage of sales.  This is especially true of hotel rooms and car rentals.  My wife and I stayed in a hotwire low priced hotel one night for 40 bucks.  We were not completely satisfied, but for the minimal price it was hard to complain too much.  The next morning at breakfast I overheard another couple saying that they had paid $90 per night and to extend another day would be $105.  This made me a bit angry.  I was certainly glad I scored the hotel room for such a low rate, but if I had been the person paying $90 and a guy next to me paid $50 I would be livid.  I actually let the guy know that if he booked on hotwire he could get the same hotel for $40 and he did just that.  The point I am trying to make is that a better price may be available and it may not even be too difficult to find.  It’s not that I am cheap, but I absolutely want to maximize value in every dollar I spend.

I look at it as a value ratio that would be measured by a simple formula of quality / dollar.  I want to get the most quality, taste, or value per dollar that I spend.  When I buy a car I want to get the best car that I can buy for the money.  When I buy a house I want to get the best $ per square foot, without skimping too much on fixtures.  If I can get a plane ticket for $150 roundtrip why would I pay $300 for the same trip?  These are all adjustable expectations and some are clearer than others, but the point remains that I want to stretch every dollar that I spend. I’ll spend a little more for a little more quality and sacrifice a little quality if it can save me a lot of money.  Overall, these are decisions that every individual makes, but if you are mindful of value maximization you are better off in the long run.


Picking the Perfect Hotel

If I ask you to imagine the perfect hotel your mind probably conjures up images of grand chandeliers, baby grand pianos and beauties feeding you grapes on the plush mattress of a hand carved canopy bed.  Out the window a beautiful sunset begins to crest over the horizon of an unobstructed ocean view.  The salty air touching your skin only briefly before being dabbed away from the damp, cool, mango scented towel.  This sort of fantasy, multiple room palace probably exists for a price.

If I were to ask you to imagine the cheapest hotel what do you see?  Flicking on the light switch, causes the roach herds to scurry toward cover in the putrid motel room.  You pull back the sheets, which audibly crunch from whatever has hardened to their surface.  Through the fitted sheet you can see the stains on the mattress, although their origin is unknown, the evidence manifested clearly lead you to believe these are bodily fluids of some kind.  This kind of hotel certainly exists and the psycho running it would gladly accept your money.

When searching for a hotel I try to find some definite middle ground in these establishments.  I do not need to check into a pretentious establishment where I am expected to tip every person substantially for doing unnecessary tasks.  I am certain that if I lugged the bags of my entire family through the airport I’ll be fine taking them the next 50 yards or so.  I do not need people looking down at me for staying in their hotel.  At the same time I do have certain expectations in a hotel.  I want a nice, clean place where I can lay my head every night.  I will likely not spend much time in the hotel anyway.  Basically for my family a hotel is a place to store our things, take our showers and sleep until the next day.  So as long as the place is clean, quiet and comfortable I am fine.  All other things beyond that are luxuries.  Although having been updated in this millennium is a nice plus.  If your hotel is still rocking a big tube TV I am going to be a bit put off.

Keeping this criteria in mind I try to find the most affordable option, but I try to keep away from the lowest price option.  The last time I went with the lowest price option in an area was a few months ago.  I booked a room in a Howard Johnson, that was supposed to be a 3 star (out of 5).  It was a Hotwire hidden deal and cost about $40, which was very affordable for a 3 star hotel.  I arrived at the hotel and there was a very sketchy looking couple at the counter.  There was an old white Gateway Desktop in the lobby with a line 6 people deep waiting to use the computer.  The “couple” at the counter turned out to be two guys and a girl (sans teeth) who were fine with just one King bed.  I felt like I needed to shield my daughter’s eyes.  Walking through the hall I really felt like I was surrounded by shady characters.  This is not to say that money equals class by any stretch.  However, when you book the cheapest hotel in the area, it’s also the cheapest hotel for everyone else in the area.  So the guys scoring a three way with a tweaker are also booking that cheap room next door to your family.

I try to pick a moderate priced hotel with great reviews.  If possible I try to get a 4 star hotel at a lower price using a site like Priceline or Hotwire.  The problem with this method is that I have personally found that Priceline inflates the rating on some of their hotels.  So you may book a 4 star hotel for $50 and be pumped, but then when the hotel is revealed it is an old Howard Johnson that might generously be awarded 2 stars.  So you think you’re getting a room in a Hyatt or W and you are getting an overrated Ho Jo.  There are websites that exist to help make better decisions on hotels and reveal which hotels are available in an area at the particular star rating that you seek.

Over the next week I will be sharing more information about the hotels I decide to book for our upcoming trip and I will likely give a review of whatever hotel is lucky enough to be chosen by me.


Life Tools (Fitness): BodyMedia Fit Review

The primary focus of my blog revolves around saving money, without sacrificing the pleasures of life.  Therefore, this type of fitness review might not be applicable to you or your situation.  I am of the opinion that the BodyMedia Fit is very much aligned with many of the tactics I follow in life.  As I have stated in prior blogs  there is no such thing as too much data.  From a financial standpoint you need to know where every dollar is earned and spent in order to make meaningful changes to your financial situation.  In the savings world it’s a simple equation of income – expenses = savings or debt.  So as long as I am making more than I am spending I am in good shape.  Ultimately you would like to have enough money left after expenses to set up a nice savings for emergencies and future, but it all starts with knowing your numbers.

BodyMedia Fit Simplisticsaving.comKnowing your numbers is what the BodyMedia Fit is all about.  It’s a small little device you wear on your left tricep and it tracks your daily fitness activity.  The equation is very similar for weight loss and finances.  Calories In – Calories Out = Fat or Not.  In this case the savings portion would be fat depositing itself to your midsection.  If you burn more calories through activity than you ingest through food then you will lose weight.  Actually every 3,500 calorie deficit should equal 1 pound of fat lost.  Knowing your numbers is essential to improving your health.  While there are many different excellent programs to track weight and log daily food intake, the options to show calories burned are not as abundant.  The best part about this gizmo is that you need not be a fitness guru to tap into its immense value.

My activity log goes back to February 2011, when I first bought my BodyMedia Fit.  Over this time I have gone some stretches without wearing it, but for the most part I have data for the past 2 years.  With this data I can see how my weight has fluctuated based on my activity level.  I have a very solid baseline so that I can actually see if any particular day is more productive than my average activity day.


The BodyMedia Fit, for me, is less intrusive than wearing a pedometer around and provides very accurate data on the number of steps taken.  The BodyMedia Fit acts as a pedometer on steroids though.  It not only tracks the number of steps taken, but the intensity of the activity.  The device sits against your skin to detect subtle changes in temperature, moisture and movement and analyzes all of these data points in some sort of proprietary magic.  The BodyMedia Fit website states that the device analyzes 5,000 data points per minute, while I cannot independently confirm this I do know that it just works.  When you are running around and being active this device will measure the number of calories burned.  Whether this number is totally accurate is difficult to say, but if the activity manager says I was active at a certain time, it coincides with my actual activity levels.

In addition to measuring your activity it is also a useful tool to measuring how many hours of sleep you get per night.  Again, I am not certain how this works, but it is very interesting to see.  Ever have a night where you go to bed early, but wake up the next day feeling groggy?  This device does an excellent job of calculating the number of hours you spend in sleep and also measures sleep efficiency using the number of hours laying down versus the number of hours asleep.


Reading the review so far, it should be obvious that I think the BodyMedia Fit is a great product, but that does not mean it is without its faults.  My primary gripe revolves around its subscription based website model.  Sure, many products are moving to cloud services, but that does not mean I need to like it.  I would rather buy the device and then load the data to my computer every day without the need for a monthly bill.  At $7.00 a month that’s pretty expensive and prohibits all but the most dedicated fitness gurus from sticking with the program.  Earlier this year they offered 1 year packages for $59 and 2 year for 89.  I signed up for the $89 2 year membership and find this to be much more reasonable.  However, it seems that they have gone back to their previous monthly fee which is disappointing.  I also have the Bluetooth version of the BodyMedia Fit and have found it difficult to connect to my Galaxy S2, but no problems with my Galaxy Note 2.  Overall though the Bluetooth is a bit buggy and not a great addition.


I definitely enjoy the BodyMedia Fit and actually own 2 of the units.  I bought the Core in 2011 and bought the bluetooth enabled device in 2013.  I do not feel like the Bluetooth model is worth the extra money because I find it annoying to have to pair the device on multiple occasions.  Overall I recommend this device for everyone as it tracks your activity and sleep throughout the day.  I wear mine around the clock and never run into any issues.  My sister bought the same unit and she finds it to be too noticeable on her arm and instead of embracing her healthy lifestyle she is embarrassed by the unit and wears it less frequently than I.  If you are interested in buying one of these units I would recommend doing so, but look into signing up for a yearly package to make it a better deal.


Now until December 31, 2014 any Flight Booked on Southwest is Buy One Get One Free!

You read the title correctly folks, for the next 16 months any flight that I book on Southwest will include a free ticket for my wife!  Unfortunately, this does not apply to everyone, but only applies to very valuable customers such as myself.  As I have tried to make clear throughout every post of this blog, I am not particularly affluent.  I do enjoy traveling, but the fact is that I have not been on an airplane in about 8 years and my wife has never flown.  This makes having the ability to fly so inexpensively even more exciting for me.  Yesterday, I signed into my Rapid Rewards account and found the following:

Southwest Companion Pass Earned


As the above photo states there are two ways to earn a “Companion Pass”.  Method A, requires making 100 “qualifying flights” during one calendar year.  As I have already stated, I have made 0 flights in over 8 years.  The other method is slightly more attainable.  Method B, requires you to earn 110,000 rapid reward points over the course of one calendar year.  That is the one I did.  As you can see above, I have accrued 110,519 points.


How did I do it?

Obviously that sounds like a ton of points and it is, but there are definitely some shortcuts to take to get you there quickly.  The first thing that I did was sign up for two Southwest Credit Cards, each one had a 50,000 point bonus.  After meeting the $2,000 spending I had 104,000 points in my account!  Gathering the next 6,000 was not quite as easy.  I continued to use my credit cards to gather points at a rate of 1 point per dollar spent.  This earned me 2,116 additional points (I would have much rather signed up for another credit card and received a nice bonus).  I also used the Southwest shopping portal this earned me 303 extra points.  I could have really maximized this method, but it seemed that I always waited too long when a great reward came along.  Some of the best included 9 points per dollar at Staples and 6 points per dollar at sears.  I was going to buy a TV from Sears and that would have earned me the 6,000 points no problem.  I messed around waiting for a big reward total and then feared I would miss getting the pass in time for my flight.  Although transfering points from Chase Ultimate Rewards do not count toward the pass, transfers from Hyatt do count.  I transferred 8,000 points from Chase to Hyatt, then those 8,000 points turned into 3,600 Southwest points.  Not a great ratio compared to Chase’s 1 to 1 ratio, but still earned my pass.

I booked my flight for October back in June when the prices got very low.  With the 110,000 points in the account I was able to book flights from Louisville, KY to San Diego, CA for 18,000 points round trip.  If my wife and I were the only two flying we could fly across the country for 18,000 points total.  We spent another 18,000 points for my daughter’s ticket, but it’s still pretty amazing that a family can fly across the country for 36,000 points especially when those points all came from signing up for a couple credit cards.  Each card had a $100 fee, so we will be able to take 3 round trip, cross country trips for $200 bucks.  If we leave the kids at home we would get even more value.


School Supplies Breaking the Bank? You’re Doing it Wrong.

“…She will spend an estimated $600 this year on school supplies and uniforms for her two children”.  – Kentucky Standard This quote appeared in my local newspaper and I could not help, but think that she was doing something wrong.  A typical school supply list can be found for about $30 – $40.  This means that this lady estimates that she will spend another $260 per child on direct school costs.  Even if we assume that this student has no other clothes to wear and everything needs to be purchased new $260 is still a nice sum.   Without seeking out deeply discounted sale prices I could find polo shirts for $10 each on any given day.  If she followed my advice to buy when things are on sale she could purchase them for half that amount.  Currently on Old they have boys polos for $5 each.  Even if she bought the boys 10 shirts each she would only pay $50 per boy.  Uniform Khakis and Navy Blue pants are both $10 right now, so assuming 5 pair of those she would only spend $50 on pants.  I am sure the boys already have shoes, but shoes can be easily found for $40 or casual canvas shoes for $10 (I bought a pair of each yesterday running shoes $40 and canvas shoes $6).  Let’s do our math.

School Supply List         $80

Shirts                            $100

Pants                            $100

Shoes                             $80

I estimate that she could spend $360 a year on these items, buying extra loose leaf paper, pencils, pens and notebooks now and she would still pay less than $400.  I feel that my estimate goes far beyond necessity.  Each boy will not need 10 shirts or 5 pair of pants for one school year, but I still allowed for this amount.  Also she overpaid on the typical school list by about $10 per student.  The point to remember is that there are almost always savings to be had if you are vigilant and aware.  You know all year long that your child will be starting a new school year in the fall.  Buy things throughout the year when they are on sale.

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