These cards are making me nervous

At this stage, I feel like I know enough to be dangerous. Let’s talk about what I’ve learned, then about why I’m getting nervous:

Before getting any credit cards:

1. Make sure your credit is good! You should only get into cards if you have 700+ credit score and can pay off your balance every month. Otherwise, paying interest can more than negate any points that you can get.

2. Know where you’re going! Individual airlines have their own cards, as well as the 3 airline alliances. Almost all the airlines are in one of the three alliances (Southwest is the most notable to not be in an alliance.) Some of the alliances don’t fly to specific locations, so if you have somewhere specific you want to go to, check to make sure that the card you’re looking at is in line with where you want to go.

The three airline alliances are:

1. OneWorld (best for South American travel),
2. Star Alliance,
3. Sky Team.

American Airlines and United are the most versatile airlines.

3. Pay attention to annual fees, but realize there are options. Most cards you can call to waive the annual fee or downgrade to a card that doesn’t have an annual fee. If those options don’t work, you can cancel the card to avoid the fee. This does hurt your credit, though, because it shortens your average credit length.

4. There are 3 different types of cards: Airline, points and hotel.

5.Some annual fees can be worth it! A hotel card might have a $59 or $99 annual fee, but it might give you two free nights at a hotel, far surpassing the cost of the annual fee.

Here are the things I’m worried or have questions about:

1. How many cards should someone get per year?
2. Is it worth it to pay the annual fee for the cards? Or should you downgrade or cancel all of them if there’s no benefit to paying the annual fee?
3. Should you get the same card for both spouses at the same time?
4. How do you decide which card to get first?
I’m feeling like I should just pull the trigger and get a card, but I’m also nervous. I feel like my credit is a big thing and I’m worried about making decisions that will mess it up. I’ll come to a resolution soon and pick my first card. Have about 20 more pages in the guide from

30 day challenge update

Wooo! Brief side note as I’m organizing my notes from my credit card pursuit.

I mentioned earlier that I have a goal of running a sub-six minute mile. I started on Feb 2nd and ran a 7 minute and 34 second mile. Today I broke through! 5 minute and 50 seconds. Feels good to accomplish that. I’ve long been an ambitious goal setter and mediocre follow-through-er.

What did I learn? I realized that while I did get stronger physically, the mental side is the part that strengthened the most. I was stronger and had more endurance, but I was able to figure out how to push myself and realize what I’m capable of.

So tomorrow begins my journey to break a 5:30 1 mile time in February. And I’ll write more about just how confused I am in my credit card journey.

Credit cards – Getting pretty, pretty, pretty good

Listened to part 2 of The Daily Travel Podcast with Erik Paquet, and even more of my questions have been debunked!

“What about the annual fees?”, I wondered. Negotiate ’em! There’s two negotiating options. Negotiate the fee away or you can get bonus miles if you pay the fee. Not always an option, but one that works more often than not.

If negotiating doesn’t work? Downgrade that sucker to an account that has no fees. You can move it to an account that has no fees, but also you lose the benefits of the card itself (keep the miles though). This way you get to keep your card and let your average length of credit continue to grow.

A couple of cards that I’m going to check out:

IHG Chase Card – $49/year, but that $49 gets you one free hotel night per year at an IHG Hotel.

US Airways Barclays Card – $90 on first purchase. Most cards require you to spend $1,000 – $3,000 within the first 3 months. This one lets you rack up the 50k points, then move on to your next card and get the points and start working towards the minimum spending.

As far as I can tell, people just open one card, do the minimum spending to get the miles, then move onto the next card.

A couple resources I’m going to check out:

The Abroaders – Erik Paquet’s site.

Award Wallet – Helps you manage your awards points online. – Aggregates Mile Prices.

Beginning of the deep dive into Free Flights

Shady. Dishonest. Worried.

These were probably the emotions that I felt towards trying to get free miles from signing up from credit cards. I felt like I was doing something shady and dishonest. I felt like I was exploiting a loophole in the system.

I was worried that I was going to destroy my credit. I was worried that I was making a greedy and shortsighted decision.

As I’ve been doing a lot recently, I was listening to one of my new favorite podcasts The Daily Travel Podcast, episode 190, and they dispelled some of my concerns. First, credit cards know what they’re doing. I’m not exploiting a loophole, but rather I’m taking the bait that they’re setting out to try to profit off of people. If people use the cards responsibly, they’re going to charge some of their payments on the card and pay their annual fee, which they make money from. If they don’t use the cards responsibly, that’s where they REALLY profit. Cards can get ~30% interest rates. Why am I looking out for the best interests of a company that charges people 30% interest?

A few bullet points of things I learned about credit and credit cards:

1. New credit inquiries ding your credit 3-5 points. BUT those negative points go away after 3-6 months. If you don’t need your credit in that time, then you’re fine.

2. Banks like diversity of accounts.

Things to pay attention to:

1. New cards lower the average age of your accounts. This hurts your credit. Make sure not to cancel your longest cards, and have some as a base line.

2. Pay full balance every month!!! The opportunity exists because they know people will get in to a position to pay 20-30% interest and because they want to have consistent customers.

Action Items:

1. Sign up for – check. I did this tonight and found my credit score to be 793. Happy with this. On the podcast they mentioned that anyone above 650 credit score has a chance to get a credit card. Above 700 and your chances get better.

2. Read The Daily Podcast e-book on credit cards for airline miles. It’s a 40 page book, and over the next 8 days, I’m going to read 5 pages per day and distill the key points on each blog post.

3. Sign up for a credit card! Today is Feb 11, and I’ll be done reading this e-book by the 19th, so I’ll sign up for a card on the 20th. Unless by the end of reading the e-book I realize I need to do more research.

Tomorrow will be pages 1-5 of the e-book.

Retreat vs. Travel

In my mind, there are 3 different types of vacation. Retreats, short-term travel, and long-term travel. Some of my personal experiences with each:

Retreats: My last post is an example of a retreat. For us particularly, this retreat was only 24 hours. What did we accomplish in the 24 hours? Some exercise in the form of tennis and yoga, negating that exercise with too much food, and some much needed reconnecting. This trip was a chance for us to recharge the batteries for our marriage, as well as take some time to appreciate our kids more.

Retreats can also include kids. I’ve heard a lot about Disney cruises and cruises in general recently. These type are great because you can still be with your family, but planning and effort is minimal. The kids are occupied by the many activities that are available and mom and dad can rest and relax.

Short-term travel: For our family, this is the trips to Japan and Hong Kong that we have taken. Travel is inherently more involved than a retreat, regardless of the distance. You’re typically going longer distances and going with the purpose of experiencing something new, not just unplugging.

Challenges: Finding the time to take a week or two off. Creating room in the budget for flights and accommodations.

Long-term travel: Termed vagabonding. This type of travel is geared upon the idea that travel should create some doubt in your mind. Things shouldn’t be planned out, but opportunities should be taken advantage of as they present themselves. This is the missing link in our travel experiences thus far.

Why is travel important? I love this quote that I heard recently from The Daily Travel Podcast by Nathaniel Boyle:

“One of the greatest benefits of travel is that it can redefine what you perceive your limits to be and also accustom you to new experience and to challenge and make you not only know how to handle it, but make you more confident about it and make you hungry for it.”

I love this quote, because I feel like travel is one of the best ways for a person and a family to grow. It expands your capabilities, makes you more creative, empathetic and passionate about life.

So, what do I envision this long-term travel looking like for us?

Over the next several years, we’ll take a month to travel, alternating between Central and South America, and Southeast Asia diving as deep into the culture as possible. Food will be central to the experience, as we’ll meet locals, take cooking classes and share meals with local chefs and average families. We’ll explore the most beautiful areas of each place, experiencing sunrises and sunsets from places around the earth. Our kids will have the experience of taking classes to learn local customs and traditions, focusing on the music and dance that make each place we travel to unique.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about how we’re going to finance these trips, all without derailing our long term financial goals.

How to buy happiness

Last time I wrote about my quest to get rid of 1,000 things and live a minimalist lifestyle. 2015 is the year that I’m not buying anything for myself. But I’m a strong believer that happiness can be bought.

This past weekend was a great example of this. My wife Sarah and I just took a 24 hour trip (sans kids) to Midway, UT. It’s only 45 minutes away from where we live, but it was a great way to recharge and reconnect with each other in a way that is difficult with kids. Don’t get me wrong. We love our kids more than anything. We get our greatest joy from them and love that our life centers around them. Most of the time, at least. It’s important to have some time to focus on us as a couple. That’s what this past weekend was.

Since the title of this post is how to buy happiness, I’ll tell you how much happiness cost us during this 24 hours: About $216 dollars. I’ll come back to this part of it as I explain what we spent our money on to buy happiness. But first the question: How do you buy happiness?

Happiness is bought as money is spent not on possessions, but experiences. Purchasing items can also lead to happiness if those items are thoughtful gifts to people that appreciate them.

Purchasing experiences: Think back to the past year or two. What are the memories that come to mind? For me, the first few that come to mind are:

1. the birth of our son Kenji and many of the firsts that come with a baby and our daughter Charlotte.

2. Our trip to Hong Kong to visit Sarah’s parents and return to where I lived for 2 years serving an LDS mission.

3. Going to Lake Tahoe to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary

4. A trip down to Canyonlands with Sarah’s family

5. Trips to California to visit my parents.

None of those involve purchasing items, though all involved some money, and some of them a significant amount of money. There are very few things that I’ve purchased in the past few years that have added any measure of happiness to my life (my iPhone, my new Nike running shoes, a few of my favorite pants, shirts, and blazers), but even these select few things will soon be replaced, not leaving any memories in their wake. The five memories from above will last a life time.

So, back to yesterday and Friday. How did we buy happiness? What make us happy?


Kolaches – ~$8 – A super good Czech breakfast. Apparently they’re popular in Texas and are making their way to Utah. There’s a place called Hrushka’s Kolaches in Provo, but we got these at Kolaches in Heber. Little hole in the wall place.IMG_1679IMG_1682

Sushi – ~$65 – Takashi is the best sushi place we’ve been to in Utah. The hamachi (yellowtail) is delicious. They have some really interesting rolls (Sunshine has thinly sliced lemon, and Strawberry Fields has strawberry in it) that are good, but we’re more fans of the traditional nigiri.

IMG_1696 IMG_1697

Custard – $5 – Nielson’s Frozen Custard. We stop here anytime we’re within 15 minutes of Nielson’s. Makes us happy every time. A concrete with raspberry and almonds is our go to.


Yoga  – Free at the hotel we stayed at –  Sarah’s been into yoga for a few years now, but this was my first shot at it. And I loved it. I already have been thinking that my March challenge was going to be around meditation, and this solidified it.

Tennis – $9 for 3 packs of tennis balls – We used to play more tennis BC (before Charlotte), but we played this weekend and had a lot of fun. Sarah beat me as always.

Hotel – ~$120 for one night. Deal found on Hipmunk. We stayed at the Homestead. A fine hotel, not great. We talked about staying at home to save money for the next time we do this, but we decided the hotel is important to help us detach and not feel like we needed to clean our house or be responsible.

This was a great retreat for us. We loved it. Tomorrow, I’ll write more about retreats vs. short-term travel vs. long-term travel and the importance of each.

Why an obsession with travel led to minimalism

Soon after getting home from Hong Kong, I happened to listen to an episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Rolf Plotts, author of Vagabonding. The timing of this was so perfect! It meshed perfectly with everything that I had been thinking about and everything that Sarah and I had been talking about. You ever have those experiences where someone perfectly articulates everything that the thoughts bouncing around in your head? This is probably one of the most profound one of those experiences that I’ve had.

Vagabonding, Rolf Plotts’ book that is at the front of my long reading list, describes how to make extended travel happen. Extended travel is basically the difference between seeing a place and a culture vs. experiencing it. True vagabonding happens over the course of 6-18 months, but can also happen in as little as 6 weeks. When I think of vagabonding, I think of the nomadic people that I ran into during my study abroad in China, packs on their back, recently landed from another country.

Now, for our family, I see us being on the minimum end of vagabonding. Early next year I see us spending 4-6 weeks in Puerto Rico, DR or Costa Rica. Man! Even putting that statement out there is scary! We’ve travelled a decent amount in the past 5 years that we’ve been married (Japan, Hong Kong, Hawaii and probably about a dozen US states), but we haven’t done anything extended in another country. And especially not with kids. How does one even make this step?

One of the quick realizations I made is that based on our income and long-term financial goals, it wouldn’t be easy. But with discipline, it’s definitely possible. Enter minimalism.

What is minimalism? This post from is great explanation and worth a full read. Essentially, minimalism is freedom. The pursuit of minimalism has given me freedom in two important ways: Time and money.

Time: A couple of months ago, I grew very tired of the clutter in our house. My mind couldn’t stop thinking about travel, but it felt like most of my time after the kids went to bed was spent cleaning up after them, and if I’m being honest with myself, cleaning up after ourselves as well. While I can’t say that we’re there yet, our house is in much better order, and I spend less time cleaning and more time planning how to travel more.

Also, minimalists try to limit the amount they take on. I can’t remember who said it, but some venture capitalist I was listening to recently said that if an opportunity comes their way that doesn’t make them excited at a 9 or 10 level, they say no. There are so many good options that can fill our time. But 7’s and 8’s are the types of things that typically get procrastinated or don’t get done at all. They’re the things that clutter our mind because we know they need to get done, but we don’t have the energy and can’t find the time to do them. Minimalists say no to these things to begin with.

Money: As I said in my last post, a) I’m trying to get rid of 1,000 items in our home and b) I committed to not buy anything for myself. My commitment to dejunk helps my commitment to not buy anything and vice versa. But more importantly, I’ve realized how unimportant physical possessions are.

That said, tomorrow I’m going to write about how to buy happiness.