All posts by KSRI

10 Best Gas Credit Cards of 2019


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Gas is one of the most popular credit card rewards categories. That’s no surprise, as most Americans rely on gas-powered cars to get around and are always searching for ways to save money on gas. Many general-purpose cash back credit cards include gas or gas station purchases as a regular rotating category, while others feature permanent cash back on gas buys.

When deciding which card best fits your needs, pay special attention to any spending caps, brand restrictions, and time limits that could eat into your earning power. Read each card’s fine print to get the lowdown on any exclusions or restrictions. For instance, most general gas credit cards that offer cash back at “all U.S. gas stations” specifically exclude warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club and Costco, which sell discounted gas and have their own cash back rewards programs. And pay special attention to interest rates, which can sometimes be higher than those of non-rewards credit cards.

Caveats aside, these are the best gas and gas station credit cards available today.

Best Gas Credit Cards

1. Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

3% Unlimited Cash Back at U.S. Gas Stations; 6% Cash Back at Supermarkets and on Select Digital Media Services

american express blue cash preferred card

The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express has one of the best gas rewards programs around: 3% unlimited cash back on purchases at all U.S. gas stations, with no spending caps or other restrictions. You also earn 6% cash back on supermarket purchases up to $6,000 per year and unlimited 6% cash back on select digital media services, including Netflix and HBO. Plus, you get 1% cash back on all non-gas and non-supermarket purchases, with no limits. However, there’s a $95 annual fee.

Other benefits include a nice welcome offer and generous intro APR period. You can redeem your cash back rewards as a statement credit, gift card, and general merchandise, starting at $25.

  • Welcome Offer: Earn $200 cash (statement credit) when you spend at least $1,000 in the first 3 months of card membership.
  • Key Fees: There’s a $95 annual fee. Foreign transactions run 2.7%.
  • Introductory APR: There is a 0% purchase and balance transfer APR for 12 months. After that, regular variable APR applies.
  • Other Perks: Card membership has a host of fringe benefits, including access to cardholder-only entertainment events and return protection, which compensates you up to $300 per item for attempted returns rejected by merchants.

See our American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card Review for more information. Find out how you can apply for this card here.

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2. Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

4% Cash Back on Gas Purchases 

The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi has a generous gas benefit: 4% cash back on the first $7,000 in gas purchases each year. This rate applies on gas purchased at all U.S. gas stations, not just Costco filling hubs. Above the $7,000 spending threshold, gas purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back. Eligible restaurant and travel purchases earn unlimited 3% cash back worldwide, and Costco purchases earn unlimited 2% cash back in-store and online. All other purchases earn unlimited 1% cash back.

If this card has a drawback, it’s the de facto $60 annual fee for regular cardholders. Like all warehouse stores, Costco charges an annual membership fee, and you won’t qualify for this card without agreeing to pay it. That said, Costco membership promises deep savings for frequent shoppers, so this is one credit card annual fee that pays for itself without much trouble. A foreign transaction fee waiver sweetens the pot further.

  • Sign-up Bonus: This card has no sign-up bonus.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee with a paid-up Costco membership, which costs $60 for a standard (Gold Star) membership and $120 for a premium (Executive) membership, plus applicable sales tax (if any). There is no foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 3% of the transferred amount, and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
  • Introductory APR: There is no 0% APR introductory promotion.
  • Other Perks: Other fringe benefits include complimentary rental car loss and damage coverage and extended warranties on select purchases with existing manufacturers’ warranties.

See our Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi Review for more details. If you’re interested in the nearly identical business version of this card, check out our Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card by Citi Review. Find out how you can apply for this card here.

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3. Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Unlimited 3X Points on U.S. Gas Station Purchases; Excellent Sign-up Bonus

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card earns unlimited 3X points (effectively, 3% cash back) on purchases in a slew of spending categories, including restaurants, transit operators, airlines, and digital streaming services. But the category that matters for our purposes is U.S. gas stations. With no limits on its 3% gas subsidy and no rotating categories to worry about, this is a great card for folks who put lots of miles on their cars.

Propel’s utility isn’t limited to its expansive cash back program. This card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, so it’s an ideal secondary card (perhaps for use only at the pump) and a great overseas spending aid to boot. The introductory APR promotion isn’t half bad either.

  • Sign-up Bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus points (worth up to $300 when redeemed for cash) when you make at least $3,000 in qualifying purchases within 3 months of your account opening date.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 3% of the transferred amount during the first 120 days, then the greater of $5 or 5%. Cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
  • Introductory APR: There is a 0% purchase and balance transfer APR for 12 months (qualifying balance transfers must be made within 120 days of account opening). After that, regular variable APR applies (currently 16.24% to 28.24% variable).
  • Other Perks: Perks include extended warranties lasting one additional year from the expiration of the manufacturer’s warranty, reimbursement for covered losses (up to certain limits) when items are damaged or stolen after purchase, and cell phone protection (subject to limitations and exclusions).

See our Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card Review for more information. Learn more about this card and find out how you can apply here.

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4. Chase Freedom®

5% Cash Back on Gas Purchases During 1 Quarter per Year (On Average); Great Sign-up Bonus

Chase Freedom Credit CardChase Freedom is a general-purpose cash back credit card that offers 5% cash back on purchases up to $1,500 in quarterly rotating categories. All other purchases earn 1% cash back, with no spending caps or earning limits. Notably, there’s no annual fee. You can redeem for checks, statement credits, direct deposits, and purchases through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal. There’s no redemption minimum.

While gas and gas stations aren’t always part of the 5% club, Chase Freedom has historically included at-the-pump gas or gas station purchases (covering all U.S. brands, in both cases) in at least 1 of its 4 annual 5% bonus rotating categories. In other words, you can expect your Chase Freedom card to pay 5% on gas purchases roughly 3 or more months out of the year. Plus, there’s a really nice sign-up bonus and a solid intro APR period. However, you need to manually activate your 5% cash back categories before the middle of their expiration month.

  • Sign-up Bonus: Earn a $150 cash back bonus when you make at least $500 in qualifying purchases within 3 months of account opening.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee. The foreign transaction fee is a flat 3%. When you transfer a balance within the first 60 days, the balance transfer fee is the greater of 3% or $5 of the transferred amount. Thereafter, the balance transfer fee is the greater of 5% or $5. Cash advances always cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
  • Introductory APR: There is a 0% purchase and balance transfer APR for 15 months. After that, regular variable APR applies.
  • Other Perks: The Chase Purchase Protection insurance product covers all purchases made with your Chase Freedom card for 120 days, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.

See our Chase Freedom Card Review for more information. Find out how you can apply for this card here.

Apply Now


5. Chase Ink Business CashSM Credit Card

2% Cash Back on Up to $25,000 in Gas Purchases; Up to 5% Cash Back on Other Spending Categories; Business Users Only

chase ink business cash credit cardChase Ink Business CashSM is a business credit card with a very generous gas reward: 2% cash back on combined gas station (in-store and at the pump) and restaurant purchases, up to $25,000 per year. You can redeem for statement credits, direct deposits, checks, and Ultimate Rewards purchases, starting at a $20 minimum.

Ink Business Cash’s rewards don’t stop there. The card also offers 5% cash back on office supply and communications purchases (cellular phone, landline, Internet, and cable TV services), up to $25,000 per year. All other purchases earn 1% cash back, with no spending caps or earning limits. Other perks include a nice sign-up bonus, no annual fee (which is somewhat unusual for a business card), and relatively low APR.

Remember that the Ink Business CashSM is meant for business financing. If you don’t own your own business, you likely won’t qualify for this card.

  • Sign-up Bonus: Earn $500 bonus cash back when you spend at least $3,000 in qualifying purchases within 3 months.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee. Foreign transactions cost 3%. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5%, and cash advances the greater of $15 or 5%. Late payments range from $15 to $39, depending on balance size.
  • Introductory APR: 0% on purchases for 12 months. After that, regular variable APR applies.
  • Other Perks: Extended warranty protection extends warranties lasting less than three years for an additional year at no additional charge.

See our Chase Ink Business Cash Card Review for more information. Find out how you can apply for this card here.

Apply Now


6. Hilton Honors Amex Ascend Card

6X Points on Gas Purchases 

The Hilton Honors Amex Ascend card is arguably the best hotel credit card for gas rewards. If you frequently travel for business and have a long commute to the home office, or need to cover an extensive sales territory by car, this is the card for you – provided you can find a Hilton property on the road.

All gas station purchases earn unlimited 6 Honors points per $1 spent. So to do supermarket and restaurant purchases. Qualified purchases at Hilton properties earn a whopping 12 points per $1 spent, while all other purchases earn unlimited 3 points per $1 spent. Award night redemptions start as low as 5,000 points per night at the lowest-tier Hilton properties, so you can treat yourself to a free stay after as little as $834 in gas spending. If business takes you abroad, you’ll make out well with no foreign transaction fee here.

  • Sign-up Bonus: Earn 125,000 bonus Hilton Honors points when you spend at least $2,000 during the first 3 months your account is open. That’s worth up to 25 free nights when redeemed for award stays at the lowest-tier Hilton properties.
  • Key Fees: The annual fee is $95. There’s no foreign transaction fee. Cash advances cost the greater of $5 or 3%.
  • Introductory APR: There’s no introductory APR promotion.
  • Other Perks: This card comes with a slew of benefits for frequent travelers, including a free weekend award night every year in which you spend at least $15,000, complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status as long as your account remains in good standing, and up to 10 free visits to participating Priority Pass airport lounges.

See our Hilton Honors Amex Ascend Card Review for more information.


7. Citi Premier℠ Card

3x Points on Gas Purchases; No Foreign Transaction Fees

The Citi Premier℠ Card is a travel rewards credit card with a great gas benefits. You earn 3 points per $1 spent on all travel purchases, including in-store and at-the-pump gas station purchases across the U.S., as well as 3 points per dollar spent on airfare, hotels, and rental cars. You earn 2 points per $1 on dining and entertainment purchases, and 1 point per $1 spent on everything else.

Redeem your points at Citi’s ThankYou® portal, where you can buy airfare and other travel items, gift cards at major merchants, apparel, electronics, statement credits (your best bet if you’re looking for a cash equivalent), direct purchases with retailers like Amazon and Best Buy, and much more. Redemption minimums vary by redemption method. Another perk: no foreign transaction fee.

  • Sign-up Bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points when you make at least $4,000 in purchases with your card within the 3 months of opening your account.
  • Key Fees: The annual fee is $95. There’s no foreign transaction fee, but late and returned payments both cost $35. Balance transfers run the greater of $5 or 3%, and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
  • Introductory APR: There’s no intro APR.

See our Citi Premier℠ Card Review for more information. Learn more about this card here.

Learn More


8. U.S. Bank Business Edge™ Cash Rewards World Elite™ Mastercard®

3% Unlimited Cash Back on Gas, Cellular, and Office Supply Purchases

us bank business edge cash rewards cardU.S. Bank Business Edge Cash Rewards is another no-annual-fee business credit card meant for small business owners. With unlimited 3% cash back on at-the-pump gas, cellular, and office supply purchases, it’s an on-the-go business owner’s dream – and eliminates worry about sticking to spending limits. The redemption minimum is $25, and you can redeem for statement credits, direct deposits (U.S. Bank accounts only), or Mastercard gift cards.

Like the Ink Business Cash Card, this card is only for business owners. If you don’t own your own business, look elsewhere. To maximize the gas benefit, order additional credit cards (at no extra charge) for your field employees.

  • Sign-up Bonus: Earn $200 bonus cash when you spend at least $1,000 in eligible purchases during the first 3 months your account is open.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 3%, and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 4%. Foreign transactions run 2% if denominated in dollars, and 3% if denominated in foreign currency. Late fees range from $19 to $39, depending on balance size.
  • Introductory APR: There is an intro 0% purchase APR for 9 months. After that, variable regular APR applies.
  • Other Perks: You can get an unlimited number of employee cards (tied to the same account) at no additional charge. All extra employee cards also earn cash rewards.

Find out how you can apply for this card here.

Learn More


9. Sunoco Rewards Credit Card

Instant Unlimited $0.05 Off per Gallon on Gas Purchased at Sunoco Gas Stations

sunoco gas rewards cardThe Sunoco Rewards Card offers a simple, powerful gas reward: unlimited $0.05 off per gallon of gas purchased at U.S. Sunoco gas stations. The discount is automatically applied with no action required on your part, except to use the card to purchase gas, and no other restrictions. Watch out for this card’s high APR.

  • Sign-up Bonus: There’s no sign-up bonus.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fee. Late payments cost $38, and the cash advance fee is the greater of $10 or 5%.
  • Introductory APR: There’s no intro APR.
  • Other Perks: Get unlimited extra cards for family members at no additional cost.

Find out how you can apply for this card here.

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10. Citi Rewards+℠ Card Review

2X Points on Gas Station Purchases, Up to $6,000 in Category Spending Per Year

The Citi Rewards+℠ Card earns 2 ThankYou points per $1 spent on eligible gas station purchases, up to $6,000 in annual combined category spending. Supermarket purchases also earn 2 points per $1 spent and count toward the $6,000 spending cap for bonus point earnings. Above the annual cap, all purchases, including gas station purchases, earn unlimited 1 point per $1 spent. Citi Rewards is the only card that automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase, every time.

Like ThankYou points earned through Citi Premier, you can redeem for pretty much anything at the ThankYou portal, and you can shop with points at major merchants like Amazon and Best Buy as well. For the first year, you’ll get 10% points back on the first 100,000 points redeemed.

  • Sign-up Bonus: When you spend at least $1,000 in eligible purchases during the first 3 months your account is open, you’ll earn 15,000 bonus ThankYou points. That’s enough to redeem for $150 in gift cards.
  • Key Fees: There’s no annual fee. The foreign transaction fee is 3%. Late payments cost $38, and the cash advance fee is the greater of $10 or 5%.
  • Introductory APR: 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, the variable APR is 15.74% to 25.74%, based on your creditworthiness.

See our Citi Rewards+℠ Card Review for more information. Find out how you can apply for this card here.

Learn More


Final Word

Since most American households own at least one car, and gas is therefore a necessary expense for most people, it’s no surprise that gas is such a popular credit card rewards category.

On the other hand, even the most committed drivers spend money on plenty of things other than gas. If you drive often, by all means, sign up for one of the gas rewards credit cards. However, consider pairing your gas card with a general-purpose rewards card that offers cash back on a wider range of purchase types – or all purchases, regardless of type. Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards and Citi Double Cash are great examples of generous general-purpose cards.

And before you submit your gas credit card application, make sure you’re actually going to use it enough to make it worthwhile. Consider how much you drive and what type of car you own, which merchants accept the card, whether you’re allowed to use it at grocery store or warehouse club gas stations, and the regular purchase APR. Always read your card’s fine print, and check for changes regularly after you start using it.

Finally, if at all possible, pay your balance in full each month. If paying in full is a challenge, opt for a low APR credit card instead.

What’s your favorite gas rewards credit card?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.



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Books with Impact: You Need a Budget


The “Books with Impact” series takes a deeper look at specific books that have had a profound impact on my financial, professional, and personal growth by extracting specific points of advice from those books and looking at how I’ve applied them in my life with successful results. The previous entry in this series covered Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith.

You Need a Budget was the first personal finance software package I really fell in love with. I dabbled with Microsoft Money (RIP) and Quicken when I was first turning my finances around, but it was You Need a Budget that really clicked with me when I started using a spreadsheet-based version of the software many years ago, and I still use You Need a Budget 4 (the last standalone version of the software) on occasion when trying to get a clear picture of my finances because I simply love how it handles and displays my financial information.

What drew me to the software more than anything, however, was the philosophy behind it. YNAB wasn’t just a piece of software for tracking your finances; it was designed to help you follow a rather in depth philosophy and program for improving your financial state, something that other major personal finance software packages never really had (and still don’t, for the most part). That philosophy, encapsulated in four simple rules, was the really valuable part of the whole system.

That brings me around to this book. You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham (the founder of YNAB) is basically the philosophy behind YNAB expanded with details into a short but quite powerful book, a book that I want to dig deep into because of the all-around solid personal finance philosophy and system it contains.

Let’s dive right in.

A New Way to Look at Your Money

The book starts off with an insightful criticism of the traditional form of budgeting, budgeting in which you merely list a lot of categories, come up with spending targets for each category, and then aim for those targets in those categories.

What’s wrong with it? It’s inflexible. You can’t prioritize one budget category over another. It’s inherently predictive, meaning you’re trying to guess what the future holds every time you make a spending target.

The big shift that the YNAB philosophy makes is that it focuses on spending what you have right now, rather than what you project you’ll have going forward, with a particular emphasis on how that money can get you to your goals. In other words, it chops the concept of projecting future income out of budgeting entirely.

The interesting part of this method as opposed to traditional budgeting is that it highlights the scarcity of money, as is nicely described on page 20:

[T]his feeling of scarcity is a good thing. It means you’re seeing your money for what it truly is: a finite resource – and this is a huge part of that mindset shift I talked about. It doesn’t actually matter how much money we have or don’t have. Scarcity is simply that feeling of wishing their were more. This is an important moment. The feeling of scarcity might tempt us to quit, but when we step back and embrace scarcity, we make good decisions.

I found this really interesting because it seems to fly in the face of the idea of an abundance mindset. In many aspects of life, it’s much better to have an “abundance” mindset, meaning that you perceive that the pie is infinite in size so it’s not a big deal to share with others because you’ll still have more than enough for yourself. YNAB centers around the opposite idea, at least for your finances: all you have is this little pool of money.

The argument is that, in terms of your money, the future is abundant and thus very difficult to reasonably budget. The present of your financial situation, however, is scarce – there’s only a limited amount of money and you have to make the most of it that you can.

The advantage of applying a scarcity mindset to your financial state is that it shows you that each dollar is important and everything in your life is vying for each and every dollar because there’s only so much to go around. Much of the justification for splurging comes from an abundance mindset about money – there will always be more money, so why not just spend it now on something unimportant? When you walk away from that mindset and adopt a scarcity mindset for your money, splurging becomes just another competitor alongside things that are likely more important to you.

Because you’re treating every expense and financial goal as a hungry mouth wanting to devour part of that relatively small pool of money you have right now, you have to prioritize. Which of these expenses is the most important right now? If I give $200 to this, what other possible expense has to go without money for now? You begin to feel those little frivolous nickel and dime expenses actually ripping money away from things you know are more important, and that forces you to start thinking about every dollar with seriousness.

Another interesting aspect to this perspective is that it forces you to start taking responsibility for your future now. If you want to have things in the future, you have to put money aside for them now. Taking money away from future savings goals and giving it to something else is effectively saying no to your future goals. If you want that future goal, you have to put your money where your mouth is now. There is no “someday” that will take care of it.

This leads directly into the first “rule” of the YNAB philosophy.

Rule One – Give Every Dollar a Job

It’s simple. From page 33:

Just check your bank account balance and assign a job to every dollar you own. You’re officially budgeting the moment you start doing this, and with every “job” you assign, you’re answering the question: What do I want my money to do for me?

Of course, this starts with figuring out what needs to get done with your money along with what your big goals are. What are the urgent things that have to be covered soon, like your current bills, the rent, your food needs in the next week or so, and so on? What long term things do you want to happen in your life? What fun things do you want to do in the near future – or even a little way down the road? What big bills are coming up?

You want to start with survival. What do you need to make it through the next few weeks with your basic well being intact? You need food, water, shelter, hygiene, and clothes on your back, basically. After that, move onto obligations – electricity, debt payments, garbage removal, and so on. Those are the basics. Those are the needs. Those are the things that, if you don’t handle them, your short term life gets bad quickly. It is vital to separate these things from non-essential habits that you’re treating as necessities. Coffee isn’t a necessity – it’s a non-essential habit. Non-basic foods aren’t a necessity – they’re just something you want because it’s tasty or healthy or whatever. Alcohol? Not a necessity. Filter those things out for now.

You’ll also need to consider longer-term obligations, like upcoming expenses that you know are coming. It’s time to cover a fraction of those things – and cover another fraction each time you get an influx of cash.

After that, it really comes down to your personal priorities, and that’s where you need to start thinking. What is actually a real priority in my life? The nice part about this philosophy is that it’s literally about putting your money where your mouth is. Once you’ve covered survival and obligations, the things you do with your money are up to your personal priorities, and there’s no hiding them here. What you do with your money is your true priority, regardless of what you tell yourself.

The use of each and every dollar you have is an expression of either the basic needs of your life or what your life’s priorities are. Each and every dollar has a “job,” in other words. It’s doing something for you.

My experience has been that the more in line your personal priorities are with the “job” you assign to every dollar in your life, the more peaceful you feel. It’s when you’re not taking care of something that you’re theoretically prioritizing so that you can spend money on something that has a lower priority for you that you run into financial trouble, every time. It’s all about carefully considering what your priorities are.

This does not mean having no fun. However, what it does mean is that things that you spend money that have a comparatively low return in terms of the pleasure they give you should be pretty low on the priority list, below a lot of your long term goals. It’s okay to prioritize a few pleasures that bring you a lot of joy in the short term, but you have to be discerning about it. Some things simply aren’t as big of a deal as others, and those lesser things need to fall rapidly down the priority list.

This becomes very real when you’re looking at the money sitting in your checking account right now and assigning each and every dollar in there a job. Where does each of those dollars go? Doing it well requires some real thought and introspection, and that’s the real value of this system.

Rule Two – Embrace Your True Expenses

The “true expenses” that this chapter is talking about is alluded to a little bit in the previous chapter, but this chapter brings it into focus. It’s not just about making sure the bills are covered each month, but making sure that you’re also taking care of the irregular expenses in your life.

For example, let’s say you know you have an insurance bill for $700 coming due in 7 months, and you get paid twice a month. That means you should probably put $50 out of your current pile of cash aside toward that insurance bill and then do it again every time you have a cash influx so that the insurance bill is easily paid when it comes due.

Those are your true expenses – not just the daily ones or the monthly ones, but the irregular ones that come around once every six months or once a year or whatever. In the YNAB system, those required but infrequent expenses should always be directly gobbling up a little piece of the pool of money you have right now, as well as a piece of every influx of money that comes in (like a paycheck).

There are also things that are unexpected and inevitable, like needing to replace parts on your car or having to repair appliances in your home. It can be very hard to estimate these kinds of things, but following routine maintenance on a 15,000 mile per year car is about $50 per month, and a good annual budget for unexpected home costs is about 1% of your home’s value, so you can break that down, too. Those are pieces that need to come out of the pool of cash you have.

Beyond that, this is how you plan ahead for your big life goals. What slice of the current cash you have available is going to retirement? What about college savings for your kids? Your house down payment?

This obviously requires some planning, and that’s where software can help. The YNAB software is designed to do this very naturally, and it’s why I fell in love with it years ago. You can actually do all of this on a spreadsheet, too, if you’re familiar with Excel or Google Sheets.

Rule Three – Roll with the Punches

Just as it’s impossible to micromanage every second of your time because unexpected events always happen, it’s impossible to micromanage your money because of the unexpected events life deals us. We can have the best money plan in the world, but when something like a job loss or an unexpected family illness or a hailstorm occurs, the best laid plans are torn to shreds.

Unexpected expenses can often mean changing your budget, and changing your budget can feel like failure. It can feel like you didn’t plan for everything and now all of your planning is worthless.

It’s not.

Part of the value of this type of financial planning is that, once it gets going, it becomes very possible to roll with the punches. If a sudden high priority event comes along, you simply take cash designated for lower priority events to handle it. In other words, once you’ve been doing this for a while, your budget becomes something of a living thing, capable of changing and morphing around the unexpected moments of your life.

How does this work? Let’s say you decided you wanted to buy a new television for your family for Christmas and budgeted $1,000 for it. Using the YNAB system, you decide to put aside $50 per paycheck for it starting in February. September rolls around and suddenly the unexpected happens – you have a sudden $500 expense. Guess what? You can handle it. You have the cash set aside to do so.

But what happens to that television plan? Once the urgent thing is paid for, you reprioritize. Do you want to put aside $100 per paycheck until Christmas to cover it, or are there other priorities that you should deal with first? You get to make that choice because of the freedom that YNAB offers you.

The system really centers around prioritizing your expenses, and when an urgent expense comes in with a higher priority, then you can take away money put aside for lower priority expenses (like a $1,000 television for the holidays) to handle it. The key is understanding that you’re really only worried about the pool of money that you actually have in hand and how to use every dollar most effectively. You don’t worry about the next influx of cash until it arrives.

Rule Four – Age Your Money

The real power of this system is that, over time, it moves you to a situation where you don’t need your next paycheck, and given a long enough timeframe, it moves you to a situation where you don’t need any paycheck.

It’s actually quite simple. All you really have to do is over prepare a little for each of those expenses you know are coming so that eventually you’re covering next month’s rent out of this month’s pool of cash because the next rent payment is already covered. Then you’re covering two months in advance, then three.

Let’s say that you’re paid twice a month and your rent is $1,000 a month. If you say that out of every incoming pool of cash, you set aside $600 for rent, you will have next month’s rent covered at the end of the month with $200 left over. Do that again next month and there’s $400 left over. Three months later and you actually have a full month of rent already in the can in advance and you can start preparing for subsequent months.

Mecham refers to this as “aging your money.” You’re effectively using money you brought in two or three months ago to pay your rent now.

If you do that for every bill, a lot of good things start to happen.

For one, you can survive for a while without any influxes of cash. You roll right through a job change without skipping a beat. You get fired? No problem, as long as you can find a job in the next month or two. You have a sudden life emergency? No problem – you can just nibble a bit from the money you have put aside for rent two months from now.

For another, you can start feeling confident investing for really long term stuff. If you have two months of rent checks already covered, you can tone down your $600 twice a month put aside for rent down to $550 or $525, then apply that $50 or $75 twice a month to, say, retirement savings or an extra payment toward paying off a student loan. Think of it this way: you have the money set aside to cover all of your survival needs and obligations for the next two months, so you can start working on covering a month’s worth of survival needs and obligations for yourself when you’re old by contributing to retirement savings. It’s the same thing, just very long term.

For yet another, your money starts to earn money for itself as it is aging. When you only age it for a month or two in savings, it only earns a little bit of interest, but when you age money for 30 years in a retirement account, it earns a ton of return on your money.

For yet another, the more you age your money, the larger your pool of money that you have available to make decisions with. Remember, the YNAB philosophy orients itself around making decisions regarding only the money you have in hand. Thus, the more money you have on hand, the richer your decision making palette and the easier it seems to make room for big long term goals.

So, how do you get there? The book suggests setting a simple goal (page 110):

Set a goal to save what you spend in a typical month. When you hit your goal, budget out the new month with that money. Now your next paycheck can go to the following month. Your money is officially thirty days old.

And how do you get there?

Embrace the sprint. Go on a no-spending spree for as long as you can. Also hustle to bring in extra cash in creative (and legal) ways. Anything you save or earn goes straight to your savings for the next month.

The more you age your money, the better. It not only gives you breathing room, but it also grows your money.

The rest of the book consists of a series of short chapters talking about specific applications of these four rules to specific life situations.

Budgeting as a Couple

Here, Mecham essentially reiterates the core advice that almost everyone gives for couples dealing with money issues, because it’s hands-down the best advice and the one thing that works: communicate. You’ve got to talk about your money situation together, openly, with minimal emotion, and with a genuine intent to put you both in the best life possible.

The main focus of the chapter is on the idea of a monthly “money date,” where you sit down with your partner and fully go through your finances and budget, setting priorities together for the next month. Together is important here; there’s almost no better way for this to fall apart than for one partner to just dictate the financial rules to the other one.

One important part of “couples budgeting” is to recognize that you both need a bit of personal fun money. There has to be some breathing room in the budget for each of you to pursue your own interests or else there will be backlash against the whole idea, especially from the person less committed to the concept, so this should be a fairly high priority item. Now, if that person decides to use that personal fun money of theirs buying soft drinks at the convenience store, that’s their call.

Slaying Debt, Whatever Your Situation

How does debt repayment work into all of this?

First of all, accruing more debt should be pretty much entirely off the table if you’re using this philosophy. That includes credit card debt. The only time you might consider debt once you get this whole strategy rolling is something like a home loan or possibly a student loan, but consumer debt should be almost entirely avoided because you’re planning ahead for expenses now and sticking with just the pool of money you actually have in hand for your spending.

As for repayment of the debt you already have, the best strategy is to treat your basic payment as an obligation and treat an extra payment as a fairly high priority but non-essential item that you want to throw some money to each time money comes into your accounts. So, you make sure your minimum is covered, and then you put some significant priority to allotting some cash for an extra payment on that debt.

Teaching Your Kids to Budget

Mecham advocates giving children an allowance and using that as a basis for teaching basic money management skills when they reach middle and upper elementary and middle school. He advocates giving them one or two required commitments for portions of their allowance and then complete freedom in terms of the rest of it.

The one or two required commitments for a portion of their allowance – things like saving for college or giving to charity – are basically a microcosm of YNAB. If you talk about the philosophy behind this a little and then talk about how they can use the idea to take a portion of their weekly allowance and put it aside for bigger goals (like, say, a new game for their Nintendo Switch or a bunch of new canvases for painting), they’ll often come around to it on their own.

Even better, if you establish this kind of pattern early on in their life, they’re more likely to draw on that type of thinking later in life to build their own path to financial independence from you and financial success on their own.

When You Feel Like Quitting

This last section discusses a lot of reasons why people quit budgeting: they don’t leave themselves any breathing room, they set unrealistically low spending targets for things like household supplies or food, they assume that they can rapidly and permanently change a lot of their routines and habits, they demand too much too soon, and so on.

The key to sticking with a financial change, no matter what it is, is to accept that things won’t always go perfectly and it’s okay to be imperfect. What you’re looking for more than anything is to be a little better today than you were yesterday and to gradually move towards where you want to be while recognizing that steps backward are normal and aren’t a terrible sign of failure.

If you feel like quitting or feel like a failure, look at the progress you’ve made so far and feel good about it, then refactor your plans. What parts work well? Keep those. Which parts don’t work well? Ditch them or try new versions of them. No one has a perfect plan the first time they try.

A Brief Note About the Software

Although my focus here was writing about the book You Need a Budget, I felt it appropriate to make some references to the software package You Need a Budget a few times, and rather than reiterating my thoughts on the software package, I thought I’d summarize my thoughts in one place near the end.

Several years ago, YNAB version 4 was hands down my favorite piece of personal finance software. In fact, I still use that exact version at home because of how well it embodies the philosophy spelled out in this book, a philosophy I strongly agree with in most ways.

However, several years ago, YNAB chose to discontinue their standalone version 4 software and instead moved to a subscription-based software package. While I have no objection to the concept of software as service, I didn’t migrate to the subscription based version because, well, I still use my old version 4 software. I did do a trial of the subscription-based version, but I was pretty happy with my old software for a number of reasons (it does what I want, for one, and it also keeps all of my data local rather than in the cloud) and I’ll stick with it as long as it still runs.

So, if it seemed like I often stopped short of a full-throated endorsement of the software in its current form, that’s why. I don’t actually use the current form. Having said that, the current form of the software is a really well executed embodiment of the principles described in that book and cloud software is mature enough that I would feel safe putting information into the software that didn’t directly reveal my identity. It is the best budgeting software around today.

Final Thoughts

This book is a great readable explanation of the You Need a Budget philosophy and how to apply it to one’s own finances. This philosophy – and the accompanying software – was a vital part of my own financial turnaround, particularly during the period when we were finishing up paying off our consumer debt and considering buying a home and then figuring out how to handle expenses with multiple children. I still use the principles of the system, and I still occasionally use the software, though much of our financial organization is automated at this point. (In fact, the automation itself is a lot like You Need a Budget, as the automation just moves a lot of our income off to various pools and accounts for specific purposes.)

If you know of someone just trying to get a grip on managing their own money and getting a little ahead of the paycheck to paycheck life while building a foundation of money principles that can really grow with them as they get more and more ahead financially, this is a great book for them. The material might seem overly straightforward for someone who is already in a great financial place, but roughly 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and quite a few of them want a path out of that life, and this book’s a great starting point for them.



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Depression and me


For much of the past two weeks, I’ve been wrestling with my mental health. I could sense a crisis coming, so I scheduled some time away. I didn’t want to have to be worrying about blog posts while I was worrying about everything else. Thus, my “summer vacation”.

Long-time readers are aware that I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life.

In sixth grade, I missed five weeks of school with what my father called “parrot fever”. (We had parrots, and he attributed my issues to a parrot allergy.) After our family physician could find nothing wrong with me, Dad took me to his therapist. Hushed conversations followed the appointment. The verdict: I was dealing with depression.

In junior high, I was briefly suicidal but made a deliberate decision to turn things around. In high school and college, the depression was always there, looming in the shadows. As a young adult, it mostly went away…but then it came back as I got older.

In 1999, when I was thirty, I experienced something new: anxiety. At one point, I thought I was having a heart attack. Nope. It was a panic attack. When the second panic attack came a few weeks later, I knew it wasn’t my heart. It was me stressing about life.

Interesting note: It was after the second panic attack that my doctor strongly encouraged me to start drinking red wine. For real. Before that, I was a teetotaler.

During my divorce in 2011-12, Kris asked me a favor. “Please see a counselor,” she said. I did, and it helped. My therapist gave me advice for coping with depression and anxiety, plus she diagnosed me with ADD. For a few years, I was able to manage my symptoms.

Last year, though, things got bad. March and April and May were a struggle. In June, I published an article here about my ongoing battle with depression. During the summer, my mental health improved, however, and I forgot about how hard the spring had been.

Tweet about Anthony Bourdain's suicide

A Sneaky Little, Sticky Bitch

In February of this year, my anxiety returned. The depression followed soon after. When my heart-attack scare in mid-March turned up no physical issues (other than high blood pressure), my doctor suggested that the problem was anxiety. She asked me to start seeing a therapist again. So, I did.

Since early May, I’ve been attending talk therapy once a week. We’re exploring why I feel so anxious, and how using alcohol to cope with anxiety is a “maladaptive behavior”. We’re exploring other ways to make things work.

The trouble? When I don’t drink in the afternoon, I get more anxious.

The frustrating thing is that the depression and anxiety lead me to act like a completely different person.

For instance, I love people. I love spending time with people. Social interaction energizes me. Right now, though? I hate it. I don’t want to deal with anyone in any capacity. I don’t want to spend time with friends. I don’t want to be in crowds. (I make an exception for Portland Timbers games.) I don’t even want to go to the grocery store.

Here are some ways this manifests itself:

  • Today, I had a lunch appointment with a colleague and friend. Karl is a great guy and I enjoy spending time with him. Normally. Today, though, all I could think about were the reasons I might be able to cancel.
  • Yesterday, I taped a TV interview with a local station. I wanted to cancel that too. Afterward, I ought to have driven out to the family box factory. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to spend time with my brother and cousin.
  • This Sunday evening, there’s another Portland Timbers game. Kim can’t go with me, so I need to find somebody else to join me. I have zero desire to do so. I may end up selling the tickets and skipping the game because of my anxiety.

My medical doctor has prescribed propranolol to simultaneously deal with my high blood pressure and my anxiety. While it seems to be helping the former, it’s not helping the latter. (According to wikipedia, it’s really only useful for performance anxiety.)

Meanwhile, the depression is even worse. If you look at the symptoms of depression, I’m exhibiting every single one. Some of my symptoms are severe.

  • Fatigue? Have it.
  • Insomnia? You bet.
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness? Oh boy.
  • Irritability? Yes, and it’s so not me. I’m not an irritable guy — but I am lately.
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable? Absolutely, and it’s SO FRUSTRATING. Nothing appeals to me. I’m numb.
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions? You have no idea. Everything is a chore.

The latter is especially difficult to deal with. When Karl asked where to meet for lunch today, I couldn’t decide. Why not? That’s so simple! Last night, Kim wanted me to make dinner. But I didn’t because I couldn’t decide what to fix. That’s ridiculous!

A Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

In fact, yesterday was miserable. It might have been the worst day of my entire life.

My head was a mess of negative thoughts and emotions, all of them swirling and swirling and swirling in a never-ending dark cloud of despair. I couldn’t focus on anything. I did tape the TV interview (the first segment went very well, but the second bordered on incoherent) but that’s the only productive thing I did all day.

On the drive home, I bought — and then consumed — a big bowl of clam chowder, a big bag of potato chips, and an entire package of chocolate chip cookies. Then I sat in the hot tub and played a videogame for five hours. (At least I didn’t drink alcohol!)

When Kim came home, she asked, “What’s for dinner?” I admitted that I hadn’t made dinner — but I didn’t tell her how messed up my head had been all day. (She knows I’m struggling but she doesn’t know how badly.) While she changed out of her scrubs, I fried some frozen potstickers.

Naturally, all of this makes me feel even more guilty and worthless and depressed. It’s a vicious cycle.

I’m sure you can see how this would translate in an inability to get work done, both here at Get Rich Slowly and in my real life.

It’s a problem.

What’s the solution to the problem? I’m not sure. There must be one. But I don’t know what it is. Drink every afternoon? That’s what I’ve been doing, and it works. But, as my therapist says, it’s a maladaptive behavior. I think we all know where that road leads.

My therapist is patient. She keeps giving me homework assignments…and I keep avoiding them. Exercise! Meditate! Set goals! These all sound awesome. They’re all things I know I like to do. But they also sound like tremendous effort, so I don’t do them.

Bringing Gratitude

Instead of canceling my lunch appointment with Karl today, I went. I’m glad I did.

I’ve known Karl for almost a decade. He’s one of the most uplifting, supportive people I’ve ever met. I love that his work is centered on positivity. He runs a site called Bring Gratitude and he published a book by the same name. (Six months ago, he shared a guest article here at Get Rich Slowly about practicing gratitude with a daily journal.)

As we sat down for lunch, I told Karl point blank about the issues I’m going through.

“I can totally relate,” he said, and he shared some of his own past struggles.

“You know,” I said, “my therapist has been urging me to try meditation. But I don’t know how to start.”

Karl nodded. “I meditate. I meditated just this morning. But it can be tough to get going. You have so many thoughts racing through your head. Here’s one thing that might work, though. Give yourself one minute. Only a minute. For that minute, meditate on all of the things that you’re thankful for.”

“I like that idea,” I said. “I like it a lot. Normally, I’m a grateful guy. I’m a lucky man, and I know it. Usually. Lately, though, I’ve forgotten how awesome life is. Meditating on the things I’m grateful for would be a great way to remind me of what I’ve got.”

Thank You

On my drive home, I put Karl’s idea into practice. I took back roads. As I drove slowly through the countryside, I thought about all of the things that I’m thankful for.

  • I’m thankful for Kim. She’s a not just a wonderful partner in life, but she’s a wonderful person. She’s a good soul.
  • I’m thankful for my dog. Tahlequah is a handful (a pawful?), and I do get frustrated with her. But I’m also grateful to have such an enthusiastic hound dog in my life.
  • I’m thankful for my health. I haven’t taken care of myself much lately, but that’s on me. Generally speaking, my body is in fine shape. And with a little work, it could be in great shape once again.
  • I’m grateful for music. I don’t mention it much, but music brings great joy to my life. I love music of all sorts. Taylor Swift, yes, but also U2 and Mozart and Styx and ABBA and Public Enemy.
  • I’m thankful for Portland. I love the green of it. I love its quirky die-hard (sometimes absurd) liberalism. I love the food scene and the Timbers and the passion for books. Speaking of which…
  • I’m grateful for words. Books bring me joy. So does writing. I’ve managed to make a living from my words, and I hope to continue doing so in the future.
  • I’m grateful for life.

Here at home, I had a call with my business partner, Tom. We spent two hours talking about behind-the-scenes details here at Get Rich Slowly. We made plans for the future. But we also took a lot of time to talk about nothing.

It was awesome. It was just what I needed.

When I got off the call, the dog wanted to play. She looked up with puppy-dog eyes and made her little whine that means, “Dad, throw the ball for me.” We went outside into the sunshine and I threw the ball for her. Then, I got down on my knees and wrestled with her. She loves when I wrestle with her.

“I really do have a good life,” I thought after the dog and I were done chomping on each other. I went into the kitchen to put away the clean dishes. “I’m thankful for all of it.”

You know what? I’m thankful for Get Rich Slowly too. And for you, the readers. This site has been a huge blessing in my life — and I’m not one to talk much about blessings. I’ve put a lot into GRS, it’s true, but I’ve gotten so much more out of it. I’ve gotten so much from you folks.

So, thank you. I mean it. Thank you for reading. Thank you for contributing. Thank you for everything.

Few and Far Between

As Karl and I chatted at lunch today, I caught a Natalie Merchant song playing on the restaurant’s radio. At first I thought it was “Wonder”, but then I recognized it as “Few and Far Between”.

“How fitting,” I thought. Some of the lyrics:

“‘Til you make your peace with yesterday, you’ll never build a future. I swear by what I say: Whatever penance you do, decide what it’s worth to you, and then respect it. However long it will take to weather your mistakes? Why not accept it?”

So, that’s what has been going on in my life lately. It’s been a struggle. But I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. And I can see some money articles at the end of the keyboard. (Thank goodness, right?)

What’s been going on with you?

Author: J.D. Roth

In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he’s managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.



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Sick of Robocalls? This App Lets You Get Revenge


Photo by WAYHOME studio / Shutterstock.com

Anyone sick of robocalls can now exact a little revenge simply by downloading a smartphone app.

RoboKiller is an app that screens incoming calls for voice patterns that indicate when a call is likely a robocall — a process known as “audio fingerprinting.”

As RoboKiller explains, “Scammers may change their numbers, but they can’t change their voices.”

When RoboKiller identifies a spam call, one of thousands of “Answer Bots” intercepts the call. These bots proceed to engage the caller in annoying conversations. To hear samples of these calls, you can stop by the RoboKiller site. As the company states:

“From grumpy old men and big time producers with clout, to drunken waste-oids and a guy with bad gas, our Answer Bots are as hilarious as they are cunning. So drop in and listen at any time.”

In effect, the app lets you turn the tables on the robocaller.

Perhaps best of all, this typically happens without you knowing it, according to a report in Ozy. When RoboKiller intercepts a call, it does so before your phone even rings. If you like, you can entertain yourself by listening back later to see how RoboKiller handled the call.

RoboKiller promises “sweet revenge and an estimated 90% reduction in spam calls within 30 days.” But all of this vengeance comes at a price. Although RoboKiller offers a free seven-day trial, it costs $3.99 a month, or $29.99 a year, Ozy says.

RoboKiller is not available for landlines, according to its website, but the app is available for both Android and Apple mobile devices.

The app also supports all wireless carriers, although the Answers Bot feature only works with certain carriers. They include:

  • AT&T
  • Cricket
  • Metro
  • Sprint
  • T-Mobile
  • Verizon

How to stop robocalls

RoboKiller isn’t the only way to stop robocalls. As we reported in “7 Ways to Stop Robocalls in Their Tracks,” other software is available that can keep these infuriating calls at bay. You can find a selection of such software in that story.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson also discusses robocalls — and how to stop them — in “Ask Stacy: How Can I Stop These Darn Robocalls?”

Finally, the Federal Trade Commission details several types of robocall-fighting tools at its website.

How do you fight back against robocalls? Share your tips in comments below or on our Facebook page.



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Citi to End Price Rewind, Multiple Side Perks Across All Cards


At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Say it isn’t so, Citibank! The issuer is the latest to announce that it’s eliminating a variety of credit card benefits. Perks being discontinued across its lineup of Citi credit cards include Citi Price Rewind, as well as trip cancellation and interruption protection. Depending on what Citi card you have, you could be losing a lot more, too. 

The changes — which go into effect Sept. 22, 2019, and apply to cash-back cards and travel cards alike — are “due to sustained low usage” and are happening “so that we can continue providing key benefits our customers use and value most at no additional cost,” according to a Citi statement.

» MORE: Why credit card ‘side perks’ are disappearing

What’s going away?

Citi cardholders who log into their accounts may see a pop-up detailing the exact benefits being removed from their cards, which will vary depending on the Citi card. You can also call the number on the back of your card, but Citi confirmed that all cards will lose the following:

  • Citi Price Rewind (a form of price protection).
  • Trip cancellation and interruption protection.

Other departing perks, depending on the Citi card, include:

  • Worldwide car rental coverage.
  • Worldwide travel accident insurance.
  • Baggage delay and lost baggage protection.
  • Travel and emergency assistance.
  • Roadside assistance dispatch.
  • Trip delay protection.
  • Medical evacuation.
  • Damage and theft purchase protection.
  • Missed ticket protection.
  • 90-day return protection.
  • Extended warranty.

Again, contact Citi to find out how your card may be affected.

All mentions of these benefits have already been scrubbed from Citi’s website, including its Card Benefits page. Some perks will remain available on select cards, including Citi Identity Theft Solutions, Citi Entertainment perks and free access to FICO® Credit Scores.

What this means for you

All Citi cardholders will experience a significant loss of value with this move, but the severity of the blow depends on which Citi cards you have and how often — or whether — you use these side benefits.

Citi Price Rewind, in particular, has long been a defining feature for the issuer, especially as cards have begun to eliminate price protection as a standard perk. With Citi Price Rewind, if you find an item online at a lower price within 60 days of your purchase made with an eligible Citi card, you may receive the difference, up to $200 per item, $1,000 per year. (Citi had already pared back this benefit in summer 2018 from a maximum of $500 per item, $2,500 per year.)

Unlike other price protection policies, Citi Price Rewind takes a lot of the work out of the process, tracking online prices for you, as long as you’ve registered the purchase.

If you have a credit card with this benefit, you will still have coverage for purchases made prior to Sept. 22, 2019.

» MORE: Price protection: Which credit cards will refund a price drop?

As for the loss of other purchase and travel protections, you may miss some more than others. In particular, the loss of car rental coverage may sting, especially since — unlike with a benefit such as price protection — there’s typically no tracking or paperwork involved to receive the coverage. You merely have to pay for the rental with the eligible credit card and then decline the rental car company’s collision coverage.

Perks like rental car coverage, extended warranty and other protections are standard on many competing travel credit cards, so if these side benefits are important to you, it’s worth researching your options.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s guide to your credit card’s extended warranty policy



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Is Dollar Tree Raising Prices?


June 22, 2019 | Crystal Paine


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Did you hear about the possibility of Dollar Tree raising prices?! I really hope this doesn’t end up affecting how much I love Dollar Tree!!

{Be sure to check out my lists of 25 Things to Buy at Dollar Tree and 5 Things You Should NOT Buy at Dollar Tree!}

Dollar Tree store

Not everything will be $1 at Dollar Tree anymore??

Wait…what?! Isn’t that the whole point of Dollar Tree?

I was sad to see that Dollar Tree recently announced they’re introducing multiple price points on some of their merchandise. These items will be called Dollar Tree Plus! multi-price point products.

For now, it looks like this pricing will only be tested in select stores across the country to see how it goes. Have you noticed this pricing being tested at your store yet?

Nothing is official quite yet, because depending on how consumers respond to the test, they may or may not keep this multi-pricing model.

greeting cards at Dollar Tree

Does that mean Dollar Tree is raising prices?

Well, not technically!

The good news is that during this testing phase, they will not raise prices on their current assortment of products that are already priced at $1.

I’m hopeful that the test phase won’t be successful and Dollar Tree will stick with their original pricing.

photo frames at Dollar Tree

Why I love Dollar Tree so much

The main reason I love Dollar Tree so much is that I know I can go into the store and expect everything to be $1 or less! That’s the beauty of it!

I really hope this doesn’t affect the great $1 value items you can currently get at Dollar Tree.

I also wonder if I’ll eventually have to update my list of what NOT to buy at Dollar Tree. We’ll have to see!

Have you noticed any of these price changes/tests happening at your store? Let us know in the comments.

favorite things to buy at Dollar Tree

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How to Become a Top Airbnb Host in Denver



Tonya Peters’ husband, Miles Rugh, was skeptical.

She wanted to list their Virginia Village basement apartment in Denver, Colorado, on Airbnb, but he wasn’t keen on welcoming strangers into their space.

Finally, he agreed to give it a try. It’s been three years, and the couple has hosted too many guests to count.

“It’s fun, and it’s nice to earn money and give people a positive experience,” says Peters, now an Airbnb Superhost. “I find it to be a win-win situation.”

Even better: Denver is Airbnb friendly. What does that mean? In 2016, the City of Denver passed regulations welcoming home sharing.

So if you’re interested in giving this whole Airbnb hosting thing a try in Denver, we’ll walk you through the sign-up process and offer some pro tips, courtesy of Peters.

How to Create the Best Airbnb Listing in Denver

Before becoming an Airbnb host, you’ll want to check your local laws and prepare your space for guests. (We’ll get into that later.) Creating a listing itself is simple, but you’ll want to put some thought into it, so your space stands out from all the other Mile-High listings.

Answer Some Quick Questions About Your Space/Amenities

In this first part of setting up your listing, you’ll answer some basic questions about your space. In Denver, hosts can only list their primary residence, so you’ll provide details about things like the number of guests your space can accommodate and the included amenities.

Set the Scene With Photos

When it comes to photos, include a good variety of wide shots and close-ups. This will give interested guests a good idea of the overall space, but also point out important details from the listing.

“Some people are very visual and won’t read the listing description,” Peters says. “I make fun of the close-up coffee pot pictures, but in reality, someone might be really excited about that Keurig, because they know they’re going to have coffee.”

She offers another example: A photo of the keypad entry. “Then people know they can let themselves in any time,” Peters says. “That’s important for people.”

Think about what makes your listing appealing. Maybe it’s only a $20 Uber from Red Rocks, or it’s close to the light rail. It might be within walking distance of a King Soopers or Sprouts. Use photos to convey these selling points.

Oh, and that washer and dryer? It probably isn’t the prettiest sight, but if someone’s looking to stay in Denver for a week, it could be a major selling point — especially if they’re planning to do a lot of hiking.

Bottom line: Showcase your space, its amenities and its location in the photos. In a world full of people who scan, you can’t count on folks reading your description.

Write a Description

All right. Now that you’ve hooked your potential guests with your photos, it’s time to give them more details in the description.

Here, you should highlight everything that makes your space unique and sellable. When starting out, Peters did a little market research by browsing similar listings in her area. She looked at each one from a guests’ point of view, like she was looking for a place to stay while out of town.

She concluded: “I don’t like novels written or when people don’t separate out paragraphs. I want it easy to read, and I want to invite people to ask for more information.”

In Peters’ listing, she starts by concisely describing the space and its location. It’s steps from the light rail and tucked between downtown and the Denver Tech Center, two hotspots.

She even calls out the type of guest her space tends to best suit: “Best for low-key couples, biz travelers, DU visitors, tourists, cannabis consumers, LGBTQ folks, honeymooners and Red Rocks concert goers.”

The listing launches into more specifics, but no paragraph runs longer than two to three sentences.

Bottom line: Think about what you look for as a guest when you’re traveling, then highlight these features and amenities in short and concise paragraphs.

Name Your Listing

Now this is the fun (but sometimes tricky part): Giving your listing a name. Besides your featured image, this is what potential guests will see when thumbing through Airbnb options, so it should call out both an appealing feature and also give it a bit of character.

For example, Peters named her space the “Retro Pad by DU in Virginia Village.” That’s because her space is full of relics from her childhood and her grandmother’s house: an orange crushed velvet chair, a macramé lamp, her grandmother’s afghans, a starburst clock… The name totally fits.

Because it stands out from the crowd, it helps make her listing more memorable to guests — and potential guests. “I think naming it gives people more attachment to it,” Peters says. “They’ll say, ‘We loved staying at the Retro Pad!’”

Bottom line: Give your listing a name that calls out its best features and also differentiates it from other listings. Bonus points if you give it a unique personality of its own.

Set House Rules

Airbnb has a set list of rules you can opt into if you’d like them included in your listing. A few of these include: suitable for pets, smoking allowed, and events or parties allowed. You also have the option to write in additional rules.

Try not to set too many rules; it could turn guests off. One area you’ll want to be clear with (because we’re talking Denver, after all) is your stance on smoking.

Peters decided to make her space 420-friendly, but she sets boundaries. She installed a charcoal-filter fan and asks that guests who do smoke use the fan. She also welcomes them to use the shared back porch. One rule hard no? No butane extractors, because they pose a safety issue with the water heater.

“We keep little signs around the apartment as reminders,” she says. “We haven’t had negative experiences around it; we’re pretty flexible people.”

Bottom line: When it comes to setting rules, don’t set too many. Pick and choose your battles. Those rules you do set, leave little reminders around your space to help your guests follow along.

Set up Your Calendar

Taking time to set up your calendar is important, because if you cancel on your guests, Airbnb will charge you a penalty fee.

A few questions you’ll answer include:

  • How often do you want to have guests?
  • How much notice do you need before a guest arrives?
  • When can guests check in?
  • How far in advance can guests book?
  • How long can guests stay?

You can always change these settings as you go, so don’t feel like you’re locked into anything.

Peters has found that most people don’t plan more than three months in advance. In fact, she gets a ton of reservations one-and-a-half to two months ahead of time, especially in the summer.

“It’s just understanding how it works and not panicking if you don’t have a full calendar right away,” Peters says.

Price Your Space

Airbnb has a Smart Pricing tool, which you can opt into to automatically adjust the price of your listing according to demand. For example, Airbnb will likely increase the price of your listing automatically if folks start booking up listings for a big concert at Red Rocks or during Denver PrideFest or the Great American Beer Festival.

You can — and should — set price minimums and maximums, so your listing won’t dip below a certain amount or spike to something unrealistic. Although Airbnb will suggest these amounts when you’re signing up, you should do your own research, too.

To determine these prices, you’ll first want to consider your expenses and how much it costs to maintain your space. Second, you’ll want to check out other similar listings to see how much they’re going for.

When you’re starting out, you’ll want to price your place lower, so you can get guests in the door, accumulate reviews and work your way to that Superhost status, which will help increase bookings in the long run.

Note Your Local Laws

All right! This is the fun part. Just kidding, but your local short-term rental laws in Denver aren’t bad. In fact, Peters says it’s one of the reasons Denver is such a great place to become an Airbnb host.

In Denver, you should:

  • Review Denver’s short-term rental rules and insurance requirements. These are all listed in this three-page document.
  • Secure a short-term rental license from the City and County of Denver if you plan to rent your property to guests for one to 29 days at a time. This must be your primary residence; if it’s not, you’ll need to obtain a Lodging Facility License. You can apply online, and note there’s a $25 fee. You’ll have to renew your license annually.

Also note Airbnb will ask you provide your business license number on your actual listing. When you’re signing up, you’ll see this, or you can add it by going to manage listing > calendar > location. You’ll find a box to paste it into there.

  • Don’t forget the Denver Lodger’s tax. You’ll need to apply for the Lodger’s Tax license, which is a $50 fee for two years of coverage. The tax rate is 10.75%, which is automatically charged to guests when they book through Airbnb.

These are the main licenses and regulations to consider. If you have questions along the way, Denver’s Short-Term Rental Advisory Committee meets regularly and aims to provide guidance and recommendations for short-term rental hosts.

In addition to hosting laws, you’ll also want to check with your homeowners association or landlord to make sure short-term rentals are permitted.

Also note that short-term rentals could invalidate some homeowner’s insurance, so check these policies with your provider.

Ready to Give This Whole Hosting Thing a Go?

How are you feeling? Like we said, listing your place on Airbnb is simple — but it does require some creativity and strategy. The good news is you can adjust or change your information and settings at any time, so you’re not locked into anything permanently.

Peters’ biggest tip? “It’s just staying up on your listing and being connected to it,” she says.

Airbnb is constantly changing its features, so keep your eyes peeled. Don’t be afraid to tweak your listing description, prices and calendar settings. Plus, Denver itself is constantly evolving, so stay in tune with your city.

And Peters reminds Denverites: “You’re not locked in. You can try hosting and see if you like it. There’s not a lot to be afraid of. If you’re curious, it’s worth making the investment of trying it.”

Interested in seeing how much money you could start making by listing your space? Use Airbnb’s price calculator to get started.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She lived in Denver for a short time several years ago and deeply misses it.



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12 Best Hotel Rewards Credit Cards of 2019


Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

Travel rewards credit cards take many different forms. Airline rewards cards offer opportunities to fly for free or on the cheap, reducing the cost of your vacations and business trips. Dining rewards cards reduce the cost of restaurant meals, often a major expense on trips. Many cash back credit cards give you a percentage back on all of your most important purchases, while gas rewards credit cards literally pay you to buy gasoline and make other purchases at gas stations.

If you travel frequently, one or more of these card types have a place in your wallet – and so do hotel rewards credit cards. Virtually every major hotel company or brand family has at least one rewards credit card. Some cater to individual travelers, and others are meant for business owners.

Every hotel rewards card is a little different, but the basic premise is consistent: purchases earn you points that can be redeemed for free or discounted nights, incidental hotel expenses (such as meals or spa treatments), and sometimes other travel expenses, such as airfare. Several hotel credit cards have more expansive rewards programs, offering merchandise, gift cards, and other valuable items that have nothing to do with hotels. Most hotel credit cards have extensive perks and benefits, and many have enticing promotions and sign-up bonuses.

Best Hotel Credit Cards

Keep in mind that the majority of these cards come with annual fees. While the lack of an annual fee is certainly nice, no-annual-fee cards often come with foreign transaction fees – meaning they’re less than ideal for frequent international travelers. Plus, they tend to have fewer fringe benefits than annual-fee cards.


1. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

2x Points on Travel & Dining at Restaurants; 1-to-1 Transfer to Participating Frequent Traveler Programs

Chase Sapphire Preferred CardThe Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is simple, elegant, and powerful. Purchases on travel and dining at restaurants earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent, with no spending caps or restrictions. All other purchases give you 1 point per $1 spent. You can also transfer points to participating frequent traveler programs, such as Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards and IHG Club Rewards, at a 1-to-1 ratio. For instance, 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 IHG Club points. This card does have a $95 annual fee.

When redeemed for airfare and hotel purchases through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal, you get 20% off, making your Ultimate Rewards points worth up to $0.0125 apiece. You can also redeem for gift cards, cash (statement credits, direct deposits, or checks), and merchandise, mostly at a $0.01-per-point rate. The redemption minimum is 2,000 points for cash redemptions.

Finally, Chase Sapphire Preferred has a solid sign-up bonus: 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points when you spend at least $4,000 within 3 months.

  • Sign-up Bonus. Earn 60,000 bonus points, worth up to $750 on airfare and hotels purchased through Ultimate Rewards, when you spend at least $4,000 within 3 months.
  • Hotel Rewards. Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants and on travel, with no spending caps or restrictions. All other purchases earn 1 point per $1 spent, again with no caps or restrictions.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your accumulated points for anything offered through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal, including general merchandise, cash, and statement credits, usually at a value of $0.01 per point. However, travel (including hotel) redemptions offer the best deal, and aren’t subject to blackouts. When you book hotels through Ultimate Rewards, you get 20% off your order, boosting the value of your Ultimate Rewards points to $0.0125 apiece. You also don’t need to accumulate enough Ultimate Rewards points to pay for an entire room night or stay – simply use whatever points you have and pay the rest with your Sapphire Preferred card. Since Ultimate Rewards points have fixed values, there is no financial advantage to booking at higher-priced (e.g., Category 7) or lower-priced (e.g., Category 1) hotels. If you prefer, you can turn your Ultimate Rewards points into frequent traveler points with hotel brands and airlines such as Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Marriott, Intercontinental Hotel Group, and more. Point transfers are made on a 1-to-1 basis.
  • Preferred Customer Status. Chase Sapphire Preferred doesn’t confer any special status.
  • Key Fees. The card’s annual fee is $95. There are no foreign transaction fees. Late and returned payments cost up to $38. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5%, and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
  • Introductory APR. There is no intro APR.
  • Other Perks. Cardholders get VIP packages, early access, exclusive deals, and concierge treatment at entertainment and sporting events, including the PGA Championship.

See our Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Review for more information. Learn more about this card and find out how to apply here.
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 2. World of Hyatt Credit Card

4 Points Per $1 Spent at Hyatt Properties; 2 Points Per $1 Spent on Direct Airline Purchases, Restaurants, Fitness Services, and Local Transit Purchases

The information related to the World of Hyatt credit card has been collected by Money Crashers and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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The World of Hyatt Credit Card is a Chase card with a $95 annual fee and a solid rewards program that favors regular Hyatt guests. It earns an unlimited 4 Hyatt points per $1 spent at Hyatt properties; an unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on direct airfare purchases, restaurant purchases, local transit and commuting purchases, and fitness and gym membership purchases; and 1 point per $1 on everything else.

This card has a generous, 2-part sign-up bonus too: 40,000 bonus points when you spend at least $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership, then 20,000 additional bonus points with $6,000 total spend in the first 6 months. That’s worth up to 12 free nights at participating properties.

You can redeem your points for free nights at Hyatt properties worldwide. Redemption minimums start at 5,000 points (2,500 when you combine points and cash) for basic Category 1 hotels and rise to 30,000 points for luxurious Category 7 hotels. Other card benefits include automatic Discoverist status in the World of Hyatt loyalty program.

  • Sign-up Bonus. When you spend at least $3,000 within 3 months of sign-up, you get 40,000 bonus points. You get another 20,000 bonus Hyatt points when you spend a total of $6,000 in eligible purchases in the first 6 months.
  • Hotel Rewards. This card earns an unlimited 4 Hyatt points per $1 spent at Hyatt properties; an unlimited 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants, on local transit and commuting purchases, on fitness and gym memberships, and on direct airline purchases (not through third-party sites such as Expedia); and an unlimited 1 point per $1 spent on everything else.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your Hyatt points for free room nights and upgrades at Hyatt properties worldwide. The free night redemption threshold starts at 5,000 points for standard rooms in Category 1 (lowest) hotels and rises to 30,000 points for standard rooms in Category 7 (highest) hotels. You can combine points and cash (called Points + Cash) to earn free night faster – for instance, 2,500 points plus $50 earns a free Category 1 night, while 15,000 points plus $300 earns a free Category 7 night. Point values vary based on category and property – for instance, the Category 1 Hyatt Place Phoenix-North (Arizona) starts at $110 per night for a standard midweek room, while the ultra-luxe Category 7 Park Hyatt New York starts at $917 per night for a standard midweek room. Points are generally more valuable when redeemed at higher-end properties. Redemption thresholds are subject to change at any time.
  • Preferred Customer Status. This card automatically comes with Hyatt Discoverist status, which includes late check-out flexibility, 10% bonus on points earned on Hyatt stays, and complimentary in-room Internet access.
  • Key Fees. There is a $95 annual fee. There is no foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5%, and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%. Late and returned payments cost $37 each.
  • Introductory APR. There is no intro APR promotion.
  • Other Perks. You get a free award night (valid at Category 1 through 4 properties) on your cardmember anniversary, provided your account remains open and in good standing. You get another free award night in any cardmember anniversary year during which you spend at least $15,000 ineligible purchases.

See our Chase World of Hyatt Card Review for more information. Compare the World of Hyatt Credit Card with other top hotel rewards cards.


3. Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Unlimited 2X Miles on All Eligible Purchases; 50,000 Miles Early Spend Bonus

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Venture® from Capital One® is a straightforward, no-surprises card with a $95 annual fee that’s waived in the first year. It has a generous early spend bonus worth $500 on travel bookings or statement credits. Moving forward, you’ll earn unlimited 2 miles per $1 spent on all eligible purchases. Miles are always worth $0.01 when redeemed for travel.

The Venture card isn’t a straight-up hotel rewards card. In fact, you can redeem points for statement credits on virtually any travel purchases: hotels, flights, rental cards, vacation packages, cruises, and more. Because of this, there are no blackout dates – you can stay at any hotel, any time, and just redeem your miles as a statement credit (known as Purchase Eraser) after your stay (within 90 days of purchase).

You can also use accumulated miles to make travel purchases directly through Capital One’s booking center, and for general statement credits or paper checks. Redemption minimums vary depending on redemption method.

  • Early Spend Bonus. Earn 50,000 bonus miles once you spend at least $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months. This bonus is worth $500 when redeemed for travel.
  • Hotel Rewards. This card earns unlimited 2 miles per $1 spent on all eligible purchases, with no spending caps or restrictions. Through January 2020, earn unlimited 10 miles per $1 spent on eligible purchases at hotels.com/venture.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your miles for virtually any travel purchase, including hotel stays, with no blackout dates. Redemptions can be made via statement credit (Purchase Eraser), provided you have at least 2,500 miles to redeem, or by direct booking through Capital One (no minimum required). You don’t get a bonus for redeeming for hotel nights. Points are always worth $0.01 apiece at redemption, no matter where or how you book.
  • Preferred Customer Status. This card doesn’t come with any special status.
  • Key Fees. The card carries a $95 annual fee, waived for the first year. There is no foreign transaction or balance transfer fee. Cash advances cost 3% of the advanced amount, with a $10 minimum.
  • Introductory APR. There is no intro APR.
  • Other Perks. You get free, unlimited access to your FICO credit score and access to useful credit-building tools with Capital One Credit Tracker.

See our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review for more information. Find out how you can apply for this card here.
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4. Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express

12 Points per $1 Spent at Hilton Hotels; 6 Points per $1 Spent at Restaurants, Supermarkets & Gas Stations; 3 Points per $1 Spent Everywhere Else

The Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express is a powerful travel rewards card with great benefits for frequent Hilton guests. It earns an unlimited 12 points per $1 spent at select Hilton properties; 6 points per $1 spent at supermarkets, restaurants, and gas stations; and 3 points per $1 spent on everything else.

Ascend comes with a generous, 2-part welcome offer: 75,000 Honors points when you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases within 3 months, and an additional 25,000 Honors points when you spend an additional $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 6 months. All told, that’s worth up to 20 free nights at participating Hilton properties.

You can redeem your Honors points for free room nights at Hilton properties, starting at 5,000 points per night at Category 1 properties and rising to as many as 95,000 points per night at high-end Category 10 properties. You can also transfer to airline rewards programs, such as Delta SkyMiles, often at a 10-to-1 ratio.

Hilton Honors Ascend has some other important perks, including complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status and complimentary Private Pass membership ($99 value), which entitles you to 10 complimentary visits at more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. Just watch out for the $95 annual fee.

  • Welcome Offer. When you spend at least $2,000 in eligible purchases on your card within 3 months of opening your account, you get 75,000 Honors points. When you spend an additional $1,000 in eligible purchases within 6 months of opening your account, you get an additional 25,000 Honors points. The total value of this welcome offer is 100,000 points, good for as many as 20 free nights at a Category 1 property.
  • Hotel Rewards. Earn an unlimited 12 points per $1 spent at Hilton hotels and an unlimited 6 points per $1 spent at supermarkets, restaurants, and gas stations. All other purchases earn an unlimited 3 points per $1 spent.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your Hilton Honors points for free nights and upgrades at Hilton properties, with no blackout dates. You can also exchange your Honors points for miles with many popular airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and Delta Airlines. However, point-mile exchange rates aren’t as good as some other programs’, as ratios can reach or even exceed 10 points to 1 mile, far lower than the 1-to-1 or 5-to-1 deals found elsewhere. Hotel night redemptions start at 5,000 points for Category 1 (usually $100 and under per night) and rise to as much as 95,000 for Category 10 (usually $500 and over per night, and sometimes significantly more). To stretch your points further, you can use Hilton’s Points + Money feature, which lets you combine Honors points and cash. Combinations vary by hotel category, location, and other factors, but Hilton offers a common example on its website: a Category 3 hotel for 8,000 points plus $30 per night, instead of 20,000 points per night.
  • Preferred Customer Status. Cardmembers get automatic Gold status, which comes with complimentary high-speed in-room Internet access, complimentary room upgrades when available, and a 25% boost to points earned on Hilton stays. When you spend $40,000 in eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year, you ascend to Diamond status. Cardmembers also enjoy complimentary Priority Pass Select memberships conferring up to 10 free lounge visits per year.
  • Key Fees. This card has a $95 annual fee. Cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 3%. Late and returned payments cost $37 each.
  • Other Perks. You get a free weekend night every year your card spending totals more than $15,000 in eligible purchases. You also get American Express’s complimentary baggage protection (up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage and $500 for checked baggage), 24/7 roadside assistance, and other attractive travel perks.

Find out how you can apply for this card here.
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5. Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature® Card

10 Radisson Rewards Points Per $1 Spent at Carlson Hotels; 5 Points Per $1 Spent Everywhere Else

The Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature® Card earns 10 points per $1 spent at more than 1,000 participating Radisson hotels (whose brands include Radisson Blu and Country Inns & Suites) and 5 points per $1 spent everywhere else. Neither category comes with caps or spending restrictions. This card has a great sign-up bonus too: up to 85,000 points when you spend at least $2,500 in the first 90 days.

You can redeem your accumulated points for free nights and room upgrades at Radisson hotels, starting at 9,000 points for a lower-tier room night. You can also convert your points to airline miles with more than 20 participating airlines, typically at a 10-to-1 ratio. The card does come with a $75 annual fee, but that may be worthwhile if you use this card often and travel frequently.

  • Sign-up Bonus. Earn 50,000 bonus points simply for making your first purchase, and 35,000 additional points when you spend at least $2,500 within the first 90 days. This total bonus is worth up to 9 free nights.
  • Hotel Rewards. This card earns 10 points per $1 spent at participating Radisson hotels, with no caps or restrictions. All other purchases earn an unlimited 5 points per $1 spent.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your Radisson Rewards points for free nights and room upgrades, with no blackout dates, at participating Radisson hotels. You can also exchange your points for airline miles at more than 20 participating airlines. Free night redemptions start at 9,000 points per standard room night for Category 1 (lowest) properties and rise to 70,000 per standard room night at Category 7 properties. Category 1 properties often cost less than $100 per night – for example, the Country Inns & Suites Atlanta Airport (Georgia) costs $99 per standard midweek room. The cost of higher-end properties varies widely, so they don’t always offer great redemption deals – for instance, the Category 7 Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown requires 70,000 points for a free night, but costs just $228 per night for a standard midweek room. Radisson also lets you combine cash and points (called Gold Points + Cash). The amount of points and cash required varies by property and category – for example, the Category 1 Country Inns & Suites Atlanta Airport requires 5,000 points and $59.40, and the Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown requires 20,000 points and $161.40. If you want to convert points to airline miles, you can do so automatically (as they’re earned) or manually, typically at a ratio of 10 points to 1 mile – which isn’t as great a value as some other conversion schemes, which offer 5-to-1 or even 1-to-1 transfer. As always, pricing and terms are subject to change.
  • Preferred Customer Status. This card automatically qualifies you for Gold status, whose benefits include a 15% discount on food and beverages purchased at Radisson hotels and 35% faster point earnings on hotel stays. If you were a Gold member prior to signing up for this card, you get 15 qualifying nights toward Platinum status. With this bonus, you need 25 more nights to reach Platinum status, whose benefits include a 25% food and beverage discount and 75% faster point earnings on stays.
  • Key Fees. This card has a $75 annual fee. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 3% of the transferred amount, while cash advances cost up to the greater of $10 or 4%. Foreign transactions cost 2% if denominated in U.S. dollars, and 3% if denominated in foreign currency. Late payments cost $37, while returned payments cost $35.
  • Introductory APR. There is no intro APR.
  • Other Perks. You get a 40,000-point loyalty bonus each year when you renew your card. With each $10,000 in eligible annual spending, you earn a free night’s stay when you renew your card, up to 3 free nights per year. You’ll also enjoy 24/7 concierge assistance and travel/emergency services.

Find out how you can apply for this card here.
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6. Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card from Chase

6 Marriott Bonvoy Points For Every $1 Spent at Participating Marriott Bonvoy Hotels; 2 Points Per $1 Spent on All Other Purchases

The information related to the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card from Chase has been collected by Money Crashers and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card from Chase earns you 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for every $1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels worldwide. All other purchases earn 2 points per $1 spent. There are no spending caps on any category, and the card carries a $95 annual fee.

Redemption minimums vary by hotel class, but start at 7,500 points at Category 1 properties and range up to 85,000 points at Category 8 properties.

The Boundless card also has a very generous sign-up bonus: When you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases in the first 3 months of card membership, you get 75,000 Marriott Rewards points. Plus, you get 1 free night stay at any property requiring 35,000 points or less per award night after your account anniversary each year, and automatic Silver Elite Status as long as you remain a cardholder in good standing.

  • Sign-up Bonus. Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Rewards points when you spend at least $3,000 in eligible purchases within 3 months of account opening.
  • Hotel Rewards. Earn 6 Marriott Rewards points for every $1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2 points per $1 spent on all other qualifying purchases.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your Bonvoy points for free stays and upgrades at Marriott-branded hotels or redeem for other types of travel with participating airline and car rental partners. Category 1 properties (the lowest level) require 7,500 points per night, while Category 8 properties (the highest level) require 85,000 points per night. Category 1 properties tend to cost less than $100 per night, while Category 8 properties nightly rates routinely exceed $500. All quoted per-night prices are subject to change – check Marriott’s website for the latest details.
  • Preferred Customer Status. This card comes with automatic Silver Elite Status as long as your account remains open and in good standing. Silver Elite Status’s benefits include a 10% bonus on base points earned during stays at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties, members-only room rates, guaranteed reservations (with compensation for alternate arrangements if your reservation can’t be honored), and more. When you spend at least $35,000 in a calendar year, you graduate to Gold Elite Status, whose benefits include a 25% bonus on base Bonvoy point earnings and complimentary room upgrades where available.
  • Key Fees. The card’s annual fee is $95. There are no foreign transaction fees. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5%, and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
  • Introductory APR. There is no intro APR. Variable regular APR applies from day one.
  • Other Perks. You get a free night’s stay at select Marriott hotels (requiring 35,000 points or less per award night) after your account anniversary each year.

See our Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card from Chase for more information.


7. IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

10 IHG Rewards Points Per $1 Spent at Intercontinental Hotels; 2 Points Per $1 on Gas, Groceries & Restaurants

The information related to the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card has been collected by Money Crashers and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card earns you 10 IHG Rewards points per $1 spent at Intercontinental Hotel Group hotels, which includes properties such as Staybridge Suites and Holiday Inn. You also earn 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else. There aren’t any spending caps or restrictions. The card does have an $89 annual fee, though.

The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card also has a nice sign-up bonus that totals 120,000 bonus points plus a $50 statement credit on $5,000 in eligible spending within the first 6 months.

You can redeem points for hotel stays at select Intercontinental properties, including most Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express locations. Redemption minimums vary by property brand and redemption date, but typically start at 10,000 points per night and range up to 60,000 points per night.

  • Sign-up Bonus. For a limited time, this card has a generous three-part sign-up bonus. First, earn 80,000 bonus IHG Rewards points when you spend at least $2,000 in eligible purchases within 3 months of account opening. Second, earn 40,000 additional bonus points when you spend at least $3,000 more in eligible spending within 6 months of account opening (for a total required spend of $5,000 within 6 months). Finally, you’ll earn a $50 statement credit after your first purchase.
  • Hotel Rewards. You earn 10 IHG Rewards points per $1 spent at Intercontinental Hotel Group hotels, such as Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites. You also earn 2 points per $1 spent at grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, plus 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your IHG Rewards points for free hotel rooms and upgrades, with no blackout dates. You can also transfer to frequent flyer programs with several dozen major airlines, including Delta and Singapore Airlines, typically at a ratio of 5 IHG Rewards points to 1 frequent flyer mile. Per-night hotel redemption requirements range from 10,000 to 60,000 points, depending on the property brand and quality level. The amount of points required for redemption doesn’t always correspond to a hotel’s nightly rates – for instance, the Crowne Plaza Denver’s standard midweek rooms start at $161 or 30,000 points per night, while the nearby Holiday Inn Express Denver Downtown’s standard midweek rooms start at $198 or 20,000 points per night, which is a much better deal. Hotels in popular areas tend to require more points – for example, the Intercontinental: New York Times Square costs at least $399 (or 60,000 points) for a midweek single-night stay. You can also combine points and cash – for instance, you can get a free standard room at the Holiday Inn Express Denver Downtown for 10,000 points plus $70, or a free standard room at the Intercontinental: New York Times Square for 50,000 points plus $70. All redemption values are subject to change at IHG’s discretion.
  • Preferred Customer Status. Cardholders in good standing automatically qualify for Platinum Elite status. Benefits include a 50% bonus on base IHG Reward point earnings on hotel stays, priority/flexible check-in and check-out, 72-hour guaranteed room availability, and complimentary room upgrades where available.
  • Key Fees. The card carries an $89 annual fee. There are no foreign transaction fees. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5%, and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%. Late payments cost $15 to $37, depending on balance size, and returned payments always cost $37.
  • Introductory APR. There is no intro APR.
  • Other Perks. You get one free night per year at select IHG hotels for as long as your account remains in good standing. When you spend at least $20,000 in qualifying purchases in a calendar year, you earn 10,000 bonus points.

See our IHG Rewards Club Premier Card Review for more information.


8. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

6 Starpoints Per $1 Spent at Participating Marriott Bonvoy Properties

american express starwood preferred guest credit cardThe Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card has a host of valuable perks, such as a $300 annual statement credit against qualifying purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties and complimentary access to hundreds of airport lounges worldwide through Priority Pass Select.

Bonvoy Brilliant earns 6 Bonvoy points per $1 spent on eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties with no spending limits or restrictions. U.S. restaurant purchases and purchases made directly with airlines earn 3 points per $1 spent, with no spending limits or restrictions. All other purchases earn 2 points per $1 spent.

Bonvoy points can be redeemed for free nights and room upgrades at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, or used for airfare and car rental redemptions with participating partners. When you redeem for hotel stays, you never have to worry about blackout dates.

Note that there’s a less generous business version of this card: Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.

  • Welcome Offer. See rates and fees for current offer information.
  • Hotel Rewards. Earn 6 Bonvoy points per $1 spent on eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties. U.S. restaurant purchases and flights booked directly with airlines earn 3 points per $1 spent. All other eligible purchases earn 2 points per $1 spent, with no caps or restrictions.
  • Redemption. The best way to redeem points is free nights and room upgrades – with no blackout dates – at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels. You can also redeem for other types of travel with participating airlines and car rental companies. Redemptions generally begin at 7,500 points per night for budget-friendly Category 1 properties and rise to 85,000 per night for luxe Category 8 properties. If you don’t have enough points to redeem for a free night, you may be able to combine cash and points. See Marriott’s website for up-to-date information about redemption rates and resort fees not included in nightly awards.
  • Preferred Customer Status. This card automatically comes with Gold Elite Status in the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program. Benefits include 25% faster base Bonvoy point earnings, complimentary room upgrades where available, guaranteed reservations (with compensation for alternate accommodations when the property is unable to honor a reservation), flexible check-out times, and complimentary in-room Internet access. When you spend at least $75,000 in qualifying purchases during a calendar year, you earn an automatic upgrade to Platinum Elite Status, whose benefits include automatic upgrade to the best available room at check-in (where available), a 50% bonus on base Bonvoy point earnings, a welcome gift of your choice, and 4pm check-out.
  • Key Fees. The card has a $450 annual fee. There are no foreign transaction fees. Cash advances cost the greater of $5 or 3%.
  • Introductory APR. There is no introductory APR. Variable regular APR applies from day one.
  • Other Perks. This card comes with a host of additional benefits, including up to $300 in statement credits against qualifying purchases made at Marriott Bonvoy properties, complimentary airport lounge access for the cardholder and two guests through Priority Pass Select, up to $100 in statement credits against Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, and free access to thousands of Boingo WiFi hotspots worldwide. Amex-sponsored fringe benefits include return protection, which pays up to $300 per item and $1,200 per calendar year for rejected merchandise returns.

See our Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card Review for more information.


9. Hilton Honors™ Card from American Express

7 Hilton Honors Points Per $1 Spent at Hilton Hotels; 5 Points Per $1 Spent on Supermarket, Gas Station & Drugstore Purchases; No Annual Fee

The Hilton Honors Card from American Express earns you 7 Hilton Honors points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton portfolio; 5 points per $1 spent on supermarket, gas station, and drugstore purchases; and 3 points per $1 spent on everything else. All categories have no spending caps or restrictions, making this a great card for frequent travelers who want to earn points on everyday purchases too. You can redeem points for hotel stays and incidental charges at variable rates and minimums, depending on the hotel property.

This card has some nice fringe benefits. For example, you enjoy Hilton Honors Silver status, which entitles you to a free night on stays of 5 days or longer and automatically boosts your total point earnings by 15% (unlimited), for as long as you remain in good standing. Furthermore, the welcome offer is very solid: 75,000 bonus points for spending $1,000 within 3 months of account opening.

  • Welcome Offer. Earn 75,000 Honors points when you spend at least $1,000 in purchases on the card within 3 months of account opening.
  • Hotel Rewards. Earn 7 Hilton Honors points for every $1 spent at Hilton Hotels; 5 points per $1 spent at the supermarket, gas station, and drugstore; and 3 points per $1 spent on everything else. There are no spending caps or restrictions. You can also earn 500 bonus points per stay when you use your card to both reserve your hotel online and subsequently pay for your room upon arrival.
  • Redemption. Point redemption follows the same guidelines as the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express. Category 1 redemptions require 5,000 points, while Category 10 redemptions require 70,000 to 95,000 points, depending on the property. You can transfer to a number of popular airline frequent flyer programs, typically at a 10 points to 1 mile ratio, and can use Points + Money to earn free room nights faster.
  • Preferred Customer Status. This card automatically qualifies you for Hilton Honors Silver status. Silver benefits include a 15% bonus on all Hilton Honors base points earned on Hilton stays, complimentary fitness center access, and a free fifth night on stays of five nights or longer.
  • Key Fees. There is no annual fee. Foreign transactions cost 2.7% of the total transaction amount. Balance transfers and cash advances both cost the greater of $5 or 3%, and late and returned payments cost $37.
  • Introductory APR. There is no intro APR.
  • Other Perks. Includes American Express’s baggage protection plan (up to $1,250 for lost or damaged carry-ons and $500 for checked bags) and 24/7 roadside assistance availability.

See our American Express Hilton Honors Card Review for more information.
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10. Choice Privileges® Visa Signature® Credit Card

5 Points Per $1 Spent at Choice Hotels, Choice Hotels Gift Cards & Additional Choice Privileges Points Purchases

Powered by Barclaycard, the Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card earns an unlimited 5 Choice Privileges Points per $1 spent on stays at more than 5,500 Choice hotels (including Comfort Inn and Cambra Hotels & Suites) worldwide. It also earns an unlimited 5 points per $1 spent on hotel gift cards and additional purchases of Choice Privileges points. Finally, it earns an unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on all other purchases. The generous signup bonus gives you an extra 32,000 points when you spend at least $1,000 within 3 months of sign-up – good for up to four free nights.

You can redeem your accumulated Choice Privileges points for hotel stays at Choice Hotels, starting at 8,000 points per night and rising to 35,000 points per night, depending on property brand and regular room rate. You can also redeem for point transfers to select frequent flyer programs, including Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards and American Airlines AAdvantage, usually at a 5-points-to-1-mile ratio.

  • Sign-up Bonus. When you spend at least $1,000 within the first 3 months, you get 32,000 bonus points. That’s good for up to four free nights.
  • Hotel Rewards. This card earns an unlimited 5 points per $1 spent at more than 5,500 Choice Hotels International locations and on additional Choice Privileges points purchases and hotel gift card purchases; and an unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on everything else.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your accumulated Choice Privileges points for free nights at more than 5,500 Choice hotels worldwide, starting at 8,000 points per night and rising to 35,000 points per night (excluding Australasia, where room nights require up to 75,000 points). Generally speaking, lower-tier properties (such as EconoLodge and Rodeway Inn) require fewer points, while higher-tier properties (such as Cambria Hotels & Suites) require more points. However, exact point requirements vary by brand and room rate. You can redeem faster by combining points ad variable amounts of cash, starting at just 6,000 points. You can also redeem for point transfers to more than 20 frequent flyer programs, typically at a 5-to-1 ratio.
  • Preferred Customer Status. This card automatically comes with Elite Gold status, whose benefits include the ability to make advance reservations 50 days out (instead of 30) and 10% faster point earnings on Choice Hotels stays.
  • Key Fees. This card does not have an annual fee. The foreign transaction fee is 3%. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 3%, while cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%. Late and returned payments cost $37 each.
  • Introductory APR. There is no intro purchase APR, but balance transfers come with 0% APR for 15 months.
  • Other Perks. If you spend at least $10,000 during the previous 12 months, you get 8,000 bonus points on your cardmember anniversary.

Find out how you can apply for this card here.
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11. Wyndham Rewards® Visa Signature® Card

5 Points Per $1 Spent at Wyndham Hotels; 2 Points Per $1 Spent Elsewhere; Easily Attainable Sign-up Bonus

Powered by Barclaycard, the Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature Card earns an unlimited 5 Wyndham Rewards points per $1 spent at participating Wyndham Hotels, whose brands include Wyndham, Microtel, Ramada, Days Inn, and Super 8. It also earns an unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on all other purchases. Its sign-up bonus is solid: 30,000 bonus points after your first purchase, good for 2 free nights at any Wyndham hotel. There is a $69 annual fee.

You can redeem your accumulated Wyndham Rewards points for free nights at any Wyndham hotel, with no blackout dates. You always need 15,000 points to redeem for a free night, regardless of property or room rate. If you want to combine points and cash, you can redeem with just 3,000 points, though not all hotels permit this redemption method. You can also exchange your Wyndham Rewards points for airline miles at variable ratios.

If you don’t qualify for the Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature Card, consider applying for the Wyndham Rewards Platinum Visa, which has a somewhat less generous rewards scheme and doesn’t come with an annual fee.

  • Sign-up Bonus. When you make your first purchase, you get 30,000 bonus points. That’s good for 2 free nights at any Wyndham hotel.
  • Hotel Rewards. This card earns an unlimited 5 points per $1 spent at Wyndham hotels, as well as an unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your accumulated Wyndham Rewards points for free nights at any Wyndham hotel or resort, with no blackout dates, and exchange your points for frequent flyer miles with approximately 20 participating airlines (including American Airlines). 15,000 points equals 1 Go Free Award, good for a free night at any hotel or resort, regardless of its nightly room rates. Since you always need 15,000 points to redeem for a free night, it’s usually a better deal financially to redeem for stays at higher-end hotels and resorts. Alternatively, you can redeem 3,000 points plus variable amounts of cash for a Go Fast Award, good for a free night at participating (usually lower-end) Wyndham hotels and resorts. The amount of cash required to complete a Go Fast Award varies based on the property and normal room rate. Airline point transfers typically start at 6,000 points.
  • Preferred Customer Status. Currently, this card does not come with any preferred status.
  • Key Fees. This card comes with a $69 annual fee. Foreign transactions cost 3% of the transaction amount. Balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 3% of the transferred amount, while cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%. Late and returned payments cost $37 each.
  • Introductory APR. There is no regular intro purchase APR, but Wyndham Timeshare purchases come with a 0% APR for 6 months. There is also a 15-month 0% APR balance transfer promotion on all purchases.
  • Other Perks. This card earns 5,500 bonus points on your account anniversary each year, as long as your account remains open and in good standing.

12. Best Western Rewards® Premium Mastercard

10 Best Western Rewards Points Per $1 Spent; Solid Sign-up Bonus

Powered by First Bankcard, the Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard earns 10 points per $1 spent at more than 4,000 Best Western properties worldwide, with no caps or restrictions. It earns 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. You can redeem for free Best Western stays, starting around 8,000 points, and transfer your points to participating frequent flyer programs, usually at a 5-to-1 ratio. There is a $59 annual fee that’s waived during the first year.

This card comes with some great perks, including a sign-up bonus worth 50,000 points (good for at least 2 nights at most Best Western properties), automatic Platinum Elite status, and a 10% discount when you book your room at a special website. It’s also part of a broader card family with a number of other participants, including the Best Western Rewards Mastercard, Best Western Secured Mastercard (a secured credit card), and Best Western Rewards Business Mastercard.

  • Sign-up Bonus. You get 25,000 bonus points when you spend at least $2,500 during the first 3 billing cycles, and an additional 25,000 points when you spend at least $5,000 during the first six billing cycles. This combined bonus is good for at least 2 nights at most Best Western hotels.
  • Hotel Rewards. This card earns 10 Best Western Rewards points for every $1 spent at Best Western hotels, with no caps or restrictions, and an unlimited 1 point per $1 spent on everything else. Also, for every year in which you spend $10,000 or more with this card, you receive 20,000 bonus points.
  • Redemption. You can redeem your Best Western Rewards points for free nights at Best Western properties worldwide and make point-to-mile transfers to participating frequent flyer programs, including American Airlines AAdvantage. At redemption, Best Western Rewards points aren’t worth as much as some competing programs’ points – often less than $0.01 per point. For instance, the Best Western Morton Grove Inn, a hotel in suburban Chicago, charges $77 or 12,000 points for a standard midweek room. The Chicago Grant Park Hotel, in downtown Chicago, charges $188 or 24,000 points for a standard midweek room. Airline point-mile transfers typically occur at a 5-point-to-1-mile ratio.
  • Preferred Customer Status. Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard users automatically earn Platinum Elite status. Platinum Elite status comes with a 15% bonus on point earnings for Best Western stays, free room upgrades at check-in when available, and priority customer service (including a dedicated toll-free phone number).
  • Key Fees. The annual fee of $59 is waived for the first year. Balance transfers cost the greater of $10 or 3% for the first 6 months, and the greater of $10 or 5% thereafter. Cash advances cost the greater of $15 or 5%. Foreign transactions cost 3% of the total transaction amount.
  • Introductory APR. There is a 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 6 months after account opening.
  • Other Perks. Cardholders get a 10% discount on Best Western stays booked through bwrcarddiscount.com.

Final Word

With so many great hotel rewards credit cards out there, it’s hard to pick a favorite. When you throw the attractive sign-up bonuses that so many cards feature into the mix, the category gets even more exciting.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to throw caution to the wind and apply for new cards as fast as your fingers can type. Opening multiple credit card accounts within short time-frames can damage your credit score, sometimes with dramatic consequences. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself applying for a secured credit card in an effort to rebuild your credit. Plus, if you’re not paying off your entire statement balance each month, the interest you end up paying will likely exceed the value of any rewards you earn.

What is your favorite hotel credit card?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.



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An Appreciation of My Father


I’m pretty sure that my father will read this sometime today or tomorrow, or else my mother will read it aloud to him. In either case, I’ll start off with the most important thing: thank you, dad, for everything I’ve written about below and so much more.

My father is in his mid seventies now, and simply typing that is almost unbelievable to me. I have a lifetime of memories and experiences and lessons from him, but an awful lot of them come from my memories of him when he was approximately the same age I am now, so I guess that realizing this lately – that my earlier memories of him are from when he was roughly the same age that I am now – has caused me to think a lot about him, the kind of person he’s been, the life he’s led, and the lessons that I’ve learned from him.

My most vibrant memories of him from when I was young was that he was pretty much constantly busy with something. He had a factory job where he seemed to be constantly switching shifts and alternating between working overtime and having periods where he was laid off. Almost every moment when he was at home and not sleeping, he was doing something. He was a part-time commercial fisherman. He had multiple very large gardens, some summers having four or more that were several hundred square feet each. At various times in my childhood, we had a goat, several pigs, a chicken pen and shed full of hens and a rooster, and a bunch of rabbits, all raised for our own food, and he was largely responsible (outside of specific chores he handed down to myself and my brothers) for keeping those systems going. He knew how to handle a lot of different repairs on older cars and would often handle those repairs in our driveway or our garage. He was a pretty good welder. He was really good at foraging for berries and mushrooms in the woods. That’s just a partial list of the things he had going and could do.

Part of the reason he was able to pull all of this off is that he typically worked an evening shift at his factory job, which he did most of the time when I was growing up. This meant that he would go to work each day around 2 in the afternoon, work a roughly 3 PM to 11:30 PM shift, and get home slightly after midnight each night. He’d collapse in bed and then wake up around 7 or 8, spending the morning tackling a seemingly endless list of chores from all of those side gigs, eat lunch, take a brief nap, and then head to work again.

What did I learn from all of that? Work ethic. He kept busy until he was genuinely tired, and then he would rest at the end of the day for a while. There was never much downtime with him; he was constantly doing something, whether it was going to work or working on some project.

Of course, this meant that during the school year, I’d usually only see my father for perhaps a brief moment in the morning each day if he happened to wake up before the bus got there, but usually I wouldn’t see him from Sunday evening until Saturday morning when he was working a full week. My mother was often the only parent around during the week when I was in school through all of elementary school and well into high school when he had enough seniority to consistently get on the day shift.

I knew that he was always working hard for us in an incredibly reliable way. He’d get up, go into work, never be late, and do his job well. He always had plenty of overtime opportunities, too. He never missed work unless he seemed to be on death’s door due to illness. He taught me, through his actions, that a big part of success was showing up reliably and doing what you’re supposed to reliably. When I look at life through that lens, it’s pretty apparent that simply showing up and being reliable in terms of what you say you’ll do is an enormous part of being valued and trusted by others.

When I was younger, I understood why my father wasn’t always there, but I didn’t like it. Whenever I had some sort of event after school or something like that, he was almost always working; the person in the crowd was always my mother and sometimes my maternal grandmother. I recognize now that this experience was part of my motivation to find a flexible career path.

This does not mean my father was absent, oh no. What it meant was that weekends and summers tended to be a giant blur of activity. My childhood involved a lot of mushroom hunting, a lot of fishing, a lot of gardening, and all kinds of things of that nature. On the weekends, I would often tag along with him on whatever he might be doing that day, and I saw the number of things he always had going on.

What really stuck with me about all of this was that my father was really just balancing a number of streams of income for our family all the time. He made a blue collar income from the factory, but when things were good (particularly in the summer), that was supplemented by his fishing income, by having a ton of fresh produce for “free” from the garden (and some of the excess would be sold), and by a few dollars here and a few dollars there from all kinds of things, from collecting aluminum cans to doing a bit of spot welding.

This really inspired me to have a lot of side gigs of my own for just that purpose – to diversify my own income to provide further stability for me and for my family, regardless of what may come. The Simple Dollar started as a side gig. I had (and still occasionally have) a side gig of repairing computers for people in my community. I’ve written books and freelance articles as a side gig. My wife and I have a decent vegetable garden that keeps our food costs low in the middle to late summer. I’ve dabbled in many other side gigs over the years as well, with varying degrees of success. If I suddenly were out of work, my family would not have to suffer without an income for very long, as there are lots of ways I can immediately amp up a different income stream.

At the same time, having a lot of side gigs means developing a lot of useful skills. You have to develop some time management skills. You have to develop some personal interaction skills. You have to develop technical skills for whatever your specific side gig happens to entail. I watched these skills at work all the time as I watched my father growing up, and I’d like to think that, at my best moments, I possess a lot of these skills, too. I can design a website. I can catch a fish. I can grow pretty much anything from seed. I can write a treatise. I can write complex computer code. I can fix a ton of different devices. I can converse with all kinds of people and get along with them. I’m good at managing my time. I’m good at solving the problems life has put before me. I’m good at learning things quickly. Much of that is due to side gigs, and the inspiration for all of that is my father.

My father was very careful with his money in many ways. He was a bit of a collector of random items that he found for free, and he could find uses for all kinds of stuff. He never liked to throw anything away and sometimes that meant an overly cluttered garage and shed, but when something needed doing or fixing, he usually had a tool or an item that would fit the bill. We always used stuff until it broke, and even when it broke, we’d often fix it up and keep on going with it.

I particularly remember my old Nintendo Game Boy, which was a faithful companion of mine on road trips. I used and abused that thing and, over the years, it broke in several different ways. Many families wold have just tossed it out after the first breakage, but not us. My old man would go out in the garage, find some super glue, and get the thing back in working order, or he’d mess around in the battery compartment until the batteries would again stay in place and deliver a charge. It wasn’t junk until it broke and he couldn’t fix it, and even then, we might hold onto the item for spare parts.

Another thing that my father did that didn’t really click with me until I was older was that he boxed out time for genuine leisure. He didn’t like to just sit around doing nothing, but he made sure there was time for doing things that he genuinely enjoyed doing. He would go squirrel hunting. He would go fishing (for fun with a pole, not commercially). He absolutely loved puzzles, both then and now; jigsaw puzzles and logic puzzles like sudoku are his wheelhouse (I actually think this scratches a mental itch for him similar to how strategic board games scratch an itch for me). Camping was a consistent part of growing up; most summers involved at least one camping trip of some length at least until I approached high school age. The important thing to note is that he really blocked off time for these things. There might be things left undone, but if he was planning to spend a few hours fishing one day, that time was sacrosanct and we went fishing.

Perhaps more than anything, though, his love for reading and learning new things has rubbed off on me. He’d read the newspaper virtually every morning, and still does. He’d dive into articles and editorials on things he knew little about just to learn what they were about. Most evenings, when he was physically tired but his mind wasn’t ready for bed yet, he’d kick back with a book of some kind for half an hour or so – often it was a western, but it could be some nonfiction book about gardening or, sometimes, a magazine on any sort of topic.

What do I do when I get up each morning? I usually read for a while, usually for the purpose of learning something, to get my mind going. What do I do before I go to bed basically every night? I read for a while, usually a novel of some kind. Those kinds of patterns rub off, and it’s why I make it a point to read where my kids can see me reading. Now, all three of my kids often read in the last half an hour or so before they go to sleep – usually a novel of some kind.

There’s no denying that we didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, but my parents always made sure that there was enough to go around for the things we needed. There were always nutritious meals on the table and clothes on our backs. We didn’t travel much; most of our summer “vacations” were camping trips not too terribly far from home. I only remember two real “vacations” in my childhood, and they were both just two or three day affairs. When I was young, my mother was a stay-at-home mom that made the most out of the money that my father earned, meaning that together they found ways to transform even the leanest money moments into meals and clothing and security and togetherness, the things I most needed as a child.

That doesn’t mean I went without things that I wanted. They made absolutely sure that I always had books to read and things to occupy my mind, as I was an endlessly curious kid.

I also remember a few moments of unexpected splurges and surprises, but it was the rarity and surprise of those moments that really make them stand out. I remember that when I was very young, around six or seven years old, I was very into Masters of the Universe action figures. A local five-and-dime store was going out of business and my father and I went to see what was on sale there. They had a bin that had a whole bunch of Masters of the Universe figures in it and a sign that said $1 each. I didn’t even ask for any – I was just looking through them a bit while my father looked at some other items, but when he came back, he just stood there for a minute, probably figuring out what he could afford in his head, and said, “Get five of ’em.” You never saw a happier seven year old toting around bags with his new action figures in them.

I remember vividly one winter when my father’s factory almost went out of business and they had to lay off almost everyone for several months. Wintertime was really hard on my father’s side gigs, too, so there wasn’t much money to go around. Christmas was really lean that year, without many presents, and I remember sensing that my parents were really worried. I know my father was doing everything he could to bring in money, including doing some rather dangerous ice fishing where he would cut large holes in the ice and dredge for fish. He was using virtually every trick he could think of to keep enough money coming in so that there was food on the table and the mortgage got paid.

When the factory finally started up again, I actually didn’t know about it at first because my father started working a really unusual overnight shift; he would actually leave for work after I went to bed and get home just after I went to school and sleep during the day, getting up about the time I got home from school. From my perspective, things hadn’t really changed at all.

What I do remember is that after about two weeks of this, my father came home from being out and about on some errand and he came into the room with a huge grin on his face and pulled out from under his coat a video game that I had wanted for several months and had hoped to get for Christmas but didn’t.

When I was younger, I just remember the utter surprise of the gift and how excited I was. Now that I’m older, I see how much care went into it. My parents obviously knew what I wanted for Christmas and they couldn’t afford it, but they didn’t forget. They just made Christmas perfectly wonderful anyway, even though they had little money and couldn’t afford the video game I wanted, and then when they could afford it, they remembered and surprised me with it. It wasn’t the video game that mattered, it was the care and thought and love behind it. They loved me deeply, wanted me to be happy, thought about me, and made tough choices in the background so I wouldn’t have to think about them at all. I was loved and cared for even when we didn’t have much, and that’s really what the memory of that video game was all about.

My dad is older now; as I mentioned earlier, he’s in his mid seventies and, like everyone, he doesn’t get around with the speed and vigor that he’s used to. He’s still there for me, though, offering little bits of advice to me here and there and being a wonderful grandpa to my kids. I love watching him sort through coins with my oldest son (the child I have who has an interest in coin collecting), marveling at the growing artistic skill of my daughter (who I firmly believe has the potential to be a professional fantasy artist), having surprisingly deep conversations with my youngest son, and laughing at all of their shenanigans. He won’t always be here, and the thought of my life without him around is just a little sadder, but I know from my own life routines that there will still be a lot of him in the world when he’s not here any more.

There are so many threads from all of these stories that tie directly into the life that I’m leading right now. There are so many great examples and lessons that he gave me that I put to use literally every single day in my life, from how to be a good father to how to keep our spending low, from keeping up a lot of side gigs and projects and hobbies to using stuff until it wears out, from never getting tired of reading and learning new things to being a good husband, much of what I am today comes from him, to knowing how to love and care for your children and your wife without much money by putting care and thought first, and many of the lessons and ideas I’ve shared on The Simple Dollar comes from a awkward little kid with glasses making muddy trenches in the garden with his father or riding alongside him in a pickup truck.

Thanks, Dad, for everything.



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Summer Vacation!


Well, apparently I need a vacation after my European vacation! I’ve come home to a Real Life in which I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. The yard needs pruning, the house needs cleaning, my body needs exercise, friends need visiting, and this website needs lots of work behind the scenes.

Rather than try to spread myself to thin — my modus operandi — I’m going to do the wise thing: I’m going to take a break. For the next two weeks, I won’t be publishing anything new here at Get Rich Slowly. (I will, however, continue to send out the Friday emails. And I’ll continue to update the Spare Change section on the front page with cool links from other sites.)

While this isn’t an ideal solution, I think it’s best for the long-term. I have a lot of travel coming up later this summer. (I’m basically on the road from August 15th to October 15th.) If I don’t make time now to take care of things, I’ll wish I had.

So, go outside and enjoy the summer sun! I’ll see you again on July 1st.

Author: J.D. Roth

In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he’s managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.



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