What Over $2,000 in Annual Fees has Earned Us This Year

When I first started signing up for credit cards to get crazy cheap flights and hotels, my primary goal was risk aversion.  Despite plenty of research on the process, there are still a lot of unknowns signing up for that first card simply because I’ve never gone through the process before.  Overall, the risks are minimal if you trust yourself to be responsible with credit, but without having ever redeemed a point or mile for travel before, I thought it was best to be conservative.

For that reason, the one thing I avoided like the plague in the first 6 months to a year were annual fees.  Why pay anything up front for an unknown future benefit?  Luckily, the banks are aware of this hesitation to sign up for new credit cards and many offer products that waive the annual fee completely for the first year (not to mention all of the cards that don’t have an annual fee to start with).  These types of cards gave us plenty of opportunities to get our feet wet with new credit cards, earn a variety of points, and start redeeming for ultra cheap travel.

Over time, we became much more comfortable with the process and earned the knowledge and experience necessary to maximize the benefits of all the different miles, points, and credit card benefits that came with each new application.  That was when we stopped fearing the annual fee and had no problem paying a bit up front or over time if we knew that we could get way more than that cost back in value.

Adding up the totals as we get towards the end of the year, it looks like we’ve paid just north of $2,000 in credit card annual fees this year alone, but have gotten far more than that back in benefits.  I’ll break down all of the fees we’ve paid below and why I think the benefits have far outweighed that cost.

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‘Tis the Season for Amex Offers

If you have at least one American Express credit card, this is the time of year you’ll want to be sure to pay attention to the various Amex Offers that are available.  There have already been some very profitable ones and there may be more to come!  The best ones will fit with your regular spending and save you some money, but several others might allow you to make a little cash profit while earning points by flipping gift cards.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll break down what Amex Offers are, how to enroll in them, and how to be prepared when the next big one shows up.

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The Ultimate Movie Theater Discount Hacking Guide

Updated on 10/19/2016

There are a lot of different ways to save money in life, but it usually boils down to one of three different ways to reduce costs.  The first two involve either cutting out the expense completely or replacing it with an alternative.  These can be extremely effective, but come with the sometimes difficult decision of weighing how much you value the item/service/experience versus the money that must be spent to have it.  On the other hand, the third option is finding ways to have the exact same item/service/experience for less money out of your pocket.  While the first two are important for establishing a healthy level of spending, the third one removes the philosophical decisions on value versus cost and becomes a straightforward game of find the best deal.

One such cost cutting opportunity I’ve been thinking about lately is movies.  Becky and I are huge movie fans and watch a ton of them over the course of any given month.  For the most part, our cost is extremely small for the amount of hours of entertainment it provides because the majority of movies watched are via streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video.  On the other hand, we do enjoy the movie theater experience and end up going to a movie or so per month when there is a new one we really want to see.  The most effective way to reduce your movie viewing expenses, hands down, is to stick to streaming services or stop watching them completely.  If you’re like us though and end up visiting the theater on any kind of regular basis, there are a lot of opportunities to cut down on the cost of tickets.  Below, I’ve assembled a list of all the tips and tricks I know about to save money on movie tickets and they range from simply buying at a discount from the right places all the way to seeing brand new movies completely free, sometimes before they are even released to the public!  Let’s dive right in.

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Earning the Southwest Companion Pass Beyond 5/24

Near the end of 2014, we strategically applied for credit cards with the specific goal of getting the Southwest Companion Pass for 2015 and 2016.  This companion pass let’s you get unlimited buy-one-get-one free on all Southwest flights with the same person, whether the first ticket is booked with points or cash, and lasts for up to 2 years depending on which month it is earned in.  Our strategy was for Becky to get both personal versions of the Southwest credit card, each of which came with a 50,000 point signup bonus.  After meeting the minimum spend of $2,000 on each card, we had 104k out of the 110k required to earn the companion pass and topped off the last 6k through regular spend.

Back then, Chase handed out credit cards like candy and didn’t really care how many other credit cards someone had gotten in the past 2 years.  These days, the majority of their credit cards fall under the “5/24 rule” which prevents someone who has opened 5 credit cards in the past 24 months (from any bank) from being approved.

If you happen to come in under Chase’s 5/24 rule, then our signup bonus based strategy above should still work perfectly fine.  Just make sure you’re getting 50k+ for each card as the public signup bonus seems to swing between 30k and 60k throughout the year.

If you’re like us and no longer qualify for new Southwest credit cards, then follow along down the rabbit hole as I investigate a bunch of other ways we might be able to earn a new Companion Pass and whether or not the value of the pass justifies the cost.

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Addition By Subtraction: We Love Getting Rid of Stuff!

A little more than a year after we moved into our house, certain parts started to feel a little cluttered.  Considering that only two of us (plus a dog) were currently living in a 3 bedroom house, this was quite alarming!  Apparently, all of the stuff we owned was multiplying at an unsustainable rate that would have us upgrading our house within years if we didn’t get to the bottom of it.  The large number of households caught in an endless mortgage loop of upgrading houses almost started to make sense… almost.

Fortunately, we decided to attack the problem head on and eventually found out we had a lot more stuff than we actually needed.  After filtering through a few areas of our house one at a time, we found the overall process extremely rewarding.  First, it’s fun to get a good look at all of the stuff you own every so often, some of which you probably haven’t seen in a while.  Second, it’s nice to let some stuff go in order to free up space both physically and mentally.  Third, once you put all the stuff back that you’ve determined worthy, it’s like a whole new area of your house!

I’ll break down how we go about filtering through our possessions one area at a time and maybe inspire you to go through that closet you’re scared to open.  You know the one I’m talking about…

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