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7 Reasons You Are More Than Your Credit Score

7 Reasons You Are More Than Your Credit Score

If you read Wise Bread frequently, you’ll know that we place a lot of emphasis on obtaining a good credit score and building net worth. There’s no question that we want people to follow a path that takes them to financial security. But it’s important to understand that while money and good credit can help you lead the life you want, it doesn’t define you as a person or even guarantee happiness.

It’s often the case that we get so wrapped up in making and saving money that we lose sight of how little we need to actually be content. And we beat ourselves up for being poor, having bad credit, or being in debt.

Here’s a look at all of the ways your net worth and credit score don’t define you.

1. You’re Investing in Your Future

You may have some debt and a low net worth right now. But that’s because you’re taking steps to improve your situation. Maybe you’re in college and have taken out some loans to pay for it. Perhaps you took out a loan to start your own company. Maybe you took on some debt to move to a new community so you could accept a good job. You are making steps to build a good life for yourself, and they will pay off in the long run. Don’t worry about what the numbers say about you now.

2. You’re Frugal, and Proud of It

You’ve decided against using credit cards because you want to avoid the possibility of high-interest debt. You’ve chosen to live with your parents for a while to save money on rent. You’ve never even asked for a loan. All of these things may mean you have a low credit score because you haven’t established much of a credit history. But don’t fret. You’re still being financially sensible and taking steps to save money and avoid the debt spiral. A credit bureau may give you a low score, but you’re getting top marks for being smart with your money.

3. You’re Rich in Other Ways

You have many great friends. You have your family. Your faith. Good health. You’re pretty good at playing the guitar and you make very tasty French toast. These are the things that define you and make your life what it is. Your credit score doesn’t know you, and neither does your bank account.

4. You Are Happy

We’re all aware of the adage that money can’t buy happiness. And have you ever met anyone who said, "I’m so content with my life because my credit score is 820?" Your happiness is based on how you live your life, the quality of your relationships, and what you do to find fulfillment. We’ve all met wealthy people who are downright miserable, and poor people who live life with a smile on their face.

5. Numbers Are Relative

So maybe your credit score is considered poor. And maybe your net worth places you close to the poverty line. But are you better off than you were six months ago? Or a year ago? If so, then be happy that you’re making progress. Credit scores and net worth are only numbers, and numbers should not be analyzed in a vacuum. A person who emerged from extreme poverty is going to be happy to have any credit score at all. Someone who spent years working to pay off massive debts will be thrilled to have positive net worth after being in negative territory for years.

6. You’re Fine With Living Small

You can be content living in a modest home with few possessions. In fact, the Tiny House Movement underscores that there is a segment of the population that is eager to reduce its overall living footprint due to lower costs, lower impact on the environment, and a basic lifestyle. If you’re happy downsizing and living simply, then don’t worry about what your credit score and net worth say.

7. No One Else Cares

Think of your closest friends. How often do you ask about their credit score or their net worth? Do you judge them based on the balances in their bank accounts or their stock holdings? One would hope not. Likewise, your closest friends and relatives couldn’t care less what your numbers say about you. Your relationships are based not on credit scores, but real bonds that have nothing to do with money.

How do you value yourself?

Best Money Tips: Ways to Save Money With a Super Busy Schedule

Best Money Tips: Ways to Save Money With a Super Busy Schedule

Welcome to Wise Bread’s Best Money Tips Roundup! Today we found articles on ways to save money when you have a very busy schedule, things you’re doing on social media that could get you in trouble, and a DIY dry carpet cleaner to freshen your rugs.

Top 5 Articles

5 Ways to Save Money When Your Schedule Is Very Busy — When you’re in a busy season, it’s okay to let a few things slide. Focus on the tasks that you don’t want to compromise on; the other stuff can wait until you have tie for them. [Beating Broke]

Four Things You’re Doing On Social Media that Could Get You Into Serious Trouble — Clients and employers (both current and potential) are all over your social media page to see what kind of Internet reputation you have. Don’t post inappropriate pictures. [SheBudgets]

Homemade Dry Carpet Cleaner For Fresh and Clean Rugs — There’s no need for a steam cleaner! Just sprinkle this homemade dry carpet cleaner around your abode to clean and freshen your carpets. [PopSugar Smart Living]

5 Most Profitable Fiverr Gigs You Can Sell to Make Money (Anyone Can Do #1) — A video testimonial is basically a review of a business’ products or services, and it is one of the most profitable gigs on Fiverr. [Money Pantry]

5 Essential Items to Enhance Your Gym Experience — Use a fitness tracking app or a workout log to record your workout. This will help you track your progress and make sure you’re heading in the right direction. [Dumb Little Man]

Other Essential Reading

5 Reasons Living Without a Car Is the Best Financial Move — Living without a car can be one of the best moves you can make to improve your financial situation, especially with so many transportation options available these days. [Student Loan Hero]

7 Things We Have to Stop Telling Ourselves About Other People — Just because someone does things differently, it doesn’t mean their method is wrong. [Marc & Angel Hack Life]

How To Access Inner Wealth and Leave Your Poverty Mindset Behind — The path forward actually goes backward, to and through you.  [Pick The Brain]

25 Keys to Getting Better Results — Find the sweet spot at the intersection of talent, passion, and value. [Sources of Insight]

9 Ways to Ensure a Smoother Back-to-School Transition — Establish a homework space now and make sure it’s ready for their first assignment. [Parenting Squad]

5 Airline Miles Secrets Only Frequent Flyers Know

5 Airline Miles Secrets Only Frequent Flyers Know

Most frequent flyers are experts at collecting and redeeming miles for free travel. They know all the tricks for squeezing a bit more value from each point, where to find more award seats, and secrets to getting miles faster. These are the little known secrets for getting more miles and value so you can be on your way to your next free vacation. (See also: How to Get a Free Vacation through Credit Card Rewards in Less Than 9 Months)

1. You Can Earn More Miles on the Ground Than in the Air

Even for frequent travelers, most airline miles are earned on the ground, not in the air. That’s because airline credit cards award miles based on how much you spend, not how far you fly. That includes nonflying purchases. Use your card to pay for all your expenses and watch your miles add up.

2. You Don’t Need an Airline Credit Card

Some of the best travel rewards credit cards aren’t airline branded cards, but their points can be transferred to the airline miles of your choice. This gives you more flexibility in choosing the card that offers the most points for the category you spend the most in. Choose a card that offers bonus points for dining if you frequent restaurants often. Get a card that offers high grocery rewards. This will help you earn more points faster.

3. Not All Redemption Opportunities Offer the Same Value

Frequent travelers know how to look for value when redeeming their miles. Planning ahead of time to grab the best award price and comparing different routes will get you a much higher value for your hard earned points.

4. Look for Award Flights on Partner Airlines

If you’re searching for award seats on a particular airline, look up the partners that also accept that airline’s miles, and search for flights through them. Sometimes award seats show up on a partner site search rather than the specific airline site you’re looking to fly on. Sometimes fees are much lower for the same flight through a partner airline. (See also: The Secret to Getting the Cheapest Award Flights)

5. Look for Business and First Class International Flights

You might think that business or first class seats are out of your reach, but when it comes to miles, a seat in business class on an international flight that would normally cost two to three times the cost of a coach seat, might only be 50% more miles. Instead of using your miles for a few domestic flights, saving them for upgraded seats on an international flight would give you much more value for your points.

Do you play the airline miles game? How do you wring out the most value?

10 Easiest Items to “Flip” for Cash

10 Easiest Items to "Flip" for Cash

As a devoted thrift store shopper, auction-goer, and yard sale junkie, I always joke that my hobby is also my part-time job. Since roughly 95% of everything I buy is intended for resale, I’m constantly looking for items I can flip without a huge time investment. If you know what to look for, there’s money to be made around every corner — maybe even in the stacks of stuff collecting dust in your basement or garage. Here are 10 of the easiest items you can flip for fast cash.

1. Solid Wood Furniture

One of the five best deals in every thrift store, quality furniture is an easy flip. Usually, a light sanding and application of a one-step stain/sealer is all you need to bring a worn piece back to life.

Stick to small, versatile pieces that will appeal to apartment-dwellers and look for forms that can be creatively upcycled (an old roll-top desk becomes a bar or an antique steamer trunk gets a second life as a coffee table). Reduce prep time by avoiding items with heavy ornamentation. Also, when buying dining room or office chairs, steer clear of oddly-shaped seats — they’re twice as hard to reupholster.

2. Brand-Name Clothing

With the retail price of clothing hovering near the stratosphere, gently-used, seasonally-appropriate brand-name clothing is an easy sell. Look for well-made items with no missing buttons, damaged zippers, extreme alterations, stains, or weird smells. Just last week, I bought a pair of nearly-new Sperry Top Sider leather shoes for $3.99 and flipped them online for $32. (See also: 9 Qualities to Look for in Well-Made Clothing).

3. Vintage Clothing

Its own unique category, vintage clothing can include a quirky shirt made 10 years ago or a classic hat made 80 years ago. Get a feel for what’s in-demand by researching completed sales on eBay. Remember, as with all other clothing, condition is everything. Several weeks ago, I paid $2.99 for a ’90s-era Levi’s denim cap in mint condition. Three hours after I listed it online, it sold for a cool $105.

4. Retro Barware Sets

Cocktail shakers, tumblers, swizzle sticks, ice buckets, and related items appeal to the hip and well-heeled everywhere. Matching sets are the most coveted, but mismatched or harlequin sets sell well, too. Just make sure each piece is from the same general era. Recently, a 1960s set of six lowball glasses with matching decanter sold on eBay for $69.99.

5. Power Tools

When people are moving or otherwise motivated to declutter, buyers can often score power tools at bargain-basement prices. Test each item before you buy, give it a light cleaning, grease what needs greasing, and flip it for quick cash. A few summers ago, I bought a portable, gas-powered generator for $40 at a yard sale. I sold it the very next day for $125.

6. Old Canning Jars

Vintage canning jars manufactured by Mason, Ball, and Atlas have transcended their utilitarian origins to become decorative items. Unusually large jars and the green or blue glass variety sell for a premium — especially if they retain their original zinc or glass lids. If you have any of these packed away in the basement, clean with a mixture of white vinegar and water and sell them for $8-$15 each. (See also: 9 Easy Mason Jar Gifts You Can Make).

7. Mid-Century Anything

Anything from the ’50s and ’60s is red hot right now. Look for authentic pieces that are in relatively good shape. Dinnerware, flatware, coffee tables, chairs, and lamps are all home runs in the resale market. Last month, I snagged an iconic "starburst" wall clock at poorly-attended auction for $1. After giving it a 10-minute cleaning, I sold it on eBay for $70.

8. Basic Lawn Tools

Old metal rakes, spades, hoes, and other basic lawn care tools are well-made and easy to rehabilitate. Clean them well, use a grinder with a brush attachment to remove rust quickly, and then flip ’em for $10-$20 apiece. The best part? Anyone with a yard is a potential buyer!

9. Bicycles

A good friend of mine in Austin, Texas has created a cottage industry buying, cleaning, repairing, and reselling bicycles to feed that city’s thriving biking culture. Every weekend you can find him scouring local thrift stores, yard sales, and Craigslist ads for retro models from the ’70s and ’80s. Though some bikes do need significant repair (which requires a basic level of mechanical skill), most just need a little cosmetic TLC.

10. Vintage Lawn Furniture

They don’t make lawn furniture they way they used to. Vintage aluminum, iron, and steel pieces are in demand for their durability and classic styling. Though complete sets are ideal, don’t reject singles. Condo dwellers may only have room for one or two chairs, and other buyers prefer to mix and match. In July, a pair of untouched (read: slightly rusty) metal "clam shell" patio chairs sold on eBay for $85.

What treasures have you found and flipped for minimal effort and maximum cash? Share your story!

The 5 Best Hydrating Shampoos

The 5 Best Hydrating Shampoos

If you have dry, damaged hair, a quality hydrating shampoo can provide the solution you’ve been looking for. It can moisturize and replenish your hair, leaving it soft, smooth, shiny, healthy, and manageable after every shower. It can also help prevent further damage by deeply hydrating your locks, without ever weighing them down.

What Is Hydrating Shampoo?

Hydrating shampoo can gently cleanse the hair, while replenishing moisture and preventing further damage from heat styling and other everyday offenders. It can even help fight tangles and frizz, leaving your hair more manageable. (See also: The 5 Best Shampoos)

Top 5 Hydrating Shampoos

Shea Moisture Raw Shea Moisture Retention Shampoo

The 5 Best Hydrating ShampoosThe Shea Moisture Raw Shea Moisture Retention Shampoo gently cleanses, moisturizes, hydrates, and repairs hair with powerful natural and certified organic ingredients like sea kelp, argan oil, coconut oil, aloe vera, provitamin B5, vitamin E, honeysuckle, avocado oil, rosemary extract, and shea butter. The mineral-rich nutrition will leave your hair shiny, soft, smooth, and healthy — allowing it to grow in faster and stronger. Along with deeply moisturizing and conditioning the hair and scalp, it can also help promote hair elasticity and seal and smooth the hair cuticles. It is sulfate-free, paraben-free, and doesn’t include any harsh synthetic ingredients. Most reviewers love the coconut scent and rich lather. Some reviewers even refer to it as their "Holy Grail shampoo.”

The moisturizing, color-safe shampoo is a Total Beauty “Top-Rated Beauty Product” and is recommended by Rank & Style and AllWomenStalk. It is also recommended by professional hairstylists around the country for all hair types, particularly for dry, damaged, and color-treated hair.

Currently $10.25 on Amazon

Neutrogena Triple Moisture Cream Lather Shampoo

The 5 Best Hydrating ShampoosThe Neutrogena Triple Moisture Cream Lather Shampoo can renew your hair by gently dissolving impurities. The revolutionary cream formula is scientifically proven to improve hair after just a single use. The panthenol and naturally derived extracts (olive, meadowfoam seed, and sweet almond oils) can penetrate to intensely moisturize each layer of the hair strand. In fact, it has triple the moisture abilities of a standard shampoo. It will leave your hair soft, smooth, silky, shiny, and manageable. It works on all hair types, including color-treated and over-processed hair because it is ultra-gentle and deeply moisturizing. Most reviewers love the salon fragrance.

This is recommended by Total Beauty, Rank & Style, and AllWomenStalk, as well as by salons across the country. This pack of three shampoos should last you awhile and offers an incredible value. If you only want to try one bottle for now, consider the Neutrogena Triple Moisture Cream Lather Shampoo, which doesn’t offer quite the same value as the three-pack.

Currently $14.88 on Amazon

Aveeno Nourish + Moisturize Shampoo

The 5 Best Hydrating ShampoosThe Aveeno Nourish + Moisturize Shampoo is like food for your hair and can help you achieve instant results. It cleanses, soothes, moisturizes, and repairs dry, damaged, or color-treated hair, while reducing frizz and split ends. The exclusive Active Naturals formula is infused with essential conditioners and moisturizers, nourishing wheat complex, and hydrating oat protein. It is scientifically proven to nourish and repair dry hair in only three washes and is designed to target and fortify the areas of your hair that need the most moisture. It will leave your hair full, soft, smooth, shiny, strong, silky, healthy, and manageable without ever weighing it down.

The Aveeno brand has been dermatologist-recommended for more than 60 years. This hydrating shampoo is recommended by Total Beauty, Real Simple, and Rank & Style. It also has outstanding online reviews and reviewers tend to love the scent.

Currently $10.58 on Amazon

Matrix Biolage Ultra-Hydrating Shampoo

The 5 Best Hydrating ShampoosThe Matrix Biolage Ultra-Hydrating Shampoo is a daily use shampoo that gently cleanses, recharges, and nourishes hair with intense hydration. It is inspired by the aloe plant, which never seems to dry out. It has ultra-moisturizing ingredients, like a botanical complex of lemon grass, wheat germ, sage, seaweed, rice proteins, and omega-3s, which can help absorb and retain moisture to improve the hair’s hydration levels. It can also prevent split ends and protect the hair from everyday damages like hair products and chlorine. It will leave your hair silky soft, shiny, smooth, healthy, manageable, and tangle-free after every shower. It is ideal for all hair types, including very dry, stressed, coarse hair. Reviewers tend to love the fragrance.

This is recommended by Real Simple and Rank & Style. It also has outstanding online reviews and is recommended by professional hairstylists around the country.

Currently $29.74 on Amazon

Moroccanoil Hydrating Shampoo

The 5 Best Hydrating ShampoosThe Moroccanoil Hydrating Shampoo gently cleanses hair and infuses it with replenishing nutrients. The moisturizing formula contains antioxidant-rich argan oil, vitamins A and E, and red algae to repair damaged hair and maintain its natural moisture balance. It is designed to improve the health and beauty of your hair, leaving it soft, smooth, shiny, tangle-free, and manageable. The high-performance formula will deeply moisturize and condition your hair, improve hair texture and elasticity, and fight free radicals to reduce the effects of hair aging. The sulfate-free, phosphate-free, paraben‑free shampoo is color-safe and ideal for thick, dehydrated hair. Reviewers tend to love the scent.

While this is on the pricey side, most reviewers tend to agree that it is well worth the cost. The brand is recommended by Total Beauty and countless salons across the country. If this one doesn’t work for you, consider the Moroccanoil Moisture Repair Shampoo.

Currently $29.60 on Amazon

And those are our recommendations for the best hydrating shampoos. As always, be sure to check Wise Bread’s Buying Calendar to learn when and how to buy just about anything!

8 Financial Wake Up Calls — And How to Deal With Them

8 Financial Wake Up Calls — And How to Deal With Them

Can’t seem to get a handle on your finances? That in itself is a wake up call that you need to be doing things differently. Here are eight more.

1. You Use Personal Credit Cards for More Than One-Off Expenses

Some personal finance experts recommend automated billing for recurring expenses, but I don’t usually suggest it since I like to be in control of when and where my money goes. But charging expenses to your credit card on a regular basis is a different story. Credit cards should be used for one-off expenses that you’ll pay off quickly, not month-to-month bills that can rapidly pile up without being paid.

"Credit card companies work hard to make their cards not feel like a personal loan with an abhorrent interest rate, but that’s what they are for a lot of people," says money-saving expert Mike Catania. "Once regular consumers start putting recurring expenses onto the cards and not paying them off fully on the due date, it’s time to re-evaluate the financial picture."

If this is something you do or have done in the past, switch to automated billing linked to your debit card. You’ll need to commit to being financially responsible — like, all the time — to ensure that you can cover the funds during the fund extraction period. It’ll require a change on your part, but it’s not the worst habit you can pick up.

2. You’re Constantly Complaining That You Never Have Enough Money

I know way too many people who complain that they’re always broke, and my first question is, "Why?" If this sounds familiar, it’s time to ask yourself that question — seriously. In most cases, there are two common answers: One, you’re spending too much money on frivolous things, and two, you’re not making enough money because you’re spending too much time spending money on frivolous things.

Follow me?

To change that scenario, curb your spending. You don’t need all those new things, and you shouldn’t be in bars and restaurants every night of the week. Also, consider getting a second job. I recently started driving with Lyft to help curb my own Friday and Saturday night habit of going out with my friends and spending dough. So I’m not just sitting at home bored, I thought it would be helpful to find something fun to do that also will pay me — because I like money way more than the feeling of not having enough of it.

3. You’ve Been Drowning in Debt for Most of Your Adult Life

Nobody is going to shake a finger at you because you made a few (or more than a few) financial missteps in your 20s. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all racked up debt. But if that black cloud has followed you into your 30s or even 40s, you need to re-evaluate your entire life philosophy.

Some debt is unavoidable, of course. I consider school loans and home mortgages "good" debt because they’re investments, but if you’ve got credit card bills coming out the wazoo because you like to spend money, it’s time to forget the Joneses and get back to reality. You may need an additional source of income to address the debt — which I’ll cover below — but you need to do whatever’s necessary to get out of the hole you dug, stat.

4. You’re Well Into Your 30s And You Haven’t Started Saving for Retirement

Times aren’t like they used to be, and many young professionals don’t have the extra money to start building their retirement funds. But, I must advise you to find that extra few bucks a month to put toward a 401K or other retirement-savings account, and take advantage of matching dollars from your employer if they’re available. You may not be able to max out contributions right away, but that’s okay — you’ve got to start somewhere. If you don’t, you’ll be middle-aged before you know it and fretting that you won’t be able to survive retirement — or worse, not able to retire at all.

5. You Skip Contributions to Your Savings Accounts for Months in a Row

If you haven’t made contributions to your savings account for several months in a row, something’s wrong. Maybe you’ve had unexpected expenses pop up, or maybe you just haven’t been as responsible with your money as you’re supposed to be. Whatever the case, the fun’s over; it’s time to get back on track. Take a deeper look at where your money is going and see what you can pull from to put a little back in your savings account. Maybe it’s canceling an entertainment service or it could be skipping the coffee house or lunches out during the week. Whatever you would’ve spent on those little luxuries, send that amount to your savings account to start building it back up dollar by dollar.

6. You Only Have One Source of Income

I touched on this point earlier, so let’s get down to it.

One of my financial life philosophies is to always have more than one source of income. Personally, I have about four income sources — some bring in more than others, but they all contribute to the "pot." I don’t need all of these revenue streams to survive, I could live without one or two of them, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to, because that extra one or two help me add to my savings, pay for life’s little luxuries and experiences, and cover unexpected expenses when they arise. Without them, I would have to dip into my regular income, which would then take away from my savings and other running funds I keep, which in turn could lead to a dangerous debt situation if I’m not careful.

There are absolutely no downsides to having two sources of income or more, and not a single person has ever said how frustrated or stressed they are because all their bills are paid with money to spare. No one. Ever.

7. You Keep Track of Expenses by Browsing Your Checking Account Online

I see this way too much with 20 and even 30-somethings who monitor and manage their finances by simply browsing their online checking and savings accounts. Sure, peeking at your accounts on a regular basis is good practice, but that’s not enough. You really ought to have a formal budget established (a spreadsheet is an ideal solution for this) that details your monthly expenses and what’s coming in and going out. Yeeees, it requires some effort on your part — at least more than logging into your banking app with Touch ID — but it’s well worth it to avoid teetering on the edge of overdraft all the time.

8. You Spend Until There’s Just Enough Left to Avoid Overdrafting

Speaking of teetering on the edge of overdraft, stop doing it! There’s no reasonable explanation that you’re spending money until you’re within a few dollars or cents of being slapped with an overdraft fee.

You know why? Because you can’t afford it! You have zero dollars in your account at that point, which means you messed up somewhere. If you couldn’t afford whatever sent you over the edge, you can’t afford the hefty overdraft fees, either.

To avoid this situation, here are my tips: When you see that thing at the store that you have to have, walk away. When you want to order that pizza because you’re hung over or too lazy to cook dinner, get up off your butt and recognize that this exact scenario might be why you’re broke in the first place. When your friends ask if you want to go out and you see that you only have $20 left in your account, just…say…no! You’re allowed to do that, ya know, and nobody will stop being buddies with you and the world won’t end. I promise. Instead, spend that time to reflect on why you have $20 to your name (seriously, think about that long and hard) and how you can change that. I’ve offered a few tips here already. The time is now.

Are you avoiding any of these — or other — financial wake-up calls?

6 Ways My Family Scores Free Travel With Credit Cards

6 Ways My Family Scores Free Travel With Credit Cards
Photo: Jason Steele

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I travel a lot, but I don’t pay for most of it. In fact, my family and I often fly in business or first class. I used to look for coupons for 50 cents off of this or a couple of dollars off of that — but today it takes a few hundred dollars worth of travel savings to get me to raise an eyebrow. This is the lifestyle of a travel rewards aficionado. (See also: 5 Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)

What You Need to Know About Earning Free Travel

Earning free travel with rewards credit cards is legitimate, ethical, and profitable for all of the parties involved. Like many, my passion for reward travel was born of necessity. At first, I was just addicted to traveling in a style beyond my budget. Later, I married into a family that lives, in large part, on the other side of the globe. It didn’t take a calculator to realize that the three of us weren’t going to be able to visit my wife’s family every year or two at a cost of about $5,000 in airfare. Moreover, after enduring coach seating for 30 hours in the air, round trip, we felt like the airlines should be paying us.

Contrast that scenario with our most recent trip this September. We traveled on award tickets business class to see family in Tel Aviv and enjoyed a week long stopover in Italy on the return. In Milan, we used hotel awards to stay for free in a suite that normally costs over $400 a night. After touring Lake Como and the Italian countryside, we returned home to Denver satisfied that we had not just visited family, but actually had a vacation as well. Other reward trips we have taken in the last year include Brazil, the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean, and more domestic excursions than I can count.

How do we do it?

6 Ways My Family Scores Free Travel With Credit Cards

1. Take Advantage of Frequent Flyer Mile Promotions

US Airways offered a 250% bonus, at one point, for certain purchases made through their frequent flier program partners. Reward travel enthusiasts like me quickly figured out that a certain product (the TrackItBack recovery system) that normally returns 40 miles per dollar spent would now earn an additional 120 miles per dollar during this promotion, for a total of 160 miles per dollar spent. In fact, the miles were worth far more than the product itself!

I spent $3,000, and earned nearly 500,000 US Airways miles without stepping foot on an airplane. It was those miles that were redeemed for the three business class, partner award seats to the Middle East with a stopover in Europe. At 120,000 per ticket, we even had over 100,000 miles left over. Finally, the product itself was donated to charity for the tax deduction. Other recent promotions have included opportunities to buy and transfer miles at discount rates and offers that require earning miles from a selection of partners.

Related: Best Co-Branded Airline Credit Cards

2. Find Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses

We are all incredibly lucky to live in a country where credit card issuers compete so hard to earn your business that they are tripping over themselves to offer the most valuable sign up bonuses. This year, my wife and I each earned 100,000 British Airways miles as sign up bonus during a promotion that lasted a few months. We also received serious bonuses from Southwest and American Airlines, as well as Capital One. Travel credit cards often offer sign up bonuses worth $400 or more. It’s an easy way to jump start your collection. 

Does this hurt our credit score? Not at all. In fact, we always qualify for the most favorable mortgage rates. Our scores may suffer a few points at any given time due to too many recent inquiries, but we also have a large amount of available credit, reducing our utilization ratio. Keep in mind that this strategy is only wise for those who normally maintain excellent credit and who don’t view these cards as an invitation to spend more or incur debt.

The best sign-up offer available now is $625 worth of free travel from the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (review). It’s also my all-time favorite card to use.

Related: Best Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses for Airline Miles

3. Utilize Credit Card Spending

For those whose credit card is simply a method of payment, not a means of finance, each dollar spent equals more miles. We always use our credit cards when they are accepted. There are even some tricks to spend money on items that can immediately be redeemed for cash. In the past, reward travel experts have had traveler’s checks, coins from the mint, and other liquid able assets charged to their credit cards as purchases. As these loopholes were publicized, they were eventually closed, but new ones are inevitably discovered. Again, this strategy is not for anyone who ever carries a balance as interest payments will far exceed the value of the miles earned.

Related: How I Save Over $1,000 a Year Using These 4 Credit Cards for Day-to-Day Expenses

4. Get Bumped

Being bumped is the lingo for earning voluntary denied boarding compensation. When an aircraft is oversold, some travelers will volunteer to take a later flight in order to receive hundreds of dollars of compensation. The key to being bumped is to book flights that you know are oversold, don’t check luggage, and to be the first on the list of volunteers when the gate agents arrive.

5. Know How and When to Complain

When companies experience service failures, customers can earn valuable compensation if they play their cards right. Although poor customer service is more common in the airline industry, it does happen at hotels from time to time. Those who take the time to write a brief, polite, email to their travel provider will frequently receive vouchers and/or frequent flier miles for their troubles.

6. Use Miles and Points Creatively

When trying to use frequent flier mile programs, most people focus on the earning side of the equation. This is important, but no less so than finding the most strategic redemption opportunities. Finding the most valuable awards is an incredibly complex game, but if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be "Partners."

Remember my 500,000 US Airways miles? The only way I was able to redeem them for our most recent trip was through their partners. In this case, we flew Star Alliance partners Continental and Lufthansa, without taking any US Airways flights. In an extreme example, I once transferred points from a credit card to miles with Japan’s ANA airlines, to redeem an award on one of their partners, South African Airlines.

Related: Travel Cards With the Best Redemption Values

Conclusions

It took me years of trial and error to find the best ways to maximize all the credit card rewards. I’ll be sharing my best tips in my new weekly column on Wise Bread. As you can see from the happy faces in these recent vacation photos — your family will love these free travel tips!

Here are more of my picks of the best travel cards:

What is your favorite travel rewards card tip?

6 Ways My Family Scores Free Travel With Credit Cards

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain.

Join Our Tweetchat on Thursday 8/4, 12pm PST for a Chance to Win $200 in Prizes!

Join Our Tweetchat on Thursday 8/4, 12pm PST for a Chance to Win $200 in Prizes!

Join our Tweetchat this Thursday at 12:00 p.m. Pacific/ 3p.m. Eastern for lively conversation and a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card or one of two $50 Amazon gift cards! Use #WBChat and #Plutus16 to participate.

This week’s topic: Personal Finance Blogs! Share with us about your favorite frugality blogs, entrepreneurship blogs, travel blogs, and more! Tell us the best advice you’ve received from a personal finance blog, then head over to vote for your favorite apps, companies, and blogs at http://www.plutusawards.com/.

For an easy way to keep track of the conversation, try using our special Tweetchat Chatroom.

Anyone can participate, but you must be following @WiseBread and RSVP below to win our prizes!

  • First place: $100 Amazon GC
  • Second place: $50 Amazon GC
  • Third place: $50 Amazon GC

Winner must be US resident 18 or older. No purchase necessary. Winners are randomly selected and announced within 1 day of the chat. See official rules here.

To make it easier for us to keep track of attendees and pick our winners, please RSVP below with your twitter ID (put that in the "Link Title" field), email address, and your twitter URL (put that in the "URL" field, do not put your blog’s url in there). Winners will be selected at random from RSVPs. If a winner is chosen who RSVPed but did not attend a 2nd winner will be chosen.


This Week’s Chat is Sponsored in Part by The Plutus Awards

This week, our chat is in support of The 7th Annual Plutus Awards! They will be joining our chat, tweeting from @PlutusAwards, and will be helping sponsor our prize pool! The Plutus Awards recognizes the best of the best in personal finance, from blogs to companies and more! Be sure to vote for your favorite blogs at http://www.theplutusawards.com/nominate/.

More About The Plutus Awards

Here’s a message from the Plutus Awards:

The Plutus Awards is an annual awards ceremony celebrating the best in personal finance among products, services, websites, and resources.

Join us for the 7th Annual Plutus Awards at FinCon16 in San Diego on 9/24! Also, please remember to vote for your favorite personal finance blogs!

Additionally be sure to check out the Plutus Foundation, an endowment designed to support programs that enhance the financial capability and well-being of citizens of the world.

New Parenting Chat Tuesdays at 11am PST

Our sister blog Parenting Squad (@ParentingSquad) will be hosting a parenting chat every Tuesday at 11:00 am Pacific. Drop by for fun parenting conversations and a chance to win prizes! Use #PSChat to participate.

10 Ways to Improve Yourself for $100 or Less

10 Ways to Improve Yourself for $100 or Less

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail," wrote Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. While it may be true that opportunity doesn’t knock on your door that often, it’s true that you’ll only make the most of the good times when you’re truly prepared.

Fortunately, there are many ways to reinvent yourself for under one Benjamin! Ranging from career growth to personal finance to personal growth, here’s a list of 10 inexpensive investments in one’s own self.

Career Growth

Franklin said it best, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." Put that $100 (or even less!) toward improving your chances of landing a promotion.

1. Invest in a Lynda.com Membership

One of the secrets to getting ahead in any career is to become familiar with the requirements of the job you want, and determine what skills you need to develop in order to thrive in that dream job.

For example, I wanted to land more social media management projects, but kept getting turned down because I didn’t know basic Adobe Photoshop skills. Most clients look for a freelancer who can create or edit images with this software. That’s why I set aside about $75 for a three-month subscription to Lynda.com and learned not only the basics of Photoshop, but also picked up some intermediate skills. You can pay from $24.99 (unlimited access to the subscription library of courses) or $34.99 (unlimited access to the subscription library of courses plus ability to download project files) on a month-to-month basis until you’re able to become proficient in the skills you need.

2. Buy Your Name as a Domain

Give yourself a professional look by directing your potential clients or employers to YourName.com instead of wix.com/xY7893b40. Not only are domains that use names easier to share and remember, but they also allow you to keep a consistent look. Your email and URL will share the same domain name. If your name is already taken, then try sensible alternatives. Most basic domain packages start at $10 per year.

3. Get a Professional Headshot

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) clearly states that "employers should not ask for a photograph of an applicant." However, the reality is that you’ll run into plenty of instances that you will need a professional headshot. Ranging from social media presences to promotion announcements in the local newspaper to opportunities to contribute to a trade journal, a great headshot will positively contribute to your career. Prices vary per city, so do your homework. Don’t forget to check with your HR department if they provide such a service and contact your photography friends for some references.

4. Enroll in a Non-Credit Program at Local College

If learning online isn’t your cup of tea, a great alternative is to enroll in a non-credit course at your local university or community college. For example, the University of Hawaii at Manoa Outreach College offers non-credit workshops starting at $50. By enrolling in such a course, you become eligible for the Lifetime Learning Credit, allowing you to deduct up to 20% of your first $10,000 in qualified education expenses, up to $2,000 per taxpayer. Depending on your income, you could complete college-level courses for free through this tax credit. (See also: Don’t Skip These 8 Tax Breaks for Students)

Personal Finance

"Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship," warned Franklin. Here are three ways to spot some of those little expenses (and debts!) that can truly add up over time.

5. Set a $100 Food Budget for One Week

If you’re constantly wondering "where did my paycheck go?" it’s time to start taking control of your expenses. One great way to start this task is to limit yourself to only $100 for food for one week and see what happens. Writer Hillary Hoffower took on this challenge and she ended up surprising herself by spending only $99.88 in one week! By keeping track of your food expenses, you’ll spot opportunities for saving, such as those daily $4 Starbucks lattes, and improve your budgeting skills.

6. Allocate Some Investments to Index Funds

One way to improve the performance of your investment or retirement saving accounts is to allocate a portion of your actively managed accounts, such as mutual funds or target-date funds, into index funds. Here’s why: The average expense ratio across all funds was 0.64% in 2014. That means that you would pay $64 per year for every $10,000 you were to invest.

On the other hand, the average expense ratio for exchange-traded index funds was closer to 0.25%! That means a nice 60% drop on average investment fees. There are some index funds, such as those from Vanguard, that have even lower expense ratios. Those investment cost savings can mean the difference between reaching and missing your target investment.

7. Order Your Free Annual Credit Report

To prevent identity theft and have a full picture of your credit history, request your credit report every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. Federal law requires each of three consumer credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to provide you a free credit report. Order your free credit report every 12 months so that you can double check that only the accounts and loans that you applied for are there. If you find an issue with your credit report, you can submit a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

Personal Growth

Personal development is a lifelong process. Here are some frugal ideas to help you maximize your potential.

8. Improve Your Public Speaking With Toastmasters International

Becoming a more effective communicator and finding your own voice are both important parts of personal growth. First established in 1924, non-profit educational organization Toastmasters helps its members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. Total annual fees generally range from $74 to $92 per year.

9. Develop a Hobby

There are many theories about self-actualization, and many of them share a common belief in the need to remain enthusiastic about the future. One way to become enthused and energize your body is to develop a hobby. Choose an activity that provides you an opportunity to break a sweat, improve a skill, or strengthen bonds with family or friends. From a pair of dumbbells to a chessboard, there are plenty of hobbies that are under $100.

10. Slow Down Through Meditation

While stress is a natural part of life, it’s important to keep it in check. It has been estimated that 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress and that 75% to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. You need to slow down, and one easy way to achieve this is through meditation. Skip the yoga pants and incense candles and use Calm.com site and app (available for iOS and Android) to guide you. This free service teaches you the skill of meditation so that you can reduce stress and improve your sleeping.

What are other ways to reinvent yourself under $100? Share with us!
 

Best Money Tips: Hidden Costs That Can Derail Your Budget Travel Plans

Best Money Tips: Hidden Costs That Can Derail Your Budget Travel Plans

Welcome to Wise Bread’s Best Money Tips Roundup! Today we found articles on hidden costs that can break your travel budget, emergency preparedness tips for first-time renters, and ways to turn unwanted wedding gifts into cash.

Top 5 Articles

10 Hidden Costs That Can Derail Your Budget Travel Plans — Some "free attractions" may require you to pay for parking or they might ask or a donation. Do your research ahead of time so these fees don’t surprise you upon arrival. [The Simple Dollar]

First-Time Renters: 5 Emergency Preparedness Tips — Familiarize yourself with the kinds of severe weather in your area and stay informed about the weather around you. [The Allstate Blog]

7 ways to turn unwanted wedding gifts into cash — Many stores will accept returns without a receipt, but if you can’t find a store that will take your unwanted gift, you can trade it on a bartering site for something you actually want. [The Monitor]

The 1 Thing Professionally Successful People Do Every Day — Professionally successful people don’t allow themselves to burn out. They make time for themselves every day. [PopSugar Smart Living]

10 Items You Should Always Buy at Trader Joe’s — Frozen pizza is a lifesaver on those nights when dinner falls to the wayside. Trader Joe’s pizzas come in traditional varieties as well as some specialty combos. [Bargain Babe]

Other Essential Reading

Bankruptcy: What is It and is it Your Best Option? — There are many downsides to bankruptcy, but depending on your situation, it could still be your best option. [Frugal Village]

Ways to Naturally Increase Morning Energy and Mood — Stretch your muscles when you first wake up to get your circulation flowing. [Saving Dollars & Sense]

5 Reasons Your Kid Shouldn’t Go to College (and What They Can do Instead) — A college education is a good thing, but some kids aren’t cut out for college, or at least not right away. There are alternatives to college that may be better suited for your child. [Seed Time]

5 Tips to Take Advantage of Garage Sales — Before you hit up a garage sale, make a shopping list of the items you need, want, and don’t mind buying used. [Couple Money]

7 Ways to Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping — Some supplies may not be needed until the second half of the year. Ask the teacher what is necessary on the first day and what you can buy later. [Parenting Squad]