How to Best Use Credit Card Reward Points

One of the biggest benefits of using a credit card is the ability to collect reward points for every dollar that you spend. At some point, though, you need to make decisions on how to use the points that you have accumulated.

There are many strategies to follow when it comes to using reward points. Below are a few to consider, as well as some of my personal experiences:

1. Save your points for something big. As you know, you can cash in reward points for everything from small denominations of cash to flat screen televisions, cruises, and airline tickets. Rather than spend your points the first chance you get, why not hold onto them for something that you really want? Often, but not always, points will convert at a more valuable rate as you save up more and more points.

I am the type that prefers to hold reward points until I really need them, and can get something huge in return. Most recently, I cashed in 50,000+ points for a four night stay in a downtown hotel. While this was a lot of points, in return I received something that I really wanted. Not to mention the fact that it probably saved me close to $1,000.

2. Splurge because you are not spending your own money. Many people, including myself, often times find it difficult to spend money on things they “want.” While there is nothing wrong with being cautious, from time to time you need to treat yourself. Doing so with reward points is much easier because there is no real cash coming out of your pocket.

Every so often, I take a few thousand reward points and buy something small from the catalog that my credit card company sends me. I get to satisfy a guilty pleasure of mine without my wallet taking a hit.

3. Travel. Whenever possible, I like to use a large majority of my points for travel. My credit card company lets me cash them in for car rentals, hotel stays, airline tickets, cruises, and much more. Personally, I feel that my points get the most “bang for the buck” when I use them for travel related purposes.

As noted above, I previously cashed in several thousand points for four free nights in an upscale hotel. Along with this, my last vacation to Florida was partially funded by reward points. I was able to cash in my points for one free plane ticket and a rental car for three days. Sure, I still had to pay for other aspects of my travel, but this was a great way to cut costs while still having a good time.

How do you get so many points?

Obviously, you can only use reward points when you have them in your account. Although it may sound like I have hundreds of thousands of points at my disposal, it took a lot of time (and money spent) to accumulate them. Here are two tips I follow to increase the rate at which I gather points:

1. Always use your credit card for large purchases IF you can afford to pay the balance in full. This gives you the chance to accumulate large chunks in a short period of time.

2. Know the ins and outs of your reward card system. Do you receive one point for every dollar that you spend? Can you receive more than this for using your card at certain locations, such as gas stations and restaurants? The more you know about your reward card the easier it is to take full advantage.

This is only my opinion on how to best use credit card reward points. Over the years, it has worked well for me while helping save thousands of dollars.

How do you use your reward points?

(photo credit: nordberg25)

Tips for Setting up and Running a Garage Sale

garage sale tipsAnybody can put on a garage sale, right? All you have to do is throw some stuff on a table, sit on a chair, and wait for shoppers to arrive. While this is the basic theory, it is far from the truth. If you truly want your garage sale to be a success it is important that you focus on the finer details.

From start to finish, you need to know what steps to take as well as what you can do to improve your chance of a successful event.

Below are several tips that should put you in the right frame of mind:

1. Market your garage sale well in advance. The biggest mistake that many people make is forgetting about marketing, in hopes that word of mouth takes care of it for them. If you are going to have a garage sale you should market your event at least one month in advance. You can do this in a number of different ways, including in local newspapers and with signs. Of course, there is nothing wrong with word of mouth marketing. Just make sure that you combine it with other efforts. You don’t want to have put all this effort into an awesome garage sale only to have its success diminished by the simple fact that not enough people knew about it.

2. How are you going to set up your garage sale? A lot of this has to do with the amount of stuff that you are trying to sell. There are two things you can do to make the setup process simple. First and foremost, stay organized. The last thing you want to do is dump a bunch of stuff in your yard and hope for the best. Use tables when applicable and place large items in easy to access areas.

Along with the above, make sure you are in position to keep an eye on everything that is for sale. Although it is not common, there are people who will try stealing from your garage sale if they think they can get away with it.

3. Get some help. While you may be able to set up and run a garage sale on your own, you are putting a lot of stress on yourself. The more help you have the better off you are going to be. Even if you just have one helper, it goes a long way in making the event more enjoyable for both you and those who stop by.

4. Be ready to negotiate. The majority of people who shop at garage sales do so because they are looking to save money. For this reason, they will be ready to negotiate from the moment they arrive. Before your big day, have an idea of what you are going to ask for every item. On top of this, know the minimum that you are willing to accept. At times, you may have to turn somebody away because they are not willing to pay your asking price. This is all part of having a garage sale. Just don’t try to decide on a minimum price on the spot because you might be pressured into a price and regret it later.

There is more to a successful garage sale than lining up old junk and hoping to make a few bucks. If you follow the detailed tips above, your garage sale will be a success and you will make more money than you ever thought possible!

Do you have any experience running a garage sale? Any additional tips you can add?

(photo credit: Eastlaketimes)

Travel Cheap Without Sacrificing Quality

Does this sound familiar? You want to do a lot of traveling, but you don’t want to rough it, so you end up not traveling because you can’t do it the “right way.” Believe it or not, you can travel cheap but still stay in great hotels, eat top notch food, and experience the culture. Before I ever leave on a trip, I have a fun time doing my best to save as much money as possible. This includes searching for deals on everything from hotels to rental cars. And of course, once I arrive at my destination the “savings game” continues.

I think it is important for every traveler to realize that they can save money, without having to stay in cheap hotels and eat fast food every day.

Here are several tips for making this happen:

1. You don’t need the best of the best in order to consider it high quality. For instance, you will find that most booking sites, such as Expedia, rank hotels from one to five stars. While the five star establishments are sure to be the best, you will be surprised to find that many of those ranking at two and three stars have a lot to offer.

Tip: Opt for a Mystery Hotel from With this, you book your accommodations without knowing the exact name. Immediately after booking, you will receive an email revealing the name and other details of the hotel. While this may sound risky, the system allows you to choose a star rating and location to ensure that you get pretty much everything you want.

Why is this is so beneficial? Since you don’t know for sure what you are getting, the price is almost always lower.

2. Transportation to, from, and when you arrive. If you are able to drive to your destination, you should compare it to the cost of flying. This will give you a good idea of which option is most cost effective. Be sure to consider every last expense including checked bag fees, gasoline, food stops along the way, and anything else you can think of. While driving may sound like a hassle, once you compare the details you may find that you can save hundreds of dollars.

If you decide to fly, you may have an interest in booking a rental car. There are times when this is a good idea, as well as times when you can cut this cost. Before arriving, research what type of public transportation is available. Some cities, such as New York, are well known for their subway system. This is a great way of getting around the city without having to worry about a rental car. Additionally, if you will be charged for parking, it makes more sense to avoid a rental.

Tip: Don’t go overboard at the rental counter. Do you really need that luxury SUV? Or will a compact car do the trick?

3. Eat out, save money. One of the most enjoyable parts of traveling is tasting the local cuisine. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the money to eat out three times per day. Above all else, don’t get caught in the trap of eating every meal at a restaurant. Along with this, you can save a lot of money by opting to eat out during lunch as opposed to dinner.

Tip: Search for local coupons online before you arrive. I use sites such as and Also, look for a hotel that includes a continental breakfast. Many of the “included” breakfasts have come a long way since the old days, and you’ll often find waffle makers, fruit, yogurt, and cereal. Eating breakfast at the hotel will allow you to spend more money for lunch and dinner.

(photo credit: moonjazz)

5S In Action - Organize and Simplify



Some people, it seems, are blessed with a natural inclination to organization. Their desks are kept clean, the cupboards are organized, and their closets are neat. A co-worker of mine had an almost mythical ability to produce any document or sliver of information from his array of three ring labeled binders behind his desk. How can anyone not be impressed?

The rest of us struggle somewhere between compulsive hoarders and clutter that occasionally gets out of control.

While I have always detested filth I had come to terms with clutter, even embraced it at times in my life. If anyone has ever heard “A home is not a home without a little clutter” or “I don’t want to live in a museum” it was likely just and excuse, we’ve simply given up trying.

Clutter is not a prerequisite for a home. It is still possible to have a place you feel comfortable that is also organized and more importantly efficient. If you’ve never learned how to overcome your clutter and disorganization consider the 5S’.

For a more technical explanation of each of the 5S’ see the article Get Organized, Save Time, Save Money and Aggravation – Get Rid of Clutter Using the 5S’

Today I’ll share 5S in action:

As one of our Mother’s Day gifts this year, my nine year old daughter and I decided to 5S a kitchen cabinet that has been a point of frustration.

These cabinets hold a wide assortment of food stuff and ingredients. We have dry goods, liquids, sprays and even condiments in every shape and size.


Waste 🙁

We first removed every item, inspected it and began to Sort (1st S) the items. We began by deciding what was not going back into the space. Expiration dates made this easy and highlighted how much our overstocking and disorganization is costing us in terms of wasted foods. Items were then further sorted by product type, packaging, and size.

With all the products laid out in clear view we could then strategize on the best storage methods. Each product or grouping needed to have a defined place, referred to as Setting in Order (2nd S).



Our primary challenge was the smallest of items, packets of gravy mix; seasonings and small packages would often fall or be knocked out as we retrieved other items. Our solution was the repurpose a storage basket we no longer used elsewhere. We cut up some manila file folders and created dividers, each labeled for the respective products. Taking the extra effort to create storage aids when necessary are instrumental to Sweeping (3rd S), or keeping the area tidy and organized.

While we have not taken the corporate approach of labeling each area of the shelf or building dividers for every product types, with a cleaner and more organized space that is not cluttered by useless material we can clearly see and access supplies in this cupboard. In effect, we have established a new Standard (4th S). It is visibly clear to anyone where the gravy packets, bottles of liquids or pasta belong.



Lastly and the most difficult step is Sustaining (5th S) what we have done. For the two of us that contributed to the process, we have invested our time and energy, we have ownership and pride in our accomplishment. It is not a stretch to think that we will have an intrinsic desire to maintain our accomplishments. However there are two others that also use this space and products; what will ensure they maintain the new standard? Without ownership, there are only external influences available. Education others is the first step, making them aware of the new methods and establishing the expectation. Beyond this, we only have peer pressure, if someone strays from the new standard, escalating levels of reminders should be enough. While I probably would not go to such lengths at home, in a working environment as a last resort an eight and a half by eleven picture of the expectation should ensure compliance.

If you are like me, forever challenged with organization, give the 5S a shot. In my experience this has been the most effective and most successful approach toward building a more organized and efficient life.

Readers: Are you a naturally organized person? If so, can you share where or how you learned it? Maybe the military changed your life? If you are naturally disorganized, do you really prefer it or are you envious of the other half?

If you like to be challenged to see things with a fresh perspective, if you like to learn new ideas and different concepts, sign up for my RSS feed or enter your email address here to receive updates directly to your in-box.

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Outliers - Its Not All Good!

3866580875_a98f2dffd1There has been a lot of talk in the past year about outliers. In large part this is due to the fabulous book Outlier by Malcolm Gladwell in which he explores what is behind those few people that seem to excel beyond all others. He highlighted success stories like Bill Gates and the Beatles to show that 10,000 hours of hard work and practice will result in expertise.

Sometimes success does not pay. Many corporate environments promote a “pay for performance” workplace. My experience indicates that this simply means a cost of living increase is provided to anyone that can meet some minimum requirement as defined by the corporate cultures version of an annual or quarterly review. This percentage is then tweaked and adjusted slightly up for those that have excelled in performance or politics. For those out of favor or performing badly, they are given what is left.

Exceed the corporate expectation and you will receive a higher rating, along with the rating you have the opportunity for a higher merit increase. Remain dedicated to your company and brand, continue to excel and exceed, recognized with year after year of positive performance evaluations and one day you might be rewarded with outlier status.

If you are a corporate employee you might be especially susceptible to this condition. The text books say that an outlier is an employee with income that is extraordinarily higher or lower than expected.

Odds are you will not wake up one day making significantly less, so if you are notified as being an outlier, you are making too much. At least, you are making too much according to their definition of what “much” is. It appears that there is more than one model used for calculating outliers. One model looks for standard deviations between actual and expected pay, another model uses a regression analysis, and some companies establish a set range and strictly compare the actual to expected salary for a particular role.

In at least 4 major corporations that I am aware of, they use an outside human resource and payroll consulting firms to calculate the pay ranges and outlier limits. Based on your job descriptions, these outfits categorize each job in your company roughly as compared to similar jobs in other industries.

$What Does It Mean To Me$

This all depends on your company. The use of outlier calculations to limit excessive incomes is not a law, it is your companies choice. For example, I found this document from the University of Sussex detailing how outliers would be addressed. Effectively a “one-off” or lump sum payments in excess of the salary limitation. In this case, it appears the outlier status was triggered by changes in grade levels.

In other companies the rules may vary from limits on annual merit increases, to static bonus payments to nothing.

$What Can Be Done About It?$

Again, your company has established the rules that guide your payroll. Your first choice is to accept that you are a highly compensated employee, appreciate that you have a job and move on. On the other hand, depending on the political climate of your organization you could also fight it.

To avoid the outlier status there are only a few realistic choices including an exception from management, re-classification of your role, and re-evaluating the comparison group.

In the end, your company management made the rules, and if they so desire they could bend, adapt or change them. Based on your outstanding service, exceptional level of education or long years of service they could provide special consideration.

Your future may be determined by a poorly written document. Your role was classified based on a number of criteria but mostly your job description. Ensure that it accurately represents what you do.

Lastly, the comparison group should be closely reviewed. In the hundreds of job roles to be categorized it is conceivable that in some cases an accurate comparison is not being made.

Readers: Every work in corporate American and been faced with outlier status? Is it truly a career limiter or did you overcome it?

If you like to be challenged to see things with a fresh perspective, if you like to learn new ideas and different concepts, sign up for my RSS feed or enter your email address here to receive updates directly to your in-box.

photo by explorativeapproach

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