Travel Hacking Is Good For Bad Attitudes

We live in Portland, Oregon. You may have heard it’s awesome here. There’s a show about how weird we are (Annoyingly fairly accurate, although any Portlander will tell you they just watched the first season “out of curiosity” then quit watching because, whatever). Our food scene is internationally recognized as badass. And, in spite of our Cost of Living exploding in recent years, it’s still way cheaper than any other major West Coast city. You may also have heard that it rains a lot here. This is true. There are many grey, drizzly days. I know winters are way harsher in other areas. My brother and his family live in Fairbanks, Alaska. It gets stupid cold up there. But in a place with true “winter”, you have gear and a lifestyle to go with it. Here, it is just a dark, damp, 43 degrees with a dash of freezing rain for a HUNDRED EIGHTY DAYS IN A ROW. The weather and lack of light sucks the joy and warmth from your very soul. Essentially, Portland winters are a six month long Dementor’s Kiss. Yes, I am being a dramatic baby. No, I will not work on my attitude. What I will do is support Mr. Bona Fide Money’s enthusiasm for travel hacking so we can get the hell out of dodge 2-3 times a year without derailing our financial goals.

Just this week we got back from a 5 day trip to Maui. We were so excited for this trip. The weather had already turned crummy here (I had to start wearing socks!) and the kids hadn’t been since they were really little so it was going to be new to them. Wouldn’t you know it, Just as we left, Portland weather turned 70 degrees, clear and crisp and Maui decided to be stormy and grey. In fact, on our first full day there, it stormed so hard that the entire island lost power. Largest power outage in the island’s history. There was also extensive flooding. The resort’s pool flooded with something dark and ominous. I’ll not speculate as to what was in there. Suffice it to say- we were not.

So- we couldn’t use the pool, the ocean was dangerous and muddy, the roads were flooded and every indoor activity was closed due to electrical issues. That day my children got a lot of screen time. (Resort restored power after only a few hours) The pool was up and running the next day (really strong chlorine, I noticed) and even though it was still raining super hard, our cabin fever pushed us out to play. The temperature was in the 60’s so as long as we kept hopping in the hot tub, it was plenty warm for being outside. Plus, the novelty of playing in the water in torrential downpours was also pretty fun.

We met two other couples in the hot tub that were visiting Maui for the first time. They were not quite as upbeat about the experience we were all sharing as we were. It’s an expensive island to get to and stay at and through talking to them, it was clear they were paying full retail price for their flights and one of their rooms. I realized that the fact that Mr. Bona Fide Money got our family of 4 plane tickets for almost free and a screaming deal on our room probably made it a lot easier keep a positive attitude about the unfortunate weather. Knowing how many miles we had racked up getting there to be used towards our next vacation didn’t hurt, either. If this had blown our travel budget for the year, I’d have been a little pissy, too.

Yeah, we were disappointed that we couldn’t snorkel or hike to waterfalls but we got to get out of school and work for a week, spend a bunch of time together as a family and be part of Maui’s weather history (yay?). Everyone still got new stickers for their hydroflask water bottles (souvenir tradition) and Boss Baby was playing InFlight so my son (Finally!) got to watch it. Still a pretty good trip.

Got to see a gecko.
“Walking path”
Resort lobby
Playing with the emergency flashlight and pool toys in our bathtub. Super fun.
Sunshine came out on the last day! Just finished our shave ice.
On our way to the airport to go home. Weather has been amazing ever since.

Suck it, Dealership

We bought a minivan! Yay! … (crickets chirping…)

I don’t get why minivans have such bad PR. I drove one for years and loved it. Then I sold it because I thought I needed something fancier for my real estate business. This was a few months before we found Mr. Money Mustache. Dammit. Coulda saved us a lot of money if we read that just a little bit sooner. Oh well. We then promptly sold that fancy car to get out from under such a silly car payment and have been driving our paid off 2010 Prius and a rotating assortment of whatever P.O.S car my husband has most recently “scored” from some “sucker” that was about to trade it in for “like nothing”. I tease, but really, he gets some excellent deals and we definitely come out ahead on them.

I missed having a minivan because they are just such practical tools. I’m always doing home improvement projects on our own house or one of the rentals and I need to transport drywall or lawnmowers or a tree. I haul furniture and stuff for open houses. I have kids that have friends. We go on vacation with friends and like to share parking-at-the-airport expenses. We go camping in terrain that isn’t always ideal for tents. (Also, we don’t have a tent). We go to Sunriver with extra kids and need to bring lots of stuff and bikes… You get the idea.

Well, I bought an old Town and Country off Craigslist and it’s dead sexy. It has super rugged, all terrain tires and a rack with a storage box on top that already has snowboard brand stickers all over it so I can look way cooler than I am. It’s not so much a van as a “rig”. (shut up) BUT- it only came with one key. So every single time I walk through a parking lot near a sewer grate, I feel my fingers spontaneously start to twitch like they can’t be trusted to keep a secure grip on my ONE key. I wouldn’t have that problem if I had two, of course.  Needing a new key totally sucks because it’s approximately $1,000,000.00 to order a new one with the special chip and all the remote buttons from the dealership. Actually, it was going to cost $267.00. Still ridiculous.

Before we got into the F.I. thing, we had just sucked it up and paid the dealership because, that’s just what you had to do. But now we question everything. So I called my mechanic for suggestions. He said to call a locksmith. So I did. They can totally do it but but they still supply a retail priced key before programming. This got my cost down to $190.00. Much better. I posted my finding on one of our F.I. Facebook groups and someone suggested buying the blank keys on Ebay or Amazon. Bam! I got two brand new, well reviewed, identical to factory keys from Ebay for $25.00! Locksmith says he’ll cut and program one of them for me for $75.00 for a grand total of $100.00! Now we have a savings of $167.00 and we are supporting a small local business instead of the big, evil dealership. Winning!

One note of caution- The locksmith says that he can’t give me a warranty on his work because he didn’t order the key himself. The risk being that there are lots of shady sellers online and it might be a faulty unit. I did see plenty of reviews that supported this concern while shopping. I did purchase the keys from a top rated seller on ebay with great, current reviews and very few negative reviews. To save $90.00, I decided it was a reasonable risk for a back up key. I will be using the new key exclusively now so that I can report back on whether or not I made the right call. The seller I used was remotesupermarket.

Now, I’m told that if we had two factory keys, we could program it ourselves and only have to pay for the cutting. But we only have one so that’s no help to us. So for those of you that still have two and you wanna be extra prepared, go ahead and make a back up for extra cheap.

Yeah right. You’ll wait until you need one. But now you know. 🙂

Monthly Progress Report

We now have 4 investment properties, 2 single family homes and 2 duplexes. On these properties we have 6 loans- 4 conventional, 30 year mortgages and two HELOCS that we used as down payments for purchasing them. Now all we have to do is pay them off. Easy Peasy.

Here is a chart to show our balances immediately after last month’s final purchase.

And here is one to show where we are after some big payments today! Our goal is to use the standard “Snowball Method” to change all the red to blue in the next 10 years.

Mr. Bona Fide Money just received his annual employee stock benefit and we sold our Prius. This allowed us to contribute over $14,000 towards the HELOCS. We won’t be able to make big payments like this every month but taking one entire loan off the chart feels pretty great.

All income from rental properties goes directly back at the loans. As each one gets paid off, the increased cash flow quickly compounds the progress. I haven’t actually calculated our savings rate but the general budget is to live off of Mr.BFM’s consistent income (“after pre tax retirement contributions”) and to use mine (“”), which is strong but very variable, for travel and loan pay down.

I know there is a lot of back and forth about whether or not it is better to pay off mortgages or to buy index funds. We do both. We have the HSA, IRAs, Roths, 401ks… We have done a TON of reading on it and concluded that we are diversified enough to focus the extra on these mortgages. They are each a notch below or above 5% interest rates. But for us, the real motivation to pay them off is the low balances. Because HELOC 1 is amortized at a fixed 5 year term, the minimum payment is $937.00 a month. That’s a pretty big change in cash flow after only putting in $51,000. If we could find another type of investment that would pay us $937/month after depositing $51,000, we would totally do that instead. Yes, we understand the tax implications as well but find that there’s always plenty to write off with rentals. Ultimately, it’s so easy for those of us prone to optimizing everything to feel “analysis paralysis” and not actually make any satisfying progress anywhere. This is a really actionable plan that is fun to put in a chart. And I think we can all agree that fun charts are the real reason we all do any of this. Am I right?

We are not, however, pre paying on our home mortgage. That balance is quite a bit bigger than the rentals and at 3.2% interest… it just doesn’t compute. We do have a ton of equity in it and will most likely sell and downsize when the kids move out. We’re in no rush to get rid of them, though. They can stay while they’re in college if they want. They’re cool people and it’s nice to have them around. We don’t really know what we’ll do after the kids are gone but it’ll probably be whatever the hell we want. And that’ll be nice too.