Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Site

I'll no longer be updating this site.  Please visit to continue to receive updates!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If you're stuck with useless Vanilla Visa cards, try Evolve Money.

Last week, I discovered that Vanilla Visa debit cards can no longer be loaded at Walmart Money Centers anymore.  If you're familiar with Bluebird and have money "stuck" because you  bought a Vanilla Visa card without knowing these new rules, you might be able to salvage the balance on it by paying some bills using Evolve Money.

Some rules and differences between Evolve and Bluebird:

  • You can only pay the payees listed in their system (usually Utility and Mortgage companies with very few Credit Card issuers.)
  • You can only pay $1000 to a single payee every day and no more than 4 times to the same payee every month.
  • You pay directly with your debit card instead of loading money onto it at a Walmart Money Center.
Some important points to keep in mind about paying your mortgage with Evolve:
  • If using $500 gift cards, you will not be able to use this method to pay a mortgage with a minimum monthly payment over $2000.
  • You will be making partial payments of up to $500 at a time and up to $1000 in a day.  Unless your mortgage payment is under $500, this may cause misunderstanding with your mortgage holder.
  • Assuming they're listed as a valid payee in Evolve, make sure you contact your mortgage issuer and they understand that you will not be paying the minimum payment in a single transaction.  Otherwise, they might count the partial payments towards your principal instead of the monthly payment!
Overall, I still think Evolve is a bit more of a hassle than Bluebird as long as you avoid Vanilla Visa cards from now on.  As of yesterday, I still had no problems purchasing a US Bank card and transferring it at Walmart, but if past experience is any indication, the days are numbered for this method as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

No more loading Vanilla Visa Cards to Bluebird at Walmart

I've been out of the Credit Card rewards game for about a month, and much has changed in that small time frame.

So I got my Wells Fargo Propel card in the mail  (40,000 points for spending $3000 in the first 3 months) and proceeded to buy a $500 Vanilla Visa Card from my local drugstore.  I went to Walmart and could not transfer it using their Moneycenter machines.  I went to the clerk and asked for a Bluebird reload and same thing..  the clerk said it can only be used as a Credit Card (which is not a valid way to load Bluebird cards.)  Thinking it was a glitch at my local Walmart, I tried another location a few miles away.  Same thing.

Since I haven't been following news regarding credit card rewards, I decided to check on MillionMileSecrets and found that Walmart has disabled Vanilla Visa cards from reloading Bluebird.  So I was left with a $500 prepaid debit card to spend down.  Oh well, my total loss from this experience was just the $4.95 activation fee and 2 hours of my afternoon.

It seems, as of 6/23/2014, prepaid VISA cards issued by US Bank and Metabank are still accepted at Walmart Moneycenters for reloading Bluebirds.  (In an earlier post, I talked about earning 2.5% effective rewards after fees by buying gift cards at Staples with the Chase Business Cards.. I think those are issued by Metabank.)

Later, after reading the blog post, I went to Ralphs and purchased one of their $500 gift cards issued by US Bank (I double-checked the back and was absolutely sure before making the purchase.)  I was able to load my Bluebird with that card at Walmart without any issues.  Note that a pin is preassigned to these gift cards and the fee is $5.95 instead of $4.95 for Vanilla Visas.  Also if you don't have Ralphs in your area, try a Krogers.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Checkout 51: A Convenient Way to Coupon with your Smartphone

I just discovered this app, Checkout 51, which has coupons (typically for $0.25 - $1.00) for a variety of items that change periodically (typically once a week.)  They have the usual suspects like eggs, milk, butter, crackers, ramen noodles, etc. plus other random items (Swiftjet pads, orange juice, air fresheners, etc.)  While, I'm not a fan of couponing in general, I tend to favor the model that Checkout 51 uses..  specifically:

  • No clipping or printing of coupons.  Just open the app and see if the item you bought has a coupon.
  • Simply scan the receipt and select the coupon you want to redeem.
  • There are no limits to which stores you must shop and it doesn't matter if the store doesn't accept coupons.  Sometimes the coupons aren't brand specific (i.e. any milk, any yogurt, etc.)
  • When you accumulate $20, you can redeem your rewards via a check in the mail.
I must say that the selection is a bit limited but there's usually a coupon for at least one brand-neutral item that most of us buy on a daily basis like milk, bread, or eggs.  If you're into couponing or free money, it's still hard justifying not passing up on such deals.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tiny Tower: A game that actually improves your productivity (hopefully)

I downloaded and installed this game called Tiny Tower.  You start with a lowly tower of 1 floor and aspire to build 100+ floors.   Each floor can be designated as residential or commercial.  People can move into your residential floors (up to 5 per floor) and can find jobs on the commercial floors (up to 3 employees per floor.)  The commercial floors sell products and you collect the revenues.  When you've made a decent amount of cash, you can build another floor, and each subsequent floor costs more money and takes more time to complete.

When I first started playing this game, I was quickly addicted but also found the pace a bit too slow.  Floors can take days to complete and many commercial floors will require many hours before the products they're selling are fully stocked.  It turns out, this pacing mechanism makes this game perfect for a 3-5 minute break from work.  Sure, you may be hooked to this game but there's not that much to do each time you log in other than to reopen businesses, restock floors, check the status of your new floors and cash reserves, etc.  A short play session can easily be squeezed into your breaks if using the Pomodoro Technique.

Try it out and you'll know what I mean.  If you love business simulation games like Farmville or the classic, Sim City, then you'll definitely love Tiny Tower.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Antifragility: Things that become more robust under duress


Picture an egg.  If you drop it on the floor, it will break easily.  That is an example of something that is fragile.  Now think of something that's the opposite of fragile.  You might think of objects like rocks, metal, pieces of wood, etc.  These objects will break but break to a lesser extent than an egg when dropped.  This is the definition of robust, not fragile.


Antifragility, as defined by Nassim Taleb in the book with the same title, is a property of objects that become stronger when subjected to stress, disorder, etc.  In the next few posts, I'll give further examples of antifragility and how it can improve your investment portfolio.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What's the point of retiring early? I'd be bored out of my mind!

We read about people who have retired early in their 40s or even their 30s, but for many of us, we reject this route for a simple reason: we think retiring early means we need to spend the next 10 or so years skimping and saving just to quit our jobs and sit around doing nothing for the rest of our lives.  If this is the only option in retirement, then I would not want to retire either no matter how much I hated my job.  At least working would give me the structure and drive to get up every morning and keep my body and brain in shape.

Here's another way to look at it: instead of thinking of it as "retiring early", think of it as "financial independence" instead.  Financial independence means you have enough assets to create a self-sustaining investment portfolio that will provide sufficient after-tax real returns to fund your living expenses indefinitely.  It's possible using a simple portfolio of stocks, bonds, and hard assets like gold or real estate.  A rule of thumb is you'll need 25 times your annual spending invested in such a portfolio.

The main point of financial independence is that it gives you the freedom to live your life according to your terms.  Want to find a job doing what you love instead of what pays the bills?  You can now!  Want to try out a new career that you dreamed of when you were a kid but opted out of when you chose your major in college?  You can now!  Want to volunteer and help underprivileged kids in Africa?  You can now!  The possibilities are endless when you've cut your expenses and/or accumulated enough assets where they will last indefinitely.  I'll explore ways to invest and reach this goal in my later posts, so stay tuned!