The market has recovered a good bit, so our net worth jumped. Our retirement accounts were at an intriguing low, but they’re back on track now. We also saw a few sales in the neighborhoods where our rentals are, so that increased our net worth based on the comps. We added a new property over the course of the last month as well.
NEW HOUSE IN OUR PORTFOLIO
We closed on a new house on March 24th. We worked on it for a few days, I held an open house, and we were able to get it rented as of April 8th. We had 16 days of vacancy. While showing it, most people were looking for a May or June start date, so we were lucky someone qualified for an April date. Back in 2016-2019, we were looking to follow the “1% Rule.” That means that if you buy a house for $100,000, your goal is to set rent at least $1,000 per month. This house isn’t even close. This market doesn’t allow for such a goal anymore because housing prices are soaring. The next goal would be to list for about $1/square foot. This house is 2100 square feet, but since the upstairs has smallish rooms and the basement is all open, we thought it wasn’t really worth pushing for $1/sf.
We bought it for $240k net, and ended up renting it at $1750. I wanted $1800, Mr. ODA wanted $1695, and when I went to list it, Zillow suggested $1750, so we went with that. Multiple people commented on how they appreciated the price, so we may have been able to get $1800 without an issue. I’m happy to have it rented, and I think these people are going to take good care of the house.
We put more money towards the house that we’ve been paying off, which is owned with a partner. We put our half towards it ($8,500), and it has a balance of about $600 now. The pay off quote required us to pay the anticipated taxes that will be paid out of escrow in May. We didn’t appreciate that, so we just went ahead and paid it down. We’ll let the May mortgage payment go through, wait for the taxes to get paid out of escrow in mid-May, and then pay it off. That’ll make 7 houses that are owned outright! But that also means I need to stay on top of insurance and tax payments.
We were just informed that one of our properties in Lexington that’s under a property manager hasn’t paid rent. She said it’s unlike them and that they aren’t even responding. She’s going to go to the house tomorrow to check on the situation. Since we’re paid a month after rent is received, this hasn’t affected us. A neighbor reported that they were moving out last month, but the tenant denied it. Perhaps they abandoned the property.
Once again, our two usual suspects didn’t pay rent on time. However, both of them actually made a better effort than they have been. One has paid this month’s rent in full, but has a balance of $286.31 (seriously…) to make up several late fees. I’m happy to waive late fees when it’s someone who communicates and isn’t always a fight to collect rent, but I’m holding this one to the balance owed. Another one told me that they wouldn’t pay until the last Friday of the month. I drafted an email to tell them that this is unacceptable because it’s been several months that they’re paying this late, and we need to work towards getting back to paying rent at the beginning of the month. Right after I drafted that, she sent half of this month’s rent. Better than nothing!
Over the past month, we didn’t go out to restaurants very much. We haven’t been traveling because my family came into town for our daughter’s birthday party, and then I’ve been working on the weekend. Most of our spending went to gas (going back and forth to Lexington (half hour drive) multiple times per week!) and expenses to get the new house ready for a tenant.
I’m flying to my sister’s baby shower next month, so that another large and unusual expense on our credit cards ($250).
We still have our state taxes to get paid. We went through the process of entering all our taxes, but we haven’t hit submit just yet. Surprisingly, we’re expecting a refund from the Federal side. The amount owed and the refund basically end up as a wash.
Our new property’s loan is a commercial loan, so it doesn’t get paid on the typical mortgage schedule, but on the 1 month anniversary of the opening. Therefore, the next payment is due on 4/24, and there’s no “1 month without a payment” type thing.
Clearly, our cash balance dropped significantly since last month because we had the closing. That was about $46k that we wired out, which was the expectation when we completed all the maneuvering with the cash out refinances in January. Our credit cards reflect our lower spending too, coming in about half what the balances were last month.
We have been surprisingly busy around here. I’ve been juggling a few rental issues, staying on top of some billing issues, and trying to make it through a commercial loan process.
At one point, most of our loans were held by one company. That was a more simple life. Even though we’re down to 6 mortgages under our name, it’s through 5 different companies. I’m really struggling keeping up with them and getting in a groove after our most recent refinance. I’ve mis-paid things 3 times now. I’m always on top of our payments, but something just isn’t clicking right now for me. I just paid one of our mortgages due April 1 instead of changing the date to be an April pay date. At the moment, we have a buffer in our account because we’re getting to this closing next week, but we usually don’t, so hopefully I have this figured out now that I’ve made so many mistakes.
We had 3 properties process their renewals this past month. Each of them had cost increases to their lease renewal (875 to 950 effective 5/1, 850 to 900 effective 8/1, and 1025 to 1100 effective 5/1). We have another property that will have a renewal offer go out this week. Then we have 3 that will need action by the end of April because the leases expire 6/30, and one that will need action by the end of May because it expires 7/31.
We had a tenant reach out to us that they found bugs in their bathroom tub. She sent pictures and, sure enough, they were termite swarmers. I have way too much experience with termites. I called our pest company, and they sent someone out for an inspection to confirm they were termites. Then I got a call that because we didn’t pay the annual fee to keep our warranty current for the last 3 years (we had the house treated for termites in February 2019 when we bought it because there were active termites and extensive damage by the front door that needed repaired), they could charge us $650 again. However, since we’re considered a business account, she’d be happy to let us back pay the termite warranty and they’re treat it. So I paid $294 for the treatment instead (split with a partner on this house). She also informed me that they had cut off the hot water to the kitchen sink because there was a leak. I don’t know why tenants don’t tell us these things right away! I had my plumber out there the same day, and he replaced the whole faucet. That was $378. That’s one of those charges that’s frustrating because we could have replaced the faucet on our own, but we don’t live there anymore. Oh well; it’s also a cost split with our partner, so that helps.
We had another tenant reach out saying that her kitchen sink drained slowly. She’s been with us since we bought the house and never asks for anything. She’s on top of communication and was super appreciative each time we agreed to renew her lease. We had done a huge sewer line replacement project at this house, so I was skeptical of the issue. It turns out there was a plastic fork lodged down there, but I just let it go (meaning, she’s then technically responsible for the cost). Our property manager let her know that if it happens again, she’s financially responsible, but we’ll cover the cost ($200) this time.
We FINALLY got the check for one of our tenants that had an approved rent relief application. They submitted an application in November to cover December, January, and February rent. By mid-December, they ended up paying December rent because they hadn’t heard (and the application expires, meaning their protection from eviction expires (not that I would have pursued eviction for this group because they’ve been great tenants for several years)). They received approval for 3 months worth of rent and 2 late fees on January 11. We received the check on March 4th. So frustrating in that process, but still better than an October approval and us getting those 3 months paid at the end of January.
We had our usual suspects not pay rent. On the one house, they didn’t tell us they weren’t paying rent for the longest time. Now, they tell us they’ll pay us on a later date. I let it go this month, but with them paying on the 23rd, that means we’re in a perpetual cycle of not getting rent on the 1st. We have a partner on this house, so I plan to address it next month if they claim another 3+ week delay in getting us the rent. On the other house, she let us know in February that she’d struggle to pay rent and she gave us random amounts throughout the month. I let her know she was still $106 short from February and that she was now in default of March’s rent, and I got no response. Then Mr. ODA had $1000 show up in his account on Friday. She still owes $371 between the two months, but at least we have the mortgage payments covered. She’s also the tenant that we plan on not renewing her lease because she’s caused issues throughout her tenure.
BUYING A NEW PROPERTY
We’re still in the process of getting through closing on a new rental property. We’re expecting to close not he 24th, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s a commercial loan, and it operates different from residential mortgage underwriting, so we’re in the dark. Communication has been next-to-nothing. We’re currently waiting on the appraisal to come back. That was our one hurdle to getting into the house. I said once the appraisal clears, then we (as the buyer) shouldn’t have any risk in getting to closing. Therefore, we were hoping to have the house painted before we close (I would do the painting), then we could refinish the floor and get the rest of the cleaning done the weekend after closing, and get it listed for rent for April 1. I suppose I wouldn’t be trying to get to the house before Friday, so I guess I can be patient and wait to see what happens with the appraisal for a few more days (even though the appraiser was on site last Tuesday, and I’ve never had it take more than a day or two to get the paperwork).
REFINANCE FOLLOW UP, STILL
We still have an issue with the mortgage that I ended up paying 3 times for the 2/1 due date. Our refinance was difficult, and the communication continued to be difficult after closing. I asked on 2/1 whether our loans had been sold yet because I was surprised I hadn’t heard. Usually, I see a note saying to pay the new company before the first payment, thereby not paying the first payment to that “first payment notice” place that comes with the closing documents. The company’s contact said to keep paying them because they hadn’t sold the loans yet. I didn’t open the attachments in his email because I assumed he was reiterating what he said in the email. Turns out, one of the loans was already sold, and I should have paid the new company. Well, I processed a paper check to go to a completely different company (started with a C, and I didn’t catch that I selected the wrong one in bill pay). Luckily, that company sent us our check back, saying they think our loan is closed with them and they can’t process the payment (thank goodness we once had a loan with the address I put in the memo line so they could clearly make a connection and say “we don’t want this!”). When I noticed my mistake on the 14th, I sent a handwritten check that I rushed to the post office at 4:55 to get post marked. In the meantime, I found out that I was able to set up an online account with the new company even though I didn’t have the loan number yet (they gave it to me over the phone). I paid the new company online to make sure I didn’t have anything on my record claiming I didn’t pay by the 15th and it was late. I figured I’d rather manage 3 payments being made than fight the credit companies to change my credit report. Well, the initial company cashed my handwritten check, but they still haven’t sent the money to the new mortgage company. They just kept telling me they have 60 days to get it to them, and I said that’s unacceptable that they’re holding my money. That was a week ago that I was told I’d get a call back, and I haven’t heard from them.
Now that the basement is done, I had a strong urge to finish projects. There were several things that were starting but not completed. Those final punch list items always seem to take forever. I was impressed that Mr. ODA pushed to get some of the things in the basement done right away, even though they weren’t on a critical path. However, I didn’t uphold my end of the project by painting those things, so I got back to that. I mentioned several of the projects in a recent post, and I’ve done a whole lot more since that post. But all that to say, I’ve spent a lot of money in the last month. I bought a lot of supplies to finish off these open projects. I also had big purchases of cabinet hardware, a dining room table, a desk, and a wood. We haven’t done very much out of the house, so we don’t have a lot of other expenses than these projects, which means our credit cards are actually have the usual balances. We did book an AirBnB for a trip at the end of the summer with friends of ours. That was a big hit on the credit card for a week at the beach, but they reimbursed us for their half.
It feels like I just keep lowering the balance in our investment accounts each month, but I went to look at February 2021 to see the total. Even though some balances have decreased, we’ve still contributed to the accounts, so overall they’re $21k higher than last year, which is encouraging. I guess I should also focus on the property values raising significantly. We’re over $500k higher than last year in our assets, and our liabilities (i.e., mortgages) are about 13k less than February 2021. We’re also still over $3M on net worth, even if we’re hovering right around that. We’ll add about $50k to our net worth by the end of the month, as long as we close on the new property on time.
This month is basically just story telling, from insurance tidbits to mortgage annoyances, while not addressing the decline in the market and our investment accounts. 🙂
It seems all my mortgage payments are increasing on 3/1, so I’ve been managing those changes. I mentioned recently that one of our houses had the escrow analysis done incorrectly. Luckily, that was addressed, and the increase in our mortgage payment is only about $100 instead of nearly $200. Our personal mortgage increased by $16, another property increased by $52, and then our last 3 mortgages were all refinanced in January and this ‘first payment’ has been a bear. The information out of the refinancing company has been contradictory, they requested a bunch of information weeks after closing to support all the money they already gave us, and it’s just been rough. Rough enough that I ran to the post office to get a check in the mail at 4:48 pm today, only to get home to an email saying that I had to send that check (due tomorrow) to a different address. Ugh.
I was excited to share some positive news this month, but that got overshadowed by these mortgage payments! Anyway, we came home to some surprises after our vacation.
First, I had a medical procedure done in January. It was originally scheduled for November, but the week of the procedure, I had my heart go crazy on me. That cancelled my procedure because I couldn’t go under anesthesia until they knew my heart would be OK. We got my heart sorted out enough that I was cleared for the procedure, but once I was able to reschedule it, it went into 2022 ….. a new deductible year. They said that I needed to pay half the cost of the procedure before they’d schedule it. Since I had been waiting since September for this, I wasn’t going to question anything, and I gave my credit card number for $1200. Well, my insurance hasn’t processed the procedure yet, but I guess since I paid in advance, some sort of system review showed I had overpaid, and they refunded me $1196. I don’t know how they decided to keep $4, but I’ll cross that bridge when I see my claim is processed on my insurance website.
Second, I’ve mentioned before that you need to stay on top of insurance! I received a bill for my heart-related-ambulance-ride for over $900. The last time I was in an ambulance, I ended up owing the full bill, which was $500 at that time. When I saw $900, I figured, gosh 10 years later and a new jurisdiction, and THAT is what I owe. It said “we billed your insurance, and this is your balance.” Hmmm. Log into my insurance website and see there’s no claim history for an ambulance ride. I then learned, for the first time ever, how to submit my own insurance claim. I let the fire department know I submitted the claim, and then they said they’d do it for me! Why did your paper say you already did?! Well, the surprise I got was that my insurance covered all but $46 for the ride!!! I couldn’t believe it. That’s the happiest I’ve ever been to spend $46.
The most random thing that happened was a check from our electric company from our Virginia house. We sold that house in September 2020. Our mail forwarding isn’t active anymore and it was sent to our old address, so I really have no idea how we got it. It was $31.09 due to a required review of all accounts every 3 years. It’s not anything crazy or life changing, but that was truly a surprise!
We had our usual suspects not pay rent earlier this month. One flat out said they won’t pay until the 23rd. I’m not even sure how to handle them anymore. I keep reminding myself that we raised their rent $150/month to get them to leave, but they accepted. So at least we’re in a good position there? The other paid us $700/$1150 on Friday (late). She at least emailed us with the awareness that we shouldn’t have to hunt her down for rent payments, so she got a pass because I was about to send the default notice at 12:01 am on the 6th. I’m also once again in a position of tracking down a rent relief payment on another house that’s supposed to cover December, January, and February. While the tenant ended up paying December rent, we’ve still been floating the January and February finances. The approval of their application (that was submitted in November) was January 10. As of today, no information from the State and no check in the mail.
I got a tenant renewal processed this morning. We increased their rent by $50/month (starting 5/1 when their current term ends), after it having been steady for 2 years. Our usual baseline to keep a good tenant is a $50 increase every 2 years.
We gave two property managers notice to increase rents on 2 properties that are up for renewal on 4/30. We do 60-day notices. It’s not entirely necessary, but I look at it as a way to negotiate with the tenant for a month, and then if they don’t agree to new terms, we have a month to get it rented. One ‘cried COVID’ last year, and we let her by. She’s been there 2.5 years at the same rate, and she even got the house under market value originally because it was November (bad timing). She’s at $875 and we said we’d go to $950. That’s a larger increase than we usually do, but the market rate for the house is $950-1000. If she balks, we’ll manage the turnover and get a new tenant in there. For another house, they’re at 1025 and have been since October 2019. They even negotiated a discount back then for an 18 month lease, so they’ve been under market. Despite our efforts to grieve our taxes, the City thinks this house is in an affluent neighborhood and has charged as such. We’re offering them a bump to $1100. Again, more than our usual $50 increase, but it’s been more than 2 years and $1100 is under market value. Then we had a 3rd person say she wants to stay in the house, but her lease isn’t up until August. She’s been there since August 2017 and has been at $850 rent since then. We’re looking to increase her rent to $900. She’s an awesome tenant that never needs anything, and I know she’s in grad school without much money. We’ve made her so happy for the last several years by renewing her without an increase, so I hope she understands the need to increase it now.
I paid the insurance on our townhome, which is a property we own outright, so I need to manage the escrow-type transactions. That was $210.
After our cash-out-refis in January, we have been looking for a new property to purchase. We’ve made 4 offers that have been out-bid. Mr. ODA has been trying to work the off-market angle. We made a full price offer for one of the houses contingent on seeing it, and the guy said that he’d now prefer to sell off his portfolio as one instead of each individual house. He declined our full-price-off-market offer. Sketchy. Then another guy said he wanted to wait until the new flooring was installed in his house before letting us see it, and then he won’t respond to messages now a week or so later. Interesting. We’re now trying to work another off-market deal through our Realtor, but the seller and our Realtor are out of town. I ran the comps on it and come to $235ish, while they were expecting $250k. I don’t deny that they’d get an offer in this market at $250, but I don’t know that it’s worth it to us. Then again, to be done with this driving around, seeing houses, making offers, and losing out, may all be worth an extra $15k.
This month, we went on a trip for just about a week. The flight was paid for in a previous month, so that’s not captured in our spending. We stayed with a friend, and she made us nearly all of our food. We paid for our brewery visits with her. It was a great trip, and I definitely recommend Bend, OR! We did a last minute change from Touro for our rental car to a ‘regular’ car rental place at the airport, so that charge shows up in this month’s finances. We also booked 2 last minute hotel rooms, once for the night of our arrival and one for the night of our departure (we flew in/out of Portland, which is about 2.5 hours from Bend, so it was easier with the kids sleep schedules to be near the airport those two nights instead of arriving really late or leaving really early).
We bought Hamilton tickets. We were late on that band wagon until we finally found a friend with Disney+ who wanted to watch it with us even though they had seen it 257 times. Since December 2020, we’ve watched Hamilton a whole lot. We got on right when tickets were being sold and were about to accept the $200+ ticket price until Mr. ODA found the ticket sales through the actual venue were only $130! It’s not until June, but that’s something to look forward to!
We finished our basement over the last year and have been using for the last month now. We had a projector on hand that we used as our TV down there, but it started to die shortly after we hooked it up. We bought a new projector and have been really happy with it, and I was happy with it only being $270.
While our electric bill was surprisingly low last month, it was surprisingly high this month. They did an estimated meter reading, putting the estimated kWh usage at the highest it’s ever been. When I questioned their estimation process and shared the current meter read, they said that next month will probably be an actual reading and since it’s not more than 1000 kWh difference, they’re not going to change anything. Sure, I can afford this $414 bill that may be offset next month, but many people can’t. Their estimation process shouldn’t put the projected energy usage at an all-time-high, thereby dumping surprisingly large bills on people. Regardless, it’s something that works itself out, and isn’t something I’m going to fight any harder on right now. It’s just annoying knowing that our energy usage was high last year because we had a broken unit without our knowledge, and then with a working unit, they’re estimating that we’ve used more than ever.
Mr. ODA changed one of our credit cards, so I’ve been all out of sorts here now. The credit card was a travel-related card, and they increased their annual fee by $100. He ran the numbers and determined the benefits didn’t outweigh the cost increase. Instead of closing the card, they agreed to change the type of card. However, all the things we used that card for are now on different cards, and this change “activated” an old card of mine. Our credit card usage is convoluted; perhaps I’ll do a new explanation and update my last post on it (and then maybe that’ll get me to remember all the changes!).
Our net worth dropped about $15k from last month, but that was due to the market. While not fun to see those numbers go down, it doesn’t affect our day-to-day. Our cash balance is really high right now while we keep cash liquid for a downpayment while finding another investment property.
Why did we do so much traveling and activities this spring and summer? Most people probably assume all our travel was making up for a year of not traveling during the pandemic, but we came at it from a different perspective.
We’ve had a long term goal of a beach/lake/mountain home. After another failed search to make this dream come true this past Spring, we decided to redirect that money to trips this summer. I’ll run through the background, the financial decision, and how we spent our travel “budget.”
We first looked into a vacation rental in Snowshoe, WV – six years ago. Snowshoe is a ski resort, and one of the better available ones to those of us south of the Mason Dixon. It also has a draw during the summer with hiking and mountain biking, albeit not as constant of a stream of people needing a rental. The draw for us was that it was halfway between our home in VA and Mr. ODA’s family in KY.
We went as far as meeting a Realtor and looking at properties. If the house was off Snowshoe proper, it was a good distance from the ski lifts and not in great condition. If the house (condo) was on Snowshoe proper, it came with a lot of rules and regulations and costs. Everything near the ski lifts had to be under Snowshoe’s management, which included their cleaning costs, and their booking process. This meant that someone couldn’t necessarily go onto the website to book our unit. Someone would go on their website and book “a 2 bed and 1 bath unit” and the system would cycle through the bookings. With the high condo costs and the uncertain bookings for those units, as well as the distant location of the units that weren’t subject to the condo process and cost (plus finding a management and cleaning company for that), we stopped the search.
Since then, it’s been on the wish list, but we weren’t sure what direction we wanted to go.
When we moved to KY, we decided to look into a lake house. We want it to be close enough that we could just pick up and go (e.g., trying to keep it under 2 hours), we want it to be on a lake that allows motor sports (so this rules out anything that’s “no wake” or prohibits motors of any kind), and we want it to be lake front (we learned this during our recent search, and hadn’t fully realized how much we wanted this until we saw a house that wasn’t on the lake directly).
We looked at parcels of land and kept an eye on a few houses listed in the March/April timeframe of this year. Our initial thought was that we would purchase land and hold it until we were ready to have a house built. The parcels of land we looked at didn’t meet the criteria we wanted (good size, on the water, ability to build a dock). I started to feel like we were pressuring ourselves to make a decision for something that we didn’t actually need.
We took a break and just kept an eye on Zillow. We went to see a new construction house on Herrington Lake, but it wasn’t actually on the lake. It was next to the community pool, across the street from the community’s dock, had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with a loft, and it was brand new. It even had a two car garage, which wasn’t something on our wish list. However, the price tag was high; it had been listed for many months, and we didn’t feel the comps supported such a cost for it not being literally on the lake. We spent a lot of time mulling it over, but decided to not even put an offer in. Lucky for the seller, they did get a full price offer shortly after that.
I decided that we should wait at that point. I figured we may have better luck waiting until the end of the summer (perhaps people will think they’ll spend their last summer on the lake and then unload it?), and that we shouldn’t force this decision to not get exactly what we want for something that isn’t a necessity.
THE FINANCIAL DECISION
If we purchased a $250,000 second home, and I assume an interest rate at 4.5% (even with excellent credit, the rates you see advertised are for primary residences), we’re looking at a mortgage payment of $1,200. On top of that, we’ll have escrow costs, HOA costs, the possibility of management fees, and then even PMI costs. That was another big factor; we’ve been throwing any ‘extra’ money towards paying off two rental property mortgages, so we don’t have $50,000 liquid to cover a 20% down payment. Without having the 20% down payment, it wasn’t even guaranteed that we’d be able to get a loan for a vacation house.
Knowing $250,000 was even more than we expected to spend, I conservatively assumed $1,200 in monthly house costs. Instead of spending $1,200 each month to go to the same destination over and over again, why don’t we just mentally allocate $1,200 each month to travel and go to all different places? And so, months of a crazy amount of travel began.
HOW DID WE SPEND OUR ENTERTAINMENT ALLOCATION?
We started with a last minute trip to Atlanta to see the Braves. We spent 4 nights in Atlanta, went to two baseball games, met up with family for lunch, visited Stone Mountain, and explored the city parks. We stayed in a 2-bedroom hotel room because it was cheaper than any AirBnB options, and I was highly focused on giving the kids separate sleeping spaces. The hotel experience was less than favorable (dirty, AC broken, limited breakfast, roaches … and a good name hotel!), and after some conversations with the hotel, we ended up not paying for it. They had credited us one night without us asking after the AC continued to not work after their “fix.” Mr. ODA then had a casual conversation with the manager about the stay as he was checking out, and the manager credited a second night. I thought we paid for the rest of the nights, but it never showed up on the credit card. Our total trip cost was $460.
Later in May, we went camping in the Daniel Boone National Forest with some family. We booked a “cabin” (I used that term loosely; it was walls, a roof, and platforms for sleeping bags, but it had electricity and AC!) for two nights. We went swimming, rode bikes, and hung out under a canopy while it poured on us for most of the main day we were there. Our dog got to come on this trip, so we didn’t have any pet fees. We brought groceries to cover our meals since there’s nothing close by. Since we’d be buying groceries anyway and gas is negligible since it’s an hour away, I’ll just focus on lodging, which cost us $158.
Almost a year ago, we planned a trip with the extended family to Hocking Hills. This shouldn’t really count against our “monthly allowance” mentality since it was going to happen regardless, but I’m including it anyway since we didn’t do any other June trip. Mr. ODA’s parents covered the cost of lodging, and the rest of us covered the cost of food and our canoe rentals. We went hiking, got rained on, and played games at our rental. On the last full day, we rented canoes and went down the Hocking River, which was a great experience. We went with 6 kids, 3 of which were under 3 years old. So if you’re a beginner or looking for something to do with little ones, this was a fun time for $52 per canoe! This trip cost us about $200.
Before we left Virginia, we discussed doing walk throughs of our properties and being more present with them. There were some properties that we hadn’t seen since we bought it because they don’t have maintenance requests or we call someone else for the work. Well, it was a whirlwind to move, and we didn’t do that last summer. After the debacle with the flooring replacement at one of the houses, we knew we needed to get back there to tie up loose ends. We have a wedding to attend in the area in September, but decided this couldn’t wait until then. The first weekend we could go ended up being the 4th of July. Being in Richmond, VA, there isn’t a large AirBnB market for a normal sized family. All of the options that were available were meant for multiple families in a large house, and we just aren’t interested in paying $700 per night for ourselves. We went with a hotel halfway between Richmond and our old neighborhood, and because we stayed for 5 nights, it was considered “long term,” and it only cost us $525, which included $75 for the dog being with us. Since our entertainment was either working on rental houses or visiting with our old friends, we just had food and gas costs. The total trip cost was $690 (and most of that was tax deductible!).
We learned that St. Louis is only about 4.5 hours away from us, so we looked to see the Braves’ schedule. They were scheduled for mid-week games for the first week of August, so we marked it down. Unfortunately, things were busy, and I didn’t make the plans in advance. I struggled to find pet care for our dog, and I ended up booking an AirBnB the morning before we left. We searched and searched, and this one randomly popped up that morning, and it worked out well. Lodging cost us $585. Our entertainment (tickets and parking) cost us $135. Food and gas cost us $213. Total trip cost was $933.
My plan to visit my family in NY in July didn’t come to fruition because we had to manage 4 days worth of our builder being here to fix things in the house, and then I had a doctors appointment pop up that had to be a specific time. Instead of driving there and back (12+ hours each way), we booked some flights. We’re able to go from Cincinnati to JFK directly (such a blessing with 2 kids under 3!). The flight was 2 hours, plus an hour on each side for driving (although, it took us an hour and a half to get to my parents’ house when we landed at JFK because a 3:20 arrival, plus what felt like a 2 mile walk from the gate to passenger pickup, put us at getting on the Belt Parkway at 4 pm – that’s not good for that area!), and getting to the airport an hour early. We left out of LGA, but it was still a direct flight, and we arrived 25 minutes early! We had hardly any wait at TSA for either leg, no issues with boarding or the flight, and we got our gate checked bags easily. I’ll take 5-6 hours of travel over 12+ hours. The flights were booked through our Chase Travel Portal, costing us the equivalent of $833 in points. The parking is $9 per day, the gas to get there is negligible, and we actually didn’t spend anything on food (I very much owe my parents for that!). Our entertainment goal was to go swimming in my parents’ pool the whole time, and that’s just what we did! The trip cost us $36 in parking and $100 for our dog’s boarding.
On top of these long trips, we also did a lot more activities that were just for one day. We went to 2 Reds games, the Cincinnati Zoo several times, a UK baseball game, Bernheim Forest, and random family/friend activities. It turns out we didn’t spend the $1200 per month we had mentally allocated, but we kept ourselves really busy and had a great time making memories!
Now it’s time to enter a new phase of life: preschool and sports! I’m pretty excited!
This has been a crazy month. We went to St. Louis and New York, we tiled the basement bathroom that we’re building, I refinished a desk that I purchased 6 years ago, and we had several activities to occupy our time. Being that we’ve been so busy, we haven’t set any new goals and are still talking through what we think the next few years look like. We are still managing sleep disruptions with our nearly 3 year old, and that takes a lot of time from my day and night. Anyway, here’s how things shook out over the last month – very high credit card bills to cover many large expenses.
Utilities: $240. This includes internet, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. I find it interesting that it’s not routine to have irrigation in Central KY, and that’s led to surprisingly low water bills. Our water, sewer, and trash is all together each month, and it’s only $53 in the middle of the summer!
Groceries: $390. On top of that, I had a charge for a 4 month supply of the vitamins that I take, which I pay for up front because I don’t want to pay a surcharge to pay monthly (if I can afford to pay $300 now, I’d rather pay that then end up paying $340 for the same product at the end of 4 months).
Entertainment/Travel: I broke down the St. Louis trip costs in my previous post. We booked our flights to NY through the Chase portal using points. It was the equivalent of $833 for 3 round trip flights (our daughter as a lap child). We paid for parking at the airport ($36), and that was it. On top of those costs, we had several sports fees and activities that we paid for. I didn’t add up the details, but I estimate that those cost us about $300 this past month.
I paid $3,800 worth of medical bills (high deductible plan… we got there).
We spent about $175 on tile supplies for the bathroom, which includes returning about $40 worth of materials.
Rental work cost us a good bit this month.
Our plumber made his rounds to 3 of our houses on one day to address items that I found during the walk throughs in July; this cost us $730.
Somehow (very unlike us), we had an outstanding pest control bill from December. When I called to schedule another appointment, they requested payment (rightfully so!). We spent $290 on pest control then.
We purchased a hot water heater and a refrigerator for a rental property after our property manager did her walk through. We also purchased a fan and had that installed (we would have done it, but we don’t live there anymore), but we split that cost with our partner. These cost us $2,317.
As usual, two houses were late on rent. One paid on Friday and actually included the late fee (10% of rent). Another gave us a letter about a car accident she was in and said she wouldn’t have rent until she received the settlement money from that. It’s the 16th and we still don’t have rent. The positive here is that we have several other properties worth of income that cover the expenses on this house (mortgage), so we’re not floating the mortgage with our own money for this one house.
Here’s a tidbit of my spending. I don’t have Amazon Prime. Rarely do I need something in 2 days or less than $25 that I would need to pay for this service. I search Amazon for things that I eventually want, put it in my cart, and then when I need to hit the $25 free shipping threshold, I add the items to the cart to check out. This is how I handle Christmas shopping basically. I have thoughts on what to get for people, keep it in my “save for later” section, and then order it when I place an order. I actually have several Christmas gifts already purchased.
Since I’m not able to find the time to coordinate updating all our accounts with Mr. ODA, this is just a rough update of our financials. Our net worth has increased about $58k. I’ve paid down the very high balance on our Citi card already this month, so this snapshot in time isn’t showing that I’ve already made $5k worth of payments towards that. About half of that increase is attributed to an increase in property values. The rest is attributed to the usual mortgage payments and investment balances increasing.
While I plan on sharing all about our summer of travel at the end of the month, we thought this last trip deserved a post with more detail than what that post will entail. We went to St. Louis from 8/1 to 8/5. It’s 4.5-5 hours from Central Kentucky and a really easy drive on I-64.
When we mentioned to people that we were going there, it was usually a negative reaction. I was starting to get concerned about how safe it would be, but the moms in one of my Facebook groups always raved about their trips out there. I was concerned enough that I didn’t book our lodging until the day before we left.
We went back and forth on whether our dog would take the trip with us, which affects our lodging options. Our usual sitter (through Rover.com… and if you’ve never used it, let me know because I could save you $20) wasn’t available for our trip dates, so it left us in limbo on what we wanted to do. Taking the dog with us hinders our ability to be out all day, but the more we thought about the logistics, it seemed none of our plans were for a full-day activity at once. I searched through Rover to see if there was anyone available for about $25-30 per night either near our home, or in Louisville, or in St. Louis. I came up with nothing. I contacted 3 different people in St. Louis who had availability on their calendar, but then they said they were busy.
Knowing that we’d have the dog with us, I went back and forth with whether to go for a hotel or AirBnB. At a hotel, I felt more confident that we’d have a clean and comfortable experience, plus we’d have the amenities of a pool and breakfast provided. St. Louis reinstated their mask mandate as of 7/26, so that may have limited the breakfast options to bagged food rather than something substantial. The pet-friendly hotel that I was looking at was about $700 for our stay to include the dog. I started looking at AirBnB and VRBO options. The pro to that type of option is that I can have separate bedrooms so that: 1) I can black out the windows with multiple layers of curtains for my children, and 2) we can still hang out in the house once the kids go to sleep.
If you’re looking at AirBnB in the area, stay away from any of the listings by “The Stay.” While one of their properties may have good reviews, nearly all of their properties have very bad reviews. I’ve never experienced as many listings with negative reviews as I did when searching this area. I’m used to deciding between someone with a 4.8 star or a 5.0 star review. “The Stay” had many negative reviews, and then there were even others in the area that had 3.0 star reviews. “The Stay” had all the same issues – the property wasn’t the same as the one pictured (that they circumvent by saying in their listing that pictures are of similar units), they provided the bare minimum on towels and linens, their doors were questionable if they closed and locked, and some units were even dirty.
I searched several times. The morning before we left, I found one that I hadn’t seen before. It was a 2 bedroom and pet friendly; she had a rating of 4.85, but the reviews were all glowing. I decided to go for it and messaged the host, who accepted our reservation request within the hour! Even better, it was only $585, where I was earmarking about $700 for lodging.
St. Louis has a lot to offer. Many activities/attractions seem to have adopted a model where entry is free, but you pay for parking. There are many parks to explore, including the massive Forest Park, which is larger than Central Park in acreage. The parks have lots to offer – from sports to the arts, and they’re free. When we were in Atlanta, we explored parks, but the parking was always a beast, entry cost a bit, and the park was dirty and overused. Conversely, St. Louis’ parks are used, but not overused; parking is free, and there’s plenty of it; and they’re clean.
We visited the Gateway Arch, which is a staple. We made reservations online and paid their fee to ride to the top, which was $35 (2 adults, both kids were free). Their website includes a link to a nearby parking garage that is $9 for 5 hours of parking. The garage was about 3 blocks away from the entry to the Arch. Note that if you click the link, it auto populates for one hour; you need to manually change it to a 5 hour reservation. If you don’t make it a 5 hour reservation, then you’re charged for going over that 1 hour. We learned through experience. The parking garage was so nice about it though, and they refunded us for our screw up on the reservation when we had to pay for going over time.
There’s a museum that’s free under the arch; you still need to go through security, but you don’t need a reservation or have to pay the entry fee to see it. Once you get through the museum, you get in line for the ride to the top of the arch (either the north side or south side, based on your reservation). Strollers are permitted everywhere except here. We simply left our stroller at the bottom, and it was there when we returned. They give you some history about the arch and show you a video about the 60s and building the arch before you get in line for the elevator. Then you get in a little “pod” that takes you to the top. It’s little. It’s confined. It only has 5 seats. It’s “scary,” but only a 4 minute ride to the top. You spend a few minutes looking around, and then you head back down when the next group arrives. You’re assigned a “pod” number, so they make sure you leave with the group that you arrived with.
The Science Museum (pictured above with our itty bitty daughter waving to the dinosaur) is free! The parking is $12, which we paid. There were spots outside the museum on the street that were free, but we didn’t feel the need to seek a spot out. It was a last minute decision to go here. They closed at 5:30, and we wanted to get in as soon as possible since we were already arriving about 1:30. They had a lot to do there. Our almost-3-year-old had a great time exploring. They had dinosaurs, puzzles, arcade games, infrastructure exhibits, space exhibits, and a fire show to see. Everything was hands-on, and we had a great time. We really didn’t expect to spend nearly 4 hours there, but we did!
The Zoo is free! And it’s incredible! Parking in their lots (one on the south side and one on the north side) is $15. But we parked on the street in Forest Park and walked 0.4 miles to the entrance for free. Honestly, we planned on paying the $15, but we don’t like sitting in long lines to get somewhere. When we saw the line, we checked the map, saw it was about a 10 minute walk, and we just parked the car right there. It worked out perfectly. The zoo was well maintained and very shaded. We were impressed by the aesthetics of the exhibits for all the animals (e.g., grass, blending of tree protection instead of wire cages). We spent about 4 hours there, moving at a fairly slow pace. We contemplated purchasing the “Adventure Pass,” but decided against it. There are several activities within the zoo that you can pay for individually, or you can buy the Adventure Pass. For example, it’s about $8 per person to ride the train. That’s something that our son would really enjoy, but that seems steep. So we thought about the adventure pass, which is about $15 per person and includes the train, carousel, sea lion show, stingray exhibit, 4D theater, and a dinosaur exhibit. Our son would have loved all of those things, but as we wandered the zoo, we noticed all the lines were really long. Our two kids would not have enjoyed standing in long lines in the heat, so we decided to see how far we got without the activities. Since that brought up to nap time for our daughter, we decided to just go back to the AirBnB at that point.
We did a brewery tour at Anheuser-Busch. Tickets were $33 total for the adults. The tour was 75 minutes long with a lot of walking (and a lot of time spent outside). At the end, they gave us a bottle of beer to take home that was fresh off the production line (yet ironically we haven’t drank it yet), and then they gave us a beer from the tap to enjoy in the biergarten. Their food options were expensive though. We looked into an appetizer to enjoy with our beers since it was about lunch time, but chose to pass. The kids ran around the picnic table while Mr. ODA and I chatted and enjoyed our beers.
While on the tour, they mentioned Grant’s Farm. Their website hadn’t been very clear on what the experience entailed, so I had written in off. We decided to risk it. It was free admission, but you had to pay $15 for parking. We arrived and were still lost on what to do! We went to see the Clydesdales in their barn, and then we walked across the parking lot to a bridge. When we got to the other side, we were in a queue and still really lost – haha. We ended up getting on a tram that took us on a 20 minute ride through their property. We got to see a lot of animals like a safari tour (e.g., water buffalo, bison, several types of deer, yak), and then they dropped us off at the end. It was a zoo of sorts with a bunch of animals to look at, and some that you could feed for a fee (milk bottle for goats… which was only $2 and I would have done if it didn’t involve standing in a really long line with two kids in the heat; and pellets for llamas, cows, and goats in another section). They offered other things, like parakeet feedings ($7) and camel rides ($10). At the end, you enter a little german-looking village that had food for sale and some horses to see. Most interestingly, it had two free beers per adult. So again, we enjoyed our beers while the kids ran around the table and ate some pretzels!
The reason we picked this timeframe was because the Braves were in town playing the Cardinals. We bought tickets on StubHub for $23.80. We paid the $9 for the Arch parking garage for a 5 hour window; the garage is one block from the stadium. I still can’t believe it worked because game day parking was actually $25 or $30 for the garages on that block. We got to the garage at 5:30 for a 7:15 game, so we got a great parking spot that was easy to leave from (no long queues after the game lets out!). We explored the Ballpark Village before the game. There were lots of restaurants, but we had already eaten, so we just played with the giant games (Connect4, Jenga) in the center of the Village. We walked the whole stadium, as we like to do when visiting a new one. While it was nice, it wasn’t anything special. We really like how the Braves have a section for their history that you can visit, and we were surprised that this was a newer park and didn’t have such a section. The Braves won, so we ended on a great note.
I’ve mentioned before that we don’t spend a lot of time or money on food when we travel. We’re not “foodies,” looking for the eclectic options of a region. We usually rotate between fast food options while we’re racing between activities. However, we purposely spent more time on this trip to spread everything out, so we ended up having an evening free. We went to the “Delmar Loop” to try a place that had good reviews: Blueberry Hill. We were disappointed. We tried fried raviolis, which claims to be a St. Louis “must have,” but other than that, it was just regular bar food (that was overpriced). The “Delmar Loop” was cool to walk down after dinner, but the drive to get there was sketchy.
There are areas of the city that are run down with boarded up buildings, just like with any city. While we drove through a couple of these areas, it wasn’t our destination. Even driving through it didn’t feel overwhelmingly unsafe (as it did in certain areas of Detroit). Our destinations were always in safe-feeling areas that were clean and well-lit. Whether we were downtown or in the suburbs (where our AirBnB was), we weren’t concerned.
As for the pandemic concept, the mask mandate was put into effect again right before we arrived. We had to wear masks for all indoor activities, regardless of vaccination status. Some places also required masks during entry (like at the zoo) or in crowded areas.
A FUN MIDWEST TOWN WITH A BUNCH TO OFFER
The whole trip was amazing. There was obviously a great selection for a family with young kids, but many more things to do if your traveling party is just adults. Bars, the Arts, Local Food, Museums, etc. There are even more things available to do (Botanical Gardens was one on our list if we had the time). The people we interacted with were all very pleasant, and the price was right. It’s worth putting on a travel list if you haven’t been!
We’re continuing our spring/summer of travel and activity, which is why there are fewer posts and lots more spending.
The stock market has increased, which has been the main factor in our net worth change. We paid $2,000 towards the mortgage we’re paying down, leaving a balance of $3,300. This mortgage will be paid off once all our rent is collected for July; it was pushed back a little bit because of the flooring replacement that occurred in one of our rentals, which is why our credit card balance is much lower than last month. We’re also still waiting for half of one property’s rent, which is the norm these days.
Utilities: $250. This includes internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant.
Restaurants: $165. Our credit card reimburses for many of these expenses; we received credits totaling $120.13 in the last month.
Insurance Costs (personal and rentals): $845
VIGILANCE ON CREDIT CARD REWARDS
Mr. ODA discovered that our PNC credit card rewards balance was decreasing, despite earning new rewards this cycle. He investigated further and noticed that we had been losing rewards for a few months now. PNC has a policy that they don’t issue their rewards until you hit $100 worth of rewards. Once we hit $100, PNC sends us a check in the mail. Since they send a check, we still receive paper statements, even though we regularly check our financial accounts online. Over the past few months, both of us checked the balance to see “ok, we’re nearing $100,” but didn’t put any more effort into knowing the details of the balance. Mr. ODA happened to notice that the statement didn’t make sense.
$89+3 somehow equals $82. There isn’t a single section on our statement or via our online account that identifies the loss of rewards Mr. ODA called PNC to ask for more details and learned that our rewards expire after 2 years, despite their policy of not issuing a check until you hit $100. They basically said, it doesn’t matter that your account is over 10 years old, or that credit has been used less in the last year due to the pandemic, or that they don’t clearly identify the expiration of rewards and just identify a lower balance. As a comparison, and I keep going back to Chase, but Chase changed up their reward categories to allow the consumer to earn more rewards during the pandemic (e.g., in addition to giving rewards in the travel category, since consumers weren’t traveling, they added grocery and home improvement stores as major reward categories).
The PNC customer service representative reinstated 60 days worth of lost rewards and issued a statement credit. We don’t want a statement credit because we no longer want to use this credit card, earning rewards that we’ll never be able to capture. If we use this credit card to use up the statement credit, that’s rewards that could be earned on a different credit card. Now Mr. ODA is fighting for the credit to be applied to our checking account or to have a check sent to us (which is the preference on our profile) and fighting for the reinstatement of the rest of the rewards lost.
Without PNC, we’re down to 4 credit cards in our regular rotation. We have 3 cards that we use for categories (gas, grocery, restaurants, travel, home improvement stores), and then we have the Citi Double Cash card that is for “everyday purchases.”
We paid $2,850 in extra principal towards the main mortgage we’re paying down, leaving that mortgage with a balance of $5,500. We had a $4k flooring purchase on another house that has set our pay off timeline a few weeks back, but we’ll still have that mortgage paid off in the next couple of months. We have a rental property that we purchased in 2016 that has flooring that’s at least that old. The carpet has long passed its useful life, and the linoleum in the kitchen and laundry room has started to peel up at the seam. Typically, we wouldn’t want to replace flooring while a tenant still lives there, but they’ve lived with this for almost a year, and they’ve been our tenants since we purchased the house. As a means of keeping the tenant happy, we agreed to replace the flooring in all the rooms except the bathrooms.
We had two of our tenants not pay rent by the 5th, as required by the lease. They’re the two that are typically late, and they’re typically not up front with telling us about it. We’ve said several times that we’re really flexible landlords, but we can’t be flexible if we’re not told what is happening. With one tenant, who had just recently irked us with a plumbing issue and being incommunicado, we didn’t even reach out for information. We’ve had enough of their antics and having to chase them for rent. So I simply sent them their notice of default letter, outlining all their rights as tenants as now required under COVID-related procedures. I received an email letting me know that they’d pay on the 7th. I love their nonchalant response, like they hold the power and will pay whenever they feel like it (hmm). For the other tenant that was late, she texted to say she’d be late with the payment on the 7th, and then on the 7th only paid part of the rent due. She said she was in a car accident and there was an issue with her sick leave pay out, but she’d get it to us when it got fixed. She resolved it on the 12th, although still without the late fee.
We were able to get the invoice on the HVAC replacement for one property, which meant we paid our partner the $3,288 we owed him, on top of his usual $2,167 that we pay out for him to pay the mortgages and then his share of the profits (since I manage all the rent collections).
Our credit card balances are high for several reasons. The $4k flooring purchase; as well as the insurance for one of our properties that isn’t escrowed because we paid off that mortgage, which was $436; an expensive gift purchase that isn’t transparent in the cash and credit line items because that cost was split 3 ways (i.e., we received 2/3 of that cost back in cash, but it’s still reflect in the credit line); and our travel.
We booked a camp site for the end of the month that required payment up front. We just got back from a trip, which increased our spending. But I’ll note that when we travel, we’re not eating expensive meals. Our interest is in the experiences and activities, rather than exploring sit down local restaurants. Our food for 5 days cost us $161 as a family of 4. We also ended up only paying for 2 of the 4 nights in the hotel because the air conditioning was broken, even after they came to ‘fix’ it, and then, when I was checking under the bed to see if any toys or socks got left behind as we were leaving, I found a large, dead roach. We didn’t ask for any comps; one was automatically reflected in my final invoice without my prompting, and then when the manager was speaking to Mr. ODA about his stay, he volunteered removing another night.
We opened a new credit card to take advantage of the bonuses since we knew we’d have this travel and the flooring cost to meet the $4,000 spending threshold for their bonus. This credit card has an annual fee of $95 and no 0% interest period, which goes against our norm when looking to open a new credit card. However, the bonus can be transferred to our Chase Rewards Portal, where we can use it to book travel at 50% the cost. We also received a $50 grocery credit.
My husband and I cashed in the last of his savings bonds that we got as children, so that was an extra $735 that we brought it that wasn’t planned.
We paid about $6,074 for our regular mortgage payments. Several of our properties had mortgage increases due to escrow shortages. I haven’t figured out which I dislike more: planning for tax and insurance payments, or the large escrow increases that seem to happen year after year. I think it’s the escrow though.
Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts. I should also note that I don’t speak to other investments because they happen before take-home pay, but my husband maxes out his TSP (401k) each year as well, which I had also done when I was employed.
Our grocery shopping cost us $700. Honestly, I don’t even know how to explain that cost jump. I think it’s because my husband shopped some deals at Kroger and Costco, so we stocked up on some things that aren’t part of our routine purchasing.
We spent $200 on gas. Two trips to Cincinnati, our trip to Atlanta, and then more-than-usual trips around town.
$400 went towards utilities. It’s higher than last month because we paid 3 months of our cell phones, which gets us back on quarterly billing as a family. Utilities include internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. We still haven’t sought reimbursement from the builder on our electric bill, but this month’s bill was even less than the last month’s.
Our entertainment costs included baseball game tickets for our trip as well as two games later this summer, parking for the games this past weekend, a new shirt for our son, activities for the kids, and the hotel. This past month, we spent $650 on things I’d classify as entertainment related. I also included boarding for our dog ($100) in this total.
Speaking of our dog, he had his annual appointment (shots and the year’s worth of preventative medicines), and that cost us $500.
We spent $292 eating at restaurants and ordering take out. We utilized a Door Dash credit on one of our Chase credit cards, which was about $30.
But! I killed it with running errands this month and actually returning things that needed to be returned. I returned $150 worth of items one day!
We paid our State taxes during this period too. Between two states, that was $954. Also, anecdotally, I’ll share that we spent $6.40 to mail our Virginia tax return. We processed our taxes through Credit Karma, as we had done last year. We got through the federal e-file and moved onto the state filing, only to find out that if you’re filing partial states, Credit Karma doesn’t support it. I had to print 70 pages of our federal return, sign it, and ship it off to Virginia.
Our net worth actually dipped this month. The stock market is the main factor in that, but the house valuation estimates are starting to level off and look more realistic as well.
Between our personal lives and our business life with these rental properties, we were sure kept busy. We expect the Spring months to be a busy time of year, and honestly it feels good to be active again. While we’ve loosened the purse strings for the summer months, especially after having done hardly anything for the last year, it was still a shock to see just how much we spent in these categories. But that’s the benefit of looking at your finances regularly. We can either choose to remain on course with our summer plans, or we can dial it back if we feel this was more than we expected.
Since we know we’re on top of our finances and have set up a healthy mentality when it comes to spending, we’re comfortable looking at this information once a month. If you’re currently developing these money habits, you may want to do these types of check-ins more frequently.
We have several Chase credit cards, both that are active and ones that we used in the past. As we shared in the past, we open new credit cards when we have one or several large purchases to make, so we’re typically looking for a 0% introductory rate for at least 12 months, a sign-on bonus, and no annual fee. We also do a little bit of travel hacking, so even if the card doesn’t hit these typical ‘requirements’ of ours, we’ll open a card if it comes with a sizable sign-on bonus.
Chase offers several cards that have specific rewards categories (e.g., airlines, Disney). However, our general thought process is that if you earn “cash,” you have more flexibilities than being tied to one specific category. Weigh your lifestyle; if you’re the family that does Disney every year no matter what, then maybe a Disney bonus is worth it for your finances.
CHASE CREDIT CARDS
I highlight several of the Chase cards and their main bonuses in a previous post. We currently are using: – Chase Sapphire Reserve: Has an annual fee, comes with a statement bonus after spending a certain amount after opening, $300 in statement credits as an annual reimbursement for travel, earn 3X points on grocery store purchases per month, dining, and travel booked after the statement credit is earned, and several other bonuses. – Chase Freedom (now called the Freedom Flex): No annual fee, rotating 5% cash back reward categories each quarter (e.g., gas, internet, grocery). – Chase Freedom Unlimited: The offerings on this card are slightly different than when we opened them, so I’ll focus on what’s currently available. Sign-on bonus of $200 cash back when you spend $500 in the first 3 months from account opening, no annual fee, 5% on purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% on all purchases.
We’ve also been able to utilize their business card options. However, since several reward categories overlap with others that we have, these are no longer active. We met the requirement for the sign-on bonus, then slowly paid down the balance on the card (while always making more than the minimum payment) over the 0% introductory period, ensuring we had a $0 balance before the interest rate’s introductory period expired. We typically leave a credit card open, but don’t use it, when we’re no longer benefiting from the card’s rewards (e.g., when the reward overlaps with another credit card we use frequently), but we did close the Ink Business Preferred because of the annual fee. – Chase Ink Business Unlimited: Earn 1.5% cash back for business purchases, offers a sign-on bonus and introductory 0% interest, and has no annual fee. – Chase Ink Business Preferred: Earn 1% points for all purchases and 3X points for shipping, advertising, internet and phone, and travel. This card has an annual fee of $95.
THE REWARDS PORTAL
We utilize several Chase cards for differing types of bonuses. Chase allows you to transfer points earned from different Chase cards into one account. This is a big bonus for us because we have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which offers 50% more value on the points earned when they’re redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards than if you took them out based on their straight cash value (e.g., 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel). That means we’re earning more cash back on those categories and then more when we use those points for travel costs.
Here’s an example: Currently we get 5% cash back on internet with the Chase Freedom card. We pay our internet bill of $45 each month for this quarter. We earn $2.25 cash back or 225 points that gets transferred to the Sapphire Reserve travel portal, where it’s now worth $3.375 for booking travel costs.
We have used the portal several times to book our hotels, car rentals, and flights. Most recently, we searched for a hotel stay. We were able to search for the lodge, review the different types of rooms, and book using our points. Here’s the breakdown of our purchase within the portal.
Chase is also offering 50% more value (100 points equals $1.50 in redemption value) when you redeem points for grocery store, dining, and home improvement store purchases, as well as donations to select charitable organizations. We utilized our points to give ourselves statement credits for several restaurant purchases from the past 90 days that were made on our Sapphire Reserve card.
We’ve strategically opened new Chase cards over the last 10 years. I wouldn’t recommend opening 3 new cards at once, but, like us, open them as you have a need to cover large purchases. A large purchase looming allows you to meet a fairly high spending threshold to earn the sign-on bonus (e.g., spend $4,000 in the first 3 months to earn a bonus), and opening a new card should give you a 0% introductory interest rate so you can give yourself a free loan for a year or sometimes longer.
Chase offers an array of cards, which have different reward offerings. A positive to Chase’s portfolio is that you can merge your rewards earned on different cards into one portal. This has been especially beneficial because we have the Sapphire Reserve, where your “points are worth 50% more when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruise lines through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.”
DISCLAIMER: Chase has no affiliation with this post; we just love what they have to offer. Be sure to read all fine print on the cards discussed here, and don’t assume we’ve covered all the details that are required to earn the bonuses. All Chase card names and their rewards portal name are registered trademarks of JPMorgan Chase & Co.