Most of the time when I sit down at my computer to write the weekly Best from the Blogosphere post I have absolutely no idea what the theme will be until I read a few articles from other bloggers that send me off on a tangent.
Such was the case this week when the first message in my inbox was from Robb Engen at Boomer and Echo writing about Mischief Managed: How I Went From Credit Card Abuser To Rewards Card Master. He says optimizing credit spending means using one card for groceries and gas, one for dining and entertainment, one for travel and one for everything else. Last year he used six credit cards to earn over $1,500 worth of rewards.
In 2012 Carla Wintersgill wrote in the Toronto Star about How travel hackers maximize loyalty points. She reports on the inventive way American author Chris Guillebeau collected points through the United States Mint. For a year and a half, it was possible to buy U.S. dollar coins directly from the Mint, which included free shipping. Over the course of a few months, he bought $70,000 in coins using a points-collecting credit card and then re-deposited the coins in the bank to pay his bill.
With Black Friday and Christmas on the horizon, reader may be interested in the Top 5 tips for maximizing miles on your holiday shopping by Patrick Sojka at Rewards Canada. He suggests double or triple dipping to rack up your points faster. This basically involves your mileage earning credit card being used for a purchase where you also earn miles in the same program as the credit card. For example, pay for your Air Canada flight with a TD Aeroplan Visa or American express.
When you use travel rewards, at some point you may be juggling way more credit cards than the average consumer. Even with a really good system to ensure that you have paid your cards in full each month, at some point something may slip through the cracks. On Frugal Travel Guy, Caroline Lupini explains How to Get Credit Card Late Fees Refunded and Interest Charges Reversed at least once, but it is important not to make a habit of missing payments.
In a guest post on the Canadian Finance Blog, How to Get the Best Value from Air Miles Rewards, Retire Happy blogger Jim Yih explains how he exchanged 15,850 Air Miles for six flights from Edmonton to Ottawa that saved him $2475.99. He calculates that he is getting about one Air Mile for every dollar spent and his equivalent cash back is about 1.67% over the longer time frame. He also endorses double-dipping and believes that with a little more conscious effort and awareness he can get the reward up to a 2% cash back equivalent.
Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.
Canadians love loyalty programs. The 2013 Loyalty Census from the industry research group Colloquy reports that 120 million consumers in this country belong to at least one loyalty program and the average number of loyalty programs per household is 8.2. But the challenge you face is selecting the loyalty programs that will give you the best bang for their bucks.
Typically websites that evaluate loyalty programs either rank programs based on the stated preferences of survey participants or by weighting various features like points per dollar spent and the value you can get when you spend the points in different ways.
But the research company Environics recently developed a “time to reward” algorithm for Colloquy that ups the ante by predicting how many months it actually takes to earn $100 CAD in rewards.
The calculation not only takes into consideration the potential payback from a program, but factors like usage patterns, the ability to double-dip (i.e. get points for the dollar value of your travel purchase plus the number of miles you fly) and how much you buy from a particular retailer.
Initially, over 1000 Canadians surveyed online in March 2014 by Environics were asked to select which of 23 top loyalty programs (14 of which have a non-credit loyalty card only) they used to collect loyalty rewards or dollars in the past three months. The programs in the list had membership of at least one per cent of the Canadian population and multiple programs could be picked from the list provided.
The top 10 selected were:
72%: Air Miles
35%: Shopper’s Optimum
29%: Canadian Tire Money
28%: PC Points
17%: Scene Rewards
17%: HBC Rewards
13%: Club Sobey
12%: Sears Card
However, once all 23 programs were assessed by Environics applying “time to rewards” metrics, rankings in some categories changed. Not surprisingly, the Air Miles and Aeroplan programs took the first and second spots for long and short haul flight rewards. Both are “coalition” loyalty programs (members can earn points through hundreds of retail partners, as opposed to just one).
But Aeroplan dropped to the number three spot after the Shoppers Optimum card when it came to how quickly cash equivalent rewards can accumulate. The Shoppers Drug Mart program regularly runs promotions where a large number of points is awarded for spending specified amounts on certain days.
The research also revealed the credit cards that will get a program member to a cash equivalent or merchandise reward the quickest tend to be retailer-specific or bank-issued credit cards. The Canadian Tire Cash Advantage MasterCard, the Best Buy Reward Zone Visa and the RBC Shoppers Optimum Card ranked 1, 2 and 3 in this category.
The Environics Research contains many more “time to reward” comparisons for loyalty programs and loyalty credit cards you can check out here. There is also an interactive online tool where you can test which Canadian loyalty programs will get you to your desired reward faster (i.e. travel rewards, cash or merchandise) using either your own spending pattern or pre-programmed Statistics Canada data.
Of course your favourite loyalty program may not have sufficient market penetration to even have been considered in the Environics study.
When I polled several prominent personal finance bloggers to find out the loyalty programs they use the most, Tom Drake (Canadian Finance) said his number one choice is a Costco Executive Membership, which is notably absent from the Environics study. It pays back two per cent of most purchases throughout the year in cash. “I also pay using my True Earnings Card from Costco and American Express which gives me another one per cent cash back or two per cent when I fill up with gas,” he says.
Robb Engen (Boomer & Echo) identified Scene Rewards which allows you to earn points that can be spent on free movies, concession food and music downloads as probably one of the most under-rated loyalty programs in the country. He also subscribes to Amazon Prime for $79/year because it gives him free two-day shipping on most items that Amazon carries.
And even though he is an avid Air Miles fan, Jim Yee (Retire Happy) believes it’s important to take a balanced approach to racking up points vs other important cost-saving considerations. “Safeway gives Air Miles but sometimes it’s more convenient or less expensive to shop elsewhere for groceries,” he says.
As part of the savewithspp.com continuing series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers, today I’m talking with Dan Wesley, author of the personal finance blog “Our Big Fat Wallet.”
Dan is in his late 20s, he recently got married and he lives with his wife in Calgary. Finance isn’t just his hobby, it’s his career. He currently works in the corporate finance group of a large petroleum company.
A couple of unique things you should know about Dan:
He’s an accountant with a professional designation and a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
He’s never had any consumer debt.
He pays his credit cards in full every month.
He is able to get discounts on virtually everything he buys.
Q: First of all, tell our listeners, why is your blog called “Our Big Fat Wallet”?
A: I guess the name originally began as a joke. When I was in college, I had a roommate who used to say I had a big fat wallet because I carried a lot of coupons and that made it look bigger. And I still do carry coupons. So that’s where the name comes from.
Q: Why did you start blogging and what are your goals for the blog?
A: I started my blog because I’m passionate about all things related to finance and I wanted to empower people to take control of their own finances no matter what their age or their financial situation is. I’m hoping my blog will be a place people can learn about all topics related to finance, but also have fun and interact with others as well.
Q: And how long have you been blogging?
A: Four months.
Q: How frequently do you post?
A: I usually post three times per week on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. It was a bit of a struggle keeping that up during tax season, but I managed to pull it off so I’m hoping to continue that schedule in the future.
Q: Tell me about the range of topics that you blog about.
A: I write about everything related to personal finance with more of a Canadian focus, and specifically focusing on saving, investing and frugal living.
Q: There’s probably over a dozen well-known personal finance bloggers in Canada. What do you think is different about your blog and why do you think it’s a must-read?
A: I think the main difference with my blog is that I’m a professional accountant and I work in the finance sector, so readers are getting two perspectives. They’re getting my own personal opinion, but also the technical side as well. But I also try to make my blog as much fun as possible. So I’ve been doing some random company facts articles that tend to get a lot of attention.
Q: How many hits do you typically get for each blog?
A: It’s tough to say because it’s a pretty wide range. My most popular content has thousands of hits and seems to become more popular over time.
Q: What are some of the more popular blogs that you’ve posted.
A: The most popular content so far has been my “interesting facts” post on Costco. A couple of months ago, I posted some facts about Costco that a lot of people don’t know, and it was recently featured in The Globe and Mail and The Huffington Post. Some other popular content has been “Why I gave up on Air Miles,” “How to reduce your mortgage penalty” and “How I multiply my savings.”
Q: So tell me a couple of interesting facts about Costco that our readers might not have heard about.
A: Well, they don’t mark their products by more than 15%. They have some of the lowest staff turnover in all of the retail sector. They haven’t raised the price of their hot dog combo since 1985. Just things like that, people find really interesting.
Q: As noted in your introduction, you say you can get a discount on anything. Share some of your secrets with us.
A: There’s lots of different ways that you can get discount. For example, when I book a flight, I use discounted flight credits that I bought online, and then I’ll wait until there’s a seat sale to book the flight. West Jet flight credits other people can’t use are sometimes sold at a discount on Kijiji.
Q: What are some other examples of unusual ways to save money that readers or listeners may not be aware of?
A: For groceries, I actually started trading coupons with people last year. I bought a coupon book and I traded with other people who had the same coupon book but didn’t need certain coupons that I needed. And so far I’ve saved over $300 this year on groceries just through coupon trading.
Big ticket items like furniture or a car or a house, I always negotiate off the list price. So when we bought our house, I managed to get about $30,000 in upgrades thrown in just through negotiating with the builder.
Another big way get a discount is to time your purchase. We bought our car later in the year when the new models were coming out, and the dealer was trying to get rid of cars from the previous year and we saved $2,500 off the list price.
Q: So how did you manage to graduate from University with no debt and $10,000 in assets? What are your secrets?
A: The secret is, there is no secret. I did that basically by living within my means and making a detailed budget and sticking to it. So I didn’t have a lot of income for most of those five years.
Q: Did you live with your family or did you live away from home?
A: I lived away from home during the school year, but I moved home during the summer to save money and I worked full time. I bought used text books. I saved on transportation costs by living on campus. We didn’t really go to any fancy restaurants ever. Oh, and I applied for scholarships, as many as I could, even if I didn’t think I had a chance.
Q: Did you work part-time as well when you were in school?
A: No. I wanted to focus more on completing assignments and extra-curricular activities. But during the summer, I worked full-time, probably more than full-time, sometimes at two jobs.
Q: What kind of jobs did you do in the summer?
A: I worked at a casino. And I also worked mowing lawns. Just odd jobs that students normally have, fast food, things like that.
Q: Do you have a mortgage on your family home?
A: Yes, but we managed to save 20% to the down payment to avoid the CMHC Insurance cost. And then we used the builder’s lawyer to avoid paying the legal fees, which saved us around $1,500.
Q: Do you have a favourite personal financial blogger that you read religiously?
A: It’s tough to pick one but I’d probably say Robb Engen’s blog, “Boomer and Echo.” I’ve followed it for years now and he’s been a big help to me. I like that blog because Robb deals with everyday financial issues that anyone can relate to. And he writes in a way that anyone can understand.
Q: Your blog is fairly new. Have you had any sort of money-making opportunities or spin-offs yet as a result of writing this blog?
A: I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a writing job. I’ve been writing for the website howtosavemoney.ca, just on basic tips and tricks on how to save money. And I’ve also received two job offers in the past couple of months, which is flattering, but I’m happy and not looking to leave my current job. But other than that, no. The blog is pretty much brand new.
Q: If you only had one piece of advice to give young people heading off to university or starting their first job, what would it be?
A: It’s probably tough to pick one, but two big things: live within your means and make a budget. If you do those things, I think your finances will take care of themselves whether you’re in school or just starting out in the workforce. And when I say making a budget, I mean make a detailed budget and stick to it.
Thanks very much Dan. It was a pleasure to talk to you.
This is an edited transcript of the podcast you can listen to by clicking on the graphic under the picture above. If you don’t already follow Dan’s blog “Our big fat wallet” you can find it here. Subscribe to receive blog posts by email as soon as they’re available.