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Author: Allen

Allen has always been a decent saver, but in 2017, after moving to London, England for a short time, he decided he wanted to do more with his money and his life and found out about financial independence (he is also not as cool as Corey thinks he is). Never one to do anything quietly, he now blogs about finance and all sorts of assorted life hacks. Read More

How to Earn Extra Rewards and Savings on What You do Anyway

As people pursuing Financial Independence, it becomes more and more important to cut expenses. However, when you do spend money, you can ease the hurt on your wallet by making sure you are earning back points and rewards as well. In this post, we’ll list a few ways to get more from your spending and doing right now.

Grocery Discount Programs

Start simple and sign up at your grocery store’s rewards program. Do continue to shop around for groceries, but be sure to pick up the discounts on those purchases you need them.

Use Rewards Credit Cards

When you are not trying to earn a travel reward, it is still a good idea to put your spending on a credit card for both tracking and the rewards. You should be aiming to get at least 2% back on each purchase, so use at least a Citi Double Cash card or a Paypal Mastercard. If your credit score isn’t good enough for those, try going for cards with 1.5% back like the Capital One Quicksliver card or a standard 1% cash back if you have to.  Remember, you need to also pay your credit cards in full each month and not get into credit card debt.

Cell Phone Discounts Just for Working

While you are still working, check and see if your company has a cell phone discount. All you have to do is put your work email address into the discount site (search online for the one for your carrier) and see if you can get one. If not, talk to your HR or IT departments and see if they can get you a discount (generally these cost the company nothing to sign up for). Here are a link to a few of the US carriers and their discount programs:

Get More Cashback/Points When You Shop Online

If you need to shop anywhere online (when you aren’t buying used items) or even book a hotel, don’t just head straight to the site. A lot of shopping web sites have partnerships with airlines and other cashback sites, so you could be earning a few extra points with your purchase. To see which ones, checkout Cashback Monitor, which aggregates all of the cash back portals and shows you which site will get you the best points/cash back. You then can visit the highest cashback shopping portal they link to and collect some cashback/points on what you are buying.

Cashback Monitor
Before you buy anything online, look for more points through Cashback Monitor.

Use a search engine with Rewards

I shock most of my friends when I tell people I use Bing rather than Google. Why do I do that? Simply for Microsoft Rewards, which give you points for searches on your desktop and mobile devices. These points generally add up and can be used to get gift cards at Amazon and other retail outfits. If you are feeling a bit more altruistic, you can also use Goodsearch or Ecosia, they will pay money to charity when you use them to search.

A collection of gift cards on the Microsoft Rewards portal.

Restaurant Rewards

In case you are going out to eat, you can also earn cash back and points in a couple of different ways, mainly by adding your credit card to a rewards program. Ask Sebby did a great job breaking down the variety of apps that can be stacked to gain cash back at restaurants including Yelp Cash Back and restaurants on the Rewards Network, which powers most airline dining programs. Keep in mind, though, you can only tie one credit card with one Rewards Network program, so you can’t for example get American Airlines miles and Southwest miles on the same card. However, you can get Yelp Cash Back and the miles on the same card though.

Amazon Smile

Something slightly more altruistic is going through smile.amazon.com rather than regular Amazon.com. By going there, Amazon will pay a charity at no cost to you for every dollar you send on Amazon.com. This is also available in the UK as well.

More Travel Points

Here’s a couple of extra rewards you can get for travel:

  • Using Lyft for Delta and Jetblue miles: Lyft has partnerships with both Delta and Jetblue where you will gain points for rides you take on Lyft, though Jetblue only gives you points on airport rides to and from.
  • Earn points with Airbnb: Airbnb doesn’t offer their own rewards points, but as Head for Points mentions, they do partner with airlines like Delta and Qantas.
  • Mileage Plus X: For in store shopping, check out using Mileage Plus X for extra United Airlines points at select stores.

Any other tips I may have missed out on? Please let me know in the comments below.

How Moving to Another Country Changed Got Me on the Path to FI

I’ve been thinking about how I got into Financial Independence and why I decided to pursue it. I think part of it was actually moving to London for a short time. Why was that? Well I wanted to write about that how I became more into FI.

Less Stuff

When I moved, I didn’t bring a lot of things I had accumulated like my books, my electronics, and a few other things I couldn’t take across the ocean. By doing this, I realized I didn’t need nearly as many of the things I had accumulated over the years to live a good life. Granted I did miss a few things I grown accustomed to, but I also learned ways I could get around it.

Started Watching Less TV

Britain requires a TV license to watch live TV, which is essentially a tax I didn’t want to pay. So no TV meant, I had to rely on other things for entertainment. Good thing was London has a bunch of free things to check out like museums, but also there’s plenty of good stuff on podcasts, YouTube, and the Library. Not having a TV meant I ended up reading more as well, and some how I stumbled onto FI with the reading.

How to Make Fast Food at Home from the Chefs’ Themselves

A pillar of FI is lowering your grocery bill and lowering your eating expenses. Today, I wanted to spotlight some fast food favorites and show how you can make them at home, with directions from the head chefs at these eateries themselves. Now I know there are a lot of copycat recipes online, but to be as authentic as possible, I wanted to spotlight recipes made by folks working at these restaurants themselves. With that, let’s take a look at some of these.

McDonald’s Big Mac

The Big Mac is the signature hamburger of McDonald’s. Dan Coudreaut, the former head chef at McDonald’s, shows you the basics of making a Big Mac burger. He even shows you a recipe for the special sauce using ingredients you can buy at the grocery store.

Travel Rewards 101: British Edition

Travel Hacking Tool Kit

I covered travel rewards a few weeks ago and commenter Mr. Robot asked:

This sounds pretty awesome but I’m guessing this only applies to US residents and not European?

The answer is yes, though with some caveats:

  • Two of the major flexible rewards providers, Chase and Citi, do not offer credit cards outside the US.
  • The sign-up bonuses are not nearly as good as the American cards.

However, it’s totally possible to travel hack a free trip with cards. I thought I’d take the opportunity to demonstrate one with the same tools I used before in my previous post, though with different cards. This time, we’ll take a trip from London, England to Prague, Czech Republic.

Taxes and Investing as an American in the UK

As I mention in my last post, I currently live in London, England. However, as an American citizen living abroad, reaching financial independence becomes more difficult as I describe below. So what does that mean for folks who want to be financially independent? I’m going to run down the steps I’ve gathered from information sources around the net and speaking to several advisors. Hopefully this helps you with your investments like it did for me.

(Disclaimer: Please note the standard disclaimer here applies. I am presenting my own experiences that have been presented to me by others who have researched this topic. I have done my best to distill it down as a simple action plan. However, as I illustrate below, there are a surprisingly large amount of people willing to trade their time to help you. Please do consult a professional with your situation.)

The Main Problem – Taxes

If you could boil it down to one problem, though, it would have to be taxes. Unlike most countries in the world besides Eritrea, the United States government taxes its citizens and residency card holders even when they are not living in the US. So Americans working and living abroad have to worry about taxes in two different tax jurisdictions. One break you do get from the US government though is the foreign earned income exclusion, meaning you won’t be taxed on any of your income if you make less than $103,900 in 2018, but you’ll still have to file taxes every year.

Because of the tax reporting requirements of American citizens living abroad, most investment companies (even American ones like Vanguard) don’t want to deal with Americans living abroad. They won’t just shut down your accounts of course, so if you’ve been investing you will be ok. But for the beginners, without a US address (or for those of you who attempt to have your mail sent to your new address), you won’t be able to open a new account.

There are also all sorts of tax rules involving investing in index funds in other countries. Those tax rules can negate the gains greatly. I don’t want to go into it here, because I don’t really understand it well, but look up Passive Foreign Investment Company or PFIC when you get the chance. Please note this doesn’t apply to individual stocks though, but we all know how hard it is to pick individual stock

The FI community starts with a do it yourself attitude, and while admirable, this is probably not the place for it (at least not at first). Your UK taxes will be easy as the government does your taxes for you. However, you are going to want help filing your tax returns in the US from one of the US expat tax firms out there (there are a few of them out there).

Update: I found a pretty good guide on taxes for US citizens living in the UK.

Tips for Reaching the Pillars of FI in the UK

As you can see from my bio, I’m currently living in London, England. In the UK, there appears to be less of a FI presence than in the US, but it is growing as the meetups show (the picture above is me at one of the FI London meetups). That said the overwhelming amount of FI resources are for the US, and I thought I’d take a stab at trying to take a starting point of FI and make it more UK friendly, that starting point being the Pillars of FI.

I’ve talked about the pillars of FI from a personal stand point, but today I want to try to approach them from a person living in the UK. Please note though, that as an American citizen living anywhere else in the world, there are complications, so this post is not for them. Next week, I will write up one a post on being an American and trying to achieve FI in the UK. For now though, let’s go through the Pillars of FI in order and see what they are like in the UK.

Travel Rewards 101: Planning Your First Trip Using Travel Rewards

Travel Hacking Tool Kit

As I’ve mentioned in my New Year’s Resolution/intro to the Pillars of FI post, travel rewards were basically my gateway into the FI community. After I had made my first trip to London, I sat at the airport and got curious about optimizing travel spend.  Sure enough, a couple of web searches lead me down the travel rewards rabbit hole and then the FI rabbit hole.

So what am I talking about with travel rewards? Basically, the idea is earning and building up enough miles to fly and stay at hotels for a heavy discount. You maybe saying, “doesn’t it takes forever to earn flights and stays at hotels even if you are a frequent traveler?” and you are correct. However, we can boost our points balances in a big way using one simple method: credit card sign up bonuses. You simply get the credit cards you need, earn the bonus by meeting the spend requirements, and that trip is yours.

(Important: Pay your credit cards on time and in full. Do not go into debt and spend more than you normally would to meet the minimum spend requirements. Everybody who advocates this method of earning points recommends this as debt avoidance is paramount to hitting FI.  The interest payments will immediately wipe out any gains you made from the bonuses.)

How can we do this? I’m going to demonstrate how I use four travel tools to plan a trip with flight and hotel paid for. In this example, I’ll pretend I’m going to fly from Seattle, Washington to Honolulu, Hawaii for a 3 night stay. Then I will show you a tool find a credit card for this trip and finally a way to track your points progress.

FI Lessons From Media – The Gina Linetti Guide to FI (Brooklyn Nine Nine)

Jake and Gina discuss their finances in <em>The Apartment</em>
Jake and Gina discuss their finances in The Apartment

The FI community doesn’t encourage a lot of TV and movie watching (remember one of the pillars of FI is cutting cable). However, I find there are some ways that entertainment can explain the concepts of FI pretty well. The Escape Artist’s top 10 tv shows on financial independence did something like this before and has served partially as inspiration for this series. With that, we started a series of posts that highlights those examples, which we’re calling FI Lessons from the Media.

Premise

Brooklyn Nine Nine depicts the antics of a fictional New York City police precinct (affectionately nicknamed the Nine Nine). We mainly follow Jake Peralta, one of the best detectives at the Nine Nine, but shown to be immature personally and professionally. Gina Linetti, a childhood friend, serves as the eccentric personal assistant to the precinct’s captain after Jake had gotten her a job there (fun fact: both the actors who play Jake and Gina, Andy Samberg and Chelsea Peritti, also grew up together). As the show progresses, Jake grows increasingly more mature, but not without learning some important lessons first as this early episode below shows.

Making Better Use of Your Library Card with Free Apps

In this age of books, music, and video on demand, visiting a public library may seem like a quaint memory from a different time like taking a trip to Borders, Tower Records, or Blockbuster video. However, to better meet the needs of the digital consumer, libraries have been partnering with a variety of digital content providers to give their patrons access to resources without having to visit your local branch. All you’ll need is your library card and you get access to a variety of free entertainment and education options. With that said, here are a few of the more popular partnerships your library could be offering.

Launch: Planet FI, from The FI Guys

Planet FI

It can be daunting to keep up with all of the latest content from the financial independence community. After all, there is just so much content from all the blogs and podcasts around. To help with that, we created an aggregator website called Planet FI.

The goal with Planet FI is to make a website that puts together a vast selection of FI content from around the Internet. Inspiration for this site came from a few older Planet sites out there, such as WordPress Planet that acted as a one stop portal for their communities. The software powering the site is called moonmoon, which itself is also inspired by Planet. Hopefully, we have made it just as useful to this FI community as well.

Do you have any blogs or websites you want us to add? Let us know in the comments below or contact us.