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Updated with new Snack and other sample boxes. Amazon Prime members can buy sample boxes that come with a credit towards a future purchase in that specific product category. Right now, you can buy a snack sample box for $9.99 and then you’ll get an equal $9.99 credit towards a future purchase of any eligible items in that category. You’ll still get Amazon Prime free shipping. Here are the currently available sample boxes along with the eligible products:

More and more people are being scared away from paying $1,000+ for a new smartphone as they realize than come September there will be another one that is a bit newer and shinier. If you’re not committed to staying on the bleeding edge, why not save some bucks?

I recently took advantage of the special pricing on iPhone battery replacements on my iPhone 6, and it definitely made a difference in speed (and of course battery life). They performed the battery swap in the Apple Store in about an hour while I shopped elsewhere. This made me think about what the current best value would be for an iPhone (functionality/price).

My choice as of mid-2018 is the iPhone 6S Plus. They are currently start in the $220 range, compare prices at sites like Swappa and You have Touch ID. You get the bigger 5.5-inch high-resolution “Retina” screen for easier reading. From a superficial perspective, it’s really hard to tell it apart from an iPhone 7 or 8 (especially with case). The speed is adequate, even if you update to the current iOS. Of course, this assumes that you add a new battery ($29) direct from Apple. ...

Maybe I’m foolish, but I remain hopeful about the potential of software leading to more affordable, accessible education. In 2014, Georgia Tech launched an Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) with the goal of offering an accredited, top-tier education at a surprising price of $7,000. The program has been regularly ranked in the Top 10 by U.S. News & World Report, and the traditional residential program costs $28,000 two years of tuition (out-of-state, not including housing).

OMSCS offers the same lectures from the same professors, the same homework assignments, and the same exams. A few other top universities have online versions of their masters programs, but they charge the same tuition as in-person ($40,000+). The diploma is exactly the same as those of on-campus graduates, with no special “online” designation.

Would there be enough interest from qualified candidates? Would it remain financially viable? Would the online program cannibalize from the traditional on-campus program? Would employers discriminate if they found out that this was an online degree? Would the careers prospects be different due to the lack of in-person networking opportunities?

EducationNext recently published an article An Elite Grad-School Degree Goes Online addresses some of these questions. InsiderEd has a an article

Every time you visit a domain like, you use a DNS server to find its “address”, specifically IP address. However, your internet service provider (ISP) may be logging every single request then selling this data to other advertisers. CloudFlare and APNIC partnered to create, an alternative free DNS resolver that doesn’t sell data to advertisers. It also uses CloudFlare’s network of servers to even faster than other DNS servers, even Google’s version.

Better privacy and faster internet? Sounds good to me. The main concern is that this is a private effort and you have to trust that they will maintain this unprofitable venture. I’ll try it out while it lasts. Learn more here. Installation directions (you must change a few settings) here. Free DNS Server for Faster Internet, Better Privacy from My Money Blog.

©, 2018.

In the market for a new car seat or stroller? Target is running their Car Seat Trade-in Event from Sunday, April 22 through Saturday, May 5, 2018. Simply bring in an old car seat or car seat base into a Target store and they will give you a 20% off coupon toward a new car seat, booster seat, car seat base, travel system or stroller. Coupons can be applied to both in-store and online purchases through May 19, 2018.

Certainly, re-use if you can, but car seats actually “expire” after 5-6 years or any sort of accident. The plastics degrade over time (it sits in your car all day) and may no longer handle the extreme stress of a car accident. All car seats made after 2009 should be marked with an expiration date by the manufacturer. In addition, many places don’t accept car seats for recycling. Target will recycle your car seat “to create new products such as grocery carts, plastic buckets and construction materials such as steel beams and carpet padding”.

Target Car Seat Trade-In Program: 20% Off Car Seats and Strollers from My Money Blog.

©, 2018.


This weekend only, IKEA has a printable $25 off $150 coupon [pdf] that is valid through 4/22/18. The coupon states that you can also show it on your phone at checkout. Valid in US stores only. Here is selected fine print:

Not valid on IKEA Kitchen Event offer, IKEA services, Eat for Free or Kids Eat Free IKEA Food Offers, IKEA FAMILY Individual Kitchen Planning Service Offer or in the IKEA Restaurant or Swedish Food Market. Not valid on previous purchases or the purchase of IKEA Gift Cards.

IKEA coupons are pretty rare, other than their ongoing $25 off $250 moving coupon.

IKEA In-Store Coupon 2018: $25 off $150 from My Money Blog.

©, 2018.

Mortgage rates are rising. Home prices are still at recent highs. Yet, mortgage applications are also up, which suggests that people are worried about not being able to afford a house if they wait. Online mortgage comparison site LendingTree publishes a monthly update (March 2018) of what their real customers are getting approved for on their mortgages. Credit score, average APR, down payment, loan-to-value ratio, etc. Here is a chart of mortgage rates vs. credit score.

Clean up your credit score. The survey suggests that the rate difference between the top credit scores and lower scores are widening:

Consumers with the highest credit scores (760+) saw offered APRs of 4.72% in March, vs 4.99% for consumers with scores of 680-719. The APR spread of 27 bps between these score ranges was unchanged from February and still near the widest since this data series began in April 2016. The spread represents over $14,000 in additional costs for borrowers with lower credit scores over 30 years for the average purchase loan amount of $238,593.

I recently paid my income taxes with a credit card, netting some profit but also using up over 50% of the total credit limit. My credit score monitoring services told me this increased...

Updated April 2018. This post tracks my experiment comparing a Fundrise eREIT portfolio and the Vanguard REIT ETF. In Fundrise, we have a start-up that bought a concentrated basket of roughly 20 properties chosen from the private market. In Vanguard, we have a one of the largest real estate ETFs in the world that owns a passive slice of 184 public-traded REITs. I invested $1,000 into both in October 2017 and hope to let them run for 5 years.

Fundrise Starter Portfolio background. Despite the name, the Fundrise Starter Portfolio is actually a simple 50/50 mix of their first two eREITs: the Fundrise Income eREIT and the Fundrise Growth eREIT. Learn about other Fundrise portfolios here. This private eREIT utilizes recent crowdfunding legislation that allows all investors to own a basket of individual real estate properties (not just accredited investors with high net worth). The minimum deposit is $500. You must buy shares directly from Fundrise, and there are liquidity restrictions as this is meant to be a long-term investment. Here’s a recent map of locations for the holdings. Most are apartment complexes, condominiums, and hotels.

Online brokerage Firstrade just announced a new Commisssion-Free ETF program that includes 700+ ETFs from 40 fund families. This is a bold move as it includes both a lot of ETFs (quantity) but also the best ETFs (quality) from providers like Vanguard, iShares, WisdomTree, SPDR State Trust, and Schwab.

Firstrade already cut their standard trade commission to $2.95 per trade in 2017. The program is designed for long-term investors and the ETFs must be held for at least 30 days (if less than 30 days, the commission is the standard $2.95). Leveraged ETFs are not included. There is no need for any special enrollment for this ETF program.

Low-cost, broadly-diversified ETFS across major asset classes. Here is a partial list of ETFs that I noticed:

Vanguard (52 ETFs total)

  • Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO)
  • Vanguard Total International Stock ETF (VXUS)
  • Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG)
  • Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF (VBR)
  • Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF (VEA)
  • Vanguard FTSE All-Wld ex-US ETF (VEU)
  • Vanguard Global ex-US Real Est ETF (VNQI)
  • Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
  • Vanguard Short-Term Infl-Prot Secs ETF (VTIP)
  • Vanguard Total International Bond ETF (BNDX)

Notably absent: Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI)

iShares (173 ETFs total)

  • iShares Core S&P Total US Stock Mkt ETF (ITOT)
  • iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV)
  • iShares Core MSCI Total Intl Stk ETF (IXUS)
  • iShares Core US REIT ETF (USRT)
  • iShares Core MSCI EAFE ETF (IEFA)
  • iShares Core MSCI Emerging...

Southwest Airlines offers a unique feature called the Companion Pass, which lets you pick one person to fly with free when you book your own paid and/or award flights. If you either fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 Qualifying Points in a calendar year, and you’ll earn the Companion Pass for the remainder of that year plus the following full calendar year. For example, if you earned it in April 2018, you would have the benefit for the rest of 2018 and all of 2019. You can change your designated companion up to three times each calendar year.

Points earned from credit cards count, including sign-up bonuses. Currently, you can earn 110,000 points from just the top two offers. This may or may not last.

Chase Southwest Premier Business card offers 60,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $99 annual fee applies. 6,000 points at card anniversary (and you pay another annual fee). No foreign transaction fees.

Chase Southwest Plus card (Personal/Consumer) is offering 50,000 points after you...

2nd Quarter 2018 has begun! The credit cards below offer a hefty 5% cash back on categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but I also rack up over a hundred dollars in additional rewards per year without changing my spending habits. You can also buy gift cards with the 5% back now but spend the gift cards later.

None of these have an annual fee, so it costs me nothing to keep them around. New cardmembers may also get an upfront sign-up bonus.

Chase Freedom Visa – $150 Cash Bonus

From April 1st through June 30th, 2018 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • PayPal (includes eBay purchases and sending money to Friends & Family)
  • Grocery Stores (not including Target and Walmart)
  • All purchases made with Chase Pay digital wallet

Enroll each quarter at As long as you activate by the end of the quarter the rewards are retroactive. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Technically, you earn Ultimate Rewards points which can also be converted to frequent flier miles instead of cash. Currently, the Chase Freedom card...

In early April 2018, Delta disclosed that hackers may have compromised credit card information from ticket buyers on between September 26 and ending October 12, 2017. However, as with many of these “cyber incidents”, this may just be the tip of the iceberg. If you realized actual damages, call 1-855-815-0534 and an AllClearID investigator will help recover financial losses, restore your credit and make sure your identity is returned to its proper condition.

Delta has also paid AllClearID to provide 2 years of free credit repair and monitoring services starting April 7th, 2018 to anyone who thinks they have been impacted. Visit to get a unique code that you can redeem at AllClear Fraud Alerts with Credit Monitoring includes:

  • Protection at the three national credit bureaus: Starting with the ability to request, renew, and remove a 90-day fraud alert through TransUnion. TransUnion will relay the request to set the fraud alert to Experian and Equifax, and AllClear will send a reminder email when it is time to reset the fraud alert.
  • Credit Monitoring: To detect creditors that ignore the fraud alert law. Available with single or triple bureau option.
  • Annual TransUnion credit report and VantageScore 3.0: For added visibility into your credit file.
  • $1 Million in Identity Theft Insurance Coverage:...

Barclays has rolled out the Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard, a new hybrid travel/cashback rewards card with miles that can be redeemed for both cash or transferred to select mileage partners. The “miles” are now more flexible, similar to American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points. This card replaces their discontinued “Arrival Plus” card. Here are the highlights:

  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase. Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing.
  • No upfront sign-up bonus. Instead, each year, earn 25,000 loyalty bonus miles after spending $25,000 on purchases.
  • $100 Global Entry credit. Automatically credited for the cost of one Global Entry application fee every five years.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • International Chip and PIN compatible.
  • Redeem your miles for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise. Redeeming miles for travel statement credits offers the best value.
  • Transfer your miles to participating travel loyalty programs.
  • Complimentary online FICO® score access.
  • $150 annual fee.

Bonus details. Currently, there is no upfront sign-up bonus. Instead, they have spending bonuses – Spend $15,000 on purchases, get 15,000 miles. Spend an additional $10,000 on purchases, get an additional 10,000 miles, for a total of 25,000 miles after $25,000 in purchases. My guess is that they...

Savings I Bonds are a unique, low-risk investment backed by the US Treasury that pay out a variable interest rate linked to inflation. You could own them as a replacement for cash reserves (they are liquid after 12 months) or bonds in your portfolio.

New inflation numbers were just announced at, which allows us to make an early prediction of the May 2018 savings bond rates a couple of weeks before the official announcement on the 1st. This also allows the opportunity to know exactly what a April 2018 savings bond purchase will yield over the next 12 months, instead of just 6 months.

New inflation rate prediction. September 2017 CPI-U was 246.819. March 2018 was 249.554, for a semi-annual increase of 1.11%. Using the official formula, the variable component of interest rate for the next 6 month cycle will be 2.22%. You add the fixed and variable rates to get the total interest rate. If you have an older savings bond, your fixed rate may be very different than one from recent years.

Tips on purchase and redemption. You can’t redeem until 12 months have gone by, and any redemptions within 5 years incur an interest penalty of the last 3 months of interest. A known “trick” with I-Bonds is that if you buy...

Here is a First Quarter 2018 update for my primary investment portfolio. These are my real-world holdings, not a recommendation. It includes tax-deferred 401k/403b/IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts and excludes our primary home, cash reserves, and a few side investments. The goal of this portfolio is to create enough income to cover our regular household expenses. As of 2018, we have started the phase of “early retirement” where we are spending some of the dividends and interest from this portfolio.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my accounts, tracks my balances, calculates my performance, and gives me a rough asset allocation. I still use my custom Rebalancing Spreadsheet (free, instructions) because it tells me where and how much I need to direct new money to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here is my portfolio performance for the year and rough asset allocation (real estate is under alternatives), according to Personal Capital:

The importance of an emergency fund is often mentioned, but often the hardest thing is to get started. is a program run by the nonprofit EARN to help working families by encouraging savings. Their idea here, essentially, is to kickstart a savings habit by paying a cash incentive for saving a least $20 each month for 6 months.

How it works. First, make sure you are age 18+ and have a US bank or credit union account. Taken from their FAQ:

  1. Join now by clicking the “Join Now” button at the top right corner of this page.
  2. Enter your name and email address.
  3. Connect your bank account to SaverLife by entering your online credentials so we can track how much you save.
  4. Save at least $20 each month for 6 months in your own bank account. We don’t touch your money, so you’ll need to move money to your linked account yourself.
  5. Earn $10 in rewards each month that you save at least $20.
  6. After 6 months, you can claim your rewards ($60 max) by completing an exit survey and entering your bank’s routing number and your account number.

You can set a goal higher than $20 a month if you’d like, they just set the bar to be encouraging to as many people as possible to start saving. You’ll receive weekly savings... compiled an infographic about the income you need to afford the average home in every US state. The key is that “afford” means that the total cost of housing take up no more than 30% of gross income. The highest income required is in Hawaii ($153,520 for a house worth $610,000) and the lowest is in West Virginia (West Virginia: $38,320 for a house worth $149,500).

I suppose the next level analysis would be to divide by the actual median income in each state to measure relative affordability. The same job can pay different salaries in different areas, so it can still make sense to move to a place with higher incomes and high real estate prices.

50 State Infographic: How Much Income Do You Need to Afford the Average Home? from My Money Blog.

©, 2018.

Updated for 2018. This year, the deadline for federal tax filing is Tuesday, April 17th, 2018. If you file for an extension, you can extend the time allowed to file your return by six months to Monday, October 15, 2018. (It does not extend the time to pay any tax due.) There are many legitimate reasons to ask for such an extension, and the extension is granted automatically without needing to provide a specific reason.

Here’s how to e-File a official federal extension with the IRS in minutes for free (plus state extensions where available!). I have done a dry run with each option. Advantages of using e-File include:

  • You save the time and postage costs of paper mailings.
  • You can estimate your tax liability using online software and/or calculators.
  • You receive confirmation of receipt via e-mail or text, often within hours.
Option #1: TaxACT

This is how I usually do my extension. Tax prep software allows you to e-File your Federal and State extension (where applicable) for free through them. You don’t need to actually use them to file your taxes later, although you...

The numbers tell us that you probably have a 401k and you’re probably managing it yourself. Blooom (yes, with three Os) is a new company that focuses on providing advice for 401k, 403b, 457, and TSP accounts with modest balances, charging a flat $10 a month fee that includes the following services:

  • Fee analysis. Each mutual fund you own charges a “hidden” expense ratio that is quietly taken out of your balances daily. There may also be administrative fees charged by your provider (not to mention they may get a cut of those mutual fund expense ratios).
  • Asset allocation advice. They will provide a suggested stock to bond mix based on your retirement goals.
  • Rebalancing service. Blooom will rebalance your assets periodically back towards your target values.
  • Chat with Certified Financial Planners. You can e-mail or Live Chat with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) about all general financial matters, like planning for college or .
  • Fiduciary advice. Blooom is not affiliated with a bank or mutual fund company. They are a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), which means that they have a fiduciary duty to give advice in your best interest only.

Free 401k analysis screenshots. Blooom also offers a free upfront 401k analysis, so I figured that I would take advantage and see what...

Above is a historical chart of US household retirement assets that helps visualize the shift from mostly pensions to mostly a combination of defined contribution plans (401k, 403b, etc) and IRAs. Pension share has gone from nearly 80% of total assets in the 1980s to about 40% today. The blips upwards in 2001 and 2009 are more a function of stock market drops than anything else. I find it interesting that annuity use is not increasing at all, i.e. people are not creating more “DIY pensions”. Found via WSJ Daily Shot.

Below is a graphic of the percentage of households who have any retirement plan at all, grouped by income percentile. This means it counts any family with one person with any retirement plan of any type with any amount saved. Via Bloomberg article about state-mandated Roth IRAs.

My big-picture concern is – What happens when those who started jobs in the 1980s and 1990s retire in the 2030s and 2040s with no pensions? As shown above, the majority of the lowest-income workers have no retirement plan at all. If you include the highest-paid workers, the average 401(k) at retirement age is...