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Personal Finance Blogs vs. Miles and Points Hobby

As I’ve said many times before, the world of personal finance and this hobby are closely intertwined. It’s a natural progression, really. Someone is responsible with money, so they look to optimize their savings and investment strategy. Before long, they come across information on credit cards, touting accumulating rewards at a greatly reduced cost, err… for free. And the rest is history.

Why I (mostly) stopped reading personal finance blogs

While there are some unique voices in the community, they all essentially say the same thing. Oh sure, they invent fancy names to present the information as something original. It’s usually not. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… and you know the rest.

Personal finance content boils down to these ten nuggets of wisdom:

1) Stay out of debt (mortgage is OK).

2) Live below your means.

3) Set up an emergency fund. Start with $1,000 and work your way up to 6 months’ worth of living expenses. Make sure to keep it in  a CD or other FDIC-insured account.

4) Get life, health and long-term disability insurance. The last one is especially important for one-income families.

5) Save at least 10% of your salary.

6) Maximize your retirement contributions (if you can). At the very least, contribute enough to get a company’s match on your 401(k)

7) After you get your match, invest in a mutual fund IRA managed by Vanguard. (60/40 split of stocks and bonds is often recommended, increase stocks percentage if you are young.)

8) Once you are on the right track, you can start enjoying things like eating out and travel. But not before!

9) Wasting money on sports cars is dumb. If you need a family vehicle, always buy used (a minivan, naturally).

10) Buy my course  where I can rehash the above information  over a period of three hours.

Boom, I just saved you hours of reading. To be clear, I’m not saying there is no need for finance blogs. I mean, look at the consumerism culture we have in this country! People are obsessed with buying more and more stuff on credit and don’t worry about long-term damage it does to their finances.

Eventually, many find themselves in a hole and start looking for a way out. That’s where personal finance blogs come in. They provide motivation, expertise and tools needed to achieve the goal of debt-free living. There is clearly a demand for this type of information. But you can only skin a cat in so many ways.

The latest craze is FIRE blogs (financial independence/retire early). Mr. Money Mustache is probably the most well-known website in this niche. Warning! The author uses profane language quite often, which is why I reluctantly gave up on it a few years ago. And no, he doesn’t really care. MMM is an incredibly gifted blogger with original thinking and unique ideas. But I believe even he said most of what he wanted to say at this point.

While I admire FIRE crowd for their tenacity, I always wonder if they have a long-term plan on what they really want to do with their time. Retiring at 40 is great, but then what? Industrious person doesn’t just change overnight. Sure, many plan to travel and all that good stuff rather than sit in a rocker all day long.

But the thing is, most FIRE people end up starting a hustle of some sort after they officially “retire.” Type A personality (which most FIRE folks possess) needs a purpose. Heck, Mr. Money Mustache got into blogging, so clearly something was missing. And blogging regularly is no hobby, it is a business. So, why not just do what you love to begin with? Maybe start a business you enjoy and outsource most of the mundane tasks once you are in great shape financially?

Obsession with getting out of debt can equal depression 

Most finance bloggers acknowledge miles and points hobby, some even participate in it. But the mentality is that ALL travel should be put on hold untill you get out of debt. Here is where I disagree. Don’t get me wrong, flying to Maldives should not even be on your radar. But using IHG PointBreaks promo to put together a cheap vacation or driving somewhere for a weekend can be wonderful for your psyche.

Taking the kids to the beach during one of our local IHG PointBreaks getaways

Sure, there will probably be dining costs (buy some discounted gift cards ahead of time) and few other expenses. But if this trip can pick you up emotionally, then it’s not really that bad, is it? Of course, I’m talking about doing something reasonable cost-wise. Yes, that credit card debt will take a bit longer to pay off as a result. But as long as you are on the right track, I think it’s OK.

Of course, do what works  for you. I’m NOT a financial expert by any means, and still search for the right savings/fun balance myself.

Edit: I’m not necessarily referring to applying for new credit cards when you are already in debt. Sometimes buying points at a deeply discounted price can actually make sense. See comments section for more on this topic.

We got a loan for a sports car

It wasn’t  my idea (I have an old minivan), but it’s what my husband wanted. He loves driving his Mustang and since he makes most of the money in the house, pitching a fit wouldn’t be fair. Contrary to “short-term adrenaline rush” argument, he still gets giddy about his new toy a year later.

 Before we had kids, we drove junkers. We even called one of our cars Frankenstein. It was a tiny 1991 Toyota Corolla, and my large husband barely fit in the front seat. I had  a 1992 Dodge Shadow that leaked oil and was even flooded at one point.

But we made do, mostly because I was saving money so I could one day be a stay-at-home-mom. I was laser-focused, putting away $10,000 out of our combined $40,000 salary each year. With that type of money, FIRE was not really an option, so we set a more realistic goal. We always paid cash for things (after charging them on a credit card first) and hardly ever bought anything new.

But my husband has always  wanted a brand new Ford Mustang, so we finally got one. Not a base model either, but one with a special expensive package. I actually insisted on it because he will be driving the car for at least 10 years, so may as well get what he really wants. To be clear, we are paying 0% interest on it, and his job seems fairly secure. Is there a guarantee it will stay that way in the future? Well, no. Is there guarantee with anything in life?

Of course, I’m not suggesting you should take out a loan on a sports car! Male readers, don’t use me as an example to convince your wife, OK?

The best of both worlds

Like it or not, miles and points hobby is about spending, even splurging in many cases. It’s like Ford Mustang, only cheaper. Let’s face it, we don’t really have to travel, just like nobody needs a sports car.

Sure, you are usually saving a huge percentage off retail cost, but so what? If you wouldn’t have otherwise taken that trip, it doesn’t really matter.

It is extremely easy to get caught up in the fallacy of “free travel.” I’ve been there too, friends, but not anymore. These days I look at opportunity cost as well as nuisance factor when chasing after any  credit card or promotion. If a deal requires a sizable upfront cost or effort, I will usually pass on it.

But it would be unfair not to acknowledge all the wonderful things made possible with the help of points. Like our upcoming trip to South Pacific or getting a presidential suite at a  Hyatt resort via status match. None of it would materialize if it wasn’t for this hobby. If I only focused on the bottom line and putting as much as possible into retirements accounts, we would be sitting at home eating ramen noddles. What’s the fun in that?

That said, ignoring sound financial advice would be a mistake. Taking a vacation every month is an overkill. It’s fun, sure, but what is the long-term price? Would putting money in an IRA instead (while getting a 10% Saver’s credit) be a wiser course of action? I think for middle-class families the answer is Yes.

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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15 thoughts on “Personal Finance Blogs vs. Miles and Points Hobby

  1. I get your point, but I would say that if people are carrying credit card debt,they need to pay that off before doing the points hobby. So a weekend getaway, sure, but carrying debt in the hobby isn’t a good deal.

    The FIRE folks are kind of nuts, but when they point to increasing your income, that is the quickest way to make progress. People can lower their expenses to a point and it is finite. Income has more potential for growth.

    • @Kacie Thanks for chiming in! I figured that would be a controversial point, and I get what you are saying. To clarify, I wasn’t referring to necessarily applying for new credit cards. IHG points can be purchased for less than 0.6 cents apiece during frequent sales. So, even paying 5,000 Points per night would be extremely cheap. Many of those hotels offer free breakfast, which would make it an even better deal. I strongly belive that cutting off ALL fun is a mistake when you are tackling debt. There should be some room for little splurges now and again. Nothing crazy, of course. If you don’t like to travel, going out to eat once a month would be reasonable. But yeah, applying for new credit cards is probably not wise.
      I do agree with you on FIRE philosophy having a legitimate point. Increasing your income substantially will boost your savings rate more than coupons or avoiding new purchases ever could. I’m not knocking their goals, for sure. I do think people tend to get obsessed about early retirement to the point that they put their life on hold in the meantime. Things may work out according to the plan, but they may not. I don’t belive in putting travel on hold, but that’s just me.

      • I agree, people need to still have some fun money when digging out of debt. Helps people make it to the end without being miserable.

        In that case, perhaps buying cheap points or finding some way to have a cheaper getaway does make sense.

        I’d argue that maybe switching to a 0% or lower fee card (assuming the transfer fee was reasonable) or paying off cards one by one would be the best credit card strategy for that person. And, having a plan (no matter the timetable) of eliminating credit card debt for good. Otherwise, people will just tread water and not make financial progress.

        Heck, I even took out a 0% credit card for the sole purpose of charging my honeymoon to it! It was a “now or never” sorta deal, and I don’t regret it at all. We paid it off before interest came due, paid off the rest of our credit cards, and never carried a balance again.

        Now, we’re rich.

        /snort

    • @Kacie Haha! Yes, I messed up on the address of Get Rich Slowly blog. Will edit the comment.
      Yes, totally agree on trying to qualify for 0% card if at all possible. Not everyone will be able to, but that’s a no-brainer if you are currently paying high credit card interest rate. I didn’t want to get too specific, because the post isn’t about that. I guess my point was, don’t forget to have a little bit of fun while digging yourself out of debt. But getting rid of debt should be a priority, no question about it.

  2. excellent article. Good financial management is good financial management. Watch the nickels and the dollars will take care of themselves. Also giving to worthy causes part of good money management. Be part of something bigger than yourself. Are there any other financial bloggers you go to from time to time to see if they have any new spins on old takes?

    • @Harv Thank you! I agree with you on the importance of giving to worthy causes. I didn’t really want to mention it in the article because I was afraid it would sound kind of preachy. Plus, not everyone can afford it and I don’t want to guilt people. But yes, absolutely, money can be a wonderful tool to help those less fortunate. Miles and points, too, in fact! Also, I hope I didn’t sound like I have it all figured out. I don’t. I just know that finance world is not always black and white. Or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize that stupid sports car! LOL
      As far as finance blogs go, I read http://www.getrichslowly.org from time to time. I like the style of JD Roth, the original founder, who is now back at the helm.
      I should also clarify, there are some sites that are more broadly focused. As in, they cover travel, finance and other stuff. Those are usually more interesting. But pure finance blogs just don’t appeal to me that much anymore. It doesn’t mean they are not important, of course, I just prefer the miles and travel angle. That’s my true passion, hence, this blog.

  3. Getting your finances in order before starting this hobby is a must. I came across a popular financial book a few years back, and it helped me re-prioritize a few things, but I didn’t agree with all of his comments (especially that credit cards are bad — still makes me laugh).

    Travel and experiences are an absolute must for my family; I value them more than material things. Even in this hobby, travel isn’t cheap (we average about $300 – $400 per day in food, souvenirs, excursions/tickets, and transportation for all 4 of us). I’m getting a hefty bump in pay next year, and what am I doing with that extra $$$? It’s going into retirement, investments, home maintenance, and travel.

    • @ Stephanie I’m betting my future stash of Jet Blue points that you are referring to Dave Ramsey! I think his advice is good for those who are looking to get themselves out of debt. I don’t agree with many of his points, but I also realize that his approach works for a lot of people. And you can’t argue with success.
      I totally agree that those who are in credit card debt should get a handle on it before diving into miles and points hobby. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that someone should focus on travel when they are paying 12% interest. However, there are some decent cash back offers that come with 0% interest. Those could make sense. It just depends on one’s circumstances. You have to change your whole outlook on money, otherwise, you will keep sliding into the same pattern after paying off your debt.

  4. This is so true! I used to be OBSESSED with finance blogs and sorting out my retirement (I actually helped a friend who literally had 12 ccs maxed out get out of debt + helped my hubby pay off his motorcycle loan when we first started dating… I’m financially nosy like that! I think I asked for his credit score after we’ve been dating for a month or so.) I felt really good about taking charge and following all the finance blogs’ advices (like the ones you listed!) until my mom fell ill and my parents lost their business and life savings… and I became the financial head of household. None of the financial blogs I read really applied to me anymore so I stopped reading… but then found points/miles! I started using points and miles to slowly regain some breathing room in my life and give myself permission to explore/travel more and ultimately found what I am incredibly passionate about (traveling!). Without points/miles, I would never felt comfortable spending money on travel as I did/do because I’m always so aware that I have a family that depends on me to pay the bills.

    • @ Army @ ClimberMonkeysAbroad First of all, thanks for sharing your story. I can’t even imagine the stress of having to take care of your parents financially, on top of your own expenses. Our health can deteriorate so quickly, and turn our life upside down. It’s something we take for granted until it’s no longer there. Thankfully, I haven’t had a major health crisis yet, but have seen friends and loved ones go through it. It’s heartbreaking.
      I love what you said at the end of the comment: “Without points/miles, I would never felt comfortable spending money on travel as I did/do because I’m always so aware that I have a family that depends on me to pay the bills.”
      That’s the beauty of this hobby, it gives us permission to travel. Some of us are too frugal (broke) to do it otherwise.

    • @Lindy Haha! Well, my summary was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Obviously, there is more to personal finance blogs than what I just listed. Some are more advanced, focusing on specific investments. Plus, few bloggers also happen to be gifted writers with a story to tell.
      I don’t have anything against finance blogs. Like I said, they serve a purpose. I just feel like most of the information you read is same old, same old. Then again, it can be said about miles and points blogs, too.

  5. Great post! I agree with every word. I think once you are out of the over-spending and over-consuming habit (but not sooner), you can enjoy more travel, and you should do more of it when you are still relatively young and healthy.

    That being said credit card debt is BAD so getting out of it is priority one, and one should only do very “point-break” like modest travel until it is reduced to zero.

    • @Uri Thanks for stopping by! I agree, getting a handle on your spending habits is a priority. To me, credit card debt is a symptom. Unless you change your whole mindset and approach to money, you will get back into financial hole at some point in the future.
      I also absolutely agree that one should only do modest type of travel until the debt is paid off. I would go as far as say “dirt cheap”, and IHG PointBreaks program certainly falls in that category. There should be no flying anywhere, unless it is to see your family. Speaking of, this is another instance where I would make an exception. If you have an elderly parent in another state, it’s important to make sure that the kids get to see them now and again. Yes, paying off debt is super important, but so is being with family.

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