Review: Amazon Prime Now

Another service I tried recently is Amazon Prime Now.  In the company’s own description on what is Amazon PrimAmazon Prime Nowe Now.

“Skip the trip and shop for tens of thousands of daily essentials and gift items through the Amazon Prime Now app. Two-hour delivery is FREE and one-hour delivery is available in most areas for just $7.99. Prime Now is available from early morning to late night, seven days a week.”

Similar to Google Express, it’s trying to solve the last minute and last mile problem of online shopping.  Overall, I was pleasure with my first experience with Prime Now and would use them again.   Continue reading

Review: Frontier Airline


Over the holiday break, we flew from San Fransciso to Denver for a week long ski trip and used Frontier airline for the first time.

Overall verdict:

Do not recommend unless the airfare is significantly below (at least $100 each way lower) major airlines .  Many hidden fees and bare bone service. Continue reading

How did I do against the goals I set out in 2014?

At the beginning of 2014, I post my financial goals for the next few years, now that it’s has been two years, it’s a good time to check in and see how I did again these goals

sold a houseI. Real Estate
Monitor residential investment property

 Towards the end of last year, I’ve narrowed my focus to two areas.  For area I, I’ve kicked this off in the new year by interviewing several real state agents.  One of them is looking promising, too early to judge at this point.  Let’s see how she turns out.    For area II, I have some more work to do.  
For area I, I put in two offers, unfortunately with the fast rising real estate market in the last couple of years.  I was out bid both times.  🙁
For area II, i purchases two condos in the past two years.  The returns are slightly less than my expectation, but given the current market, they are both good buys.  And both properties has appreciated about 10-15% since my purchase.  Not bad.

Research commercial investment property

 I don’t know much about commercial real estate, need to do some research and learning. 
I didn’t have much time to research on commercial properties, remains as a to do.

negotiate real estate commissionII. Major Purchases

 I can’t really think of any big-ticket item we need to purchase, though I doubt I will stay true to it.  For now, none planned.
We ended up purchasing a timeshare from Hilton, not really an investment, it’s a splurge.  With two young kids, we like to stay at condo with full kitchen and nice amenities, Hilton Grand Vacations was a good option for us.  If readers are interested, I can do a post on this.

III. Investment (stocks, mutual funds etc.)

 With the stock market returning a whopping 30% last year, I do expect the market to revert to its means and pull back in the coming years.  As such, I like to 1) Rebalance portfolio to take a more conservative allocation 2) Monitor the market daily and be ready to liquidate as needed.

On rebalance portfolio

 As of now, I have most of my liquid asset sitting in stock, definitely too high of a concentration.  I plan to buy 10-20% bond to achieve a more balanced portfolio.  I also hold too many different kind of mutual fund, many of them overlapping, I need to do some rationalization there.
I did do quite a bit of consolidation of my accounts, and clean up my mutual fund holding quite a bit.

Better cash management

capital-one-360I don’t have much cash reserve right now and need to set aside a rainy day fund.  Looking at the pathetic interest rate that is offered by the banks right now, I will use capital360 (formally ING direct) for cash.  It has consistently offered rate on the high-end, right now at 0.75%.  I have been using them for a number of years, very easy to use.  

Check on this one.

Regular monitoring of stock market

 While the gains take many years to build up, market correction can wipe out many years of gain in just a few month.  I looked at my investment history over the past 15+ years, the 2000 an 2008 correction pretty much wipe all gains in the preceding year.  The easiest way I found to monitor is through my iPhone, I mostly monitor the stock market index and a few selected stock I hold.  Each day, I spent two minutes looking at it and the related news.  The apps i use are:  stocks and yahoo finance. 
My investment philosophy has changed a bit since then.  I subscribe to John Bogel‘s investment strategy.  Buy index funds and hold, and leave it alone.

Invest in 529 plan for kids

Utah Education Savings Plan (UESP)
I signed up for a 529 account when my son was born and put side some money for him, but haven’t done that for my daughter.  I use the highly rated UESP (Utah Educational Saving Plan), the return has been very good (actually better than my own stock portfolio) and I don’t have to do anything.
Right on track with this, each kid has their own account.  We need to put in some additional money to meet the rising cost of tuition.

IV. Financial Protection

Setup Living Trust (In progress)

Glad to report, it’s all done.  I’ll write a separate post on this subject.  It’s not so bad, not as expensive as I had thought, and didn’t take as long as i thought.

How did I do again the big picture? 

Before I get into the specific goals, let me talk about what’s my ultimate objective.  Ultimately for me, it’s going to sound like a cliche, it’s about having the financial freedom.  For me, the goal I like to achieve is that in 4 years, I want to be in a state that I have to work to maintain our current lifestyle.  By then, my kids will be older and I like to be more involved in their schools and daily lives.  I like to reach a point where I don’t have to work.  Knowing me, I will probably continue to work, at least in some part-time capacity.  However, knowing that I don’t have a work would make all the difference. 
We are doing pretty well on this front.  I initially set a dollar target for ourselves which we will achieve sometime next year.  So in that sense we are ahead of schedule.  However, as I spend more time on this subject, I adjust the dollar figure to be higher, and also added a passive income criteria to go along with the dollar figure.  With the revised goal, i think it’ll take about 4 more years to reach the new goal, most on that later.
In closing, I’m quite happy with our progress towards financial freedom.  Keeping this blog up has been a good reminder of how I’m in the quest for financial freedom.

Kids are expensive (extra-curricular activities costs)

kids are expensive

kids are expensive

It’s the end of the year, I’m doing a year-end summary of our household finances.   One category that stood out is extra-curricular activities for kids.  We have two kids (9 and 5), both are in public school, so we are not paying private tuition.  As both my husband and I work, they also attend after school daily.  Similar to other kids their age, they are enrolled in a few extra-curricular classes.

I was surprised when I tallied up all the activities and their cost, while they are mostly are group classes, the cost does add up quickly.  The grand total for two kids comes out to be $1830 a month.

Detail break down

Son (9 year) Daughter (5 year old)
Afterschool care $420/month Afterschool care $420/month
Transportation to afterschool $120/month Transportation to afterschool $120/month
Piano: $41/week per 30 minutes private lesson $180/month Piano:  $30/week per 55 minutes group lesson $135/month
Group sports $80/month Gymnastics (group lesson): $80/month
Swimming (semi-private):  $40/week per 30 minutes  $180/month Art (group lesson) $95/month
 Total for son:   $980/month Total for daughter: $850/month
Grand total for two kids:  $1830/month
This just goes to show kids are expensive and bayarea is an expensive area.  I know friends of ours live elsewhere in the country pay far less for their lessons.

Car buying: To hybrid or not to hybrid

hybrid carTo Hybrid or Not to Hybrid, that is the question.

A couple of years ago when I shopping for a new car, this is one of the decision I needed to make.  I was considering a Lexus and the hybrid version costed about $3000 more, in this post, I will outline what thought process to decide whether to hybrid or not.  I had a Toyota Prius before that was quite happy with the hybrid model, particularly for the fact I didn’t have a modify my behavior.  Lexus didn’t have a plug hybrid version, so I didn’t consider that option.   Continue reading

Review: Getting a HELOC from DCU

DCU HELOC BankingWe have built some equity in our house thanks to the housing appreciation in the bay area.   I decided to open up a HELOC (home equity line of credit) to have easy access to the equity.  In this post, I’ll talk about why I decided to get a HELOC, how to select the lender/bank process, and subsequent application the process, and finally our experience with using it.   Continue reading

Review: Trying out Curbside Service @ Target

Shop_curbsideWhen I was in Target a couple of weekends ago, I saw an Ad for Curbside service and they were offering $10 off $20 purchase for new customers.

You guys know me, something could save me time, and the initial purchase is half off, why not give it a try?
Continue reading

Save on tax: After Tax 401K with Roth IRA Conversion

My company has recently started to offer after tax 401k option.  As I have been looking for all ways to reduce taxes, I did quite a bit of research on this topic and want to share my findings.   Let me start with the bottom line first, “For high income individual/families, this is an awesome to increase your contribution in Roth IRA.”  I won’t cover the virtues of Roth IRA here, there are ample materials on this topic already.   Continue reading

2014: Review of Major Financial Decisions

On the last day of 2014, I thought this would be a good time review the major financial decisions and accomplishments for 2014, and see how many of the 2014 goals we were able to hit.
As with the 2013 review, I have broken the post into four major categories,
  • Stock Investment – stocks, mutual funds, stock options, restricted stock units, etc.
  • Financial Protection – life insurance, living trust
  • Real estate – deal with all things related to our primary residence, investment properties etc.
  • Major purchase – big ticket items

For each item, I try to give an objective rating on how we did in standard letter grade scale.    For this year, the focus was on investment and financial protection, so we will start with these.

Continue reading

Vacation bargain hassle free 1: Finding rental car bargains

Happy holidays! After a long hiatus from blog, I’m back. The last few months have been a little crazy. Now I’m in sunny Orlando enjoying a much deserved vacation with family.

This will be a series of posts on how to travel in style and luxury without spending a ton of money or time. I follow some of the travel with points blog, I admire the length they would go to get the bargains. You guys know I’m all about finding good bargains without spending a ton of time. Frankly I don’t have the time or energy, what I do is quick and easy, good return for the amount of time I spend. Continue reading