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How I earn credit card rewards responsibly

by Kristin Wong on May 18, 2014

The topic of maximizing credit-card rewards seems to be a popular one lately, especially in the world of personal finance blogging.

Many of us use our credit cards to pay our bills and monthly expenses. We earn cash back and rake in the rewards. Some of us have even mastered the envious ability to churn credit-card rewards to pay for awesome vacations.

Because personal finance readers are so financially savvy, we usually take for granted that, for many people, this is a dangerous habit. After all, the average US household credit card debt is upwards of $15,000.

If you do it right, earning credit card rewards is a great money hack. Last year, for example, I earned $450 in cash-back. But you should have control of your finances before trying any kind of hack like this.

Let’s say you have control of your financial situation and you’re ready to play this credit-card-rewards game. How do you play properly? And what precautions should you take?

Here’s what’s worked for me.
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Do loyal customers really get treated better?

by Kristin Wong on April 14, 2014

Whether it’s through rewards programs or special invites, companies often tout an appreciation for customer loyalty.

Yet, every few months, I find myself challenging my Internet service provider over a “promotional offer” that has expired, which means I’m paying more than new customers.

It’s become a pretty standard call, and with a little negotiating, I can usually get them to bring my bill back down. But recently, this made me wonder: Do loyal customers actually get treated better?

Customer loyalty undoubtedly has great value for companies. But what about consumers?

Do consumers actually benefit from staying with a company or institution for a long time? Is there any added benefit to your loyalty to a company, or will a business exert the same amount of effort on any customer?

I spoke to a few professionals and experts to find out.
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Boss ripping you off? Here’s what to do about it

by Kristin Wong on March 31, 2014

Earlier this year, beloved celebrity chef Mario Batali agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by his employees for $5.25 million. Their claim? Batali’s restaurants were allegedly confiscating tips from workers to increase profits.

Maybe it comes as a surprise to you; maybe it doesn’t. But wage theft is a pretty common occurrence in the United States. Kim Bobo is the author of Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid-And What We Can Do About It. She says the issue is a systematic problem that’s often assumed and accepted, despite the fact that it’s illegal.

“It’s a business model that is accepted. It’s almost like the Wild, Wild West in terms of wage theft right now. It’s so pervasive in this society,” Bobo says. “I think what happens is that so many of us think it’s just an individual problem. We don’t think about it as sort of a systemic problem.”

Bobo explains that the problem exists in a variety of industries, but especially construction, retail and restaurants. Essentially, low-wage workers are targeted most. In fact, about $2,600 a year is stolen annually per low-wage worker.

And it’s not limited to skimming tips.
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Student raises $1,000 to take burrito skydiving

by Kristin Wong on March 24, 2014

A design student from Chicago recently launched a fairly ridiculous Kickstarter campaign: He wanted to buy a burrito and graph its “deliciousness.”

With an original funding goal of $8, Noboru Bitoy has blown that target out of the water. As of this post, he’s raised a whopping $1,050, all based on this simple promise:

    “Just how delicious is a chicken burrito from my local Chipotle? I will find & display the answer in a creative presentation!”

Bitoy is hardly the source of “derp” in this story; it’s most definitely the 258 donors who have backed his campaign. Although, to be fair, those who donate $10 are given a sticker, and those who pledge $25 or more get a T-shirt, too.

If anything, Bitoy might just be a Kickstarter genius. He mentions that he’s in no way affiliated with Chipotle. However, after this, they may consider recruiting him for marketing.

The minimum pledge amount on Bitoy’s campaign is $1, and for that amount, he promised to graph the deliciousness of his burrito, and then send “a completed version of the Deliciousness Graphic in a .PDF file.”

Because accountability is important on Kickstater, Bitoy made sure to list the risks and challenges, which include an order mix-up and his own inability to successfully consume the burrito.

“I might drop the burrito on the floor,” he wrote.
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Feel like it’s time to intervene in a friend’s finances? Read this first

by Kristin Wong on February 24, 2014

Intervening in a friends money mistakes doesn't always make senseSometimes, it’s hard not to be a money know-it-all. You witness a friend making terrible money decisions, and you just want to grab them by the collar and say, Dude. You’re doing it all wrong!

Talking about money isn’t easy. It’s also not easy to see a friend become overwhelmed by their finances because of bad money decisions.

So how do you know when it’s time to intervene with a friend’s money mistakes? Is a “money intervention” ever a good idea?

Syble Solomon is an expert in talking to people about money. That’s what she does for a living as the Founder and President of LifeWise Strategies and creator of Money Habitudes.

“Before offering anyone advice, ask yourself a few questions,” Solomon says.
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Can saving cyclically help you put away more?

by Kristin Wong on February 17, 2014

Cylical saving may trump the way we normally save?

You probably have lofty goals and high hopes for your financial future.

Forget about them.

New research suggests that, when it comes to saving, a cyclical mindset trumps linear, goal-oriented thinking. People tend to save more money when they think about the present instead of the future, researchers found.
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5 Chinese New Year traditions for attracting wealth

by Kristin Wong on February 01, 2014

Many Chinese New Year traditions have a financial bent

Sun nin fai lok! 

On Friday, China rang in the New Year. It’s officially the Year of the Horse.

Across many cultures, a new year represents the possibility of building wealth, health and prosperity. While the Western world makes New Year’s resolutions, Eastern tradition is focused on what most Westerners would call, well, crazy superstition.
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Your electric bill: so much Billshit, so little time

by Kristin Wong on January 27, 2014

Your utility bill: so much Billshit, so little timeSince October, I’ve spent only about $25 a month on electricity. Impressive, eh?

Well, maybe I shouldn’t toot my own horn quite so loudly. Because last summer, I spent an average of $130 a month on electricity. Since then I’ve made an effort to reduce my energy usage, and it looks like it paid off. As you can see from the screenshot below, my total energy bill for October-December was $49.32. That’s for two months, and that’s the lowest my electric bill has been. Ever.

In this edition of Billshit, I decided to inspect my energy bill to learn more about each charge and see if I could cut it down even more. Let’s check it out.
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