Your Free Shit Can Get You Even More Free Shit

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The breakup hit me hard.

It was August 31, and I was suddenly single again. To make matters worse, there was still so much to sort out. She’d have to change her address, and I had to cancel the flight we’d booked to Ottawa to meet her family. I was a fucking mess. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days, and I was trying not to lose it on the phone with RBC Rewards. I felt like I was either going to cry or puke. Puke, probably. I felt too numb to cry. The automated recordings ended and an actual person picked up the phone.

“Hi, you’ve reached RBC Rewards. This is __________. How can I help you?”

“Uh, hi. My girlfriend and I broke up, and I need to cancel our flight to Ottawa.”

“Well, I can certainly help you with that, sir. I’ll just have to ask you some security questions…”

I was trying REALLY hard not to puke. It was sad that I was only cancelling my ticket. My ex was still going to see her family on Christmas because I couldn’t take that from her. That’d make me a monster. Splitting up the tickets felt so fucking final though. I had to snap back to reality.

“… So, as a non-refundable ticket, we can’t credit you back with the Avion points you used, but we CAN give you a WestJet credit for $818.”

“Uh, sure. That sounds good.”

Wait, what? That seemed like a pretty wicked deal. I’d only used 35,000 Avion points to pay for that ticket, but I also knew how far WestJet dollars could go. I hung up and decided to do some research.

For non-RBC users, a typical RBC Avion card gives you 1 Avion point for every $1 you spend. There’s an annual fee of $120 for the regular one, and a discounted annual fee of $50 for the business one. I hold both, so I pay $170/year. Both cards had a welcome bonus. My personal Avion gave me 15,000 points and my business Avion gave me 20,000. My flight to Ottawa and back was already “free”. Now, it’s worth $818 WestJet dollars? I clicked over to their website. Within minutes, I found what I was looking for: a flight to Cancun and back for less than $500.

Our friend K is a world traveller. Just the other night, he was telling us about Mérida and nearby Progreso, where his family owns a beach house. Drunkenly, we agreed and marked off our calendars. It was decided. We go to Mexico and explore Yucatán in March. Suddenly, for the first time in two weeks, I felt okay again. Everything was going to be fine!

Yeah, I know there are still gonna be taxes on my flight. I figure I’ll probably end up using $700 of my WestJet credit. Still, to get to Mexico on Avion points alone would’ve actually been 45,000 points! I got it for 35,000 points AND I got an extra $100+ in WestJet credit. I’ll most likely use it to help K pay for his ticket. I think of it as investing in a kickass tour guide.

Don’t just look at the simplest option in front of you. In money, banking and reward points, there are often ways to play the system to get more of what you want. What happened with WestJet was a happy accident. Imagine what you could get away with if you did some proper research!

Obviously, get what you can, but draw the line the moment your requests start to affect actual people. Don’t hassle customer service reps or be an asshole. They’re not paid enough to deal with our bullshit. Just find tiny loopholes, and keep more cash in your pocket. You could save thousands.

I guess I’m going to Mexico!

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A Story of Great Interest

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I owe a stupid amount of money. We’ve talked about this before and things are even more grim now, as I still appear to be spending more than I’m earning. There are a few reasons for this – namely that I keep my business finances entirely separate from my personal finances, and though I’m busier than ever, not a lot of money from my business makes it into my personal chequing account since I reinvest it in advertising. For instance, I’m currently producing my own video ad and that’s running up quite the tab. C’est la vie.

The point is I’m $22,000 in the hole because I’m the Dumb Ben, but this turned into a great opportunity to research interest rates and get debt savvy. I’d also like to point out my $22,000-in-debt is a little different than $22,000-in-debt for someone who still has Rent. I pay something in the neighbourhood of $100 per month as “rent” on my Debt. I’m pretty okay with that, but obviously, if you’re still paying Vancouverite prices on Rent, $22,000-in-debt is a bit of an emergency. Get on that. As an aside, I know I’m a bit of a financial shitshow. For one, if I don’t have Rent, why am I so poor with money management that I have Debt? I’m a mess. Anyway.

There’s always room for improvement in managing your interest rates. I’m sure many of you reading this carry some sort of balance on a 19.99% credit card. This is a huge no-no. Every $1,000 you have to pay interest on costs you $200/year with no added benefit. There are credit lines for a reason, and as you’ll soon see, even other credit cards can help you manage your Debt.

According to my bank, I owe $7,023.58. There’s $5,000 on a 9.68% credit line, $35.75 on a 7.69% RBC RateAdvantage Visa, and $1,987.83 on a 19.99% Visa Infinite Avion. Obviously, I’ll be moving my Avion debt to my super awesome RateAdvantage – get this! – and I’ll be popping into my bank this week to see if I can do the same for my credit line. If that all goes according to plan, my monthly interest payments are $45. Not bad at all for owing $7,000. Still carrying most of your Debt on a 19.99% credit card? Apply for a credit line. Ask about their low interest credit cards and avoid the ones with high annual fees. You could find something as low as my 7.69% RateAdvantage Visa. You won’t know unless you try. (Annual fee: $39.)

So what about the other debt? I also owe $15,511.47 at 5% interest, which hits me for $64.63 every month. Where’d I get such an awesome interest rate, you ask? I’ll tell you: my brother. Somehow, at 22, he has more money than I do. He’s got $50,000 in investments, but they’re silly investments so I’m trying to help him out. Instead of the 1.x% bond he’s currently investing in, which doesn’t even keep up with Canada’s 2% inflation, I offered him 5% with the condition that I pay it all off by July 22, 2018 – my 30th birthday. If I’m short and desperate, I’ll pull from my RRSP. I have $13,000+ in there, and I know that’s not a lot, but I never plan to Retire. I think I’m covered.

In managing your Debt, you have more resources than you realize. There are credit lines, low interest credit cards, even family members who’d love to help you out. The best part about utilizing people like your parents or siblings is it keeps your money in the family. Just make sure you actually pay people back. Done carelessly, this is the kind of shit that can tear a family apart. Not everyone is as awesome as my brother.

Total monthly damage for borrowing $22,535.05: $109.64. I’m not proud of that number, but let’s see what it would be if I were a total idiot borrowing at 19.99%: monthly payments of $375.40. I save $3,189.12/year just by doing a little research and shuffling some debt around creatively.

Is $109.64/month worth it to borrow that amount? I’m actually a Yes on this. Borrowing that money allowed me to buy the Canon 1D X I run my business on. Borrowing that money allowed me to strengthen my relationships and make new ones. Borrowing that money allowed me to have a shitload of fun. There’s no doubt I’ll pay it back before I turn 30 either. I just need to put $800+ toward it every month and now that I know it’s a goal, I’ll do my best not to backslide.

I really picked a shitty time to start this blog though, eh? Sure, let’s talk about saving money during my three slowest and spendiest months of the year! Jesus Christ.

WHY ARE YOU EVEN TAKING ADVICE FROM ME.

Here’s $210 of Free Groceries!

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Yep, just free goddamn groceries. There’s a catch, of course. You need to collect Air Miles and shop at Safeway, and you need to hack the American Express Air Miles Platinum credit card first. More details below.

Before we get started, you should know Air Miles has never been a great rewards program. It’s free, I guess, but it’s still shit. Using Safeway as an example, you only get 1 reward mile for every $20 you spend. The only way people accumulate a meaningful miles total at all is by hunting for items that give you “bonus miles”, which I don’t recommend you do. To make matters worse, it takes 7,500 miles just to fly to Europe. Earning miles the usual way means you’d have to spend $150,000 just for that flight. Air Miles are dumb, and you should know that going in. Don’t even get me started on how miles are gonna start expiring soon. Seriously.

The Air Miles program’s only saving grace is you can now log in and change your miles type from Dream Miles to Cash Miles. Instead of earning towards a flight you’ll likely never take, you can now trade 95 Cash Miles for $10 off your Safeway grocery bill. This is where it gets juicy.

First off, you CANNOT turn existing Dream Miles into Cash Miles. This is super sneaky, especially when Dream Miles is the default setting. What you need to do is log into the Air Miles website, click on “Get Miles”, then click “Set your preference”. Slide the bar over until it reads “100% AIR MILES Cash”, then click “Set my preference”. It’ll take a day or two to switch your account over, but you’re done now. You’re now earning Cash Miles.

Still want that $210 in free groceries? You’ll need to sign up for that American Express. Here’s the link again. As you can see, there’s no annual fee for the first year and it’s $65/year after that. That’s okay, we won’t be paying. You’ll also notice you get 2,000 reward miles as long as you charge $500 to the card within the first three months of membership. See where I’m going with this? Sign up, link your Air Miles account to it after you’ve switched over to Cash Miles, collect your 2,000 Cash Miles which equals $210 of Safeway groceries, and cancel the card before you have to pay an annual fee. Easy peasy. (A word of caution: This may slightly impact your credit score.)

The crazy thing is there’s actually loads of free shit out there just like this. Here’s an even better article about credit card hacking from MMM. I juggle credit card rewards all the time and just saved up enough Avion points for a flight to Spain. Cost: $170 in annual fees.

Credit cards can be great if you know how to use them. As long as you keep up with your bills, you’re golden. And apparently, if you know how to hack them, they can be a nonstop fountain of free shit.

One final note: In researching for this article, this is only how I think this deal works. I spent an hour on the phone with them checking my facts, but there’s always the element of human error. Read the fine print before signing anything, and please don’t sue me if something goes wrong. Let us know how it goes in the comments.

Editor’s note: Ben did not receive any payment for recommending these products.