How to use frequent flyer miles to get basically free magazine subscriptions

Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Medium)

My Notorious RBG Time cover, well worth 500 miles on some random airline I never use.

For those of you who don’t travel frequently or use a specific airline regularly, you might have some frequent flyer accounts with a few hundred or thousand miles on them. I had a couple accounts with this since I tend to fly on a few specific routes/airlines.

A few hundred frequent flier miles are often too low a number to get any free flights or upgrades, not worth any substantial value to try and transfer to someone else to buy/exchange and if you don’t have regular activity with the airline for over a year or two, the miles will often expire and you get nothing — and often no warning. (Delta is the exception currently, where they don’t expire.)

One solution to get *some* sort of value out of these lonely and small amounts of miles is to cash them in on, where you can exchange a few hundred miles (or sometimes a thousand for weekly publications) to get basically free newspaper or magazine subscriptions using something you’d lose anyway. By posting the activity in your frequent flyer account, you can keep it active and not lose everything completely and you get a free subscription in return.

I’m not a print guy, at all… even though I worked for print organizations expediting their shift to go digital, I try to do everything digitally and inexpensively/freely/quick/easily/no subscriptions, but this program gives me a chance to have 2-3 new publications a year on different topics I might not come across in my daily, focused reading and consume them for when I have down time to relax on the porch. They’re also good coffee table or bathroom basket material for the house, and sometimes you’ll find some gems of information, photos and collectible covers.

I’m currently subscribed to Outside, Fortune and Time — and the 500-some miles spent on Time was worth it to get this Notorious RBG cover (pictured). In the Winter, I will probably add Inc. and Fast Company soon (although I read those two online frequently so the print subscription is of little added value to me).

LastPass password manager & security tools — One of My Best Purchases of 2011


One of my best purchases of 2011 was buying a premium subscription to LastPass, a digital password management tool, and it has made my life much, much more secure, efficient and saved my sanity — especially with all the passwords I have to remember/save for personal life, work and all my side projects. I know there’s a lot of other options out there like the wildly popular 1Password, but I just dig the LastPass integration much better and haven’t looked back.

Here’s 5 reasons why LastPass rules:

  1. Their syncing across desktop and mobile devices is fantastic.
  2. The integration, granular control and auto-fillers for the desktop and Android are top notch and stay out of my way but enrich and speed up my experience.
  3. The thumb-print unlock feature on Apple is really excellent too — no more passwords ever! (Not really, but close.)
  4. Their security challenge is bad ass and incredibly helpful to assess if you have duplicates or unsecure passwords. And as we previously discussed, having rock solid passwords is one of the biggest ways to protect yourself from getting hacked.
  5. It’s a good deal — only $12 a year. ($1 a month!) I’m actually planning on buying and installing this for my mom as a gift to help protect her and make things more secure on her devices, and for only $12 a month it provides great piece of mind.

I almost want to call this a ‘Buy it for Life’ item, but the Internet decays so quickly who knows. :)

Save yourself packing time and prepare a travel ‘go bag’ for quick and easy digital tools on the road

packing for travel

One of the things I’ve been trying to do to focus and execute better in life is to automate and batch everything possible so you don’t have to deal with the cognitive load of making constant small decisions, especially when you have a lot of projects in motion and things to juggle.

If you travel frequently, you probably have a go-t0 toiletries bag pre-packed with all your supplies as needed, but in this digital day and age, it’s now necessary to start packing an electronics ‘Go Bag’ that waits in my suitcase in the closet so I don’t have to scramble to get everything together for each trip and do the packing, unpacking, repacking, planning each time.

On a recent trip to Iceland, I found myself missing a few items I needed (car adapters and chargers for a rental) and I’ve finally committed to buying/setting aside a pool of gear as my dedicated and relatively compact, travel ‘Go Bag.’

Here’s what I’m packin’ in my default digital travel kit:

  • Some sort of compact containment/organizer – A mini-dopp bag of sorts. I have a rectangular soft-side bag from Logitech that came with some sort of accessory I purchased a while ago (I can’t remember what it was) but this works great for me and the amount of gear I need. I’ve heard rave reviews of the Grit-It series of organizers, but I’m a little apprehensive about not having everything fully contained.
  • Gum – For chewing, relaxing, keeping fresh and keeping awake on late night drives. (I know this isn’t tech related but I keep it in this bag for some reason.)
  • Mini tripod (or selfie stick with some sort of tripod/steady option) – I bought a super cheap and easy aluminum one in Japan at an equivalent to a Dollar Tree store and it gets the job done. (This is another item I wish I’d brought to Iceland.)
  • Short USB cable – Compact and easy to pack up.
  • Long USB cable – I charge a lot of USB devices from USB, so I usually have a long cable from a Samsung S-series device but any will do.
  • Apple USB Cable – (Or get a USB combo cable like this to kill a couple of these in one cable — you can’t charge multiple devices at the same time though, which is why I carry the separate cords)
  • USB flash drive – A few GBs, just for quick computer-to-computer file transfers if needed. I just use a promotional giveaway drive from a conference.
  • Mini SD Card with Adapter – Most computers take SD cards and this is a great backup for file transfers, phone transfers (for those that take mini SD) and digital camera film backups.
  • External battery pack – I have an old one about the size of a deck of cards with two usb plugs so you can charge two devices at once from New Trent that is starting to show it’s age, so in the future I might upgrade to something with more space like this 10,000mah (!) Anker dual-usb unit or more compact like this Anker ‘lipstick’ 3200mah charger.
  • Some sort of headphones with microphone – I usually have a spare set of Apple iPhone headphones for Skype/Hangouts/phone calls, and also for sanity in loud places, but I sometimes also bring something with noise-canceling or bluetooth functionality for longer trips.
  • Monster 4 plug extension cable – A good option for compactness, multiple sockets and surge protection. It has this stupid blue light on it that can be annoying in a dark room when you’re trying to sleep but I’ve covered up with electrical tape. Belkin Mini Surge Protector with USB Charger is another good option (I prefer the Monster because of the space between the plugs so that you can plug in things with weird bricks that don’t block/collide like they would on the Belkin.)
  • Factory Apple iPad charger – Because it’s 2 amp and the metal plug prongs fold inside to keep it compact.
  • Factory Samsung charger – This doesn’t need to be Samsung specifically, but any 2 amp compact charger will work perfectly.
  • Lens cleaner rag – For cleaning glasses, camera lenses, phone glass, any give-away microcloth will work and should be compact and easy.

Car-involved Trip Add-Ons:

Conference Trip Add-Ons:

More Vacation-ish Trip Add-Ons:

  • Canon S110 Point and Shoot Camera – Great features and control with manual functions and a wide-wide lens. The zoom lacks, but zoom with your feet and you’re ok. I also have a spare battery from a previous Canon camera that uses the same system and chargers
  • Mini SD Card with Adapter – Most computers take SD cards and this is a great backup for file transfers, phone transfers (for those that take mini SD) and digital camera film backups.


Hold less meetings, get out of the way and ship more stuff.


One of the difficult things that I had to work on as I rose through the management ranks was managing communication. And specifically meetings.

When you move out of technology and into management your work creations are not a design or a website or a piece of documentation/white paper — they’re facilitating and expediting the teams that do that content creation.

Making that jump is really difficult for some — it was for me — part of me wanted to still be in code and design, and as I realized that I needed to get out of the way and step back and let the team do their jobs, I felt the need to have some sort of tangible ‘things’ for my time, and that started to become meetings. I started to feel that if I had a full schedule of meetings and was preparing and going to and leaving meetings I felt like I was doing my job well. It couldn’t have been further from the truth though, and luckily I learned this quickly thanks to some frank feedback and open communication lines with my team.

Discussing this with other young managers making the transition this seemed to be a common theme. The costs of chronic meetings isn’t just spent time not creating, it disrupts the energy of your day and your focus and ‘flow’, context shifting slows overall productivity and literally costs money by the minute like an Uber. We found solace and got better sharing our mastermind with each other about strategies and sharing amazing new management and work bible’s like Getting Real from 37 Signals:

Do you really need a meeting? Meetings usually arise when a concept isn’t clear enough. Instead of resorting to a meeting, try to simplify the concept so you can discuss it quickly via email or im or Campfire. The goal is to avoid meetings. Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.

(Seriously, read the whole book, it’s a quick and awesome piece.)

Some people never grow out of this; one of the worst bosses of my life has a chronic problem with this and I tried to work with him on it, but he refused. (And thankfully is no longer my manager or anyone’s manager, luckily).

A recent HBR article reminded me of this challenge we all must fight — balancing doing productive work vs. holding many meetings — and they provided a great quick and easy test of four questions for deciding if it’s time to take everyone away from their work to hold a meeting:

  • Have I thought through this situation?
  • Do I need outside input to make progress?
  • Does moving forward require a real-time conversation?
  • Does this necessitate a face-to-face meeting?

And an easy flow chart of options for deciding if meetings are necessary:

Should I hold this meeting

Automatically support non-profits, schools, ngos, other causes when shopping on Amazon

AmazonSmile. You Shop, Amazon gives.

Amazon offers a little known way to support thousands of organizations, schools and non-profits FOR FREE (to you) with every purchase you make. It’s called, “AmazonSmile” and works like this:

  • Amazon donates 0.5% of the price of your eligible Amazon Smile purchases to the charitable organization of your choice.
  • AmazonSmile is the same Amazon you know. Same products, same prices, same service.
  • Support your charitable organization by starting your shopping at

Pro Tip: You can automate and make this even easier by installing a simple Google Chrome plug in to default all your Amazon shopping to the AmazonSmile account. Easy peasy!

If your organization or know of an organization you’d like to support that isn’t currently available in AmazonSmile, they can join here.

Btw, I’m supporting the amazing and important work of the Electronic Frontier Foundation with my AmazonSmile.

Costco Executive Membership & Amex Credit Card — One of My Best Purchases of 2010

Coscto True Earnings Amex Card

One of the best purchases of 2010 (and consistently year over year one of my most used) is my Costco Executive Membership and upgraded Amex Credit Card. This card/upgraded membership offers a lot of benefits but the top 5 reasons I enjoy it:

  • This card has become my go-to card for most purchases (even outside of Costco) because of it’s generous cash back benefits (and Amex is accepted just about everywhere — I thought it would have been tougher to find places to use it):

    Earn 3% cash back at US gas stations and on gasoline at Costco, up to $4,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 2% cash back at US restaurants, 2% cash back on eligible travel purchases, including at Costco, and 1% cash back on other purchases, including at Costco.

  • I usually earn at least $500 cash back per year between the Costco Executive rebate and the Amex purchase rebate. This easily pays for the $110 membership fee, and a few months of Costco shopping.
  • Costco’s store selection is pretty excellent and offers high-quality products for exceptional deals, especially for home owners. Many of their ‘Kirkland’ brand products are white-labeled top shelf brands. Sure, buying a gallon of mayo isn’t always practical, so not everything works out, but overall I’ve been extremely pleased with the experience and when possible split bulk purchases with friends and family to make things a little more reasonable.
  • Their return policy is exceptional, if you’re not satisfied with a product they’ll take it back or replace it, almost anytime, no questions asked. And many large purchases like tires and electronics get extended warranties and benefits for free. (A friend from Florida’s parents TV bought at Costco died after 5 years and they took it back for a full refund, no questions asked.)
  • They take good care of their people. They build culture from promoting within the company. And stockholders, too. (I don’t currently own stock  in Costco, but I am strongly considering when their current high settles down.)

It’s a win, win, win and an exceptional company I love supporting.


Figure out how much dividend stock you’ll need to survive jobless with this Google Doc spreadsheet

Make it rain dividends

The stock market is the largest socially-acceptable gambling ring, and while I’ve dabbled and won (and lost) I think we’re getting close to seeing another tech bubble burst and when all the billio dollar unicorns will die. Ask my good friends who I advise at Roost, a web notification start-up backed by the world’s most prestigious incubator Y Combinator — I’m quite cynical about a lot of tech companies viability (I come from more from the Adrian Holovaty Chicago school of start-up thought).

As a defensive move, (or maybe I’m just getting old) I’m starting to cash out and move a small base of my stocks into more diversified, dividend-driven businesses. I’m targeting to maybe try and hit a 20-80, or 30-70 dividend-to-growth stock ratio (as opposed to almost all growth stocks previously). Although right now, oil is so cheap those stocks are dirt cheap with nice dividends, in the next year whenever OPEC takes its boot off Russia’s throat, we’ll probably see some exponential growth. But I digress… And I’m not a financial experts so don’t listen to me. :)

If you are looking to dividend stocks, and maybe even would like to figure out how much dividend income you’d need to survive off those proceeds and retire early, Young Adult Money has a pretty handy Google Doc that you can clone and build your own dividend calculator. Check it out.


Rainy day project: Chart your credit card benefits to know what to use where

GI JOE Knowing is half the battle.

Over the winter I was planning a bunch of trips this Spring abroad and I wanted to figure out if/which offered the best deals for insurance buying tickets, rental cars and other goods. I’ve always assumed if I used a credit card they had some sort of rental insurance coverage, but never compared side by side what it covered so this was a great educational exercise. And knowing is half the battle. I also wanted a quick reference method for knowing which cash back cards I should use where for the max kick back at various retailers.

Here’s what I pulled together digging into the credit card benefits and copying and pasting them over into a quick chart for my reference (the benefits change occasionally though, so keep that in mind). I color coded some of the benefits to see who’s best in different categories for quick reference. Feel free to clone and fill in your own card info.

I learned a good deal, including:

  • Most cards use pretty standard templates for their benefits, especially related to travel, but there were some noticeable differences on certain cards. Some were just terrible!
  • Most of the cards have extended warranties on purchases that cover things like theft, fire, damage also (which I’ve never used and suspect it it’s good to know and I’ll make my purchases a little more strategically in the future).
  • My oldest card is basically the dog of the group. I’m on the verge of shutting down. I never use it but still have it since it’s been such a long and positive credit history, I just have a few auto-paid bills running on it so they don’t close it, as Ramit recommends (#3).
  • If you buy a lot from Costco or Amazon (which I do) it’s probably a good idea to get both cards and use them at least for those retailers.
  • There’s a Chrome extension that I tried for a little while that would help you with deciding which cards to use on which websites, but I’ve kind of learned my habits and cards and don’t need it, but if you have a LOT of cards maybe it’s beneficial.

I’ve always been a cash reward credit card fan but recently read this piece on Racked about, “The Credit Card Obsessives Who Game the System—and Share Their Secrets Online” that has me debating if I might need to change my approach:

“Using points for travel is smarter from a financial perspective,” explains Joe Westreich, a 27-year-old accountant from Queens who follows several credit card blogs. “The option to get cash back is reliable, it goes to your bank account, but you really don’t get more than one or two cents per purchase. Using the rewards for miles, though, translates exponentially to dollars. It’s really like getting free travel.”

Some of the folks in the article seem like ultra-couponers, which can get crazy, but I love travel and I am at a period in my life where I’m free and available to do so (at least for the next couple years before I settle down), so maybe I should focus a little more on travel benefits for tens of thousands of miles instead of a few hundred dollars to get some free flights back to Asia, Russia, South America. I ‘bought’ my flight to Japan for my first Asia World Tour in 2014 with Delta miles and saved about $1,500.

If you’re looking to switch up your cards or compare benefits Nerd Wallet has a pretty fantastic tool for checking out your options for various rewards, airlines, other credit cards.


Happiness research: Spend on experiences, not things.

Check out this fantastic article on Fast Company, “The Science Of Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things” with research about how buying material goods has limited effect on happiness, compared to shared experiences:

“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

I’m glad I learned this early on. (I’m a big ‘quality time’ love language guy over ‘gifts.’)

Life Pro Tip: Write down your bucket list.

Write down your bucket list, somewhere. Add to it, cross things off, but don’t remove things no matter how crazy they are. Create a record of your goals and dreams (and accomplishments when you finish them).

Publish it publicly if you want to make yourself even more accountable (and hopefully find friends/family that are also interested in helping you achieve your goals).

Here’s mine.