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Travel hacks, spending hacks, medical hacks. If there’s one thing that Chris Hutchins has learned from hosting the All the Hacks podcast, it’s that everything is negotiable. You can travel to over sixty countries for (almost) free, outsource your cooking at a reasonable rate and even get free money once forgotten. Chris should know—he’s done all this and more as he works to optimize every aspect of his life, both financially and personally!

Chris was hacking at a very young age. In high school, he made a fake magazine so he could score free press passes to concerts. When he was away at boarding school, he would buy whole pizzas and sell them by the slice just to afford a few slices of his own. Then, later when he quit his job to travel the world, Chris and his partner hit over sixty countries, using credit card points to globetrott from South Africa to Singapore!

Now, as a father, Chris is more concerned about hacking his time. He’s got kids to take care of and doesn’t want to waste a second of his day that could be spent planning for, or playing with, his children. In today’s episode, you’ll hear some of the most insane life hacks, from hiring a personal chef for a fraction of the cost to getting free champagne at any hotel stay and even snagging twenty to thirty percent off of your dream vacation villa. These hacks work (we tried them in real-time), and you may need a pen and paper to write them all down!

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast where we interview Chris Hutchins and talk about all the hacks.

Chris:
If you’re booking a villa or like a house, you’re looking on Airbnb. If it’s in another country, sometimes this works in the U.S, but really great in Mexico and overseas. Take the image that best represents the property, save it to your computer, go to Google Image search and upload it. And chances are there’s probably three or four other websites that are a broker for booking that same property. You might find that property somewhere else and it can be 20, 30% cheaper. You might even find a website that the owner themselves has set up so there’s no extra commission going to the booking agency and you could save even more.

Mindy:
Hello, hello, hello, my name is Mindy Jensen and with me as always is my hack fanatic co-host Scott Trench.

Scott:
And with me as always is my cyber secure Mindy Jensen co-host. Co-host Mindy Jensen, whatever it is.

Mindy:
Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else. To introduce you to every money story because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you are starting.

Scott:
That’s right. Whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, start your own business or accumulate a large number of tactical wins that help you advance your financial position. We’ll help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way so you can launch yourself towards those dreams.

Mindy:
Scott, I am so excited to talk to Chris Hutchins today from All the Hacks Podcast. He is filled with tips and tricks for making your life a little bit more optimized or a lot more optimized, and getting things done in the easiest way possible. He was just an absolute delight to talk to and literally the whole episode is tip after tip after tip and I just loved this show.

Scott:
Yeah, I mean he’s fantastic. He can just rattle off great tips, one after the other for the entirety of this show. I mean, he is a wealth of information and definitely encourage folks to learn more about Chris because he’s an expert in this space.

Mindy:
Before we begin Chris, let’s take a quick break. And we are back. Today’s guest is Chris Hutchins, the host of All the Hacks Podcast. Chris has an impressive resume filled with big names like Google, Grove, Milk and Wealthfront, and has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNBC, but it’s his ability to master ways to hack his life and come up with the easiest way to get something done that truly caught my eye. Today we’re going to talk with Chris about all the hacks. Chris, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I am so excited to talk to you today.

Chris:
This has been a long time coming. I’m so excited to be here.

Mindy:
So let’s jump into a little bit of your background before we look at some of your favorite hacks. Where does your journey with money begin?

Chris:
Ooh, my journey with money. It’s one of these things where I always try to pin it down with my parents and I never get a good answer. I’m like, come on, tell me the childhood story that I could come on a podcast and be like, I had the lemonade stand and then I hired my neighbors to run it. I don’t have a perfect childhood money story, there are a bunch of random little like, ooh, I’m going to create a magazine to pretend that I’m in the press to go to concerts for free. But little stories.

Mindy:
Wait, what?

Chris:
I wanted to go to concerts as a kid in high school and so I just made a fake magazine and printed out on paper so that I could just go and be like, “Oh, I have this cool zine about music can I come to this concert as a press person?” And it worked for shows that were like 500 people shows in a church basement kind of shows. It was not like I was going to a giant stadium concert.

Mindy:
But it still got you free tickets into a concert. So your life hacking skills started when you were in high school?

Chris:
Yeah, but there’s not a journey it’s just a random thing that I was like, how do I get into this thing? Or in high school another one was I went to boarding school and there were a lot of people that go to boarding school that have a ton of money. My parents didn’t give me this allowance and this credit card that allowed me to do whatever I wanted, but I loved pizza and everyone was always ordering pizza. And so what I did was I would just order Domino’s Pizza and I would sell the slices at enough of a markup that I would get two slices every night. So I feel like my whole life was just like… Boarding school was a good example because everyone had their parents’ credit card except me, so I had to find ways to make money and keep up.
And so I convinced the school to hire me to run the mail room because I was like then I can make some money. I don’t know. And then I could curry favors because I was like, oh, I can unlock the mail room after hours if you didn’t get your package. So my life is full of these random things, but the broader, bigger picture or financial story came after college. I took a job in investment banking and management consulting. I took two jobs because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I had two offers that started nine months after each other and I didn’t have the time to figure out what career path I wanted because I was late to the game. So I asked friends, what’s the best job? And they like management consulting, investment banking. I was like, ooh, I’ll do those. And I hated both of them.
So nine months into the first one I said, ah, I’m not going to do this. And I took the other offer that I’d already accepted. I went to work there and I was like, wow, if I don’t love working, what am I going to do? I have 50, 60, 70, 80 years left in my life and if I don’t like working I’m screwed. So I was like, I have to save every dollar and find a way to be very optimal because otherwise I’m going to be stuck doing a job I don’t love. And so not knowing at the time that there was a fire movement, not knowing all of this stuff, not having read Mr Money Mustache’s blog, I need to find line item by line item a way to reduce all the costs on my spending so that I can save as much money as possible so I don’t have to work a job I don’t love. Because my naive self was like, well I’ve only had two jobs, but I didn’t love either of them so I must not working. What do I do?

Mindy:
I disagree with you. I think the broader story is you going back to high school always looking for ways to figure things out instead of playing by the rules.

Chris:
Yes.

Mindy:
Because the rules are you work for 40 years and then you retire at age 65. And the rules are you pay for concerts. And the rules are you buy a pizza or you don’t eat a pizza, you don’t sell it by the slice. Why would you do that? I love that you are always looking for ways to, I don’t want to say get… Well, you’re looking for ways to hack your life. You’re looking for ways to hack the system.

Chris:
It’s funny, I was working there with this woman, I hired someone who helped me figure out what are my life principles? If I were ever going to write a book how do I distill everything I think about the world into something that is not just a five hour rambling story? And over the course of a month and a half, we came up with what are the principles of living an optimized life mind? And the first one is that conventional wisdom sucks, which I think is where you’re going. Always when someone says, “Oh, this is how it works,” even when it’s normally accepted, I’m just like, “Is it? Is there another way to do this? Maybe that’s actually not correct. Maybe this other thing will work.” And that’s the guiding principle, and then there’s a bunch of others that we came up with after talking this and now I’m like, “Ooh, now I have nine principles for living an optimized life. Now I got to figure out how to put more of them into pros and something that someone could read.”

Scott:
Can you roll through a couple more of those principles please?

Chris:
Yeah. So the next one was question the outcome you think you want. So I think a great example of this is someone says, “I need more money.” It’s like, well, why do you need more money? Oh, I need more money so I can retire early. Well, why do you want to retire early? Oh, I want to retire early because I want to spend time with my family. It’s like, well what if you found a way that you could find a job that gave you a little bit more time now and then you had time to spend with your family? Or hypothetically maybe you decide you want to be a teacher and you get summers off and you spend all the summers with your kids and you don’t have to… So if what you really want is that you want more flexibility to spend time with your family, the only way you might get there is questioning the original outcome you thought you wanted which was, oh, I need more money to retire early.
And so that was one. Another one I think is I really believe in structured information gathering. We have a note on this one that’s come up with a catchier way to say this, but whenever I’m collecting information about anything I try to figure out how I can structure it before I do any research. So my wife and I were deciding, gosh, our daughter’s two, our neighbor has a daughter and she’s going to ballet class. We were like, should we be sending our daughter to a class or something, gymnastics? I don’t know. And so I was like, oh, let’s figure out what all the options are. But instead of just doing casual research I was like, let’s build a page in our notion board and let’s figure out what we want to collect. How often does it run? How much does it cost? How far away is it? How old are the kids in it? And all this stuff.
And now we have this little mini database that when I go to my wife she’s like, oh, well what could she do on Wednesdays because she doesn’t have preschool? I don’t have to go back out and do all this other research, I’ve already collected in an optimal way and it forces me to think about what I want to get out of learning when I’m trying to do research. And then I end up finding more optimal outcomes because I’ve been able to collect more information in a structured way. So that’s three of them.

Scott:
Where can people find all of the principles that you have here?

Chris:
Nowhere. These are fresh. So one of my jobs actually, if you want more email me [email protected] and I can get some feedback. But the conversation I had with Sara Stibitz who’s this person who’s excellent at helping people distill their thoughts on the world into principles or a framework. We just came up with them, these are draft form days old and I’m still supposed to go and test them and see how they should be iterated. So this is not something ready for primetime, but you heard it here first.

Scott:
Well, for a show on hacks we really started with the deep core fundamentals to get going here. So this is awesome. Where is a resource or what’s something that we could link to in the show notes where people could learn more about this concept before we move into some of the other discussions we want to have today?

Chris:
The concept of coming up with these life principles?

Scott:
Yes.

Chris:
I wish that I had a place, maybe I’ll come up with all the hacks.com/principles and I’ll put my draft principles there. I don’t know if I’ll get it done, but I’ll put at least a landing page or something. If you subscribe to the newsletter I put together, I’m going to write a newsletter to test this out, but it might be a couple weeks. So I don’t know, this is so fresh on top of my mind I don’t have a place for it yet.

Scott:
For now, it’s something to consider life principles, go Google it and try to figure out ways to research if you’re interested in learning more.

Chris:
Yeah, I mean Ray Dalio wrote a book about life principles that I think was a little bit of inspiration of just what would mine be, but for me it’s less about life and more about optimizing your life. The thing that I feel like is my thing.

Mindy:
Yeah, I think that is your thing. Let’s talk about optimizing your life. What is your absolute favorite optimization under any category at all that you have ever come up with besides the free concert tickets in high school? That would’ve been my favorite.

Chris:
No, no. Oh man, I mean, there’s the obvious favorites and the kind of obscure favorites. So the obvious favorite is that my wife and I have traveled extensively on credit card points, but I feel like that’s not unique enough to come out and be like, oh, my favorite life hack is earn points and take trips for free though-

Mindy:
Well, it doesn’t have to be some brand new thing that nobody’s ever thought of. That’s a really great life hack is I just spent this year $6,000 on airfare because I was going to Germany with my daughter, but she was going on a school trip and the school trip gets a huge discount and they can book whenever they want. And Lufthansa is like, yeah, you already buy a 5,000 tickets a year. So whenever, but I only buy three tickets once on Lufthansa so they’re like, you can pay full price. So if I would’ve thought about it in advance, I could have gotten a Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card and started earning those points and transferred them over to Lufthansa when it was time to buy with three weeks notice, even though I knew that I was going on this trip for 18 months. So being able to travel extensively for almost nothing is a great life hack. I think that’s one of the best life hacks out there. Where have you gone? What have you done?

Chris:
I mean I’ve done the tally. It’s probably 65, 66 countries at this point.

Mindy:
Oh my God. Okay, so that’s not just to grandma’s?

Chris:
No, no, we’ve been all over. I mean we hit a lot of places once where we took a trip, we flew one way to South Africa, we quit our jobs and we just said we’re going to figure out where we go. And we ended up mostly overland trekking from South Africa to Singapore on trains and buses and hitchhiking and all kinds of stuff. All the way up Africa through the Middle East, through India and Southeast Asia, but for us travel was the thing that we wanted to do that wasn’t in the budget. This was early on, my wife and I have been together since 2004 so a long time. And when we were just living on our post-college budgets, we were like, well how do we do all the things we want to do and not run out of money? And there are ways to hack housing, house hacking, I’m sure you’ve had plenty of episodes on that.
There’s ways to eat for cheaper, but travel was this thing where it’s like there’s not really a way to get a flight to Europe or to Asia for $7 unless you play the points and miles game. Which is why I think that that became this one huge item on our budget that the only way to get rid of was either to not do it, which we didn’t think was what we wanted or to play the game. And so that one for us has let us take, I don’t know, all kinds of things. We’ve been to so many places, like Japan is awesome. Namibia was one of our favorites. Thailand and the whole Southeast Asia circuit was amazing and so cheap. So it’s like once you get there, if you can use your points to just cross the ocean and land there, then all of a sudden it’s really cheap.
So I think most of our travel has optimized around going to places that once you’re there where it’s not as easy to use points and miles, it’s a lot less expensive. So my wife and I have never been to the U.K, we’ve never… A lot of these mainstream. I was joking with my wife we’ve been all over the world, but she’s never been to London and I’ve only been because I went once as a small kid, but we haven’t gone to the expensive places. Japan aside, we’ve been to Japan a few times because it’s just our favorite place.

Scott:
Can you tell us what you did to earn all of those points? How you optimized them and what if anything is available today? Because I know that the reward systems change and so many of the hacks you probably used are not available and then there are new ones that are taking their place.

Chris:
So I think the biggest thing is there’s two main ways to earn points. One is just make sure that every time you’re spending money on a monthly basis, you’re putting it on a card that optimizes where you spend money. So if all your money’s being spent on groceries, the Amex Gold card gets four points per dollar on groceries. The Amex Platinum card, which someone might be like, ooh, that’s even better it gets one point on groceries. So there’s not a one size fits all solution for everyone, and so I always say look at where you spend the bulk of your money. If it’s travel and dining, Chase Sapphire, Preferred, Reserve, great options. It depends. If you spend all your money at Home Depot, there’s not a great option so you might get a card like the Capital One Venture or Venture X that just earns two points on everything. So that’s one.
And then the other is that credit card issuers, banks give massive bonuses to try to lure new customers to use their products. And so if you sign up for a credit card, you can get anywhere from, if you’re picking the right opportunities, let’s say anything 75 to 150,000 miles or points to open a new card and spend some number of thousands of dollars in 90 days. And so a lot of my points have come from that and just, oh there’s a new card, it’s got a 100, 000 point sign up bonus let’s sign up for that one. And I’ll say before going any deeper on this, no amount of points is worth paying interest on any of these cards. So if anyone listening right now is like, I need to pay off my credit card bills, do that first. This is not going to outweigh the 17, 25% APRs at all. So if that’s the circumstance you’re in, this is not the game for you yet. But I promise there is another episode of this wonderful podcast that will help you think about how to save and pay off debt.

Mindy:
So I have one little tip about your credit cards. You just said that the Amex Gold gives you four points for groceries so now I need to go get one of those, but you can have more than one card at a time. And what you should do is if you can’t remember, especially if you have 50 different credit cards in your wallet write on the top of the credit card, what you’re using it for. I have a card that has an address on it because it’s for that house, that is the only thing I use that card for is to put purchases for that house on that card. I don’t want to mistakenly use it for another house or another project so I don’t.
And I’m going to get this Amex Gold and write groceries on there because I want to make sure I use it for groceries. I’ve got a Costco card that’s I think three or four points per dollar for gas when you’re at Costco. So write on these cards so you’re using them in the most optimal way. But what I do is I have a hotel points card, I have a Costco card and I think we have a Southwest card as well just because that’s where we travel the most so we are constantly earning points for these things that we are using anyway.

Chris:
And I’ll say with the advent of Apple Pay I feel like I’m not carrying all these cards around anymore. So I’m going to give a plug for an app that’s really fantastic called Card Pointers. And it’s basically load all the cards you have in, the one great thing that I know anyone that cares about information security or privacy this is not an app where you go link your accounts and they pull down all your spending data and you have to share your passwords. This is just, I have these cards and they’ll just say okay, here’s the card of your arsenal of cards that is best for each category. It works really well if you’re trying to do this with a partner that’s maybe not as excited as you are. You say, hey let me just load this up and then you have an app. They can open the app and it’s just a crib sheet for what to use where.

Scott:
Probably helps with categorizing expenses as well because they’re all the same buckets of spending that are going on one card.

Chris:
Yeah, I think if you go to allthehacks.com/deals, there’s a card pointers deal there if you sign up for pro, but it’s a great app. I use it, I pay for it. I think it’s an easy way to get and I helped set it up for my mom once. I was like, “Hey, you have three cards, here are the settings for you.”

Mindy:
Okay, obviously the best hack is the travel hacking. What’s the most unusual hack that you love?

Chris:
I think one that it seems so obvious but somehow it just never came to me and I’ve shared this with you before we recorded, I know you love it. We were trying to go through this process after we had a child we were like, gosh, we don’t have time. We used to have all this free time than you have one kid and then you have less free time, but there’s only one kid so one of you can slip away. And then we had two kids and we’re like now we have no time because when we’re not working we have to be on the kids and so what are we going to do? And we started going through what are all the things in our life that take time that we could outsource? And they’re the obvious ones. You probably all either have or know someone that has someone who could help clean your house or you could drop off your laundry to get it washed and these things.
And we had someone help clean the house, but we did our own laundry. I think my wife would never want someone else deciding what gets dried and what doesn’t, never in a million years. And then someone, I don’t remember who, was like, well what if you outsource your meals? And I was like, well we’re not going to outsource to a chef. We’re not the kind of people that have the money to just have some chef come over and cook us fancy dinners. And someone had told me, oh no, no, no, there’s people that’ll just prep meals for the week. You send them five recipes, they’ll go to the grocery store, they’ll make them, they’ll put them in Tupperware and drop them off at your house. And I was like, really? So I made an ad on Craigslist and I’ll even send you guys a link if you want to put it in the show notes of here’s the ad I made. And I got five or seven people wrote back and I think I did the math about half the cost if I were to order DoorDash for dinners.
For about half of what DoorDash would cost, someone went to the grocery store, bought all the ingredients, cooked meals and dropped them off twice a week so that we had each time two days of enough food for two dinners and leftovers for lunches. And so basically it was this woman who just like, I like to cook. She was not a professionally trained chef, she’s just like, I like to cook and I can follow directions in a recipe. And sometimes she’s like, oh I have some ideas, can I try this recipe? And it was the best thing ever. And my wife and I love to cook, but for six months we just didn’t have the time and we were just trying to get into the right routine and we didn’t have to think about it and it was the best thing ever.

Mindy:
That is my favorite hack because I’ve never heard it before. First of all the travel points I love that, but like you said, that’s not a new hack. This I’ve never heard before and I absolutely love that because it can be so hard to find the time to cook sometimes and you’re like, well I don’t want to go out to dinner, but that’s the only option or DoorDash which is also very expensive. Or we’ve had meal plans that sponsored the show, those are awesome, but if you haven’t already ordered those what are you going to eat tonight?

Chris:
Or you have to cook them. If you have meals delivered even if they chop up the ingredients for you and get it already, you still need time. This, it’s takes something out of the fridge, put it in the oven for 15 minutes and you don’t have to sit and watch the oven cook. You can step away. And so that was just amazing. And then we started thinking, gosh, are there other things? And unfortunately we couldn’t find any other huge unlocks in our life though I’m now thinking, I’ve never been one to hire a virtual assistant but what we’ve been doing is cataloging various tasks that could make sense for an online virtual assistant. And one that sounds so silly, but takes like 20, 30 minutes is now we’re cooking and we have this app called Paprika, which is a recipe manager app and a meal planning app.
Because my wife and I were like, gosh, we kind of miss cooking, let’s bring that back and we might go back and forth, cook for six months, go back. And I was like, we have all these recipes, I just need someone to go through all the recipes and put them all in a list and then just add them to our Amazon Fresh cart. And I’m like, I wonder if that’s a task for a virtual assistant or these sites] like Fancy Hands where you buy five, 15 minute tasks a month or something for $20. So that’s something we’re we’re going to experiment with next is are there little research driven tasks like oh we need to get our dog vaccinated, we haven’t found a vet, can you just call around and find a vet that can get him in this week? Like little tasks like that, that maybe they take you 15, 20 minutes, but those things add up.
And at the end of the day, if you spent 15 minutes three times you almost spent a whole hour of your day doing these things that you could have spent, I don’t know, working, reading, hanging out with your kids, relaxing, sleeping. So for me, I’m trying to find these things, I’m trying to catalog them so that I can really feel like I have something to fill the time. If I had five tasks a month, I want to fill them all.

Mindy:
Okay. The most surprising thing that you just said is that you have not yet hired a virtual assistant.

Chris:
Is that something you guys both do and I’m just late to the game?

Mindy:
No, no, I’m just way behind you. We have virtual assistants at BiggerPockets, but I don’t have one for my personal life.

Scott:
I have experimented with personal assistants in the past, including back in college a few times.

Mindy:
What was the funnest one that you had your virtual assistant do Scott?

Scott:
I had the virtual assistant call my mom for me and hear about her day. That didn’t go over too well. I don’t advise that one.

Chris:
But now that you can break it up into I’m looking at Fancy Hands and it’s three requests a month, five requests a month. You don’t need to go hire a full time assistant, and you could have people do everything from research to scheduling things. I could have done when I described earlier trying to research all the classes that our daughter could go to, that probably took me 45 minutes, but I could have found someone that could do that. So I don’t know. I’m starting to think about whether I’m going to have enough tasks that it would make sense, so outsourcing things. I like to calendar audit, so where am I spending my time? Am I spending a lot of time on things that someone else could do that would give me more leverage on my time to do the things that I’m uniquely capable of doing? Ideally that could earn money so that I could make up for the fact that I just hired someone to do these other things.

Scott:
I think the framework here is whether or not you articulate it like this, you have a very clear understanding of the value of your time and these things are below that threshold in value and these things are above it. And I am generally at max capacity, therefore if I have a good handle on that everything above and below the threshold needs to get outsourced in some way to somebody else. And if you can do that, that’s great. And for those listening, a great tool for that is if you earn a $100,000 a year, then you can compute the value of your time at $50 per hour. That’s all pre-tax, it might be a little less than that after tax, but that’s a great way to compute. That’s 2,000 hours per year at $50 an hour gets you to a $100,000 annual income. So if you’re doing tasks that are $10 an hour or $15 an hour like going to the store, shopping and cooking perhaps then that may be a good arbitrage like it was for Chris. Otherwise you’ll need to do that and that number should move over time.

Chris:
So I really struggled with that because I was like, well, it’s not like my employer is going to give me more money if I work a little more. So the thing that I finally did was I signed up to be a Lyft driver, and I did one ride and I was like, oh. My wife had worked at Lyft so I was like, oh this is fun, I get to go do the thing at the company you work at. So I gave a ride and I was like, oh now at any point in time I could open an app and flip a switch and start making in the Bay Area right now I think it’s like $30 an hour or something. So now I struggled with could I really value my time at $50 an hour because if I don’t spend this hour researching activities for my daughter I’m not actually going to make $50.
Now, I sign up for Lyft and now I know if I want to make $30 in the next hour, I have a way to do it. And that immediately made me think, okay, every hour I’m not turning this on I’m foregoing $30 an hour, which means that I should be able to spend $30 an hour for someone else to do something. So for me it needed that one extra step of actually creating a simple way to show myself that I could go make that money at an hourly rate. Even though that might be lower than my hourly rate at my job, it at least put a floor that was if I’m just hanging out doing nothing I know that I could be making $30 an hour. And so that changed everything for me, and now I’m like, well if it’s not worth $30 an hour to pay someone then why am I not out there earning that $30 an hour? So that helped me get comfortable.

Scott:
Love it. You just take that a step further and go to the marginal value of the next hour worked so you’re an economist.

Chris:
I try. And I would just want to loop back quick because I don’t know if we’re going to get back to travel, but there are a couple cool fun travel hacks I want to throw in there. One of my favorites is when you book a hotel, book it directly with the hotel and here’s the reason. So hotels are still in the hospitality business and they love building relationships with customers because the loyal repeat business is what drives a lot of revenue for them. And if you book on Expedia or Travelocity, they don’t really get that opportunity because the channel between the consumer is with Expedia or Travelocity. So you book directly with the hotel, you get their email either on their website or call the front desk and email them and just say, “Hey here’s my confirmation number, I’m coming on this day. I’m really excited to stay with you.”
If you’re celebrating anything, let them know. Then a few days before reply and just say, hey, just want to follow up we’re still on track to be here in a couple days. Really excited. I have gotten hundreds of emails, Twitter messages, Instagram foot posts of people who’ve gotten upgrades, gift baskets, wine, free cocktails at the bar, they’re parking comped, free breakfast all the way to my favorite which was their initials embroidered on the pillow in the room all for sending an email. So if you want a hack that’ll get you something for nothing, it’s just send the email to the hotel and see what happens. I’m not going to promise it’ll work every time, but if it’s the kind of hotel that has room service and could deliver chocolate covered strawberries or a bottle of wine to your room, I think it’ll probably work If I had to peg it 40, 50% of the time.

Scott:
That’s awesome.

Mindy:
And you could hire a VA to do that for you.

Chris:
I probably could have, yeah. I’ll add it to the list of tasks every time I book a hotel forward the confirmation, have that person go and send that. So I’m a big nerd on the travel hacking I think is the core. I always tell people on the podcast All The Hacks, it’s one third all about travel, one third about money and one third about life. And life is career, it could be hosting cocktail parties, it could be anything you do, but the travel side is where I think I find all these weird crazy things.

Scott:
Chris, these are fantastic. Let’s fly through a bunch more of these tips. What else you got for hotels or other travel tips?

Chris:
Okay, I got a couple cool travel ones. One, if you’re booking a villa or a house, you’re looking on Airbnb. If it’s in another country, sometimes this works in the U.S, but really great in Mexico and overseas. Take the image that best represents the property, save it to your computer, go to Google image search and upload it. And chances are there’s probably three or four other websites that are a broker for booking that same property. So you might find some local version of Airbnb in Mexico, there’s a site called Cabo Villas, which is great for booking villas in Cabo. You might find that property somewhere else and it can be 20, 30% cheaper. You might even find a website that the owner themselves has set up so there’s no extra commission going to the booking agency and you could save even more. So that’s one.
If you’re flying international, don’t always look from where you live to where you’re going when you’re searching for flights. First off, I do all my flight searching on Google Flights. I think it’s the best tool. You don’t book there, you go book on the airlines website, but Google Flights is where I start when I’m using dollars to book a flight. If you’re using points, a whole different ballgame, but if you’re using dollars Google Flights, you can put open-ended things like San Francisco up to one stop, go anywhere and look at a map in July for one week trips. You could do all this crazy stuff. But if you were trying to get from where I live San Francisco to Santorini in Greece, there’s like three airlines that fly all the legs necessary to get you there. But if you say I want to go from San Francisco to Athens, there’s probably 15 airlines that can get you to Athens and the flight from Athens to Santorini is like $50.
So if you’re looking to go anywhere that’s a little bit off the beaten path, it’s not a major city, maybe it’s an island, maybe it’s a small town just try to buy your ticket to the closest destination. People call these positioning flights, get yourself really close to where you want to go and then just do that last leg separately because the way all these flight searches work is they’re all looking for some carrier and their partners that will get you the entire way there. Very few of them will pair up in the U.S a southwest flight with a Lufthansa of flight. You’ve probably never seen that happen. So if you were in Germany trying to do this and you’re like, I want to get to Seattle, it’s like we’re only looking at places that United and Lufthansa work together because they’re partners. So that’s one I love.
If you’re booking car rentals, Auto Slash is this great website where you can go in and just say here’s where I’m booking. And even if you’ve already booked separately, they’ll just continually monitor for you and if they find a cheaper price they’ll say, “Hey, we found a lower price.” And because almost all car rentals you can just cancel the reservation and book it again they really help with that. And then if you’re not booking with a credit card that has all the travel benefits, delayed bags, lost bags, trip delay, cancellation, evacuation stuff, make sure you do that. And then just stay on top of if you have something come up, make sure you cancel it. If you have something come up, there’s a little tiny hack that doesn’t always work. But if you need to cancel a flight, if you know you’re not going to take that flight, I always wait until 12 hours before to cancel it because every now and then there’s a schedule change or a delay or something and then you get to cancel it for free.
A lot of the airlines now will let you cancel for free but you get credit, but we were in Hawaii and we wanted to come back a day early and so we booked a Southwest flight the day early but we didn’t cancel our other flight until we were ready to leave. And sure enough they changed the flight and they were like, “Hey, if you need to cancel at no cost you can.” Because they pushed it back by four hours so I always wait to cancel flights. I mean look, I probably have 15 episodes on travel hacking so we could probably do the next three hours on this. Go check out more there, but I don’t know, those are some of my favorite travel hacks.

Scott:
That was fantastic. What’s another category of hacks outside of travel that you have?

Chris:
I’ll call this spending money. It’s pretty broad, but I’ll put it in the money category. There are a few ones that I love here. So one Amazon Smile, it’s this site where if you buy everything through Amazon’s Smile, it’s basically you get to buy the same stuff that’s on Amazon except Amazon will donate 1% to charity. So that’s a cool one help other people. I think that if you have a family and you look at the cost of buying memberships to zoos and museums, it’s because most of them are all nonprofits. When you join the membership to the zoo or the museum it’s a tax deductible donation to a charity. And if you factor that in most zoos and museums and we’re talking science museum or history museum or art museum, most of them end up costing about 25% more and sometimes even as little as less when you factor in the tax deduction.
So we had family in town for Thanksgiving a year ago and we all wanted to go to the Oakland Zoo and to get a membership to the Oakland Zoo that included four guests and kids was the exact same price after you factored in the tax deduction as just buying all the tickets. So we just got the membership to the zoo and then for the next year we’ve been able to go to the zoo for free.

Mindy:
I do want to tag onto your zoo tip with my museum tip that I think I got from Jillian Johnsrud from Montana Money Adventures. Your Nature and Science museum membership is good at something like 360 science and nature museums around the country that are more than 90 miles outside of your home museum. So we are close to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, so any museum within a 90 mile radius my membership wouldn’t get me into, but there’s a list of more than 360, I’m on their website right now. There’s a list of more than 360 science centers and museums that you can get into with your museum pass. And I think actually somebody up in Oregon told me this as well, there’s a Portland museum that’s pretty interesting. So it doesn’t work with zoos I don’t think, but it works with science museums all around the country.

Chris:
There’s another version of that that a lot of zoos have. So if you have a science museum, you might be able to go to the science museums. If you’re in a zoo one, you might be able to go to the zoo ones or there’s actually a museum in the Bay area called Curiosity that’s half zoo, half science and I think they’re in both. So we have a membership there. Yeah, it’s wild and I don’t know, kids love it. So it’s anytime you’re traveling you’re like, oh what’s the free museum we can go spend the afternoon in because we may made a one time donation in the last year at our local one?
The other fun one library extension. You install this browser extension and when you’re browsing Amazon it’ll just tell you whether your local library has the book that you’re looking at either available in digital download right away format or check out at the library. So you’re looking at a library like, oh I’m about to buy this book. Or you’re looking at Amazon, you’re about to buy a book. It’s like, oh I could just literally download the Kindle version of this book right now for free from my local library.

Mindy:
Ooh, that’s a good tip.

Chris:
Unclaimed money, I don’t know if you’ve talked about this a lot, but there’s a website for every state where you can just go search whether there’s money owed to you. So that’s probably like the version one of it, go see if anyone owes you money. I just cashed a check for $1 so sometimes you get a check in the mail that it might not be worth your time to cash it, but on the flip side, that website’s also a place where people can go find your address because they just need your name and your city and it confirms your address. So I like to clear all my unclaimed money out, but also anytime I’m going to a friend’s house for dinner or something, I’m like, oh I got your address, I got your name. I go look them up and I show up to dinner and I’m like, ah, I brought a bottle of wine, but I also found that Verizon owes you $35. So if you want to go to this website, you can get a free $35. And so that’s my party hack is bringing unclaimed money.

Scott:
What is this website?

Chris:
So every state has a website where you can go search a database of unclaimed money or unclaimed property. So California has one that I’ve gone to because I live here and you can search by last name and city and find out whether you have unclaimed money anywhere. So while I get through any other ones, go look and see if you find any unclaimed money and we can have a live report.

Scott:
Yeah, I’m doing this right now.

Mindy:
I found a $1,000 once. I don’t remember what it was for, but I was like, how do I not remember a $1,000? It was really crazy.

Scott:
By the way, no one owes me money.

Chris:
I don’t know if this was your case Mindy, but one of the reasons a lot of people have unclaimed money is you go to the hospital and this is something I learned, I did a whole episode on this if it’s interesting about paying your medical bills. And there’s these crazy things that happen where your insurance might only cover a certain amount and so they’re only allowed to bill you for that amount, but it’s legal for these companies to send you the bill for the rest. So I fractured my foot and they gave me a walking boot and it was the cheapest crappiest walking boot you get at the hospital relative to the really nice one on Amazon for $50. And I got a bill in the mail for $350 and I was like, I could buy a better version of this for $50, this is crazy.
And I had been in touch with this person who eventually came on the podcast, Marshall Allen who wrote this book, Never Pay the First Bill. And I reached out to him and he was like, oh well here’s what can happen. Your insurance might have only covered $50, so it was a $400 boot and they can make up whatever price they want. This is a $400 boot insurance says, “No, no, no, we’re only paying 50.” It’s legal for them to send you a letter that says, “Hey, the rest of this boot was $350 that your insurance didn’t cover.” Now what they don’t make clear is that the letter actually says if you out of the goodness of your heart want to pay the rest of the $350, you are welcome to, but you are under no legal obligation to. The letter shows up and looks like a bill that’s like your insurance didn’t cover the rest you owe 350.
And so over the course of getting shingles, I went to emergency room twice because I had no idea what was going on and it was excruciatingly painful and I got all these medical bills that my insurance covered most of, and people were just like, oh, do you want to pay the extra fee? The doctor at the insurance, even though the ER was in network the doctor wasn’t and so if you want to pay this extra you can. And through a series of following his book and playing through these tactics, I ended up owing nothing extra, but I got bills for hundreds and thousands of dollars. And one of them I thought was legitimate and I paid $52 and they gave it back to me once the insurance company finally settled it all. But a lot of people, if you have gone and paid these and your insurance company eventually settles it all that’s where you might be owed money because the hospital might be like, oh, we couldn’t find them. And eventually they have to hand that money over to the state and then the state holds onto it.

Mindy:
Well I just checked all three states that I have lived in recently and nobody owes me money anymore.

Scott:
That was a great tip about the legal or the health bills that’s awesome. I had no idea that that’s the case.

Chris:
On the health side, never pay the first bill. I mean, Marshall Allen wrote the book, I’m not going to coin the phrase, but if you get a bill from a medical provider there are 10 steps you can follow. I did a whole episode, we walked through all of it, there’s a book, do not pay the first bill you get. There’s like 10 reasons that we don’t have time to get into about how you could argue not paying that bill, getting your insurance company to cover it. There’s some laws in different states about not being able to charge you for out of network things at an in network facility that just changed. So that was a great one. On the health side, I learned this trick when I was working at Google, just hide the unhealthy things at your house if you feel like you have to have them.
Google basically at one point was like, well we don’t want to get rid of the M&Ms because people like M&Ms, and we don’t want to get rid of the Coke because there are people that really want this and we don’t want them to be mad. But they would black out the fridge, the section of the fridge would blacked out with the Cokes behind it and then above that where there’s waters and other things it was not blacked out. And then the jars on the counter with healthier snacks were clear glass and the other ones were completely blacked out and they found that they just massively reduced the amount of unhealthy snacks and drinks people were consuming without having to remove them. So if you have unhealthy snacks at home you don’t have to get rid of them though that’s probably the best move.
You could also just obfuscate the cover of them and hide them in less convenient places. Or my favorite on there is just give yourself five minutes every time. So if you see this cookie and you’re like, I really want that cookie, just say, you know what? I can have the cookie in five minutes. Don’t tell yourself you can’t have it because now you’re depriving yourself and that’s depressing. But if you tell yourself you can have it in five minutes, you feel really good about walking away because you know in five minutes you can eat it, but 90% of the time in that five minutes you’ve gone and done something else and forgotten about it.

Scott:
Love it. By the way, since me and Mindy are continuing giving you updates my wife is owed between 11 and $49. You are welcome as a dinner guest anytime Chris.

Chris:
Look at that. I hope it’s on the 49 side.

Scott:
No bottle of wine necessary.

Chris:
Great. I want an update what it was.

Scott:
Yeah, we’ll have to figure it out later.

Chris:
Back to the spending. This goes in line with my shopping strategy. If I’m buying something online, a lot of people know that you can go to Rakuten and you can sign up and get cashback and there’s a bunch of other sites to do that. I love Cashback Monitor because it basically says, here’s all the cashback websites that you could get. So the way it would work is you want to buy something on a website, you go see if they have the ability to click a link on one of these shopping portal sites and then you earn cashback or a lot of the credit card companies. So Chase has a portal, you buy it through their portal you earn one or 2% back in points. So that’s level one. I go a little crazier sometimes. So if I’m trying to buy something, I will go as far as to see if I can find or even buy coupons.
So there’s this website that’s, I think it’s savendeals.com I think. I’ll double check, but I buy Home Depot and Lowe’s gift cards online. And so you can basically go to this website and you pay, they have Crate & Barrel coupon, oh, I bought it for Crate & Barrel, this couch in the background I got 10 or 20% off by buying a Crate & Barrel gift card on the internet. And so I’ll always look to see if there’s a way that I can find coupons or buy coupons because if you’re buying a couch, spending $4 to get a coupon that saves you 15% is totally worth it. And then if that doesn’t work, I will go and buy gift cards for the retailer, but I’ll do it wherever I get the most points. So for example, if I needed to buy… We just renovated a bathroom so we need to buy a toilet and I really wanted to splurge for a little Japanese toilet, built in toilet seat, heated seats, all the good stuff.
And so we wanted it at Lowe’s and I was like, okay, I need to buy this. So I bought a Lowe’s coupon that brought the price down by 10 or 15% and then I was like, well how do I get the rest of it? So I went to the grocery store where I get four points per dollar on my Amex Gold card and I bought Lowe’s gift cards because if I use my credit card at Lowe’s, I’m just going to get one or two points per dollar. But if I use my card at the grocery store, I’m getting four and then so I’m getting the four points on the gift cards. So then I buy the toilet with… I plugged in the coupon, I went through the shopping portal link to get one or 2% back, I’m paying with gift cards that I got four points per dollar for and at the grocery store I usually don’t get variable amount gift cards and so that brought it down to there’s still $75 or $80.
Then you can go to Amazon and you can buy a gift card to the exact amount you need and it gets delivered and fulfilled instantly. I got the Amazon credit card for 5% back on Amazon. So all in, I think it was like 25% off by stacking cash back portals, buying coupons online and then using the right gift card. And then if you can’t find a coupon online, my hack there is just pop up the live chat on any website and just ask for a discount. 50% of the time I just say, “Hey, I’m shopping on your site. I really would love these floor mats, we got a new car. There’s another floor mat that’s a little less expensive, but I love yours. What can you do?” And I’ve gotten, “Hey, here’s a gift card or hey, refresh your cart by clicking this link and you’ll see that I’ve discounted your price.”
Or one time someone’s like, “I can’t do you anything, but if you search social media for someone’s referral link you’ll get 20% off.” So I go to search.twitter.com and I’m like referral name of company and I find someone who has inevitably posted their referral link on the internet. So anytime I’m buying something online that’s over, I don’t know, $50 or something where this is worth the effort I try to stack as many of the things as I can to earn as much back or get as much of a deal as I can.

Mindy:
I’m just speechless at all the ways that you can…. I mean, I thought I was frugal.

Scott:
Yeah, this is pretty impressive.

Mindy:
I’m screwing up left and compared to you.

Chris:
Look, you can go off the deep end here. I could do this when I’m like, I need to buy a hammer and how can I get my $11 hammer down to $9 and spend 45 minutes saving $2? And honestly I think maybe the satisfaction I get from saving that $2 is probably worth an amount equivalent to 30 or 45 minutes. But now that I have two kids, maybe that’s gone down so I will say you can go too far. I think a good example of this is I realize when part of this unclaimed money thing, I was like, gosh, my information’s on the internet, we have kids, I have podcasts, I don’t really need the whole world knowing where I live. And if you Google yourself, you’ll find, oh wow, your address and your phone number and your email address are probably available on the public internet for anyone to find.
And so I was like, I got to get rid of this. So I started doing some research and there’s like 600 data brokers who sell your personal information to each other and publish it all over the web. And I was like, you know what? I’m not going to pay a service to go do this. And then I was like, let’s go find the 600 data brokers, go to each of their websites, request them to remove my information, and five hours into it I was like, what am I doing? And so I found this company DeleteMe I went and signed up and for $100 they contact all 600 data brokers and have them all remove all of your personal information off the internet everywhere. And now I challenge you to find my personal address or phone number on the internet because it’s been scrubbed. And then in true optimization fashion, I went one step further and I emailed them.
I was like, “Hey guys, I love your product. I just used it. I got rid of all my information. I have this podcast, I want to talk about it. Do you guys want to be a sponsor of the podcast?” And so now they’re a sponsor, allthehacks.com/deleteme get 20% off. But half of my sponsors ended up coming from me just finding a product I love and reaching out to them and saying, I love your product can I talk about it to my audience? And most of those products are ways to optimize your life in some way, shape, or form. And so there’s a great example of, figure out how long something’s going to take, find out if it’s going to be worth your time and whether there’s a service that’ll do it. So my wife got caught in this trap once. We have small children and she was thinking, oh, it’s time to start feeding our children food.
We were like there, what are we going to cut it in? What are we going to serve them? How do they get a variety of foods? And she was doing all this research and I was like, gosh, wouldn’t it be great if someone just made a meal plan for the first 100 days your kid eats and it just has all the ideas of everything there. And she’s like, oh, I found one on the internet but it’s $30 or something. And I was like, you just spent the last seven hours. I was like, can we just pay the $30? So I think this swings both directions. It’s not optimal, now it’s so optimal and now we’re finding that middle ground where it’s like, you know what? This is either worth our time or at the end of the day, the incremental value from picking the best of the three incredible hotels we could stay at in our budget is just not worth it.
All three are going to be fine. Pull the trigger. And that’s where we balance each other out because we can both find ourselves going down rabbit holes. But if you just think, okay, let me bounce this off my wife and she’s like, “Yeah, stop. Pick any of the three it doesn’t matter.” For food I’m always the optimal person like what’s the best thing on the menu? Someone told me he’s like, narrow it down to two. I don’t wear a watch, but conceptually pretend you wear a watch, narrow it down to two, call one right, call the other left, look where the second hand is and pick it. Don’t try to get to that last level, that Pareto 80/20 rule. Don’t feel like you have to optimize the last little bit unless it’s a huge thing. If it’s buying a house, yeah, figure out how to optimize it because it’s a massive purchase. But if it’s what you’re going to have for lunch, maybe don’t spend 30 minutes reading Yelp reviews trying to get the most optimal thing because you’re probably not even going to remember what it was three weeks from now.

Mindy:
I ask the waiter, “What would you choose, the bison burger or the chicken sandwich?” And he’ll be like, “Oh, the chicken sandwich is great. The bison burger’s dry.” Great. That made my decision.

Chris:
We did that one time and I asked this waiter, I was like, “How’s the beet salad?” And he goes, “Ugh, I hate beets.” And I was like, oh, okay. And that’s scarred me from, well what is this person’s personal view on certain types of foods? You ask that sandwich to a vegan and they’re like, both of these are terrible. But that is my go-to by the way, but I’ve been scarred a little by people who have strong opinions about certain foods.

Scott:
Well Chris, this has been fantastic. I mean, you are a gold mine of information about a large number of little ways to stack enormous savings and save yourself a lot of time as well. This is really impressive. What’s the best way for people to learn more about you and go deep into the rabbit hole of these little tips and tricks?

Chris:
I mean, if you’re listening to this podcast you’re probably in a podcast app so you could probably search for All The Hacks. That’s my show, it’s also in allthehacks.com. We have a newsletter and a podcast each week. And my goal is to help you upgrade and optimize your life, your money, and your travel. And if you want to get in touch, you can find me on social media. You can email me [email protected], I love to hear from people. And I hope I can help you save money, live a happier, healthier, wealthier life and feel like you got a little back the next time you’re trying to buy something or take an adventure.

Scott:
Nice. That’s awesome. And I’ll tell you what, I’m definitely going to sign up immediately following this recording. This was great.

Mindy:
Yeah, this was an awesome show Chris. I knew about Auto Slash and that’s the only one that I already knew. Everything else was brand new information and I am super excited to listen to your show every week that it comes out. I appreciate your time today. Thank you so much and we will talk to you soon.

Chris:
Thanks for having me. This was fun.

Mindy:
All right Scott, that was Chris Hutchins from All The Hacks Podcasts and that was fantastic. We didn’t share this during the recording, but our producer was sitting in on this episode and she found $183 on unclaimed money just from listening to Chris. So she’s going to invite Chris over to her house for dinner too. Nice job Kalin.

Scott:
Yeah, that was really cool. I mean, all of us found money I think for either us or our significant others within a few minutes on the search. The unclaimed property thing is legit. Do encourage you if you’re going to follow that tip to go Google your state’s website, your state.gov and follow their link to the unclaimed property because there are some sketchy sites out there. But if you do that, you may find you’re owed some money.

Mindy:
Yeah, that’s a great tip. I thought this was a lot of fun and you could make money just by listening to this episode. That’s a bonus. Scott, you ready to go?

Scott:
Let’s do it.

Mindy:
That wraps up this episode of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. He is Scott Trench and I am Mindy Jensen saying take care polar bear.

 

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.





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