I’m frugal, but I’m not cheap. And I’m betting that if you’re reading this, you’re probably very similar dealing with your money.
Here’s my deal: I HATE paying full price for anything. This is just built in to me, likely because of my parents who were extreme couponers when they first moved to this country (and yes, they do have the “only $15 in our pocket” cliche story). I was taught to save and save and save. I was taught to keep the lights off during the day, and turn them off when I left the room at night. I was taught to not bother with name brand items, because generic stuff was just as good.
That’s not to say my family was poor when I was growing up. My parents worked really hard so that we could all live a comfortable life, and we did/do. Which brings me to a different point: even when my parents became “successful,” they kept buying the generic stuff and kept saving money. It was built in to them.
I, however, am a bit more materialistic. I notice the difference between a dress shirt bought from Nordstrom or Brooks Brothers vs one bought at Sears or Kohl’s. The thing is, I’d much rather pay $20 for that dress shirt than $75. In fact, I’ll go a step further and say I wouldn’t buy that $75 dress shirt unless I could get it at half off. So I’ll wait for a sale, combine it with a coupon, stack it with a discounted gift card, and earn credit card points for the purchase. With everything stacked I get the product I wanted for a much more palatable price.
Before I lose you, let’s compare that to the travel and points game. We know how much a normal flight from LAX to JFK costs…about $350+ if you just randomly look a month in advance. But we, as savvy travelers, don’t like regular price – we want the $220 fare, because we know it will become available eventually and because it’s a great deal. It’s the reason The Flight Deal’s website exists, because there are better deals out there, and they use an objective measure of that value. It’s the reason we have CPM (cents per mile) measures, and even the new Miles per Minute measure that Mr Pickles created.
In terms of points, a round trip business class ticket from the US to Europe is usually $5K. But again, we don’t like regular price – we want a deal. We know that 100K points can be had for A LOT less than $5K. In fact, with the right credit card sign-ups you can end up paying just $5 out of pocket for that ticket (as long as you never carry a balance). I’m no mathematician, but $5 is better than $5K when you’re the one paying!
The Frequent Miler takes our obsession to a different level, because the gift card churning game can literally create points for free (plus time and effort), and that’s why everyone loves him. He showed us another avenue to feed in to our obsession to save more money, something other than credit card sign up bonuses. He helped change the game, and we all love playing the game.
Back to my original point: I’d bet that many of us that are part of the points community are the same way in our normal lives as we are in our points lives. We want a deal, and regular price is for the uninformed. But I’m sure we all know people that we shake our heads at because of their purchasing decisions. You know, the ones that we see paying cash (gasp!), paying MSRP at Banana Republic (omg!), or even combining the two (WTF!).
What we do is definitely not a bad thing. Our points obsession is time consuming – there’s no question about it. Whether it’s keeping up with FlyerTalk, taking the time to read all the blogs every day, or driving to several Office Depots or CVSs, there is a significant time commitment. The way I see it, we all value our time differently, and we all have different amounts of money. I, and I think many of us, would rather spend more of my time to figure out how to save more of my money to fuel my travel hobby. Of course there are many cases in which paying more to save time is worth it as well, but everyone has their own calculation.
By the way, this is where that Miles per Minute calculation comes in handy. We all dream of creating passive income for ourselves, so why not create a passive points income as well? It’s a different, intriguing way to think of the game!
So tell me – am I right or wrong? Are you different from what I described, and do you have different reasons for playing the points game?