BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Wish I'd gotten more out of this ...

A couple of months back I attended the UnCubed event here … this was my third or fourth UnCubed, and each has been different. They're typically 1/3 job fair, 1/3 conference, and 1/3 networking … with an optional (paid) track of workshops. Frankly, generally speaking, the target audience for these is much younger than me and a whole lot more technical … even though that brief writer gig I had out in the suburbs in 2013 came from a discussion with an exhibitor at a previous one – so my finding something at these is possible. This past one, not so much (although they did have a strange revolving – different categories getting in at different times - lounge for those with more than 5 years experience).

However, one of the exhibitors was Brad's Deals, and they were handing out copies of founder Brad Wilson's Do More, Spend Less: The New Secrets of Living the Good Life for Less to those who seemed interested. I let on as how I did these reviews, and told them I'd throw it into my to-be-read pile.

Now, I'd not been familiar with the Brad's Deals site (I actually hadn't even looked at it until starting this review), so I didn't have any particular expectation of what the book would be when starting into it … other than being 5½ years out of work and hoping that it was going to provide me with some actionable suggestions for “living the good life for less”. I am also “allergic” to all things financial (down to managing check books and credit cards – thank goodness The Wife is into all that sort of stuff!), and a LOT of this book is targeted to people who like nothing more than to set up spreadsheets comparing fractions of percents of difference between various sources of home loans, car loans, credit cards, etc., so what might have excited the right sort of reader in many cases simply horrified me. In fact, there were chunks of this, where Wilson is going through detailed minutia of international airline frequent flier programs, or comparing credit card offers, that I was literally mentally saying “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH” while flipping the pages until he got to stuff that I could connect with. I am a fairly diligent reader, and it stood out to me that I really couldn't recall another book that I so “disconnected” with in various parts!

Again, this is likely do to my being phobic around several areas covered here, and not a particular fault of the book … although there was a sense that sections of this were coming from an “enthusiastic hobbyist” standpoint, and held the same “fascination” (or lack thereof) that somebody going on about the details of various Pokemon cards sets, or different gauge model railroad systems, or wine collectors' tasting notes, would have for somebody with scant interest in that niche.

The book is also very close to being an autobiography … Wilson gets into a lot of detail on how these various “secrets” work, but it's generally in the context of how he worked a particular deal … frequently featuring vehicles that are no longer available. Additionally, from my perspective, it works a very fine line between “these are great ways to save money” and “these are effective ways to game the system” … and I kept wondering when he was “going to get caught” doing a lot of these.

He starts off talking about how he was able to do these fantastic, 5-figure vacations with his new wife … some of the approaches are basic, but most require jumping through a lot of hoops, some requiring the short-term expenditure of fairly significant funds. One approach he used to build up free nights at a major international hotel chain was to book nights at their lowest-level motel brand (which still counted to “nights stayed” in the chain's program), swing by the hotel, use the automated kiosk to check in, and then simply drive back home. Because he was going to be using those nights (in a stay 2, get 1 deal) in a $1,000+/night hotel, his expenditure of under $50 for each night in the cheap hotel was an investment he was happy to make (although, coming to this in a “flat broke” state, that sounds like a LOT of money to put in play). He claims that his eventual “$54,000” trip (with these hotel credits and a bunch of airline miles) cost him $20 (for a dessert), at no point does he account for the expenditures made to get those hotel nights.

Speaking of airline miles, he also details a “system” (I think it's closer to a “scam”) where he took advantage of one airline's counting all miles accrued as equivalent to flight miles – and giving miles for every dollar spent on their affiliated credit card – and a promotion that the U.S. Mint was running when it was trying to get people to use the Presidential Dollar coins (where you could order a 250-count box of the coins, for face value, with free shipping). The goal here was to get both him and his wife up to the top “lifetime” status in this airline's frequent flier program – which required 1 million miles racked up in a calendar year. To achieve this, he ordered more than three million $1 coins over the course of several months, running the charges through his (no doubt multiple) credit cards that generated the mileage credits, and turning around and depositing the coins as they came in at his bank to pay off those accounts. I don't know about you, but the idea of trying to charge that much through a credit card is a terrifying concept, even if at each point the money was just “out there” until the next coin delivery (he even got a UPS store box half a block from his bank to make schlepping the 60lb loads of coins easier to deposit).

His “travel” schemes take up the first half of the book, with the rest being dedicated to “shopping” (where he describes getting kicked off of eBay for listing CDs and DVDs from Amazon Canada – at a time when the exchange rate was very skewed – and simply ordering the items with Canadian dollars for delivery to the customer, and making a chunk of money in the process), and “personal finance” (including how to game the car-buying and mortgage processes). In that section Wilson writes about signing up for numerous credit cards (he did as many as 17 in one day) for sign-up bonuses (no mention about paying the annual fees), and how to manipulate your credit score.

Again, I'd rather have dental surgery than a friendly sit-down with an accountant, so most of the “tricky” stuff the author outlines here made me extremely nervous reading it … but if you're the type who switched accounts or services all the time to gain a percentage here or a percentage there, you might find all this a lot of fun. You probably need to have a fairly substantial bankroll, however, because a lot of what he talks you through here takes cash (or credit) outlays of various degrees of significance, and all I could think of is how screwed you could be if everything didn't work just perfectly (and having a sense that Wilson was lucky in a lot of his machinations).

If you're looking for a way to save some money here and there, Do More, Spend Less is probably not the book for you (I guess would be a suggestion), but if you're looking to totally turn you life over to spreadsheets and reading the fine print in every mailing you get to eventually be able to take fifty-thousand dollar vacations “for nothing”, this is the book for you. As noted, there is massive detail as to “how to do it” in the various sections here … but it made my head swim and wonder at what point the gendarmes arrive to stick you in a cell until the Forensic Accountants have picked their way through your finances!

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Tags: book review
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