United Explorer Card: 60,000 Free Miles and Free TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

If anyone plans to travel in the next 5 years, this card (my referral link) is quite a deal:

  • Free TSA PreCheck/Global Entry for 5 years
  • 60,000 free miles (at least ~$480 worth of flights)
  • 2 lounge passes
  • Priority boarding – so you can board before all the overhead space is taken
  • 1 free checked bag per flight for both you and a companion
  • Primary car rental insurance
  • No annual fee for the first year (after which it can be cancelled or you can call their cancellation line and they might give you a second free year)

I rarely get new cards, but couldn’t pass this up. My wife and I recently used it to get through the TSA lines in under 5 minutes. We also used the free checked bags benefit.

I don’t know if this has anything to do with the card, but we got to the baggage claim late, and found United’s baggage claim workers actually guarding our bags and car seats for us.

One last nice thing: United’s miles no longer expire, so you don’t have to worry about that either. What a deal!

How to Compare Prices Between Doctors (in the United States)

It’s difficult to compare prices between doctors.  Insurance providers have estimator tools, but the prices they give are often for slightly different procedures than the one you’re looking for.  Even if they do have your exact procedure/test listed, the price ranges they list are usually outdated and nowhere near accurate.

One of my colleagues at work had a method he used to get more accurate price estimates.  I’ve slightly modified it to fit my needs, and am listing it here in case it helps someone else:

  1. Call doctor and get diagnosis and/or procedure/CPT codes.
  2. Call facilities, get routed to billing, and ask for estimates.
  3. Call insurance and also ask for estimates.
  4. Pick facility and schedule an appointment.  This may involve calling the doctor back to get a referral or move a referral.
  5. Once scheduled, call again and ask for an estimate (since facilities are sometimes better able to provide estimates once your visit is scheduled.)

This is a lot of work, but may save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

CPT Professional 2020 (CPT / Current Procedural Terminology (Professional Edition)) – You don’t actually need this book to figure out what CPT code you need to reference, but the person in your doctor’s billing office probably will.


  • Even if you think you might not be eligible, apply for financial aid anyway.  Especially if you have a family.  You might be surprised that you qualify.  And apply before you pay your bill.  It’s much tougher to get retroactive financial aid for a bill you previously struggled to pay.
  • Ask what the uninsured cost is.  It can be cheaper than what would normally billed to your insurance, but then it doesn’t count towards your deductible either.


How To Get 3-4% Back at Walmart Using the Apple Card

If you spend a lot at Walmart, have an Apple Card, and are willing to deal with extra hassle at the register, you can get 3-4% back by using the Ibotta app with Apple Pay.  It works like this:

  1. At checkout, open the Ibotta app.  Hit Walmart and then Pay with Ibotta.  You will be asked to enter the total amount due at the register.
  2. Type that amount into your phone and pay with Ibotta using Apple Pay.  This buys you a gift card for that amount.  A gift card barcode pops up that you can scan with the scanner.
  3. You get 2% for using Apple Pay, and Ibotta gives you 1-2%, for a total of 3-4% cash back at Walmart.

Ibotta cash back is actually not instant: You must accumulate $20 before cashing out.

If you’re not a Walmart shopper and Apple Card holder, Ibotta is probably not worth it.  Unless you’re someone who frequently:

  • Buys mostly brand name items at the grocery store (instead of mainly private label brands)
  • Purchases speciality alcoholic beverages

Ibotta just takes too much time for too little money.  As an example, after entering a couple of receipts per month for 1 year and 3 months, I earned a whole $20.  (That’s with a $10 welcome bonus + a $5 referral bonus.)

Because I don’t shop at Walmart often and don’t yet have an Apple Card, I cancelled my Ibotta account immediately after cashing out.

Cost of Living Comparison Between the 8 States with No Income Tax

I was curious which no-income-tax state was the cheapest to live in, with the best weather, along with easy access to Trader Joe’s and Costco.  I picked somewhat arbitrary but mostly family-friendly cities in each state, and charted the differences:

Cost of Living (How much does $100 buy) ZIP Pleasant Days per Year Violent Crime (100 = worst, national average = 22.7) Trader Joe’s? Costco?
Brookings, SD $117.10 57002 60 8 No No
Collegedale, TN $111.86 37315 53 9.4 No Yes, just across border in Georgia
Laramie, WY $106.27 82051 25 8.4 No No
Henderson, NV $102.56 89002 63 11.5 Yes Yes
Kissimmee, FL $101.73 34741 90 35.3 Yes in Orlando Yes in Orlando
Austin, TX $99.50 73301 61 24.9 Yes Yes
Fairbanks, AK $93.55 99701 40 39.6 No Yes
Seattle, WA $89.45 98116 70 32.3 Yes Yes

Result: Henderson, Nevada looks like a good balance between low cost of living, low crime, pleasant weather (though it does get fairly hot there in the summer!), and easy access to familiar grocery stores.  Now if only more of my family lived near there.

Sources: (listed in previous post on this topic)

How to Prevent Alaska Airlines Miles from Expiring for $1

After two years of inactivity, Alaska Air retains the right to close your account and delete your Mileage Plan miles.  In the past, I avoided this by going to Alaska’s shopping portal and buying a $1 song from iTunes.  But iTunes is no longer one of Alaska’s partners, so I found a new strategy:

  1. From Alaska’s shopping portal, click Groupon.
  2. Search for anything, then clear the search, and you’ll get a list of All Deals.
  3. Sort by price, low-to-high.

You’ll now see a bunch of deals in your area for $1 and up.  I chose a local restaurant for $19, since I want to help support good local restaurants during the pandemic.  Bonus: Groupon works with Apple Pay.

Click one, buy it, and you’re done.  Your mileage credit will post to Alaska’s portal within a week or so, and you’ll have gained another two years before you have to do it over again.


Another even easier option is donating a portion of your miles to charity, via Alaska’s site.  (Minimum: 1000 miles per donation.)

Top 15 U.S. Cities with the Lowest Cost of Living + Weather & Crime Data

I found an interesting article over at The Tax Foundation’s web site listing the top 15 cities with the lowest cost of living.  They compare how much $100 can buy in different areas of the country.  I was curious what the weather and crime was like in these cities, so I cross referenced the city data with Kelly Norton’s pleasant places to live weather data + Best Place’s violent crime data.  Here’s what I came up with:

City Cost of Living – What does $100 buy? ZIP Pleasant days per year Violent Crime score (100 =  worst)
Beckley, WV $132.80 25801 73 54.3
Danville, IL $126.74 61832 66 70.2
Morristown, TN $124.53 37813 61 35.2
Rome, GA $123.61 30149 57 38.5
Jefferson City, MO $123.30 65101 51 19.9
Valdosta, GA $123.00 31601 66 21
Hattiesburg, MS $122.40 39401 58 21.1
Carbondale-Marion, IL $122.10 62901 60 24.7
Jackson, TN $121.65 38301 49 54
Gadsden, AL $121.51 35901 57 60.4
Jonesboro, AR $121.36 72401 56 25
Cape Girardeau, MO-IL $121.36 63701 63 25.3
Albany, GA $120.92 31701 69 53.2
Pine Bluff, AR $120.77 71601 51 72.5
Cleveland, TN $120.34 37311 56 43.1

You can see that Beckley, WV is a beautiful place to live (weather-wise) with a great bang for the buck, but the violent crime rate is more than double the national average of 22.1.  Based on what people are saying over at city-data, there’s a lot of drug activity there.  And Danville, IL is exponentially worse.


There’s a lot more to consider, though:  Local job prospects, shopping, schools, churches,  dining, proximity to your relatives, etc.

Avoiding Double Taxation When Entering ESPP Sales in H&R Block’s Tax Software

The Finance Buff has a good article on how to avoid double taxation when entering Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP) sales in H&R Block’s tax software.  You should verify this with your HR department, but in most cases, your ESPP discount is already contained in your W-2.  If you don’t manually correct this when filing your taxes, you will be taxed twice on the discount.

The missing piece that took me some time to figure out was how to calculate my true cost basis, using Form 3922, provided to me in January by my stock transfer company.

What I ended up doing is using the data in Boxes 2, 4, and 6 from Form 3922 to create a spreadsheet:


I then multiplied the market price on the purchase date (Box 4) by the number of shares transferred (Box 6).  This gives you the total value of the stock sold for each purchase date (last column).

In the example above, I sold a bunch of shares that were purchased on 7 different dates, so I had to sum up the value of all the stock I sold on the date I sold it.  That gave me my true cost basis, and that’s the number I plugged into H&R Block’s tax software.

Repeat this for each sale you make in the tax year, and you’ll avoid being taxed twice.

GoodBudget – a Decent, Unsung Budgeting App

It still doesn’t have searching in the iOS version, but GoodBudget is my favorite budgeting app.  It’s a digital envelope system.  The interface is simple:

(Not my actual budget.)

My wife and I can easily use it.  It syncs between devices quickly and reliably.  Categories are easily customizable, and it’s generous with 10 envelopes for free.  It’s built by a small team of developers who are slow to add features but steady in their work over the years.

It’s fast loading (under 2 seconds).  Unlike Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar budgeting app, it also works offline.  This is great when you’re trying to see how much you have left to spend in the back of the supermarket aisle where there’s no mobile signal.

Until Apple creates something better built into the Wallet app, GoodBudget is recommended.

Transferring Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP) Shares From ComputerShare to Your Brokerage Account

Update: This is all possible via ComputerShare’s web site now.  You can transfer shares for free, online, without having to call in.  You still have to wait 1-3 business days for the shares to actually be transferred though.

Let’s say you want to transfer your employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) shares from ComputerShare to your brokerage account.  Here’s what I’ve found:

  1. Call ComputerShare at 781-575-2727 during U.S. Eastern time business hours.  (Their toll-free number was dead the last time I tried.)
  2. Prepare for a long 3-5 minute authentication process where an automated voice tells you all about your account, v-e-r-y slowly.  Say “customer service” as much as possible.  Have your employee number, PIN #, and account number from the ComputerShare web site / statements handy.  When you do finally get to a human, they’re actually pretty pleasant to deal with, as long as you’re patient and polite.
  3. Tell ComputerShare’s rep to transfer your ESPP shares to common stock.  (Common stock shares are Direct Registration System (DRS) eligible. If you try to transfer ESPP shares directly to your brokerage, they will be denied.)  This step is required.  You can only do this over the phone, not online.
  4. Wait 1-3 business days.  Observe at ComputerShare’s web site that your shares have transferred to common stock.
  5. Login to your brokerage and select broker to broker transfer, then select “ComputerShare – DRS” when doing the transfer.  Select the option to transfer whole shares only.  (Partial shares won’t transfer.)  Attach a PDF copy of your newest ComputerShare statement.  Wait 5-7 days for the transfer to complete.


Q. Is this free?
A. Usually.  Neither ComputerShare nor my brokerage, as of this writing, charge a fee for a broker to broker transfer.  Check with your brokerage to make sure.
Q. Why would you want to do this?
A. In my case, I did it for several reasons, including: 
  • I wanted to get the shares out of ComputerShare using the least expensive method possible.  There are larger fees for selling shares via ComputerShare’s system.
  • I wanted to use my brokerage’s far superior (though still not perfect) web interface to manage the bulk of my shares.  Navigating ComputerShare’s site requires at least 3 button presses to get to the actual login page, where you select from 3 different types of usernames for logging in, followed by a multitude of confusing buttons to get details about what you own.  Their whole site seems like it hasn’t been updated since the mid-1990s.  My brokerage, by contrast, has one login page, one username type, and presents almost everything you need to know right away.  Their customer service is 24/7 too.


Q. What do I do with my shares after they’ve transferred over successfully?
A. It’s up to you.  You can leave them where they are (incurring the risk that your company’s stock will go down, potentially wiping out any ESPP savings), you can manually sell them for cash (incurring a tax and a trading fee cost), or you can automatically sell them for cash using a limit order at a price a little under the highest you’ve seen in the last 1-3 months (noting that you will still incur a tax and trading fee cost).  If you sell them for cash and you don’t need the money right away, you may want to reinvest them according to your asset allocation.

Q. Why would I want to purchase ESPP shares in the first place?
A. Check out The Finance Buff’s excellent article on ESPP shares – he goes in depth about why you might want to do this.

Q. What is ComputerShare?
A. ComputerShare is a stock transfer agent.  For more info, see Brokerage Review’s article (which also discusses their fees).

Never Pay Full Price For iTunes Music/Movies/Apps

iTunes gift cards go on sale every few months for 15-25% off at Best Buy, Safeway, ShopRite, etc.

Right now, Best Buy is offering 20% off $100 cards.  If you have a Discover card, you can get an additional 5% cash back via ShopDiscover.  This stacks with 5% off all online purchases with Discover from Oct-Dec.  (See Discover’s Cashback Calendar) That’s a $100 iTunes card for $72.


You can get alerted to these deals as they happen by creating a saved search on the SlickDeals.net forums for “apple gift card” or “itunes card”.