Tuesday 14 March 2017

1,000 Velocity Frequent Flyer bonus points

In case any readers are interested in joining the Velocity Frequent Flyer program, using this link will get you 1,000 bonus points when you open your new account. I joined up when I saw a promotional flyer while skiing last July, and got some bonus points for buying fuel at BP service stations when they were running promotions. As there's no annual or joining fee it's an easy way to get some additional 'frequent flyer' points. When I buy fuel at BP I 'double dip' by swiping the Velocity card to earn points for the fuel purchase (and sometimes quality for 'bonus points' offers) and then pay using my NAB credit card (which earns FlyBuys. points). As I only buy fuel at BP when I see that the price is as good or better than the price I'll get at Shell (with my Coles shopping docket discount) or Caltex (with my Woolworths rewards shopping discount), it is a rare example of really getting 'something for nothing'.

ps. Disclosure: If you join Velocity FF using the link both you and I will get 1,000 bonus points. ;)

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Friday 3 March 2017

Good service from my 'bank'

Earlier this week I received a phone call from my bank letting me know that an old ~$800 cheque I'd written last month (and forgotten about) to pay DS1's school fees had 'bounced' due to there being insufficient funds in my savings account (there was over $60K sitting in my high-interest online account at the same bank, but I usually keep as little as possible sitting in my savings account as the interest rate is only 0.01% pa). I was told that I should transfer in enough funds to cover the cheque by 11am (the cut-off for same-day interbank payments) or else the cheque would automatically be dishonoured. I transferred some money between my accounts online, and noticed that at the time there was a $15 'insufficient funds' charge appearing on my savings account.

The next day when I checked online, the cheque had been 'cleared' and the $15 fee had been removed, so it looks like the bank's phone call saved me $15 and having to make alternative arrangements to pay the school fee. Hat tip to Qudos bank.

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Wednesday 1 March 2017

Bitcoin newbie

Bitcoin (and many other cryptocurrencies) has been around now for many years, and after initially (still) being mostly used for nefarious activities and 'dark web' purchases (or maybe just geeks), it now seems to be getting more main stream. So I decided it was about time I had a play around with the ins and out of using Bitcoin. (I'll use the singular, as with 1 BTC currently being 'worth' about A$1547.59 I'm unlikely to have more than a fraction of one BTC any time soon).

To get started I first created a free Bitcoin 'wallet' on my smart phone (I chose to use Copay, but there myriad wallet apps out there - with a range of features, security, ease-of-use, platform availability, cost, etc.). So far so good, but having a wallet with 0 BTC in it isn't much use so I next had to look into how to get some Bitcoin to fill my 'wallet'...

Being a tight-arse I'm not about to spend any real money to 'buy' a Bitcoin, and I'm not sure that using my credit card on a site 'selling' bitcoins would be prudent. So, how to get some Bitcoins into my 'wallet'?

Well, the first (easiest) option seemed to be to install a free 'bitcoin maker' app onto my phone, and use it to 'earn' some BTC. Real 'mining' of Bitcoins isn't viable on a smart phone or even on a high spec PC (unless you join a pool and are content to earn a fraction of a fraction of a Bitcoin, probably worth less than the electricity spent on the computations). So the 'mining' app I've downloaded seems to do no actual 'mining', but instead requires tapping a button every 10 or 30 minutes to 'earn' 500 Satoshi (a 'Satoshi' is one 100 millionth of a Bitcoin, so 500 Satoshi is worth about 0,77c). When they are 'available' tapping the button also displays a 30s ad (presumably that is where the app developer is getting the funds to actually purchase some BTC). I seen numerous trailers for the movie 'Rings(3)', some road safety ads, and a large number of variants of candy crush/tetris... On second thoughts, while the app was easy to install, it certainly was easy to 'earn' the minimum 500,000 Satoshi required to make a withdrawal request. As it took about two weeks to 'earn' that half-million Satoshi (worth around A$10), I certainly won't get rich that way. I've also yet to see that transfer of funds arrive in my Bitcoin 'wallet' (according to the app it should take 'up to 10 days' for the transaction to be processed/added to the blockchain).

One thing I noticed in the first week of using this App was that the ads were using up a significant amount of my phone's monthly data plan (I ran out of data before the end of the month), so I now only turn on my mobile phone Data Connection via 3G when I don't have the Bitcoin mining app running. I initially thought that the 500kS minimum required to make a withdrawal was simply there to ensure the developer got maximum 'breakage' from users that loose interest before reaching the redemption threshold, but since then I've learned that each 'transfer' of Bitcoins incurs a small transaction fee (the amount depends on what priority/speed the transaction processing is assigned), which means that extremely small transactions would cost more to process than they are worth. Tapping the App every ten minutes soon gets very tedious, but its the sort of thing you don't mind doing while watching TV or going for a walk.

A second way of getting some BTC into my 'wallet' is to get people to 'donate' some -- so, in case any reader happens to use Bitcoins, here is a QR code for my 'wallet': some small test transaction would be nice ;)
( 11324np9vhfsWKaqrYHutakZxjqSgSQQrv )
Apparently this Bitcoin address is 'single use'. So after receiving a 'payment' via this address, a new one was generated for my Copay 'wallet', While that apparently is a good security/privacy feature, and would suit a merchant seeking a single payment (for example, for an invoice to be paid in BTC), it doesn't seem suited for use as a permanent 'donate' button on a blog etc.

I've yet to see if subsequent transactions made using this ID get processed OK...

A third way of getting some Bitcoins is to 'mine' them (a complex calculation to solve a 'block' which results in a set amount of Bitcoins to be created - currently 12.5 BTC/block). But to do that at a reasonable rate would require purchasing specialized hardware, which tends to become outdated/non-competitive very rapidly, so the pay-back period calculation is rather uncertain. The economics of 'mining' for Bitcoin is dependent on the cost of electricity (hence many Bitcoin mining 'farms' are places with sources of cheap power, such as Greenland).

I did install one 'Bitcoin Mining' App on my Windows Laptop, which 'mines' as part of a 'pool'. It does seem to actually be working (at a snail's pace), accumulating around 4,000 Satoshi worth of Bitcoin every second day (the minimum amount that gets automatically swept out of the account daily is 2,370 Satoshi, as apparently that is the smallest transaction value that can be processed). At least that transaction did appear in my Copay 'wallet' the next day - so I currently have a balance of 0.000032 BTC in my 'wallet' ;) The Mining app can be setup on up to ten different devices (using the same account details), so in theory I could have my various PCs 'mining' around 20,000 Satoshi/day (worth around 40c!). But the extra power usage would probably cost more than the Bitcoin production is worth.

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Net Worth: February 2017

Despite weakening during the last week on February, overall the Australian and International stock markets made gains during the past month, which gave a positive boost to the valuations of my geared stock portfolio and also to my retirement savings. House prices in Sydney continued to rise, although at a less frenetic pace, which resulted in another small increase in the valuation of my interest in our home equity. So, overall, my NW was up during the past month - reaching a new 'all-time high'.

Since being retrenched in January, DW has been enjoying spending more time at home and being able to meet DS2 after school every afternoon (the timing of her redundancy fit in nicely with DS2 starting at his new OC school and not attending after-school care). She is only just now starting to look for new employment opportunities. She was provided with access to a recruitment/career coaching service as part of her redundancy package, and has been taking the opportunity to update and polish her CV and get some tips on finding and applying for a new job. The Australian economy is still rather weak, and while the overall unemployment rate isn't too bad there has been a noticeable shift away from full-time permanent positions to part-time, casual and contract positions.

As usual the 'total debts' figure above doesn't include the half-million or so of margin loans, as the 'stocks' figure is the net value of my geared share and mutual fund portolio. The 'other real estate' figure is the valuation of the holiday home/hobby farm at the time I 'inherited' from my parents in 2013.

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