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Wednesday, August 29

Long Drive

This morning I am checking out of another luxury hotel in Atlanta.  I'm headed back to my new home in Clearwater.  This hotel definitely needs a mystery shopping program.  The view from the 26th floor in midtown Atlanta is pretty nice, but the service has left much to be desired.  I used the hotel's car service to pick up a case of Two Buck Chuck (Cabernet Sauvignon, from Trader Joe's) to take home with me since Tampa/Clearwater doesn't yet have Trader Joe's.  I was excitedly walking through the lobby of this $229/night hotel and was stopped in my tracks by some snooty supervisor who confiscated my case of wine.  Can you believe the audacity?  I had no plans to pop the cork - the mystery shop includes a bar visit so why open my own?  He told me he assumed I was having guests in my room and he did not want to be responsible for someone falling off the balcony.  The only thing is, none of the rooms have balconies and I am shopping the hotel alone.  All of a sudden this highfalutin hotel has transformed itself into a pay-by-the-hour no name motel patrolled by overly aggressive ex-paratroopers turned cops just itching to crack their batons on some crack whore trying to shoot up some primo dope.

Stepping down from my soapbox now...

I've got an 8+ hour ahead of me.  Soon I will crank up the dial on mystery shopping.  I have a few debts I need to take care of before I can really slow down.  I don't plan to shop like I did back in Birmingham but I do need to keep busy the next few months.

Friday, August 24

View from the New Office

View from the 3rd Floor of Clearwater Library
Until I break down and purchase home Internet service, my office overlooks a park and Old Clearwater Bay.  A short walk across the bridge leads to Clearwater Beach and the Gulf of Mexico.

The library is a 30 minute walk from the house.  I can also walk to the grocery store, bank, dozens of restaurants, the historic Capitol Theatre, and so much more.  Soon I will purchase a used bicycle.  With that I can just about go anywhere I need to go.

I moved from a home in the outer suburbs.  Outside that neighborhood there were no sidewalks and it was a 20 minute drive just to buy groceries.

Today marks a New Beginning for this Frugal Miser.  I'm going to get in shape, pay off my debts, and be happier.

Monday, August 20

Chicago and Atlanta

Ace Hardware Paint Plant, Matteson, IL
Yesterday I checked out of a hip little hotel in Buckhead (Atlanta).  The charges were over $600 and will be reversed as part of my mystery shopping agreement.  This was a 2 night assignment, which is somewhat unusual as most shops are for one night only.  It was easier than I expected, plus it paid a small fee.

Before that I was in Chicago for the Ace Hardware convention.  It was a blast, and a huge conference with 17,000+ attendees.  Ace paid my expenses - 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency, meals and travel, plus a token honorarium.  We had Chicago deep dish pizza with Ace's spokesperson, Lou Manfredini, on Tuesday night.

Then Wednesday we took a road trip, visiting an urban Chicago store, large suburban store, and lunch at Portillo's (I had Italian Beef - red meat, yes... one can indulge every now and then).  After lunch we toured the Ace Paint Plant, which was really neat.  The trip ended at 5 PM and then we had the night to do whatever.  Another panelist and I were going to mystery shop a casino, but we missed the bus and he rescheduled.  Instead we took a cab to a nightlife area and hung out for a few hours.

On Thursday we attended the Ace Hardware convention at McCormick Place.  Roy Spence gave an inspiring keynote about "finding one's purpose". He is the founder of the marketing agency (GSD&M) that does advertising for Ace as well as Southwest Airlines, the U.S. Air Force and others.  I flew home late Thursday night.

Today I'm scrambling to tie all those loose ends.  I have a check-up at the dentist, 2 merchandising assignments, and am trying to finish up the townhouse and get it rented.  I've run a little behind with the townhouse but yesterday we did a good bit of catching up.  All that's left is new carpet and a final cleaning, then I can show it.  I already have a potential tenant who I am hoping will be the right fit.  I also need to visit my grandfather to drop off some clothes and mow the lawn at his house.

Not sure when I'll be able to post again.  I'm only in Clearwater for a few days before I return to Birmingham.  I made plans for Mom's birthday month's ago, plus I have to drive the Corolla back.  With everything going on I don't know when I'll have time to be online.

Tuesday, August 14

Moving as a Cleansing Process

Scene from the office:  All packed up!
With barely a week to go before the big move, the Frugal Miser Homestead has been turned upside down.  Unlike most people I enjoy the actual process of packing up and moving my things.  It's a cleansing process, a way to analyze the "things" in my life and question whether they are worthy of coming along for the adventure.

On Friday we took a huge load of donations to the Salvation Army.  Gone are the cheap desk I've hated since the day I bought it, the stack of almost new CDs I came to own after finding them in the attic of one of my properties, and dozens of perfectly wearable clothes that I haven't worn in years for various reasons.

I've resided at my current home for just over four years.  Fortunately I haven't amassed a ton of new things since I've been here.  I was able to whittle down the "office" to just what will fit in a four drawer filing cabinet (what you see in the photo are the boxes full of things that will go back into the filing cabinet when we reach our destination).  And since we are moving south, I purged the majority of my winter clothes.  A side benefit of that is the fact that winter clothes are generally thicker and take up more room, so this frees up a ton of space in my closet.

Slightly off topic but I wanted to mention:  I compared moving trucks from Budget, Penske and U-Haul.  Based on reviews and personal experience, I wanted to avoid U-Haul if possible because of the age and condition of their fleet.  Eventually I settled on Penske.  Since my move date was flexible I played with the dates on their website to find the best price.  For whatever reason, I managed to find dates that were 50% less than all the other dates available.  The move from Birmingham to Clearwater is 500+ miles, but the truck rental is under $200, including taxes.  Guess it pays to compare.

Monday, August 13

One Week to Go

I can't believe how fast our move date is approaching.  Next Tuesday morning we head to our new life in Clearwater, FL.  The house is substantially packed - just about everything we won't be using between now and then is in a box.  This week is crazy, too:  I am flying to Chicago tomorrow morning to attend the Ace Hardware semi-annual convention.  All my expenses are being covered by Ace as part of my participation in their consumer advocacy panel.

This morning we began the process of rehabbing the townhouse - this is the final property I have to get rented.  The tenant moved yesterday and still has a load of crap to pick up that we moved to the living room.  Today we pulled up the old carpet and hauled it to the dump.  My partner will spend the next couple of days cleaning and then I need to decide what else has to be done.  Besides new carpet I have to make the typical repairs and possibly re-paint a couple rooms.

Unfortunately I have very little time to get the townhouse rented.  I return from the Ace convention late Thursday night, and Friday afternoon we are mystery shopping a hotel and restaurant in Atlanta.  It is a two night shop so we won't return until Sunday.  I have to fly back to Birmingham on the 25th to bring back my car and treat my mom to a concert for her birthday, so at least I know I will be up here again to finish getting the townhouse rented if necessary.

Tuesday, August 7

Comparing Utility Bills from One City to Another

Continuing my fascination with my utility bills, I thought it would be prudent to compare the rates I pay now in Birmingham, AL to what I will be paying in Clearwater, FL.

I started with Water and Sewer, since it's common knowledge that Birmingham has the highest sewer rates in the nation.  I have our corrupt former county commissioners to thank for that.  Of course, they get free water service where they are now, but those of us not incarcerated are left to pay for their criminal activities.

If I use 4,000 gallons of water, my bill in Birmingham, AL would be about $69.34.  In Clearwater, FL, the bill would come out to $49.88, a savings of $19.46 per month, which represents a 28% savings.

On to Power.  Currently my energy usage is a combination of natural gas and electricity.  I use gas for hot water, the fireplace and heat.  In Clearwater, everything will be electricity.  What most people don't realize is that it is actually hotter (only slightly, but still...) in Birmingham in the summer.  The winter weather is milder in Clearwater, and I suspect I won't have to use my heat at all, even though my real estate agent thinks otherwise.

Electric rates are higher in Clearwater - a bit more than $.11/kWh versus about $.08/kWh in Alabama.  However, I believe the milder winters in Florida will mean we can save a meaningful amount of electricity from December-February since we probably won't use any heat.  I guess I'll have to wait and see what the difference is for power.

Monday, August 6

Moving Checklist : Update #2

I'm loving the fast pace of life these days.  Things are just crazy.  Originally I intended to scale way back on mystery shopping, but I've been able to do quite a bit because everything else on the to-do list is getting marked off faster than I expected.

Last Friday I signed a lease on the new townhouse.  This is a serious accomplishment because - get this - I signed a lease on it the day after I bought it.  I was fortunate that a tenant who wanted to rent my condo chose instead to rent the townhouse, so I didn't even have to advertise it for rent.

Also last Friday I cleared out just about everything from my grandfather's house.  We cut the grass and then helped Salvation Army load their donation truck.  I also met with a property manager and will most likely list my grandfather's house with a management company so that I don't have to fool with it.  It is an older house and will require more ongoing maintenance than my other properties, so I would rather just hire someone to deal with it.

Over the weekend I was busy with mystery shops and merchandising jobs.  I earned over $400 in two days, and my legs are sore from all the work.  Today I am shopping 11 auto parts stores ($121) and doing 4 menu board audits ($28).  

  • Close on the house in Florida:  DONE
  • Get the house I live in now rented:  DONE
  • Get condo rented:  DONE
  • Close on new townhouse in Birmingham:  DONE
  • Get new townhouse rented:  DONE
  • Decide what to do with townhouse #2:  Started eviction process on Friday, 8/3.
That's right, I've been forced to do an eviction.  Right now I am in the 7 day window where I've posted a notice on my tenant's door letting her know she has to pay up or get out.  If she is still there after a week I will have to file with my county courthouse.  That's expensive so I am hoping the notice will do the trick.

Next week I go to Chicago.  I am part of a consumer advocacy panel for a major retailer and am attending their semi-annual meeting.  The nice thing about this is that the company pays all my expenses.

Friday, August 3

My Frugal Miser - July Expenses: $3,837

In July my expenses were closer to where I would hope they could be every month.  I spent a fair amount on repairs and maintenance for my vehicle, which I expect since I am approaching 150,000 miles on the Corolla.   All my other expenses were reasonable, though I'd like to get the food budget down some. I guess $214 for 2 people for a month isn't too bad.

On the business side, I did have a hefty $779 expense related to an air conditioner - this summer has been tough on my A/C units.

July Personal Expenses ($1,628)
$559 Auto ($445 for service, $114 for fuel)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$40 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$214 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$29 Home Repair
$14 Household
$0 Homeowner's Association Dues
$139 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Homeowner's Insurance (paid annually each June)
$0 Medical
$0 Miscellaneous
$376 Mortgage Interest (primary residence)
$6 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$164 Utilities
$85 Vacation

July Business Expenses ($2,209)

$738 Mortgage Interest (rental properties)
$242 Interest on Debt (not including Mortgage Interest)
$1,229 Rental Properties - Maintenance and Repairs ($779 for A/C repair, $200 for HOA dues, $250 refund of deposit)

Total July Expenses : $3,837

  • Once again I benefited from mystery shopping by spending just $114 on fuel.
  • I don't have a budget for food but think about $200/month is where I need to be.  This is for two people and includes both groceries and dining out.  Free food from mystery shopping doesn't get counted.
  • After I move, my utilities expense may go down even further.  There won't be a bill for natural gas and there's no way water rates are as high there as they are in Birmingham.

Thursday, August 2

My Frugal Miser - July Income: $6,529

July was just an okay month for income.  My rental income was down:  one tenant did not pay her rent (I'm beginning the eviction process) and another paid his July rent in June.  Mystery shopping income was offset by higher than normal expenses for shops I will be reimbursed for in August.  Here's where it all came from in July:

July Income
$820 Mystery Shopping
$5,644 Rental Income
$65 Other Sources
$6,529 Total Income for July


  • I don't include transactions in my retirement accounts.  This includes rental income, dividends and capital gains and losses.
  • I'm cutting back mystery shopping in August to focus on my rental properties.  Most of the income I receive in August will be from work I did in July.

Wednesday, August 1


I knew that the condo would get rented, but wow!  Monday night I did the walk-thru with the departing tenants.  Their rent was paid through July.  I listed the condo on Craigslist last week and scheduled several showings for yesterday.  It was a long day - never much fun sitting around an empty house waiting for people to show up.  But my patience paid off as I signed up my next tenants.

That's right, folks.  The new lease starts today, August 1st.  I had ZERO days of vacancy for the condo.

Just one more "to-do" I can check off my list.  Even better, there was so much interest in the condo that I was able to schedule three of the potential tenants to instead look at the townhouse I am buying this morning.  It would be amazing if I got the townhouse rented today, the very day I bought it!