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Monday, February 25

Musings on 2013 Goals, or a Rainy Day in Pensacola

I arrived at the Econo Lodge around 11 PM last night.  The reviews it had were pretty bad, so I was pleasantly surprised by my room.  The carpet is almost new and the sheets were clean.  It's still an Econo Lodge, but not too scary.

Unfortunately, bad weather set in last night.  I was already behind schedule when I made it to the area, so some of the daytime shops I planned to do will have to wait until tomorrow.  I managed to add 5 shops to my schedule for yesterday, 1 shop for today and 5 shops for tomorrow.  Most of the work I came here to do has to be completed at night time, so I am glad I found some day time shops.  I was making decent progress last night until the skies started lighting up and torrential downpours set in.  It is supposed to rain all day today but hopefully by the time it gets dark it won't be as bad.

Since I'm stuck in a hotel for now, I've been looking over my goals for 2013 and thought I would update my progress:

  • Lose 30 pounds.  I've gained two pounds. 
  • Increase net worth by $75,000.  Strong start to the year:  I'm up $14,400, which is slightly ahead of the pace I need to keep.
  • Reduce utilities by 10%.  It was a mild winter in Clearwater, plus we eliminated the natural gas bill when we moved.  I'm on track.
  • Reduce debt to $350,000.  It's at $386,245 today.  That's a decrease from year end of $11,000.
  • Purchase one piece of real estate.  I'm currently evaluating a huge real estate deal.  It's a long shot, but I am working on this goal for sure.
This takes away some of the gloom of wet Pensacola weather.  I have been on the phone most of the morning evaluating the real estate deal.  I am hesitant to say much until I know more, other than to say it is a 50 unit apartment complex that was foreclosed on this month.

Thursday, February 21

Next Stop: Pensacola

This has been a slow week.  On Sunday I completed several shops.  Then Monday and Tuesday were dead.  Yesterday I completed a lunch shop and for fun (not a shop) we went to see Identity Thief.  The local theater only charges $4.50 before 3 PM Monday-Thursday - I like frugal entertainment.  It was a funny movie.

On Sunday I am driving to Pensacola.  I plan to spend three nights there.  The value of the route I am doing is around $600, so I booked a cheap room at an Econo Lodge.  Most of my shops are night time so my hope was to find several end-of-month bonuses for daytime work, but that hasn't panned out yet.  I guess Pensacola has a lot of desperate shoppers, too.  What I miss about Alabama is the incredible opportunities that were always popping up.  It wasn't uncommon to find day-long routes where I could make $300-$400. Now I am lucky when I earn $200 in a day.

I've been giving some thought lately to whether mystery shopping is worth it.  It has gotten more and more difficult to earn a living since the move.  Specifically, the hefty bonuses I had grown accustomed to don't happen down here.  I can still earn a decent amount but I have to work much harder at it.

I have also been doing some thinking about my real estate investments.  Should I sell everything in Birmingham and reinvest in Clearwater/Tampa?  Should I sell everything and invest the proceeds in a REIT - that way I am completely hands off?  Should I keep everything but hire a property manager?  Should I just continue doing things the way they are now?  The more I dwell on my future, the more I desire to not be tied down to something.  I want flexibility.  On the other hand, my current real estate portfolio has an amazing return, and since I have moved I haven't had too many surprises.

I will probably end up making few changes when the dust clears.  Hopefully I just need to get over the ho-hum feelings I have been having and keep chugging along.

Tuesday, February 5

Utilities - Looking Back on My Household Utilities Cost

Every year I look back at the previous year to see how I am making and spending my money.  Comparing year over year helps me to identify where I need to make adjustments in my lifestyle.  It helps me make my goals and in general is a good road-map for my future.  Today I wanted to look at my spending on Utilities.

I am always interested in comparing how much I spend to "operate" my house to what others spend.  The cost of running a home is a fairly large expense, so keeping it under control is key to meeting my financial goals.  I am continuously looking at ways to be more energy efficient.

In 2012, we effectively reduced our utilities expense by $557, or $46 per month.  I say "effectively" because that excludes what we had to pay in deposits to turn on the utilities when we moved.

  • Our average monthly electric bill was $60.91.  This was for 3 adults all year.
  • Our average monthly water (and sewer and trash) bill was $59.67.  Again, for three people.
  • Our average monthly cell phone bill (for two phones) was $16.17 (but it is actually $44 per month) - Republic Wireless gave us free service for several months until we upgraded our phones.

  • We are currently a household of three, but the 3rd person is only here temporarily.  She moved into my house in November 2011 and followed us to Florida.  Even though the arrangement was supposed to be measured in weeks, she is still here.  Having a roommate isn't perfect, but I receive $75 a week in rent and she cleans up after herself, so I won't complain.  Still, she insists she is moving soon.
  • I live in the Clearwater, Florida area, which is part of the Tampa Bay Metropolitan area.  We have hot, humid summers and mild winters.  Since we moved to Clearwater in August, 2012, I have not needed to turn on the heat.  Our air conditioning needs are similar to my previous home in Birmingham as Birmingham actually experiences slightly warmer summers than Clearwater. 
  • I set the thermostat to 60 in winter and 81 in summer.
  • The water bill also included sewer, trash and recycling charges.  I only pay for trash service because I am required to do so.
Cable TV
2006: $156
2007: $0
2008: $0
2009: $0
2010: $0
2011: $0
2012: $0

2006: $755
2007: $679
2008: $1173
2009: $436
2010: $500
2011: $564
2012: $1106 ($731 excluding deposit at new house)

2006: $120
2007: $229
2008: $196
2009: $575
2010: $296
2011: $239
2012: $196

Natural Gas
2006: $205
2007: $0
2008: $132
2009: $529
2010: $485
2011: $447
2012: $163

2006: $598
2007: $329
2008: $1323
2009: $1335
2010: $900
2011: $913
2012: $194

2006: $327
2007: $432
2008: $571
2009: $573
2010: $522
2011: $559
2012: $936 ($716 excluding deposit at new house)

2006: $2161
2007: $1669
2008: $3395
2009: $3448
2010: $2703
2011: $2722
2012: $2760 ($2165 excluding deposits)

Here is how our Utilities spending will change in 2012.  
  • Beginning in February, my partner will pay the water bill.  I will be tracking our usage but not our spending.
  • Our new home is all electric, so there will be no natural gas bill.
  • We still don't have Internet at home. 

Monday, February 4

My Frugal Miser - January Expenses: $3,173

During January my total expenses were much lower than my income.  One of the most frustrating expenses was a $320 chargeback ($300 plus $20 fee!) from Paypal because my deadbeat scam artist tenant either contested one of her rent payments or she stole someone's identity with a name similar to hers to pay her rent in October.  I thought evicting her would be the end of it - the pain and misery continues!  

As far as my personal expenses, nothing was out of the ordinary.  I spent $68 on a new bicycle (after redeeming some Amazon gift cards).  I also bought a new pair of casual pants and some t-shirts.  Last year I only spent $71 on clothing so the $29 I spent in January will last me a while.  Even though I made several out of town trips, I only spent $36 on my car because I got free gas and oil changes by mystery shopping.

January Personal Expenses ($1,218)

$36 Auto (all for fuel)
$0 Bank Fees
$29 Clothing
$42 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$151 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$546 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$159 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$186 Utilities
$68 Vacation and Recreation

January Business Expenses ($1,955)

$1075 Mortgage Interest (rental properties)
$151 Interest on Debt (not including Mortgage Interest)
$729 Rental Properties - Maintenance and Repairs

Total January Expenses : $3,173

  • I don't include principal payments in my expenses, only the interest portion of my monthly mortgage bills.
  • I expect Auto Service to increase, but it hasn't yet.  The Corolla has over 165,000 miles on it.
  • Utilities expense is going to decrease starting in February.  My partner will begin paying the water bill.

Saturday, February 2

My Frugal Miser - January Income: $8,627

January was a solid month.  Mystery shopping was good, particularly the back half of the month, which explains my silence on My Frugal Miser.  All the travel kept me too busy to do much other than work.  In January, all my properties were rented and most of my tenants paid me what was due.  I did have two tenants who paid me part of their rent for the month but not all of it.  This is definitely a concern but it isn't as bad as if they skipped the entire payment - something is better than nothing.  I will keep a close eye on this and take action if necessary.

Mystery shopping income was okay, and I think it will be even better in February.

January Income
$1,426 Mystery Shopping
$7,079 Rental Income
$122 Other Sources
$8,627 Total Income for January

  • I don't include transactions in my retirement accounts.  This includes rental income, dividends and capital gains and losses.
  • I include merchandising and hospitality work in the mystery shopping category since the companies that I shop for provide this extra side work.