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Wednesday, November 27

Holiday Gift Card Deals Orgy

The holidays have become the time of year when retailers hand out free money.  It all has to do with the incentives they offer to entice shoppers to purchase gift cards.  Even if you don't need to buy gifts for others (which is presumably what most people are doing when they purchase gift cards),  it's not a bad idea to take advantage of some of these offers if you plan to spend money at the retailer in the future.  Basically, you are prepaying for future spending.  I have found some incredible offers this year:

  • Chili's is offering a $10 bonus card when you buy a $50 gift card.  I purchased mine through, where I earned 1,000 MyPoints (20 per dollar spent), which is worth an extra $7.29 towards the $50 Regal gift card I am saving for.  We will only eat at Chili's when we have a free appetizer coupon, which are emailed out almost on a weekly basis.
  • Outback, Bonefish, Carraba's... all the Bloomin Brands restaurants... are offering $20 bonus cards when you buy a $100 gift card.  We use Outback coupons along with the gift cards.
  • One of my favorite deals is Papa John's.  Buy a $25 gift card, get a free large one topping pizza.
  • Another deal is the 2 free tacos and large drink you get at Taco Bell for buying a $20 gift card.
  • The deal ends today, but if you purchase a Paypal Mastercard at CVS and load it with $150, you receive $50 in Extra Care Bucks.  It costs $4.95 to buy the card, and I paid another $1.95 to withdraw the funds from an ATM machine.  You can avoid the $1.95 fee by using the card to charge things, but then you have to worry about paying another $4.95 monthly fee for using the card, which is charged soon after you activate the card.  I withdrew the funds right away and avoided that extra fee.  I've heard this is a regional deal.  It wasn't in my Sunday paper ad but I did find it in my online ad.
  • Ruby Tuesday is offering a $15 bonus card with the purchase of a $50 gift card.  On top of that, American Express is offering a $10 statement credit if you spend $30 or more at Ruby Tuesday (you have to register for the offer first).  I am getting $65 in gift cards for $40 - sweet!
Besides gift card deals, there are plenty of other opportunities you can take advantage of.  I mentioned the American Express statement credit.  I just discovered the deals at American Express - not sure how long they have been around.  I received a $5 statement credit for buying $5 gas at Murphy USA and another $5 credit for buying $25 gas at BP.   When I bought the $100 gift card at Bonefish Grill, I received a $10 credit.  I have found other deals at Shopdiscover, Ebates and the aforementioned Mypoints.

Wednesday, November 20

New Brakes and Bonefish

This morning I finally got around to installing new brake pads.  The first set turned out to be the wrong size.  I ended up making two trips to Advance Auto Parts, first to check out a loaner kit that had all the tools I needed and then to exchange the pads for the proper ones.  If I keep posting to this blog, it means I have survived my first attempt at doing a brake job.  Thus far they appear to be working properly.

It's a slow week.  Last weekend I attended the AAII Conference in Orlando.  It wasn't as educational as I had hoped it would be.  Older people (I was about the youngest attendee present) don't want to learn new things; they are interested in stock recommendations.  I have had a few mystery shops but there is barely anything posted on the boards.  November is going to be a slow month.

I also heard some good news regarding one of my vacant properties.  The management company emailed this morning to find out if I was okay renting to someone with a small dog.  Since this property has no carpet I was less concerned with the damage a dog could do and more concerned with getting it rented.  I still have two empty properties, but it looks as though both will be occupied before the end of the year.

I am also stocking up on gift cards.  During the holidays, retailers offer bonuses to get you to purchase them.  As an example yesterday I purchased a $100 card at Bonefish Grill.  The card is valid at several brands including Outback Steakhouse, but in order to get the bonus I had to purchase it at Bonefish Grill.  American Expess was offering a $10 statement credit if I spent $25 there.  Then, the restaurant gave a $20 bonus card for purchasing the gift card.  Basically I paid $90 for $120 in gift cards.  Outback sends BOGO coupons regularly in my area, so this will be a great deal when we have the urge to eat out.

Monday, November 11

The Week Ahead

Last week I was planning to put new brake pads on the S-10.  Instead, I exercised more than usual, did some things around the house, but mostly procrastinated.  I did purchase the brake pads, so now all I have to do is learn how to install them.  That's at the top of my list.

This week I will find out if a HUD foreclosure I placed a bid on is awarded to me.  I found a tiny duplex located in a fairly desirable area.  It's in rough shape (I love ugly houses), so if I buy it I will definitely have my hands full.  The plan will be to move into it once the biggest repairs are made and then to continue updating it from there.  More to come if I get good news.

On Friday I am heading to the AAII Investor's Conference in Orlando.  I will be driving back and forth on Friday and Saturday; on Sunday night I am shopping a hotel and will return home Monday morning.   There are some interesting speakers (the keynote will be Robert Shiller, Yale economist and co-creator of the Case-Schiller Home Price Index, who just won the nobel prize).  I hope to learn a few things.

Sunday, November 10


November is turning out to be a crappy month for mystery shopping work.  I had a small gas station route that I wrapped up on the 1st.  I also had 16 gas station mystery shops.  That provided me a huge reserve of extra gas - I have over 30 gallons stored in the shed - but the pay on these simple shops is just $6, so they don't move the needle.  After that, I've been picking up the crumbs in one or two shop increments.

The months of November and December are unique in the mystery shopping world.  Companies put more effort into scheduling shops earlier in the month because of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The nice thing about this is that you can usually find decent bonuses on shops early on; the downside is that if you don't scoop up the jobs when offered, the second half of the month is going to be slow.  For example, I don't normally shop McDonald's, as the fee hardly goes over $7.50 in my area.  But this month I already found a shop paying $15, so I took it.  Another walk-in only location that I biked to was paying $10.  In fact, the vast majority of my work the past several days has been restaurant shops.

This week is no different.  Monday I have two restaurants to shop.  Wednesday and Thursday I have one each.  I am attending a conference this weekend and Sunday night I am shopping a hotel in the Orlando area.  On one hand, I hope I find more work.  I like being able to pay down my debts (plus these deadbeat tenants aren't helping things).  On the other hand, I have so many projects around the house that I want to tackle that it isn't so bad if I have some free time in my schedule.

Wednesday, November 6

My Frugal Miser - October Income: $7,459

Once again I am reporting two vacancies.  Even though I was told in September that one of those properties is now rented, the tenant has yet to move in.  Rental income was even lower because one of my tenants paid his October rent in November.

Mystery shopping income is net of expenses, including hotel stays.  It is low this month because I received a substantial check on November 1st which was for work I completed in October.  The expenses related to that income are reported here, but the actual income will be in my November report.

October Income
$2,257 Mystery Shopping
$5,188 Rental Income
$14 Other Sources
$7,459 Total Income for October

  • 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. 

Tuesday, November 5

My Frugal Miser - October Expenses: $2,824

My auto expenses in October stand out as ridiculously high.  However, I used the S-10 to earn money mystery shopping, so I wasn't aimlessly driving about!  In October I drove thousands of miles.  I also had to make some repairs:  in St. George, UT I replaced several steering components and shocks; in Abilene, TX I replaced the wheels.  

Entertainment:  I spent $320 gambling over the 2 days in Vegas and 4 days in Tunica.  Another way to consider this expense:  all 6 nights I had free hotel rooms as well as free food.  I had to stay and eat somewhere, so my average $53 per day in spending isn't bad.  In addition to gambling, I paid $201 for tickets to the musical Book of Mormon, which we will be attending on the 14th in Tampa.  The $40 balance in this category was for movies and Netflix.

Vacation was the other big category.  During the first week of October we went on a cruise.

October Personal Expenses ($1,258) - $4,024 before Miscellaneous Reimbursement

$1897 Auto ($100 for AAA renewal, $1,130 for service, $667 for fuel)
$1 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$561 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$160 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$507 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$159 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$0 Medical/Dental
($2,764) Miscellaneous (income!)
$4 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$31 Utilities
$704 Vacation and Recreation

October Business Expenses ($1,566)

$902 Mortgage Interest (rental properties)
$243 Interest on Debt (not including Mortgage Interest)
$421 Rental Properties - Maintenance and Repairs

Total October Expenses : $2,824

  • I don't include principal payments in my expenses, only the interest portion of the monthly mortgage bills.
  • I don't drive around aimlessly.  Almost all of my auto expenses were incurred in the course of completing mystery shops. 
  • $2,764 Miscellaneous was income this month.  The executor of my grandfather's estate reimbursed my out of pocket expenses, which were incurred in previous months.

Monday, November 4

The Week Ahead

I thought I would have more time last week to work on my to-do list, but I loaded up on mystery shops and when I was home I was not very motivated to do anything other than watch Netflix.  Three months on the road drained my energy!

So this week I want to check some things off my list.  I am starting today with 12 mystery shops.  I am nervous about the new car shop I am completing this morning.  I am supposed to shop an uber luxury vehicle and my budget is $150,000-$200,000.  There will be some serious role play to pull that off.  In preparation, I trimmed my nails, cut my hair and am wearing a nicer than normal outfit.  I also looked on Google Maps to find a place nearby to park the S-10.  It would not be wise to drive to the dealership in a 2002 pickup.  The nice part about high end mystery shopping is that the pay is higher, and that is the only reason I agreed to do this shop.  The other 11 shops I am doing today are easy gas station mystery shops that take 10 minutes each.

After today I only have 7 gas stations and a takeout pizza shop scheduled.  I am sure there will be more that comes up, so I am not worried.  A light workweek leaves time for everything else.  On Wednesday I have to have a root canal retreated.  It's been a couple of years since my root canal, but when I had my teeth cleaned in September the dentist noticed a problem that has to be corrected.  I also want to replace my brake pads.  I have never done that but my brother says it is easy to I'll be learning via Youtube.

The rest of my week will be filled with boring but necessary tasks.  Things like paying bills and figuring out whether I can live without Quicken:  I do most of my work on a Chromebook, but Quicken has to run on a PC or Mac.  My PC is on its last legs.