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Tuesday, December 31

Mystery Shopping: 2013 Year in Review

2013 was my best year yet for mystery shopping.  I thought it would be harder to earn a living with all the competition I have in Florida; I dealt with that by taking on more and more out of state routes.

2013 Mystery Shopping Income:  $32,453
2013 Meaningful Reimbursements:  $6,952
Total Miles Driven in 2013:  38,429

In addition to the reimbursements I can report, I received value that I never had to be reimbursed for.  Many of the hotel charges, including all my timeshare vacations, never show up on my credit card (or are quickly reversed).  The most mundane work I did was either the Dollar General DVD route in Alabama, which I have given up, or the 10 days I spent parked in front of Sam Ash counting customers.  Easily the most exciting would be the timeshares and resort hotels.  I like these "lifestyle shops" even if the pay is low.

Next year I am concentrating on routes and experiences.  I will do fewer "one-off" shops around town because they don't move the needle enough to be worth their time.  The goal here is to value my time more appropriately and increase my overall hourly income or, since I love to travel, partake in shops that offset vacation expenses.

Friday, December 27

Planning, Pulling Through and Personal Drama

This has been a slow week; blame the holidays.  I arrived home late Monday night, having pulled off a highly successful week and a day of service shops.  With 2013 property taxes coming due, the cash injection from that work could not come at a better time.

I haven't had any work this week.  Nada.  I've spent a fair amount of time preparing for next year.  I signed up for a massive recurring route of gas station audits.  There are slightly more than 150 locations throughout portions of Florida that I will shop 3 times next year.  The pay is mediocre, but the recurring nature means I can be more efficient and hopefully plan other jobs in the areas I'll be working.  Each round will bring in roughly $1,500, but I'll earn every cent of that.

I've also created my 2014 templates for the rental properties and shopping.  There is a substantial amount of mostly tax-related information I have to keep up with so my spreadsheets are crucial to my survival.

Lastly, there's been some pretty serious personal shit I've been dealing with the last few days.  It's not something I want to talk about, but I've lost a good bit of sleep over it.  My health is fine, it's not that.  Last night I slept less than two hours.  I was in bed for twelve; you do the math!

I've always believed things happen for a reason, and while day to day I am dealing with something I would never wish on my worst enemy, I know I'll pull through the other side a better person.

Thursday, December 19

Happily Shopping

I woke up at 4 AM this morning in Guntersville, AL.  Unfortunately, my first dealership doesn't open until 7 AM.  With so much opportunity this week I am finding it hard to sleep.  Sort of like a kid on Christmas morning... except every morning I wake up with the gift of more shops to do.

Yesterday I set a new record.  I earned over $600 from mystery shopping in a single day.  Does that help explain my inability to sleep?  I'm ready for more!  I am picking up random shops along my route since there are some good bonus opportunities.  Yesterday I did a gas station audit for $50 and a Lowe's for $30.  These were early morning and evening shops when the dealerships were closed (the dealerships pay more than that; I don't want anything to slow my down from getting to those!).

I'm keeping it frugal on this trip.  I was able to book a Hampton Inn for tonight for 5,000 points.  There are very few Hilton properties available for 5,000 points - these are special "opportunity" level redemptions.  I don't think they have a single property in Florida for that level.  What's even better is that I am spending even less than 5,000 points on my hotel.  Even on free stays I earn 500 points for reserving with my AMEX card and 250 points for being a Diamond member.  This is a cheap stay!

Last night I stayed in a Super 8, as it was the cheapest hotel in the area.  I have only paid for one meal so far this week.  Mystery shopping has fed me the rest of the time.  This is an amazing week!

Sunday, December 15

The Eviction that Wasn't

Last week I sent my tenant a text.  I told him I would file the unlawful detainer unless he deposited at least $1,000 cash in my bank account.  That's cash, not a check, because he's written me a bad check before.  Well, surprise, surprise... he called Friday night to let me know he made the deposit.

Few things surprise me anymore.  I shouldn't have to threaten my tenants with lawsuits in order to get them to pay their rent.  But, I really am happy that I don't have to deal with this next week.  Filing the eviction with the court is expensive, plus I am on a tight schedule with all these mystery shops I have scheduled.  Not having to go to the courthouse frees up a lot of time.  Not to mention, I didn't want to deal with another vacant property and the costs associated with getting it ready to rent.  This townhouse is part of the same complex where I still have two empty units, so the vacancy issue would have been an expensive one.

I am leaving tomorrow morning by 3 AM.  It is about 6 hours to Panama City and I want to arrive at the dealership around 8 AM (thankfully I gain an hour with the time zone change).  This is going to be a ridiculously profitable week for me.  True, the hours will be long, and the weather is so much colder where I'm headed, but in just over a week I'll be back home and be almost $3,000 richer.

Friday, December 13

26 Miles, Evictions and Tire Rotations

I've been riding my bike a good bit over the last several days, and yesterday was the longest I have gone.  I broke it up into two trips, but in all, I rode the length of a marathon.  Maybe one day I'll be able to run that length rather than just ride my bike.

My mystery shopping this week has been limited mostly to casual restaurants, what I refer to as "lifestyle shopping" since it is more for the experience than the income.  I've done a few other jobs, including two dealer service shops that paid $97 each.  Fortunately, next week I may set a record.  I am shopping 31 dealer service shops between Monday, 12/16 and Monday, 12/23.  I will leave around 2 AM Monday morning to avoid an extra night in a hotel and my first stop is in Panama City, FL.  I have two shops in Florida; the other 29 are spread across Alabama and Georgia.

How does a frugal miser keep his travel expenses low?  I will spend one night in my vacant townhouse - again, to avoid hotel expenses.  I don't have the gas turned on, so there won't be any heat or hot water.  I brought some cleansing towels I got free at Walgreens to take a bird bath and will bring extra sheets to stay warm.  Since it is a townhouse I am hoping the radiant heat from the two adjacent units will help stabilize the temperature.  I also prepaid two nights for next weekend, saving an extra 10% off the lowest rate (would you believe I am spending $58/night for a Hampton Inn!).  The other nights I am staying in crappy motels.

I eagerly accepted this route because there were two side errands I wanted to do in Alabama.  If my tenant at Townhouse #3 doesn't come up with at least $1,000, I am filing an eviction at the courthouse.  Second, the S-10's registration is way overdue as it is still in my grandfather's name.  I am hopefully going to get the title in my name as one of the shops is in the town where the estate is being probated.

I've been in good spirits lately.  2013 has been a stressful year and I've been dealing with an anxiety whose source is most likely rooted in financial worries.  That should all be resolved soon.

Thursday, December 5

My Frugal Miser - November Income: $10,342

I sound like a broken record.  Once again I am reporting two vacancies.  I think one of those properties may finally be occupied, but I haven't received any income yet so we shall see.  I also began the eviction process on another tenant.  Unless he makes a payment this week, he is out.  One tenant paid two months' rent in November, so I am still reporting a decent figure.

Mystery shopping income is usually paid the month after the work was performed.  I did relatively little in November, but that won't show up until I post for December.

November Income
$3,164 Mystery Shopping
$7,077 Rental Income
$101 Other Sources
$10,342 Total Income for November

  • 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, December 3

My Frugal Miser - November Expenses: $7,927

My Personal Expenses in November were higher than I need them to be.  If I am going to spend $20,000 in 2014, I have to average $1,667 per month.  Last month I bought a new computer and paid for the 2014 version of Quicken.  I tried to make Mint work for me but it is not robust enough.  I also bought over $400 worth of restaurant gift cards that we will redeem over time.  Since the registration on the S-10 is expired, I rented a car for a week to attend a conference in Orlando.  I won't be able to renew the registration until my grandfather's estate is settled.  Finally, I had to have a root canal retreated, which cost more than $500.

Business expenses were high because I began paying 2013 property taxes.  I spent nearly $3,000 on them.  In December it will be even higher.

November Personal Expenses:  $2,806

$285 Auto ($161 for rental, $27 for accessory, $51 for service, $46 for fuel)
$0 Bank Fees
$46 Clothing
$354 Computer
$85 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$659 Food
$66 Gifts Given
$514 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$159 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$546 Medical/Dental
$7 Miscellaneous
$45 Personal Care
$10 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$31 Utilities
$0 Vacation and Recreation

November Business Expenses:  $5,120

$895 Mortgage Interest (rental properties)
$198 Interest on Debt (not including Mortgage Interest)
$4027 Rental Properties - Maintenance and Repairs

Total November Expenses : $7,927

  • I spent over $400 on restaurant gift cards (Food Category) that we will use over time.  The holidays usher in generous bonus offers so I loaded up in November.
  • I don't include principal payments in my expenses, only the interest portion of the monthly mortgage bills.

Monday, December 2

My Frugal Miser's 2014 Goals

Once again it's time to lay out the annual roadmap.  Publishing my goals this way keeps me accountable:  it's a constant reminder of what is important to me.

  • Lose 12 pounds

I've never met my weight loss goals, so this year I'm keeping it simple:  I want to lose at least one pound each month.
  • Increase my net worth $75,000
I can manipulate my net worth by either increasing income or decreasing expenses.  
  • Spend less than $20,000
Non-business spending for 2014 will be less than $20,000, or about $1,667 on a monthly basis.
  • Take one international trip
People tell me I need more balance in my life.  For several months I have thought about visiting Ecuador.  I want to see if I could live there, and a two week trip would help me decide.

That's it.  I have four primary goals, and I'm going to reach or surpass each of them next year.