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Saturday, January 18

Mystery Shopping and Landlording

This week I've done over 100 mystery shops.  I spent two days in Jacksonville working on a statewide route I accepted for 2014.  That route is 150+ gas station audits.  They are very simple audits (ten minutes onsite, about 6 minutes reporting) but they only pay $10 + $1 reimbursement.  I do receive a small route bonus once the route is completed.

I have had a handful of other shops this week, including shopping for health insurance, a hotel shop for my Jacksonville trip, and a couple of restaurants.

Next week is looking to be a slow one, but hopefully the companies will begin offering bonuses on January shops.

All in all, the month of January isn't looking too bad.  One tenant had fallen behind on their December rent but ended up paying that with late fees as well as the January rent (a day early!) all at once.  My tenant at Townhouse #3 gave me a partial payment but he is still way behind.  This is the tenant I began to evict last month.  The drama continues with the two townhouses that just became occupied.  These are the two I hired a management company for.  There have been a number of repairs I have been billed for in the last three weeks, with no clear explanation for what needed to be repaired.  I am quickly losing confidence in this management company.

Friday, January 10

2013 Expenses vs. 2012 Expenses

This is the third year (see last year's post) I've looked at how my spending by category compares from one year to another.  How insightful to look back and see where the money went, but also to see how my spending patterns change over time.

In 2013 my total spending was $31,945.  This was 22% more than my 2012 spending.  The increase can be entirely attributed to the cost of using my vehicle for mystery shopping routes:

  • I sold the Corolla and replaced it with a scooter.  I use it for most of my local driving now.  I should note that I was paid $3,000 for the Corolla, which entirely offset the cost of the scooter.  While the cost of the scooter is included in my expenses, I did not report the income I received from selling the Corolla.
  • I used the S-10 for a cross-country mystery shopping route.  It eats gas and also required a number of repairs throughout the year.
  • Entertainment Expenses increased by 32%.  We saw more movies and I spent more on gambling.
  • I cut my Housing Expenses by moving to a smaller home in Florida in August 2012.  Housing dropped from 33% of annual spending to less than 22%.
  • The cost of utilities declined, but partly because the power company applied my deposit towards the monthly bill for a few months. 
  • Spending on Medical & Dental increased.  Insurance premiums went up and I had to have a root canal retreated.

Spending by Category:  2013 Vs. 2012
My Expenses:  2013 vs. 2012

In 2014 I plan to reduce my spending to $20,000.  It will be a challenge:
  • I may consider replacing the S-10 with a more cost-effective car for mystery shopping.
  • We will continue the theme of "spend on experiences, not things".  I would like to plan an international trip in 2014, so travel expenses will probably increase.

Wednesday, January 8

My Frugal Miser - December Income: $7,748

December should be the last month I have to report two empty townhouses:  both units were occupied last week!  Of course, there always seems to be some drama and last month was no exception.  The tenants at my only condo have fallen behind on their rent.  They made a partial payment for December but they promise to catch up in January.  The tenant I was about to evict has started to catch up on outstanding rent, but he still has a ways to go.

Mystery shopping income is usually paid the month after the work was performed.  I earned more in December than I received in payments.

December Income
$1631 Mystery Shopping
$6105 Rental Income
$12 Other Sources
$7,748 Total Income for December

  • 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, January 7

Mystery Shopping Hawaii

Dreams really do come true.  I've posted before about the timeshare mystery shops I do from time to time.  In 2014 I have been assigned the crème de la crème.  I'm shopping Hawaii.

In March we will be spending five nights across two resorts in Hawaii.  My work requirement:  attending two timeshare presentations, which usually last about two hours, and filling out a quick report on each.  In exchange for that, most of our expenses are covered.  I am receiving a substantial reimbursement for our flights, rental car/ground transportation, airport parking and any resort fees.  I will also be paid a nominal fee for completing the jobs.

Visiting Hawaii has been a dream of mine.  Visiting Hawaii - and not having to pay for it - that's like winning a prize on a game show, minus the taxes!

Monday, January 6

My Frugal Miser - Looking Back at My 2013 Goals

2013 was a stressful year.  It was stressful dealing with two long-term vacant properties, a third tenant who kept falling further and further behind on his rent, and having to spend so much on repairs.  Plus, I drove more than 40,000 miles last year, which wore me out. 

 But I still made progress on my financial goals.  I am getting closer and closer to financial independence.  Really, anyone can reach Financial Independence if they are willing to work hard and make sacrifices.

I had 5 goals for 2013:
  1. Lose at least 30 pounds.  That didn't happen.  I started the year at 230 pounds and ended around 234 pounds.  I haven't been riding my bike much and my diet sucks.  That's called accountability.  
  2. Increase my net worth by $75,000.  With an unanticipated inheritance I easily exceeded this.  Without the inheritance, I still increased my net worth by $68,000, even with unexpected, ridiculous amounts spent on maintaining my rental properties.  
  3. Reduce utilities expense by 10%.  In 2012, I spent $2,760 on utilities.  I spent less in 2013.  At some point in the year I decided to no longer track this goal.  I know what I spent on utilities, but cutting 10% no longer moves my financial needle and I decided this was not a meaningful goal to track.  Reducing utilities by 10%, or $276 ($23 per month) is a great thing to do.  But I reduced debt by nearly $4,000 PER MONTH.  Now that DOES move the financial needle!
  4. Reduce debt to $350,000.  I didn't rack up a bunch of debt by living life in the fast lane.  I've had my share of brain farts (like in 2009 when I bought a new BMW), but most of my debt is from investing in rental properties.  I met this goal.  At the end of 2013 I was within $84 of $350K.  I reduced total debt by $47,000 in 2013.
  5. Purchase one piece of real estate.  Fail.  2013 was a terrible year for tenant drama.  I had a nasty eviction, a tenant died in one of my properties, and I almost evicted a third tenant.  A new roof, two new HVAC units, ripping out ruined 10 month old carpet... all these things made it easy for me to say "NO!" to new real estate in 2013.
2013 is now filed away.  2014 will be an amazing year.

Friday, January 3

My Frugal Miser - December Expenses: $10,767

Beginning next month with my January, 2014 report I am going to entirely exclude rental property expenses from this report.  I have a goal in 2014 of spending less than $20,000 and I want to make tracking it nice and easy.  I plan to provide details about my rental property business in a separate posting.

Last month my spending declined from November.  The largest personal expense was in the Auto category.  I finally got the pickup titled in my name, plus I renewed the registration early for my scooter.  I also had the Vespa dealership perform the 600 mile service on the scooter.  Since I completed a lengthy mystery shopping route I also spent a lot on gas.

Business expenses were high because of several annual expenses.  I paid the rest of my 2013 property taxes as well as fire dues on the 7 properties that require them.  I also renewed one termite bond and prepaid the HOA dues for one property.  Expect rental expenses to decline in January.  Since the two townhouses are now rented I will no longer foot the bill for utilities and lawn care.

December Personal Expenses:  $2,219

$752 Auto ($281 for registration, $96 for service, $375 for fuel)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$164 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$196 Food
$249 Gifts Given
$555 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$158 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$0 Medical/Dental
$79 Miscellaneous
$15 Personal Care
$20 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$31 Utilities
$0 Vacation and Recreation

December Business Expenses:  $8,548

$887 Mortgage Interest (rental properties)
$141 Interest on Debt (not including Mortgage Interest)
$7520 Rental Properties - Maintenance and Repairs

Total December Expenses : $10,767

  • During one of my dealer service shops, someone stole several of the gift cards I had purchased in November.  These were going to be used to help me offset my food spending in 2014. 
  • I don't include principal payments in my expenses, only the interest portion of the monthly mortgage bills.