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Wednesday, April 23

New York Bound, New Home Update

Early tomorrow morning I fly to New York to attend the Biglari Holdings shareholder meeting.  This will be my first time attending.  The CEO of the company reminds me of a young Warren Buffett and I would like to think I'm an early investor in what may become a profitable venture.  I haven't been to New York since my dad took us when I was twelve.  I'm not looking forward to figuring out the public transit system, but taking public transportation from the airport costs $2.50 versus about $50 for a taxi.

After the meeting I am shopping a hotel in Times Square.  Since my dinner and breakfast the next morning will be covered it makes this a frugal trip.

I haven't closed on the new house yet.  The agent has had me sign several revisions to the contract.  I haven't made any special requests; I suspect I am dealing with an inexperienced agent.  I'm not too bothered by any delays this causes:  we are flying to Omaha next Friday for the Berkshire Hathaway meeting and then to Las Vegas on the 10th so I won't have much time to work on the property until the end of May.

Saturday, April 12

Buying a House

The Courtyard inside Bonnet House
We returned home from Miami late Thursday evening.  On Thursday we visited the Bonnet House gardens in Fort Lauderdale.  I really like that place.  It is the one undeveloped piece of beachfront land between Miami and Palm Beach.  What I most like is the courtyard.  Since it is surrounded by the house, it is a private oasis.

This brings me to a big update:  I've been quietly shopping for houses, and it looks like I finally had an offer accepted.  The property is an ugly foreclosure that needs significant repairs and updating.  Some of the walls and ceilings are missing insulation and Sheetrock from a previous leak, and all the floors are bare except the tiles in the kitchen.  The plan is to move there this summer as soon as I get a couple bedrooms ready to be occupied.  The other work in the house can be done after I get moved in.  My master plan includes creating a backyard oasis inspired by the Bonnet House.

So far April has been a steady month for mystery shopping, hospitality and auditing work.  The next several days I will be working on a business census that entails visiting every business within a designated census area.  I also have several gas stations to shop and a handful of restaurants and grocery stores lined up.

Monday, April 7

Frugal Travel Tip: Keep Checking Rates

By revisiting rates for the hotels and rental car I reserved, I was able to upgrade our accommodations and save money.  Originally we were paying $202 for a rental car and $451+tax for 5 nights lodging.  Now we are paying $122 for a rental car and $373 for 6 nights in upgraded lodging.

I've been in Miami for a few days staffing a registration desk at a conference.  I agreed to the job assuming we would be able to find inexpensive hotels, but was caught off guard when I looked at the astronomical rates.  Since there are two of us sharing a room, we did not have to book the lowest end hotels, but even the mid-tier properties (like Hampton Inn) started in the $150/night range.

Begrudgingly I began making reservations.  Ideally we would have stayed in one hotel throughout the conference.  It's much easier than having to pack up every day to move to the next hotel.  But because rates were ridiculous, that wasn't practical.  Right away, I reserved a Sleep Inn for the last two nights at $76 per night (it was full the other nights).  That rate was acceptable, it was in a decent location, and the reviews were good.

But for the other 3 nights, rates were simply too high.  Originally I booked two nights at a Super 8 in Florida City, which is more than an hour away.  The third night I swallowed my pride and reserved a $143+tax room at a Hilton Garden Inn near the airport.  I already knew I'd be checking hotels as the event neared to see if rates dropped.  As luck would have it, they did.

First two nights:

  • Originally $78+tax at Super 8 in Florida City, 88 miles roundtrip each day, plus tolls.
  • Replaced first night with Hilton Garden Inn MIA, $142, 26 miles roundtrip, no tolls.
  • Rate at Hilton Garden Inn MIA dropped to $130 on 4/2 so I re-booked at lower rate.
  • On 4/3, Homewood Suites MIA dropped to $118.  I changed hotels.
  • Replaced second night with another Hilton property that I mystery shopped:  FREE ROOM!
First two nights changed from $156+tax for a lousy Super 8 an hour away to $118+tax for higher end hotels nearby.

Third night:
  • Originally booked at Hilton Garden Inn for $143+tax
  • On 4/2, rate dropped to $130, so I re-booked at the lower rate.
  • On 4/5, a nearby Hampton Inn reduced rates to $103, so I changed to that hotel.
Rental Car:
  • Reserved with Enterprise by my house.  I used a 10% off coupon and booked a weekly rate.  With tax, it was just over $200.
  • On 4/2, rates at the Clearwater Airport dropped significantly.  It's further away, but by changing my reservation we are saving $80 on our reservation for the same class vehicle.
Bonus Sixth Night:
  • We were coming home on the 9th, but I found a second mystery shop.
  • Sixth night at a chic boutique hotel in South Beach.

Friday, April 4

My Frugal Miser - March Income: $10,132

My March income was solid.  I received rent at all of my rental properties.  Mystery shopping income was higher than the actual work I did because I was paid for work I did in prior months.  I'm not reporting another one-time source of income:  my brother and I split the proceeds from selling my grandfather's house.  There were so many memories made in that house, but it wasn't practical to hold onto it since neither of us live within 500 miles of it.  Most of the proceeds will be used to reduce my outstanding debt; I'm dedicating a small part of it to a Vegas Vacation in March.  My grandparents were very frugal, but they splurged on vacations, especially when bowling was involved.  Vegas and Reno were two spots they visited often.

March Income $10,132

$2,820 Mystery Shopping
$7,296 Rental Income
$15 Other Sources

  • 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. 

Wednesday, April 2

My Frugal Miser - March Expenses: $3,980

I was back to my glutinous ways in March.  While I need to spend less than $1,667/mo. to achieve my spending goal, I was way over.

Nearly all of the overage was in the Vacation category. During our Hawaii trip we took a 14 hour tour that included volcanoes and remote beaches ($286).  All of the food we ate while in Hawaii is also in the Vacation category.  Additionally, my partner decided to travel to Omaha with me for the Berkshire Hathaway meeting, so I purchased another ticket.  I paid for a flight to New York to attend the Biglari Holdings annual meeting later this month.  Finally, I bought two roundtrip tickets to Las Vegas in May.  Some hotel stays for each of these trips were prepaid as well.  As you can see we will be doing a lot of travel in the next 60 days.

 I've been resisting replacing the S-10, so servicing the Beast is expensive.  In March I replaced the transmission fluid.  While in Hawaii I dropped my Chromebook and cracked the screen.  I had to buy another computer so that I could enter my mystery shopping reports.  When I returned to the mainland I was able to replace the broken screen for $42, but now I have an extra computer.  The only other expense that bothers me is the $130 I spent on clothing.  A large part of that was for a white dress shirt I needed for a hospitality event I worked.  I have a dozen dress shirts, but none were solid white.  I also bought several moisture wicking shirts that were on clearance for under $10 each.

March Expenses:  $3,980

$290 Auto ($208 for service, $82 for fuel)

$6 Bank Fees
$130 Clothing
$303 Computer
$81 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$156 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$680 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$246 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$0 Medical/Dental
$50 Miscellaneous
$86 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$92 Utilities
$1862 Vacation and Recreation