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Monday, May 26

Back to the (Mystery Shopping) Grind

We returned from Vegas on Saturday evening.  Wasting no time, I spent Sunday in the Gainesville, FL area doing gas station audits.  Because today is Memorial Day there aren't many shops I am allowed to do, but we are doing a bar integrity audit at lunch.  Then tomorrow morning I leave for two days in Jacksonville for gas station audits.  It sucks that I have to travel so far for work, but my area has so much competition that I have to do this to earn a living.

On Thursday I am finally closing on the new house.  Then on Saturday we leave for Orlando.  We are working a hospitality meeting there for four days, followed by a day in Daytona to audit more gas stations.  When we return to Clearwater I have two days worth of work lined up (more gas stations!) and then the mystery shopping calendar clears up a bit.  This is good because getting the new house in order will be my top priority.  There's so much that needs to be done there.

I'll post more about our Vegas trip later.  The good news is that in two weeks I only lost $100 gambling.

Saturday, May 10

Las Vegas on the Cheap

Later today we leave for Las Vegas.  Most people would argue that taking a vacation to Sin City is anything but a frugal form of entertainment.  Au contraire!  This is the land of $9/day rental cars, free hotel rooms and cheap eats.  It's the frugal miser's playground.

I'm not a heavy gambler, but I do enjoy the entertainment.  Usually an introvert, I can sit at a $3 blackjack table for hours, sipping free spirits while yapping it up with my fellow players and the dealer.

I follow a few rules to stretch my Las Vegas budget:

  • I use a Player's Card everywhere.  Comps are king, but you'll earn more freebies off the strip.  
  • Some casinos have aggressive promotions.  We will be taking advantage of the following freebies during our vacation:  On Tuesdays, 200 points at Sam's Town gets you a free breakfast or lunch buffet, and you can earn two free buffets in a day. I will earn a free buffet for running $200 through a Video Poker machine.  Since I try to play perfect strategy, my estimated loss on a $200 bet is 84 cents.  An $.84 lunch is a bargain!  On Wednesday, I can earn a free movie ticket after 600 points.  There are similar free buffet promotions at Suncoast (300 points are required there, but it isn't limited to one day a week).
  • Binion's and El Cortez offer "free spin" promotions with their player's cards.  Earn X points, spin a prize wheel.  This is in addition to the other comps you receive with their cards.
  • Need cash?  Use the ATM at El Cortez.  You get a 5% rebate on your withdrawal amount in the form of free play.
  • Every 4 of a Kind on Video Poker at Main Street Station gets you a free scratch off ticket that is guaranteed to win cash.
  • As I've said before, I keep checking rates after I book travel.  I monitored car rental rates and re-booked whenever they dropped.  Our two week rental dropped from $367 all-in to $203 as the trip approached.
  • Casinos give out free rooms like candy.  We have to change properties every couple of days, but the slight inconvenience is worth the savings.
As long as you can stick to a gambling budget, vacationing in Las Vegas can be a significant value.

Wednesday, May 7

My Frugal Miser: April Income: $8,588

My April income was okay.  I did not receive rent at two of my rental properties. I have begun the eviction for Townhouse #3 as the tenant is unwilling to leave without me filing suit against him.  He is five months behind on his rent and I was foolish to wait this long (he has made periodic payments, but over time has gotten further and further behind).  One of the tenants at a townhouse I have rented through the management company also did not pay rent.  Hopefully this will be a one time problem with that one.

Mystery shopping income was decent; it won't be this high again in the foreseeable future as I turn my attention to this new house I am buying.  I also received a $140 interest payment on an old loan I had made through Prosper.  That was a pleasant surprise.

April Income $8,588

$1,857 Mystery Shopping
$6,575 Rental Income
$155 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. 

Tuesday, May 6

How I Track the Expense for the Purchase of a Vehicle

At the end of April I purchased a 2011 Chevrolet Aveo from Hertz.  I spent a total, including taxes and fees, of $9,370 on the car.  The car has just short of 60,000 miles on the odometer, and a few years ago I decided my vehicles' useful life would always be 100,000 miles for purposes of this exercise.  Therefore, each month I will post an expense in Quicken the the number of miles I have driven.  The per mile factor I will use is $.23425 (a little more than 23 cents).  All I did to come up with that was divide my purchase price by the 40,000 miles remaining for my vehicle's useful life.

As an example, if I drive 1,000 miles in May, I would deduct $234.25 from Quicken as a vehicle depreciation expense.   I'll keep doing that until I hit 100,000 miles; any mileage after that is "free" since the vehicle will be completely depreciated at that point.

Monday, May 5

My Frugal Miser - April Expenses: $2,854

I spent too much in April.  While I need to spend less than $1,667/mo. to achieve my spending goal, I was way over.

Fortunately I will get a refund this month for some of my car insurance.  I bought a used car in April and had to insure it at the dealership before they would let me leave.  This hasty decision was not wise financially, and I quickly corrected it a few days later by switching to GEICO.  Switching will cut nearly $600 off the amount I report below.  Additionally, I will sell the S-10 after we move and will receive an additional refund on that policy (I pay 6 months at a time).

Entertainment spending was high because I dropped $190 in an hour at the blackjack table.  I have never had much luck at the Hard Rock in Tampa, which is why I rarely go.  I also spent $463 on a new crown (the kind that goes in your mouth).  It was to replace an old one.

Lastly, I signed up for Healthywage after reading about it at  My buddy Andy is betting $3,000 he can lose 25 pounds in 6 months.  I thought that was a splendid idea, although my wager is less than that and will be paid in monthly installments.  I figure at worst this is an investment in my health but at best I could have my bet returned to me and win a little money, too.

April Expenses:  $2,854

$1183 Auto ($0 for service, $1,098 for insurance, $85 for fuel)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$8 Computer
$364 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$194 Food
$9 Gifts Given
$190 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$246 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$464 Medical/Dental
$(73) Miscellaneous (income)
$165 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$86 Utilities
$18 Vacation and Recreation

Sunday, May 4

Omaha, NE

We're in Omaha this weekend for the Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffett's company) annual meeting.  The meeting was yesterday but we don't return home until Monday.  There is a brunch today at Borsheim's - free food and alcohol!  Tonight we are staying in Des Moines as that is the airport we used.

When planning my annual trip, I figured out that flying to Omaha was not practical.  A single roundtrip ticket from Tampa to Omaha would have cost nearly $500 and taken 6 hours with connections.  We flew from Clearwater to Des Moines for $154 roundtrip.  The total travel time including the two hours extra driving was under 5 hours.  In addition to the savings on airfare, my rental car was cheap ($63 for 3 days).  We booked low end Wyndham hotels:  Friday night I redeemed reward points since that was the most expensive night in Omaha; last night the Super 8 cost $80 and tonight the Microtel in Des Moines will cost $50.  Not bad for the knowledge gained.  As a bonus, I visited the Geico booth at the meeting and switched insurance.  The 6-month savings will pay for our trip to Omaha!

Speaking of auto insurance, I bought a new-to-me car.  It is a 2011 Aveo.  The S-10 will be retired once I move everything in the new house.  It just isn't practical - less than 20 miles per gallon!  Besides that, it is a rough ride and I am spending too much on maintaining it.  I think the fuel pump may be going bad on it.  Buying this second car is what prompted me to shop my insurance.  I've been with the same insurer (21st Century) since 2002 (it was AIG then, but 21st bought them).  When I called to add the second car, they quoted me a $1,100 rate for 6 months, and that's just liability insurance.  I've never been in an accident and my motor vehicle record is clean.  Living in Florida is what makes the rate high.  Well, the rate Geico quoted was less than $600, and it will drop more once I sell the S-10.

I still haven't closed on the house yet.  The agent had me sign an amendment that extends closing to May 9th.  They haven't received a clean title yet.  This is fine with me - we aren't able to start work on the foreclosure until we return from vacation on the 24th.

Vacation?  Yes... we do return to Clearwater on Monday, but only for a few days.  On Saturday we are going to Las Vegas and Phoenix (my partner has family in Phoenix).  Another frugal trip - I had a voucher on Airtran so that our flights are costing something like $500 for both of us.  Most hotel nights are being comped.  The rental car is just $65 per week; with tax it will cost around $200 for two weeks.  That leaves gambling; I won't go too wild, mostly playing $.25 video poker with a little blackjack thrown in for social interaction.