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Sunday, June 29

I Bought a House

My New Project:  My Future Home
Last week I closed on my second Florida property.  It's a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,100 square foot home that needs a lot of work.  Only the kitchen and dining area have floors; everything else is bare concrete.  I think the air conditioner needs replacing, as do all the kitchen appliances.  There was interior water damage from a leaky roof, so some walls and ceilings are missing.  The good news is the bank (I bought a foreclosure) replaced the roof already.

This is what the kitchen ceiling looks like right now.
I have a fair amount of experience with rehabbing foreclosures.  However, this is easily the biggest project I've taken on.  The plan is to rehab two of the bedrooms first so that we can live in the house while we work on it.  These are the least damaged rooms in the home, as they only require a fresh coat of paint, floors, and some other minor repairs such as replacing damaged doors.

One of the ways we will keep our costs down with this project is by using 10% off coupons from Lowe's.  I was able to purchase 5 of these from ebay for $8.

 We have a big trip planned for September, so my goal is to finish the project by the end of August.

Saturday, June 21

Mystery Shopping Road Trip Update: Big Stone Gap, VA

What a week!  I left home at 2:30 Monday morning for my first stop in Ashburn, GA.  Six days and just over 2,000 miles later I am settled into my hotel in Big Stone Gap, VA.  This week I completed 26 auto dealership service shops (one oil change and 25 tire rotations) and one fast food restaurant.  I earned $2,041 in mystery shopping fees this week.

I did my best to keep costs low.  I only paid for one meal each day and avoided expensive hotels as best as possible (the most expensive hotel was $80 + tax).  I mostly stayed in Choice Hotels properties to take advantage of a sweet promotion:  a $50 retail gift card for every two stays.  After tonight's stay, I've already earned $150 in gift cards!

The route I am on is a shorter one:  on Thursday I finally close on the new house.  I have 3 shops for Monday, 4 on Tuesday and 3 on Wednesday.

Sunday, June 15

Another Mystery Shopping Route

Already June has been a decent month.  Between hospitality work and a couple local routes, it's been good to be busy.  I am heading out at 2:30 AM tomorrow morning.  Rather than pay for a hotel, I'll drive 5 hours to my first stop.  The route I have accepted is just 35 stops, but they are spread out and will take a week and a half to complete.  It is decent money; I think I am averaging $77 per stop.

This route kicks off in southern Georgia.  It includes stops in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.  I am being paid about $1 per mile.  That is a nice amount, but the hotels are more expensive than I would like to spend because most of the towns I am visiting are rural and there is little, if any, competition to hold down rates.  I thought about sleeping in my car but haven't had time to see if that is possible with an Aveo (plus I really prefer a hotel room after spending the day in my car.

In other news, I still haven't closed on the house.  I signed an extension giving Fannie Mae until the end of June to prepare the closing.  I haven't lost any more weight, but am more aware of what I eat since I signed up with Healthy Wage.

Saturday, June 7

My Frugal Miser - May Income: $10,219

Thanks to the rental properties, I had an exceptional month of income in May.  I received rent from every property, including from the tenant I was about to evict.  Fortunately, it appears this tenant is making an effort to get back on track and I won't incur the eviction, vacancy and repair costs I was expecting to have. One of the managed townhouses was also behind, and in May I received two rent payments plus late fees from that property.

Mystery shopping income was fair.  The house I am buying still has not closed, so I scrambled to put together shopping routes to fill in the time I had reserved for working on the new house.

May Income $10,219

$2,129 Mystery Shopping
$8,077 Rental Income
$14 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. 

Recap of our Las Vegas Trip

Last month we spent two weeks vacationing in Las Vegas.  I posted that vacationing in Las Vegas can be a frugal way to get away, and wanted to review how much our trip cost us.

Flights:  $560
Rental Car:  $203.31 ($14.52 per day)
Hotels:  $307.35 ($21.95 per day)
Gas:  $74.67
Food:  $198.52 ($14.18 per day)
Gambling and Entertainment:  $117
Tips and Miscellaneous Cash Spent:  $200
Airport Parking:  $61.68


One of the largest costs of any vacation is getting there.  Two flights from Tampa to Las Vegas and back cost $560, which was cheap.  I had a $100 voucher from an earlier trip and I planned this trip around when flights were least expensive.  We flew there and back on a Saturday, which is usually a less expensive day to fly since you aren't competing with business travelers for your seat.


We ate well, and I could have easily spent half what we did.  For example, I dropped $71 on one meal when we visited Gordon Ramsey's BURGR.  We dined at a high end Indian restaurant one night.  Those two meals alone accounted for half our food expense.


We spent a weekend in Phoenix, where my partner has family.  The two nights there cost $112.  There were also resort fees and small charges for our rooms in Vegas.  I did not have enough comp offers to cover the entire vacation.

Everything Else

I kept our parking costs down by finding an off-airport lot and then searching for discount codes online.  Off airport parking saved us $60 off what the Economy Lot at the airport would have cost.  We went to four movies while on vacation but only had to pay for two:  I scored free passes to an advance screening and we received two tickets by earning points on our Player's Card at one casino.  We also visited the Botanical Gardens for free by taking advantage of reciprocal membership privileges.  We consumed more alcohol than was healthy, but all that cost was a couple dollars in tips each time.

Advice for Others

I use Las Vegas Advisor to find deals on food and entertainment.  They publish a Top Ten list each month of the best deals in Vegas.  I also log into my Player's Club online accounts to see where the special deals are located.  Boyd has special hotel rates when you enter your card number (for example, we spent $20 per night for 3 nights at Main Street Station).  I also look at where the promotional offers are each day.  That's how we obtained free buffets, gifts including a bottle of vodka and a t-shirt, and free movie tickets.  For gambling, Downtown Las Vegas is cheaper than the Strip, plus the Fremont Street Experience provides free nightly entertainment.  My game of choice is Video Poker, which I actually won money on throughout the trip.  I also spent some time playing live poker, where I basically broke even.  I played a little Blackjack.  During the entire trip I only played on one slot machine.  It's a game at Binion's that I have always played when I go there.  This visit I won a little on that machine.  Bottom line:  the casinos make their money on slots, so play at your own risk.  Video Poker, played using perfect strategy, has over a 100% payback when you include the value of free alcohol and Player's Club promotions.  Similarly, live poker is a game of skill.  Stick to games where you have the edge and you will lose less.

All in all, we had a great time and we didn't go into debt in the process.  I spent $1,722.53 for the two of us to vacation for 14 days, which amounts to just $123 per day.  And I am already thinking about our next Vegas vacation.  While it will be shorter in duration, I will also challenge myself to be even more frugal:  I want to see if we can spend under $1,000 on our next trip.

Thursday, June 5

My Frugal Miser - May Expenses: $2,886

My gluttonous ways continued into May.  While I need to spend less than $1,667/mo. to achieve my spending goal, I was way over.

First, the good stuff.  I received $680 in refunds, net of expenses, by switching from 21st Century to GEICO for car insurance.  That's huge and I learned that loyalty is meaningless, at least when it comes to car insurance.  I was with 21st Century for about 12 years, but GEICO proved to be significantly less expensive for me.

Entertainment spending includes the $100 I lost in Las Vegas.  Two weeks of gambling and all it cost me was $100, so I'm not complaining.  I also spent over $900 on vacation expenses.  This includes the trip to Omaha at the beginning of the month as well as the Vegas trip.  In Vegas I included our meals and all tips in the vacation category.

Other notables include the $480 in bank fees.  I took advantage of a large 0% cash advance offer on one of my credit cards.  There was a 3% fee upfront for the advance.  I had a medical emergency while in Vegas, and part of the cost of that was paid in May.  I am awaiting the ER bill.

May Expenses:  $2,886

$(341) Auto ($0 for service, $680 INCOME for insurance refund, $152 for fuel, $187 for depreciation)
$480 Bank Fees
$21 Clothing
$0 Computer
$138 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$192 Food
$21 Gifts Given
$659 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$245 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$160 Medical/Dental
$133 Miscellaneous
$158 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$82 Utilities
$937 Vacation and Recreation