Sunday, August 24

Get Frugal and Save Money - Wal-Mart Savings Catcher

Now that we've settled into our new home, I had to find a new grocery store.  Pinellas County, FL isn't short on options, with 12 Publix Supermarkets and 4 Wal-Marts within a 4 mile radius of home.  Last week I heard an advertisement on the radio for a new app from Wal-Mart called Savings Catcher.  Ever the frugal miser, I was intrigued by its promise:  automatic price matching for all your purchases.  

This is as easy as it gets:  after buying your groceries at Wal-Mart, you enter the receipt code into an online app.  Within about 3 days, Wal-Mart will send you an e-Gift Card for any difference in their price versus local competitors.  I entered two receipts last week, and I've already received an e-Gift Card for $2.99.

Spending money shouldn't be fun, but I confess to being giddy when the first email arrived announcing my rebate:  I paid $1 for spaghetti sauce, but Albertson's had it on sale for $.79.  CVS had 2 liter soda on sale for $.75 (good for a $.69 rebate), and I saved $.03 on a green bell pepper.  I also saved on cantaloupe ($.08) and burritos ($.28).  For my first receipt, I received a refund back to a gift card in the amount of $1.29.  Even more exciting, I made a second trip the next day.  All I bought was a bag of cat food for $4.24.  For the cat food, Publix was offering it for $2.54, so I received $1.70 bag for the one item.

The new Wal-Mart Savings Catcher is a game changer.  Before, they offered a price match, but the onus was on the customer to find the lower price and mention it to the cashier.  That took too much time for me (who wants to spend an hour to save $1.29?).  But now, all I do is type in my receipt code.  There's peace of mind knowing I'm guaranteed to get the lowest price available.  Loving it!

Sunday, August 17

Taking a Frugal Trip to Ecuador

In 18 days we depart for Ecuador for three weeks!  This has been something I wanted to do for quite some time, and while there is the obligatory anxiety, I'm also super excited to spend some meaningful time in a foreign country.

One advantage of not being tied down by a traditional job is the flexibility my schedule provides.  I leveraged that flexibility by waiting until flights were reasonable.  For most travel, getting there can be the biggest expense.  We're paying less to fly to Guayaquil, Ecuador than we paid to "discount" airline Southwest for our recent trip to Las Vegas.

Save Money on Travel


  • Our two roundtrip flights were $772.  This was considerably less expensive than the other times I have looked at travel to Ecuador.  To keep costs low, we are flying non-stop from Miami to Guayaquil.  I chose an evening departure flight and overnight return to avoid overnight lodging in Miami.  
  • We will be leaving the car at the house, avoiding parking fees.  We will board a bus outside my neighborhood, then transfer to an express bus to Tampa.  From Tampa, we are taking the Megabus to the Miami International Airport.  Since I booked far in advance, our two way tickets on Megabus were only $6.00.   It actually costs less to travel by bus from Tampa to Miami than it will cost from our house to the Tampa bus terminal ($14 for both ways).
  • We will rely on public transit in Ecuador.  Taxis and buses are super cheap there.
  • I ordered two large backpacks so that we don't have to worry about moving wheeled luggage or paying extra to carry that luggage on buses.  

Save Money on Lodging

  • We will be in Ecuador for three weeks, but the accommodations should only cost $391 ($18.62 per night).  The first three nights I redeemed Hilton Honors points for the Hampton Inn in Guayaquil.  Then we spend two weeks at a hostel in Cuenca followed by four days at a hotel in Guayaquil.
  • The hostel in Cuenca provides bicycles, so we won't need a car.  Bus fare in Cuenca is only a $.25 if we decide to use that instead.  

Save Money on Food

  • We will adopt a locals diet (eating the local cuisine is part of the fun!).  
  • Eating from street vendors is common, but even a basic restaurant meal can cost about $3.

When we aren't busy moving and working on the new house, I'll be spending my time preparing for our journey.   This includes brushing up on my Spanish, planning our sightseeing, and figuring out how to travel ultra-light.



Saturday, August 16

My Frugal Miser - July Income: $10,893


July was a strong month on the income side, but I still spent more than I brought in.  My income included payment for the June mystery shopping road trip, which represented over $3,000.  One of my rentals is empty, but all my other properties received rent income.  I don't expect the empty townhouse to be rented this month.


July Income $10,893

$4,310 Mystery Shopping
$6,561 Rental Income
$22 Other Sources

Notes:.  
  • 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. 

Thursday, August 14

My Frugal Miser - July Expenses: $13,570



We made it back to Florida a little after midnight last night.  The California hospitality job and Las Vegas side trip were just what I needed to wipe away the stress of working on the new house every day.  I've reserved a moving truck for Tuesday.  Between now and then we have plenty to do, mostly cleaning up the mess from all the repairs we've done.

As expected, all those repairs added up.  After finding termites, I paid $1,900 to treat the house.  Two new entry doors have been ordered, an electrician made repairs, new floors have been installed, and the house was painted.  We did the floors and paint ourselves, but I hired someone to install the entry doors.  I spent nearly $10,000 in July on repairs at the new house.

There were some other large expenses, too.  After negotiating my hospital bills from the May incident, I had to pay $1,079.  I paid $300 to take a 0% cash advance from one of my credit cards.  I also bought a Steak n Shake gift card that I haven't yet used to take advantage of a bonus promotion (received $125 but only paid $100).

July Expenses:  $13,570


$250 Auto ($124 refund from GEICO from canceled policy, $6 on gas, $267 for depreciation, $101 to insure the moped)
$300 Bank Fees
$38 Clothing
$0 Computer
$120 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$403 Food
$35 Gifts Given
$11,381 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$0 Home Insurance
$245 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$1,079 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$143 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$(565) Taxes (refund)
$136 Utilities
$6 Vacation and Recreation

Sunday, August 10

Free Trip to Las Vegas (well, sort of)

We spent six days through Friday afternoon working an incentive trip in Dana Point, CA.  The incentive trip was for a large, publicly traded company and the red carpet was out for the top salespeople who attended:  the first evening’s entertainment was Aerosmith, followed by an assortment of dinner cruises, open bars and sun and sand activities.  The hospitality job was super easy and five of the six days we mostly just sat behind a desk staring at the Pacific Ocean.  With a steady wind and highs in the 70s, it was a welcome respite from slaving away in the new house under the heat of Florida’s August sun.

Normally I wouldn’t be able to justify such a trip, but by being creative we covered our travel costs (the company that hired us did not reimburse our expenses).  I used Hilton Honors points and stayed at a Hampton Inn that was a half hour away.  We stocked up on groceries at Wal-Mart and ate pitas with hummus and spinach every night, along with $2 bottles of wine.  Since we were less than 300 miles from Las Vegas, and booking our flight and car via Las Vegas would save money, that’s what we did.

So here we are, enjoying the day in Vegas.  The five nights we are here are all free, so the only added cost of taking this mini-vacation was a few days car rental, a little food, and our gambling.  In anticipation of this trip, I ordered the American Casino Guide, which has several pages of coupons in it.  Yesterday I redeemed a free buffet and a couple of game play coupons.  We won $20 using the gaming coupons.  I have more to redeem throughout our trip.

Sometimes, when you desire something, you find a way to make attaining it possible.  This hospitality work fit the bill, as the money we are being paid should cover all our expenses for this trip (unless I gamble too much).

Sunday, August 3

Final Update on Negotiating High Medical Bills

Last week I received good news on the $1,481 ER Doctor bill.   My medical negotiator informed me that the group for whom the doctor works applied a charity care credit to my account, bringing it to zero.

My entire $1,481 bill was waived.  I paid nothing.

I don't know how their process works, but I was never asked for income or asset verification or vetted in any other way.  Frankly, I think the amount I still had to pay for the emergency room (almost $1,000) was more than enough for all the "services" I received.  Still, it's amazing that they would just completely waive all charges.