Saturday, September 27

Back in the US of A, Feeling Frugal

We made it back to the house just before 5 PM yesterday.  It was a long day that began the night before.  We arrived at the airport around 8:15 for our 11 PM flight Thursday, then in Miami had an almost five hour wait before boarding the Megabus for the journey from Miami to Tampa.  In addition to the cheap bus tickets ($1 each), I tried Uber for the first time to get us from Tampa to Largo.  I received a $30 credit to try Uber, so the total cost was just $2.  It was either that or wait nearly four hours for the bus to take us home.

Customs was a fairly easy process.  After having seen Locked Up Abroad, I was expecting more scrutiny with all the recent drama around terrorism and drugs.  At the airport in Ecuador we did not have to take our shoes off or remove the laptop from our bag.  Once we landed in Miami, I used an Express Kiosk to inform the government I was carrying nothing illegal or valuable, then answered a few questions about why I left the country and the type of work I do.  No one inspected my bags.

Today we took advantage of free admission to the Dali Museum for county residents.   All the area museums offer free admission one day each year.  On the way home I redeemed my Shell Fuel Rewards.  For every $100 I spent at Lowe's in the last few months, I earned a nickel off a gallon of gas.  I paid $1.52/gallon and stocked up on 20 gallons of fuel.  I also turned in 10 ink cartridges at Staples (good for a $20 voucher for free stuff) and took the recycling to the local dropoff point.  We've avoided paying for garbage service by recycling most everything and disposing of trash as needed.  Quite the frugal day!

Thursday, September 18

The Cost of Getting Around in Cuenca and Guayaquil, Ecuador

Transportation costs are significantly less in Ecuador, thanks in large part to subsidized energy prices.  Many vehicles use diesel fuel, which costs 76% less in Ecuador than the world average ($.29 per Liter, which translates to $1.10 per gallon).  Gas is also subsidized and is 55% less than average at $.58/Liter ($2.19/gallon).

Combining lower fuel costs with the average wage of around $800 per month means it's cheaper to use a taxi or city bus than to it is to own a car.  Here in Cuenca, you can go virtually anywhere in the city for a $2 cab fare.  Even better, taking the bus costs $.25, unless you are a senior citizen, in which case you only pay twelve and a half cents.

The great thing about Cuenca is that walking is also a convenient option.  After taking a taxi from the bus terminal to the apartment we are renting, we have relied on walking to get us where we want to go.

Speaking of bus terminals, the cost to travel between cities in Ecuador is ridiculously inexpensive.  We traveled from Guayaquil to Cuenca, a four hour scenic bus ride through the Andes mountains, for just $8.25 each.

Friday, September 12

Cuenca, Ecuador

Inside the New Cathedral, built in 1880
The domes of the Cathedral are visible from all parts of Cuenca.
Incan Ruins
Parque Calderon is the gathering spot in the middle of town.
Murals grace the sides of many buildings

Thursday, September 11

Plink (Plink.com) Shuts Down, Redemptions Not Allowed

I received an email this evening informing me that Plink, a loyalty rewards program, is closing its doors - shutting down the company - effective immediately.  Here's the text of the email they sent:
To Our Loyal Plink Members, 

With much sadness and heavy hearts, we are sorry to tell you that Plink is closing its doors. As of today, the Plink site will be shut down and the program will cease to function. 

As a start-up, we are reliant on continued funding and over the last year we have been unable to secure any additional funding. Unfortunately, without that funding, Plink can no longer continue to operate. As a team, we did everything we could to keep Plink alive, but we have now run out of time and options. 

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our loyal members who have supported us for the last three years. As a team, we want to thank all of our members, for their loyalty and continuing to stick with us to the end. We couldn’t have made it this far without such an amazing loyal, committed group of members. 

We also want to thank all of our advertisers and partners who supported us over the last three years. It was their belief in us and willingness to support a small start-up that allowed Plink to grow. We are proud to have partnered with some of the largest restaurant and retail brands in the United States. 

Moving forward, all Plink accounts will be closed. No further points can be redeemed. Thanks to all from the Plink Team. 

Any further questions can be directed to support@plink.com. 

Sincerely,
The Plink Team 

What sucks is that, near the end of the email, they advise "No further points can be redeemed."  The thing is, I made purchase decisions based on the incentives being offered by Plink.  To deny me the chance to redeem my points is low down.  The company should have maintained a separate account ("Redemptions Payable") for what they owed their members.  Instead, they used the funds in daily operations.  This is wrong!

Unfortunately, I can't see how raising a stink is going to accomplish anything.  The company is shutting down, so funds aren't there to make things right.  Guess the lesson here is to always redeem points in your loyalty programs sooner rather than later.

Fortunately, there is another site I have used heavily:  Ebates.  I've been paid hundreds of dollars in Ebates by linking from their site to do my shopping.  For example, as I've been remodeling my new home, I've ordered from Lowes.com, receiving a 2% rebate every time.  Even better, by ordering online, Lowe's prepares my order and has it ready for me at the front of the store.  Gotta love that!

Monday, September 8

Examples of Grocery Prices in Cuenca, Ecuador

Guineo Orito
There is a chain in Ecuador called Tia.  Tia reminds me of Dollar General with its assortment of food, clothing, household goods and school supplies.  They also stock beer and hard liquor as well as fresh produce.  So far we've visited three Tia outlets as the store is more like an American store than most of the alternatives.

Where Tia is different are the prices of local products.  Today I bought a pack of 9 baby bananas for $.70, a green pepper for $.08, two apples for $.66 and a medium-sized bag of sugar for $.50.  What's crazy is that I could pay even less if I went to the mercado and bought from a produce seller.

Not everything is priced so low.  I bought sugar instead of Splenda because a pack of 100 was $6.99.  Soda is about the same if you buy the large bottles (1.95 L here instead of 2 L), but cheaper if you purchase a single serve bottle ($.57 for 500 mL, which is 16.9 oz.).


Friday, September 5

Eating Cheap in Guayaquil, Ecuador

All this for $2.25, tax included

Almuerzo is the best value, but there were other choices, too
In Guayaquil, many of the restaurants in the Centro (downtown) area offer Almuerzos Ejecutivos (Executive Lunches).  Basically, it is a Monday-Friday special marketed to workers on their lunch break.

Almuerzos (literally translated, "lunch") are fixed menu meals.  You start with soup and then have a couple of choices for el Segundo ("second", the main course).   Today's main entree choices included marinated chicken, breaded calamari, or beef.

Today I enjoyed a beef soup, along with marinated chicken, rice and a pasta salad, which had ham in it.  Fresh juice was also included.  The total price:  $2.25.

This was more than enough food, but we remembered a bakery we saw earlier in the day inside a grocery store.  We stopped for Pan de Pina and two bottles of water.  The pineapple bread was $.30 each and the 500 mL water, $.31.

As long as you are willing to eat like a local, you can eat in Ecuador for really cheap.

Tuesday, September 2

My Frugal Miser - August Expenses: $3,889



I am really looking forward to when I finish work on our new home.  With no mortgage and more normal expenses for repairs and such, our monthly spending will noticeably decline.

We added Internet ($20 a month) but offset that expense by downgrading our Republic Wireless plans (a temporary reduction from $80/month to $15/month).  However, the electric bill is going to be higher because we are running the A/C more.   Some of the ceilings and walls are uninsulated, and by noon the inside temperature passes 90 degrees without A/C.  I'll be working on making this home more energy efficient.  Another way we are saving is by not paying for trash service.  The community recycling center is a mile away, so we recycle the majority of our trash.  What remains we will dispose of at the other house until it gets rented.

We are leaving for Ecuador on Thursday.  I don't think our three week vacation there will add any substantial expenses in September.  In fact, some of our costs (food, transportation, housing) may go down.

August Expenses:  $3,889


$119 Auto ($12 for tipping the valet at the conference we worked in California, $107 for gas)
$3 Bank Fees
$23 Clothing
$0 Computer
$97 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$398 Food
$17 Gifts Given
$1,584 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$0 Home Insurance
$245 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$514 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$143 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$196 Utilities
$551 Vacation and Recreation

Notes:

  • The only gas I had to buy was during our work in California.  I had enough stored from mystery shopping to cover our local needs.
  • Much of our food expense was also from the California trip.  I did have a stocking up trip to Wal-Mart when we moved to the new house.
  • An old crown broke, and it cost $513.50 to pay for a new one.  My dental insurance only pays half of my costs for this kind of work.
  • Personal care expenses will be going down soon.  I spend $100/month on Healthy Wage (a bet that I would lose weight) and $43 on Weight Watchers.  Unfortunately I'm using neither of these but will stay on until the 6 month wager is over.
  • Home Expenses were generally for repairs.  I bought a new stove and a router for Internet.  The balance was from a variety of things I had to buy.

Monday, September 1

My Frugal Miser - August Income: $7,823


August was mixed.  I barely did any mystery shopping, but the hospitality work in California paid over $900.  My perennially problem tenant did not pay any rent last month, but it's been promised this week.  The management company found a new tenant for the vacant townhouse, but it is a Section 8 tenant, which means the move-in will take a little time, so no rent on that unit either.


August Income $7,823

$1,462 Mystery Shopping
$6,211 Rental Income
$150 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.