Friday, October 31

Remodeling Update

We've spent the last several days working on the master bedroom (photos to come).  Skimcoating the walls was labor-intensive.  I wanted smooth walls where there was texture before, and it took massive sanding followed by 4-5 layers of skimcoating (which is thinned-down mud that you roll on and then smooth over with a squeegee) to get it to look smooth.  The ceiling had no insulation nor any drywall, plus the ceiling fan was threatening to plummet to the ground every time I turned it on.  I replaced the junction box with a stronger one and then we hung all new drywall.  Hanging drywall on a ceiling, without any tools to hold it in place while screwing it in, is something I never want to do again.  It was physically demanding and mentally frustrating.  But it's done, and we didn't have to hire anyone.  Next, we plastered over the cracks and the nail holes.  Since I'm just an amateur, it was obvious that a smooth ceiling was going to reveal the joints between sheets of drywall, and I refuse to stare at those imperfections every night in bed (talk about insomnia!).  So, I "settled" for a popcorn-textured ceiling, the amateur's best friend when it comes to hiding imperfections.  I bought an amazing power sprayer called the Wagner Power Tex, and we are midway done applying it to the ceilings.  It's quite messy, but the work goes fast and so far I am happy with how it is looking.

I've also been working on the master closet.  The previous owner used bifold doors, which I really dislike, as well as awkward wood shelves and wooden closet rods.  I tore out those shelves and extended the wall so that there is now a smaller entrance and have installed wire shelving.

Next up is painting the walls and laying floors.  The concrete floors will require a thorough cleaning, as there is drywall mud and popcorn texture everywhere.  I'm using vinyl plank flooring, which is about as easy as it gets in terms of installation.  Once that is done, all that is left in the master bedroom are miscellaneous tasks such as tinting the windows and adding blinds, installing the new fan, moving furniture in, and enjoying the new room.  It's so close to being done and I am so excited.  Since we moved to this new house, I've been sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a tiny room.  Sleeping in a real bed will be amazing.

Saturday, October 18

Boca or Bust

Tomorrow morning we head to Boca Raton to work the registration desk at a convention for four days.  Normally I would have declined the job, as the hours are short and therefore the pay doesn't justify the cost of getting/staying away from home.  But since I haven't worked much lately outside the home, why not?  I was able to schedule a hotel mystery shop for one night, and the other two nights are at two Choice Hotels to take advantage of their "Earn One Free Night With Every 2 Stays" promotion.

Progress on the remodel continues.  I built a wall to enclose the master closet, moved the entrance door to the bedroom, added insulation to the walls and ceilings, and am in the middle of installing drywall on the ceiling in the master bedroom.  That last task is no fun at all mostly because we don't have any of the tools that make holding a 40 pound piece of drywall in place easy.  We are holding it up by hand as I screw it into the joists.  It sucks.

Good news with my rental properties:  every unit is currently rented as of Friday.  I still have a late-paying tenant at one of the townhouses, but everything else is smooth sailing.

Saturday, October 4

Ecuador: What I Loved (and What I Could do Without)

It's hardly been a week since we returned from three weeks in Ecuador.  I wanted to vacation there to test it out as a possible place to retire.  I was interested in the cost of living as well as the quality of life.  For me, quality of life includes a number of factors including the availability of modern amenities, the ease of getting around and the friendliness of the people.

I like to think I am flexible and accepting of people who are not like me.  My way isn't necessarily the best or only way to go about living, so I accept that people from different cultures live differently than I do.

For example, I embrace how Ecuadorians have a "live and let live" way about themselves.  There just aren't a lot of rules around here, but somehow it works.  I love small government and often think the United States is bloated with bureaucracy.  In Ecuador, I never saw traffic laws enforced, or jaywalking.  I believe one reason the cost of living is so much lower is because of the lack of government involvement in day-to-day life.  Street vendors are everywhere, and I seriously doubt the elderly ladies selling bread from a basket or the five year olds hawking lottery tickets are properly licensed to do such things.

If I were to move to Ecuador, I would almost certainly live in Cuenca.  It is the third-largest city, and has year-round spring-like weather.  Most of what I say below is representative of Cuenca.

What I Really Like About Ecuador
  1. Everyone owns a phone, but no one does the zombie-walk down the sidewalk with their head down, oblivious to their environment, as is the norm in the US.  You almost never see people even talking on their phones while in a crowd.  They step aside, into a park or the foyer of a building, to take a call.
  2. Ability to live without a car.  I thought my home in Florida was convenient.  It doesn't compare to the convenience here in Ecuador.  Sure, just about everything you need is within a ten minute walk.  But even better, the public buses are just a quarter (and half that for seniors) and a taxi to anywhere in the city is $2 or less.
  3. Restaurants - variety AND price.  We discovered a delicious vegetarian restaurant that offers a full lunch, tax included, for $3.50.  Other places are as low as $2.25 for lunch.  By full lunch, I mean soup, salad, entree, rice, vegetable, juice AND dessert.  The variety of food is astounding.  I can't think of any cuisine that isn't available.  We enjoyed Chinese, Mexican, traditional Ecuadorian, Indian, and Italian over the last week.  There are dozens of bakeries and ice cream shops.  Street vendors sell food on almost every corner.  You can't go hungry here.
  4. The lack of transients and homeless people.  In three weeks I only saw one intoxicated person, and I never saw anyone who was obviously homeless.  Virtually everyone is well-dressed and proud in Ecuador.  
  5. The weather.  This is worth mentioning twice.  In the two weeks we were in Cuenca, there was only one full day of rain.  We visited in the dry season, so I'm sure this is not the norm.  However, the temperature IS constant.  The morning lows were around 50 and by early afternoon it was usually in the low 70's.
What I Don't Like About Ecuador
  1. Noise.  I'm not talking about your typical, urban noise.  One night around 1:00 AM, a motorcyclist started revving his muffler-less engine, and it lasted more than an hour.  The streets are so narrow here than the buildings amplified the sound as though it was just outside my window.  Car alarms are louder than anything I've ever heard, and no one is ever in a hurry to deactivate them.  Cars honk at each other constantly.  Approaching an intersection, a car honks to alert other cars they are coming.  Bumper to bumper traffic?  Drivers blare their horns.  Every morning around 6:30, the propane man drives slowly down each street, constantly honking.  The trash and recycling trucks do the same thing.  Fireworks go off at random hours of the night.  It sounds like gunshots, but after doing some research I learned it is just Ecuadorians celebrating their love of noise.
  2. Dog poop.  In Cuenca, it's everywhere, all over the sidewalks.  This is a concrete jungle (Cuencanos LOVE their concrete), so there's hardly any grass anywhere.  Dogs just go on the sidewalks, and the owners don't clean up the mess.  I noticed this wasn't such a problem in Guayaquil.
  3. Carbon dioxide.  The public buses belch out black plumes of smoke.   It gets really bad.
  4. Rude people.  Again, this has to just be cultural differences.  We would be walking down the sidewalk, and a group of women would look our way as they exit a store.  Instead of waiting as we pass, they will take up the ENTIRE sidewalk, walk slowly, sometimes even just completely stop while they talk to each other.  The streets are so narrow that due to traffic, sometimes you just have to stand there and wait for them to move.  And when there is a line, like at a cash register, someone will just jump ahead of you, as though you weren't already in line.
  5. The custom of negotiating for everything.  This doesn't bother me as much as some gringos (we frugal misers take pride in getting the best price!), but basically, I've been told that gringos are asked to pay more for things.  I was cautioned to always negotiate taxi fares before getting in a taxi, and to agree to a price before accepting any goods or services.  It just feels like a game that gets played too much.  Sure, in the US, negotiating is expected at times, such as when you buy a car.  But in Ecuador, the custom is to negotiate the price of bananas for crying out loud.  What's wrong with set prices for smaller purchases?

Friday, October 3

My Frugal Miser - September Expenses: $3,059



Just under half of my spending last month was vacation related.  I spent $690 in Ecuador and $619 for a 7 day cruise we are taking in December.  The cruise is a real bargain:  $25 per day per person, plus taxes.  I will receive $50 cash in the casino and a $100 onboard credit as a shareholder bonus.

I was only billed $10 for Internet (I thought it was $20 when I signed up) - what a bargain!  The electric bill was pretty high ($113), but I expected that since we haven't insulated the ceilings or walls yet.

Most of September we were in Ecuador, but the financial impact was minimal.  In a way, the cost of going there was offset by the savings from not working on the house.  I confess though that we only put off the inevitable expense of repairing the house.  I will blog about the cost of the Ecuador trip separately.

September Expenses:  $3,059


$224 Auto ($31 for gas, $193 for August and September depreciation)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$101 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$174 Food
$37 Gifts Given
$533 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$0 Home Insurance
$245 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$514 Medical/Dental
$146 Miscellaneous
$143 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$145 Utilities
$1,309 Vacation and Recreation

Notes:

  • I forgot to record  the odometer at the end of August, so the depreciation is for two months' driving.
  • 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 for repairs and a new vacuum cleaner.  I don't have a mortgage on the new house because I paid cash for it. 

Wednesday, October 1

My Frugal Miser - September Income: $7,668


Nearly all my income in September was passive.  Other than a handful of mystery shops I did not work last month.  The vacant townhouse run by the management company has a new tenant and I am expecting rent from that unit for October.  My September rental income includes rent from every property but that one.


September Income $7,668

$525 Mystery Shopping
$7,101 Rental Income
$42 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.