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Wednesday, April 29

Learning to Say "No"

Distractions often masquerade as opportunities.  It's hard to say "no" to income, but back when I worked in sales my boss told me that we didn't go after every opportunity, only the mutually beneficial ones.  There have been times when I've had to pass up a hospitality job because I had a lower-paying mystery shopping route already scheduled.  Plus, I've had a deadbeat tenant occupying one of the townhouses because I've been too busy working to invest time towards the eviction process.  I'm losing $700/month in passive income every month on that townhouse, actively chasing after day-to-day jobs.

Instead of growing many small bushes, it's time to grow a tree.  Focus breeds success.

I'm starting to say "no", and it feels good.  On Monday one of my mystery shopping companies called, asking me to take a single job in Naples, FL (a 340 mile round trip).  I offered to do the job, but only for a very large bonus that would make it worth my while.  The company declined my offer.  It felt good to effectively decline the job.

As planned, we worked on the kitchen remodel in our spare time this past week.  We're still in the demolition phase.  We remove an entire wall of cabinets and took them to the landfill.  My deadbeat tenant claims to be moving out this weekend.  I don't believe him, and have plans to post an eviction notice on Monday unless he's out.  These are two tasks I've been putting off, not because I'm lazy, but because I've overextended myself with piddling mystery shopping work that isn't worth doing.

I'm still mystery shopping, but gone are the one-off jobs that pay $10 (or less).  Even if they may take less than an hour to complete, they are a distraction.

Sunday, April 19

Finding a New Path

My tagline is "pursuing a simple, frugal life."  The truth is, it isn't simple enough, and I might be taking this frugality thing a bit too far.

The mystery shopping industry is so fragmented and competitive that it requires a daily regimen of logging into multiple sites, browsing job boards in search of opportunities.  Hanging onto a perennially deadbeat tenant has meant spending at least some time every single day debating whether I should start the eviction process.  Another tenant is paying vastly below-market rent because I've wanted to avoid the possibility of losing them. Meanwhile, our kitchen has been in various stages of demolition for the last three months while the carport and one of the bedrooms is full of construction supplies.  I've neglected to keep up with my stock investments, which are an excellent source of passive income (if I could focus on finding undervalued opportunities, I probably wouldn't need to be chasing $12 mystery shops).

Am I wearing so many hats for the sake of feeling busy?  Would greater focus lead to more success with less hassle?  


It's time to make some changes.  First, no more putting off the home remodel.  That has to be high on the list.  While we are doing this, I will fulfill the work obligations I've already committed to, specifically the hospitality jobs and mystery shops I'm already assigned.  I will spend far less time searching for new jobs.  After we finish the kitchen and bathrooms, my attention will turn towards optimizing the rental properties.  I imagine I will be evicting the deadbeat tenant, so this attention will be on getting that house ready to turn over to a management company.  At the property I am renting below-market, I will propose a rent increase even if it means losing that tenant.  Finally, I'll take a look at streamlining my finances.  Managing my money is something I enjoy, and it doesn't consume much time, but I've allowed the number of accounts I have to creep up, and consolidation is probably in order.

Frugality vs. Comfort

The last few years I've been a little too focused on cutting costs and have sacrificed comfort.  Last summer we set the thermostat to 87 during the daytime, with a 4 hour window in the evening and 1 hour in the morning where the thermostat was programmed to 80.  I'm not going to get this house remodeled if we are working in that kind of heat.  My body just can't handle it.  We'll adjust the temperature to a comfortable level, and incorporate as much energy efficiency into our house as we can to mitigate ongoing costs.

It's amazing what a week on a tropical island has done for my state of mind.  Time to strap on my boots and blaze a new trail.

Friday, April 17

Farewell, San Juan

Our flight leaves at 12:55 PM.  We spent yesterday once again walking through Old San Juan.  We walked along Paseo del Morro trail, which follows the masonry walls protecting San Juan, to the San Juan gate, which was the entrance used by Spanish dignitaries when they arrived at the island hundreds of years ago.

There were many statues along the water.  I took a liking to this one of Felisa Rincon de Gautier.  After I Google search I learned she was the first woman to be mayor of San Juan.  The statue was surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Afterwards, we ate at Raices.  It's in the tourist area of Old San Juan, but the food was authentic.  My partner had a beef mofongo; I had a chicken stuffed with cassava and a side of tostones, which are fried green plantains.

In search of a public restroom later, we dipped into the casino at the Sheraton, where I quickly lost the money I had won earlier in the week at the Wyndham.

We checked into the nicest Hampton Inn I have visited.  The hotel featured a sizable pool with swim-up bar.  We were upgraded to a large suite with two separate rooms (similar to an Embassy Suites).  What I liked was the complimentary Happy Hour and Crepes Bar.  Free massages were offered poolside, but we passed on that.  The hotel was a shop so the $243 will be completely reimbursed and I will earn HIlton Honors points, too.

We've spent five nights in Puerto Rico, but I only had to pay for one.  We splurged more than normal on food (under $200), which I justified since most everything else is going to be reimbursed.

Most importantly, this last week has given me the chance to reflect on my priorities.  Urged along by a timely post on Mr. Money Mustache, I've decided to push myself even harder to focus on the things that make me happy and less on earning money any way possible.  More to come...

Wednesday, April 15

Leaving Rio Grande, PR for San Juan

This morning we are checking out of the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar and headed to San Juan.  Whoever says mystery shopping isn't worth the trouble needs to try harder.  I was asked how much I am being reimbursed for doing this job, so here goes:

Round Trip Flight for 2:  $527
3 nights hotel, including resort fees and parking:  $844
Rental Car:  $120
Airport Parking for my car back home:  $36
Total:  $1,527

I also received a $50 AMEX gift card for attending the presentation and breakfast and lunch for two.  To top it off, Lady Luck was on my side, as a quick visit to the Blackjack table at the resort's casino resulted in a $100 win.  I should also point out that I am receiving points and miles for the flight and hotel stay.  I'll earn enough Wyndham Rewards points for another free night at a lower-tier hotel.

The effort required for all this?  Our presentation lasted a little more than 3 hours (we were promised 90 minutes, but I didn't do a good job keeping the salesman on track).  Entering the report literally took less than 15 minutes.  Now all that is left is dropping off the recorder at UPS.

This job falls under the "Lifestyle Shops" category, as I'm not out earning income but rather enjoying an almost free vacation.  I'll take it!

Tuesday, April 14

(Almost) Free Trip to Puerto Rico

El Yunque National Forest
We've been lounging at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort this week.  Tomorrow we check out and will spend a couple days in San Juan.  I completed a timeshare shop, which reimbursed all my travel expenses, and have another hotel to shop in San Juan.

Once again, mystery shopping has provided us with a nearly free vacation.  We spent three hours at the timeshare presentation, but the rest of our time at this resort is ours to do whatever we'd like.  The other hotel I am shopping is a limited-service brand, so the observations are minimal.  Our only out of pocket expenses are for food, gasoline and any recreational activities.

Puerto Rico is great.  In the tourist areas - the hotels, airport, car rental place, and rainforest, we've been able to communicate in English.  Even some of the restaurant employees know English, but so far none of the fast food workers have known English.  I spoke with our bartender last night and learned that only minimal English is taught in public schools here.  Kids in private schools learn it though.  We've visited the rainforest (El Yunque) both of the last two days and have hiked a few trails.  This morning we walked the beach for nature's pedicure.  We visited a local bakery, tried mofongo at another restaurant, and walked through the local supermarket to see how things are different here.

Tomorrow we will get to visit San Juan, which is much larger than I ever imagined.  There's over two million people in the area, if that gives you an idea.  My goal is to find a great, cheap cup of Puerto Rican coffee before we leave.  If the price is right, we may even take a bag of it home with us.

Friday, April 3

My Frugal Miser - March Expenses: $4,939

On the surface it would appear I went buck wild in March.  $4,939?  Seriously?  I set a goal to spend $1,250 per month in 2015, excluding home repairs and vacations.  After taking out the $1,543 I spent on those two categories, I still spent $3,396 in March.  But all is not as it seems.

First, I spent $577 "depreciating" my car.  This isn't cash, folks.  It's mileage.  For every mile I drive, I charge myself a little more than $.23.  It would be one thing if we were taking weekend joyrides.  I drove 2,462 miles in March, which includes 5 trips to Orlando for hospitality work, our Fort Lauderdale mystery shopping weekend, and multiple mystery shopping and merchandising routes.  The $577 was an expense I incurred to generate income.

Second, I spent $812 in the Household category, but this was for Amazon gift cards I haven't used.  One of my credit cards was offering 5% cashback at grocery stores, so I bought gift cards at Winn-Dixie, which let me take advantage of this deal as well as earn Fuel Rewards towards free gas.  I paid $210 for account management for the Self-Directed IRA, which is an annual investment expense.  Having a tooth extracted cost $720.  Once my gums have healed I plan to get an implant, which is even more expensive.  Finally, the vacation expenses were for pre-paid flights and Southwest Airlines gift cards (again, at Winn-Dixie) for future use.

March Expenses:  $4,939

$616 Auto ($39 for gas, $577 for depreciation)
$53 Bank Fees
$123 Clothing
$0 Computer
$48 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$329 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$1135 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$0 Home Insurance
$141 Health and Dental Insurance
$210 Investment Expenses
$720 Medical/Dental
$5 Miscellaneous
$30 Personal Care
$59 Subscriptions
$11 Taxes
$215 Utilities
$1243 Vacation and Recreation

March Expenses, Excluding Vacation and Home Repairs:  $3,396

Thursday, April 2

My Frugal Miser - March Income: $7,860

March was a good month.  It seemed like I was always heading to a hospitality job or doing merchandising work.  If that wasn't enough, there were plenty of mystery shopping jobs to keep me occupied.  These are "active income", sources of income where I have to do something to generate it.  On the "passive income" side, rental income was strong considering my highest-value property is vacant and listed for sale.  Every other property generated rental income, including my perpetually trouble tenant, who paid a month's rent near the end of March.

April won't be as strong.  We are spending almost a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico and I am also going to New York for the Biglari Holdings Shareholder's Meeting.  I have one hospitality event and one retail demonstration gig booked, as well as several dozen gas stations.  Even so, income from working will be less than half what it was in March.

March Income $7,860

$1,740 Mystery Shopping
$6,097 Rental Income
$23 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.