Saturday, February 21

Observations, My Week in Review

We spent five days in Birmingham this past week.  We arrived Saturday afternoon and immediately went to the rental house to check its condition.  This is my second most valuable property, and was earning me the highest monthly rent, $1,250.  The tenants of four years decided to downsize, which was unfortunate news because their original plan was to purchase the house from me.  When we arrived at the house, it was immediately obvious that the tenants hadn't moved all their stuff.  A quick call to my tenant lead to the promise they would have everything out by Monday afternoon.  I wasn't thrilled by this since it meant we were effectively in Birmingham two days earlier than we needed to be, but with the utilities still in the tenants' name, and the wife being a lawyer, I wasn't about to protest too loud.

Fortunately, there was a small project at one of the townhouses that I wanted to tackle, so we spent Sunday afternoon doing that job.  Then Monday we ate lunch at my favorite Birmingham restaurant, Surin.  I had the Spicy Eggplant Noodle bowl.  It's thick base relies on coconut milk to give it a thick, savory flavor.  Hit the spot.  I picked up a homeless acquaintance whom I try to use for light demolition/repair work anytime I am in the area and the three of us headed to the house.

Over the next three days we ripped out the carpet, painted the entire house, and made a few repairs.  I met with my real estate agent about listing the property.  She was optimistic about the price we should list at and said the real estate market has picked up in Birmingham.  I hope she's right.  I bought the carpet and install at Lowe's and then called a new handyman to tackle a couple of drywall repairs that I tried to do.  Repairing damaged drywall is a talent that skipped me, and my work always looks crappy no matter how hard I try.  This biggest part of the job was a ceiling repair so it did not get in the way of us painting the walls.

The financial damage wasn't too bad.  Only the mileage (a vehicle depreciation expense) and our food will show up on my monthly budget.  The hotel (a Candlewood Suites for $60/night) will be a rental expense as will the repairs, which I report in my business expenses.  I spent less than $3,000 on repairs, including the carpet, paint and handyman.

Back to Reality

We left early Thursday morning; the temperature was in the teens!  We made decent time and arrived home around 6 PM.  I spent yesterday catching up on bills, reading newspapers and cleaning out the car.  Today the weather in West Central Florida is returning to normal.  We experienced a low temperature of 34 degrees yesterday, and some of the plants in our tropical garden got frostbite.  Today the high is in the mid-70s and we might even reach 80 tomorrow.  This is why I moved to Florida!  Today I am working a demonstration at Home Depot for five hours.  Then on Sunday I have a gas station route and a restaurant shop.  Next week I have a route of low-paying inventory shops.  The jobs are easy (10 minutes each) but only pay $5 each, and I am regretting having taken them now that I realize they hardly move the needle.

Thursday, February 12

Making Money By Opening Bank Accounts

As an extension to applying for new credit cards for the opening bonus, I've decided to make extra money by opening bank accounts, too.  I've hesitated in the past about complicating my financial picture, but plan to combat the complexity by tracking everything in Google Sheets.

There are a couple of ways I can make money by opening new bank accounts.  First, some banks pay you to open an account.  TD Bank is offering a Fitbit Flex if you open a new checking and savings account, and I've had the Fitbit on my wish list for a while.  Chase has been offering regular incentives for opening an account, some up to $250 depending on how much money I am willing to tie up.

Second, having a bank account can bring me more mystery shopping opportunities.  Last month I earned $125 by applying for a business savings account at Bank of America.  There was no interaction with a banker required - all I did was let the mystery shop company record the online process and submit follow-up emails I received.  I'll promptly be closing that account.  Another company does teller mystery shops at TD Bank.  After receiving my Fitbit, I can earn steady income by making deposits into my account and rating my teller experience.

Earning money from alternative sources is an easy way to supplement my income.  The only ingredient I've been missing is tracking my activity so that I don't get overwhelmed by what I do.  The solution was really simple, as all it took was creating a spreadsheet where I can track when I open an account, the incentive I expect to receive, and any hurdles I need to be aware of while taking advantage of these offers.

Saturday, February 7

Time to Play the Credit Card Game to Reduce Expenses

I've been sitting on the sidelines watching other bloggers make money by taking advantage of credit card hacks.  Sit no more, as I just applied, and was approved for, the Ink Plus by Chase Business Card.  The appeal is simple:  if I spend $5,000 during the first three months, I will receive 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points, worth $625 in free travel.  The card has a $95 annual fee which is waived for the first year.  I will have to decide if it is worth keeping.  Besides the opening bonus, I can earn 5x points at office supply stores and phone/Internet bills and 2x points at gas stations and hotels.

There's no need to explain how this "game" works:  plenty of sites, including Tight Fisted MiserThe Points Guy and Johnny Moneyseed detail how to take advantage of the offers.

Now that I have learned some strategies, I'll be looking at opening other cards with the goal of drastically reducing my travel expenses.

Friday, February 6

Save Money by Shopping Insurance Policies - Loyalty Means Nothing

I just increased my monthly cash flow by $108!

Since I bought the first townhouse in 2003, I've been fiercely loyal to Farmer's Insurance.  Every time I've added a rental property in Alabama, I've phoned my agent and let him handle the paperwork, no questions asked.

A major focus this year is on questioning every recurring expense I have, personal and business.  Even though my deductibles are $5,000 on each property, the cost of insuring them seems too high.  For one thing, I look at property insurance as disaster insurance:  I don't call my agent every time there is damage to my property.  The insurance is there for two reasons:  in case there is major damage to a property, such as from a fire or a tornado, or if one of my tenants sues me.  Since I take good care of my properties, I think I am a low risk for loss, lower than the average person.  And, I have stellar credit.

Last month I contacted an independent insurance broker and asked if he could save me some money.  The call took about 20 minutes to review the nine properties he would be shopping.  When he got back with me, he was able to offer significant savings on three of those properties.

 I will save $1,306 the first year for the policies I am switching.  That's $108 per month that stays in my pocket.  My deductibles stayed the same, and I actually increased the coverage on one of the properties.

Loyalty is meaningless in the world of insurance.  Last year, I switched my auto insurance to GEICO, and the savings were massive.  Lesson learned:  I will now take a closer look at my insurance rates every 2-3 years.  The effort is painless, but the results are incredible.

Wednesday, February 4

My Frugal Miser - January Expenses: $1,504



I set a goal to spend $1,250 per month in 2015, excluding home repairs and vacations.  After taking out the $51 I spent on building new screens for all my windows - a home repair - I spent $203 more than my target.

In January my spending was not extravagant.  In fact, if you took out the $369 I allocated for depreciating my car, I would have met my $1,250 goal.  Monthly depreciation isn't a cash outlay; it is based on how many miles I drive in a month and is meant to apply what I paid for my car over the time I own it.  While on the topic of driving, I should mention that virtually all of the gas I used was obtained free by doing mystery shops.  That will continue in February.

There are a few categories where I can improve.  I spent too much for food.  My goal is to spend $270/mo. on food, with a flex budget of $100 extra that I can borrow from the Entertainment category.  In other words, I have the goal of spending $370/month on food and entertainment.  In January, I spent $434 on the two.

In February I will spend less on health insurance, as I switched to a new plan and pre-paid the February bill.  The new plan costs less since I expect to receive a subsidy under the Affordable Care Act.  The cost of utilities will also go down, but only because I receive my water bill every other month and won't have to pay it in February.

Unfortunately, I will have a large depreciation expense again in February.  In addition to some work we are doing in Orlando, I'll be driving to Birmingham to prepare one of the rental properties to sell.

January Expenses:  $1,504

$399 Auto ($2 for gas, $369 for depreciation, $28 for car wash and new wiper blade)
$43 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$60 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$374 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$112 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$0 Home Insurance
$265 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$39 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$1 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$211 Utilities
$0 Vacation and Recreation

January Expenses, Excluding Vacation and Home Repairs:  $1,453


Sunday, February 1

My Frugal Miser - January Income: $9,677


My income was strong in January.  Every property is occupied, and every tenant paid last month.  I didn't earn much from mystery shopping and hospitality work.  In fact, mystery shopping alone was extremely light for some reason.  I was able to supplement shopping with a demo job at Home Depot and three hospitality jobs.

I think I will earn more in February from mystery shopping/hospitality.  We have three hospitality jobs lined up and I have a large gas station auditing route planned.  One of my tenants is moving out this month, so rental income will be lower.


January Income $9,677

$948 Mystery Shopping
$8,647 Rental Income
$82 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.