Wednesday, June 24

A Fast Food Restaurant That's Cheaper Than McDonald's, But Much Tastier

Not long ago I discovered a restaurant with prices similar to what it would cost me to assemble the ingredients at home.  Growing up in Alabama, we didn't have Steak 'N Shake - they only recently began opening stores in the Birmingham area, and with just over 500 locations they are a fraction of the size of McDonald's.  I knew very little about the company until its parent, Biglari Holdings, showed up on my radar as a potential stock investment.  The company is now my top holding in my investment account, so fair warning:  I own stock in the company I am writing about.

If you were comparing nothing more than price, the cost of a Steakburger with Cheese, Fries and a Soda is roughly the same as a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese combo, possibly less.  But have you tasted both?  The CEO of McDonald's would be lying if he said his company's food tasted better.  Steak N Shake offers a comprehensive $4 menu (sandwich and fries, no drink) with some bold tasting choices.  For example, the Nacho Cheese Steakburger has two patties, nacho cheese sauce, strips of tortilla chips and jalapenos.  The Garlic Double Steakburger features a toasted bun with garlic butter brushed on and garlic salt atop the bun, along with two patties and American cheese.  Just don't eat it before a job interview.

Regular menu prices are comparable.  Food is tremendously tastier.  But it gets better.  First, Steak N Shake sends out endless coupons.  Some of those $4 combos become $3.49, and other premium sandwiches are discounted.  Certain hours of the day (Happier Hour), milkshakes are half price.  But that's not the most interesting way to save money.

The real savings are in purchasing gift cards and using the mobile app to pay.  Paying for your food using the mobile app gives you $5 for every $50 you spend, effectively a 10% discount on top of any other discounts you receive.  For quite some time, the company has offered incentives for buying gift cards.  Right now, for every $20 gift card you buy, you receive a $5 certificate.  It's just crazy.  I use the $5 certificate to buy two of the $4 combos, so I pay just $3 for two meals (and of course, I pay with a gift card).  Essentially, you are getting $25 worth of food for $20, a 20% discount.  That $4 combo is effectively $3.20 now.  It's insanely cheap!

I know this food isn't healthy, so moderation is key.  But for prices this low, it makes more sense for me to hit the drive-thru at Steak N Shake than to prepare the same meal at home.


Monday, June 22

The Importance of Focus and Clarity

My life could be summed up as someone who is a Jack-of-All-Trades but Master-of-None.  That's worked really well as far as being flexible, multi-tasking and exploring what interests me.  Unfortunately, it also leaves me feeling pulled in too many directions.

When we try to take on too many responsibilities, mediocrity is usually the result.  

Here's a great example:  two weeks ago I had to complete 41 mystery shops in two days, then travel to Birmingham to lay vinyl plank flooring in my empty property, then to Nashville for a hospitality job.  We left Nashville, arriving home with 25 hours to spare before our flight to Las Vegas for another hospitality job.  I managed to do it all, and am proud of the accomplishment.  But there were costs:  because I did not effectively plan my mystery shopping, I had to purchase 4 gas containers (in addition to the many I already own) to hold all the gas.  That was an $80 expense, which I could have avoided if I spread out those jobs when I scheduled them.  Then while we were doing the flooring at the rental property, I didn't spend enough time preparing the subfloor.  A couple of places did not take the flooring properly, and I know it's going to come up and have to be reapplied.  Once we made it to Nashville, I was so exhausted from all this that, while I did give 100% to the work, I was too tired at night to enjoy our time there.  I never recovered, and in Las Vegas we did nothing but work and sleep all but the last day we were there.

I slept late this morning because there were severe thunderstorms in the area.  Otherwise I would be out doing my gas station route right now.  The extra sleep was the boost I needed, as I am sitting here questioning the utility of doing too much.

Fortunately, the month of July is a slow one in the hospitality and mystery shopping industry.  It's going to give me time to remodel our kitchen, declutter this house, and work on my finances.  A few months ago I started saying "no" to most of the low-paying shops I used to accept when there wasn't much work available.  I realize now that tying myself up for a $10 shop means I am interrupting what could otherwise be more productive time spent on what really matters.

So, my goal for July is to focus.  I have a solid three weeks with very few commitments.  It's enough time to move the needle on this kitchen project.

Saturday, June 20

And Then They Rested

We made it home today about 4 PM.  There was barely any time in Las Vegas for fun:  I worked 49 hours over 4 1/2 days and most nights was too exhausted to do any gambling.  Our job was at the Mirage which, while a nice resort, being on the strip means the odds on the games I like aren't as good.  I only gambled a few times:  about half an hour the first day we were there, a few hours one night mid-week, and all day yesterday (Friday).  Las Vegas was really good to me:  I won more than $900 between video poker and blackjack!

Tomorrow I have a bar compliance job on the beach and we will probably redeem a Dealflicks to see a movie.  It will mostly be about recovering though from all this travel.

Since we've been on the road almost non-stop for more than two weeks, I really am looking forward to some time at home.  The kitchen remodel has taken way longer than it should, so that will be our top priority.  I do have some work lined up, including a one-day gas station route and two small meeting jobs in July.  But as of now, July is looking like a light month and should provide ample opportunity to work on this house.  Our next big trip is on August 1st when we visit a timeshare resort.

Friday, June 12

One Trip Down, One to Go

Really enjoyed the meeting we worked in Nashville.  It was held at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.  The company provided us a room there and our meals were covered.  I was given a travel allowance, not enough to cover all my vehicle expenses but adequate for gas reimbursement.  I'm not always afforded these benefits because the company usually relies on local staff, so we were blessed to have most everything taken care of.  On our last night there, we went to downtown Nashville, where the CMT awards were being filmed.  We had lunch at the Pancake Pantry, looked at boot stores, had drinks at a bar playing live music, and finished the evening at Hattie B's Hot Chicken... delicious but not too healthy for sure.

We woke up this morning at the Staybridge Suites in Tallahassee.  The drive from Nashville (700+ miles) proved too long to do in one day.  Fortunately we are just over 4 hours from home.  The hotel offers free laundry so all our clothes are done and we are well-rested.

Tomorrow evening we fly to Las Vegas for another conference.  We are working Sunday afternoon followed by four full days.  Even though the conference wraps on Thursday evening we are staying until Saturday morning to have one full day of recreation.  The boss isn't covering my travel expenses.  I guess I should have appeared less enthusiastic about going to Las Vegas.  Fortunately, I'm only paying for one night in a hotel and we had enough MyVegas points to redeem some free buffets.  Our flights were unusually cheap (around $300).  Still, this won't be a very profitable trip.  It's mostly a "will work for Vegas" trip where the pay covers our costs to visit my playground.

Thursday, June 4

My Frugal Miser - May Expenses: $4,464



A big part of my May spending went to car and home insurance.  Another $673 should be excluded from normal spending since it was an investment to sell collector's books I obtained at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder's meeting.

I'm happy with my May spending since a large part of it was non-recurring.  I only pay my auto insurance twice a year and my home insurance bill comes just once annually.  A fair amount of our food budget was spent when we were out of town.  I also lost some money gambling in Vegas, but our total budget was super cheap for that vacation.

In June my expenses should be low.  We left on Wednesday to work on the townhouse and will arrive in Nashville on Friday for a hospitality job.  Our meals are covered there.  After the Nashville job we come home for a day and then leave for another meeting in Las Vegas.

May Expenses:  $4,464

$706 Auto ($33 for gas, $282 for depreciation, $389 for insurance, $3 for car wash)
$35 Bank Fees
$7 Clothing
$0 Computer
$317 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol) - income this month
$229 Food
$25 Gifts Given
$1,083 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$892 Home Insurance
$141 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$0 Medical/Dental
$41 Miscellaneous
$673 Online Expenses (Berkshire Hathaway books, sold at a profit)
$7 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$220 Utilities
$289 Vacation and Recreation

May Expenses, Excluding Vacation and Home Repairs:  $3,031 (also excludes Online Expense this month)

Tuesday, June 2

My Frugal Miser - May Income: $9,582


In May I finally evicted the deadbeat tenant in one of the townhouses.  I also have a vacant home for sale, and I just fired my real estate agent and hired a new one.  Even with two vacant properties I earned just short of five figures last month.  My rental income was lower than normal, but I received a reimbursement check for our Puerto Rico trip and I also had some luck selling a book I bought at the Berkshire Hathaway meeting.  I bought 20 copies of a commemorative 50th Anniversary compilation for $20 each.  I shipped them home and put them on ebay.  I grossed just over $1,100 (my cost was $400).  After expenses, I will earn a profit of more than $400.  I got lucky on timing, as Berkshire Hathaway began offering the book on Ebay for $25 as I was selling my last copies of the book.

May Income $9,582

$2,823 Mystery Shopping
$5,537 Rental Income
$1,223 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.