Wednesday, July 22

Getting Smarter Driving for Uber, but Productive Miles are Low

I continue to drive for Uber, mostly because I went all-in by purchasing another car and am now stuck with it.  It will be interesting to see whether I earn any real income doing this, or if my pay is simply a cashing-out on the depreciation for my car.  If my driving really costs what the IRS says, then I absolutely will NOT report any income from driving for Uber.

The problem with Uber is the unpaid miles between trips.  It's not that I am driving around aimlessly.  Usually I will drop off a passenger and immediately find a shady area to park the car.  The majority of the unpaid miles are incurred after I have accepted a "ping" and am driving to my passenger's pickup spot.  For example, in the late afternoons in Pinellas County there are fewer Uber drivers on the roads, which means I have more requests from further away.  I've been taking a break in the afternoons and turning the app back on between 3-5 PM.  Today, my first pickup was at Largo Mall, 5 miles from my house.  The passengers were going to their home two miles away.  I drove 7 miles, but was only paid for 2.  As I was leaving, another passenger requested a ride.  She was 4 miles away.  Her destination:  .63 miles away.  I received the $4 minimum fare, which was only $2.40 after Uber took its cut.  Basically a 5 mile drive for $2.40.  My next fare was 6 miles away, and after driving halfway in rush-hour traffic, the rider canceled the request.  Since I live in the most densely populated county in the third highest populated state in the U.S., I have to believe my situation is reflective of Uber drivers everywhere.

Now I have to decide whether I should curtail my hours to peak periods only.  For a few hours each morning, and most of the day Friday and Saturday, I receive continuous ride requests and can maximize my paid miles.  If I really am losing money with these unpaid miles, I will have to focus only on periods of high demand.

Friday, July 17

Should I tip my Uber Driver?

One of the common misconceptions about Uber is that somehow the tip is included in the fare.  This simply is not the case.  The truth of the matter is, most Uber drivers are earning below minimum wage.  Even more, tips sometimes make the difference between being paid for a trip or the driver coming out of pocket to cover his overhead for that ride.  Ask yourself this:  would it ever be appropriate to tip a taxi driver?  What about a hotel bellman, or a valet?  Do you tip your server at a restaurant?  What if that person was working just for tips, and received no other income?  In the case of Uber, sometimes that is the case.

The common thread with these roles is that tipping is customary, particularly when service meets or exceeds your expectations.  Uber DOES NOT include a tip in your fare, and there is no way to add one using the app.  The only way your Uber driver will receive a tip is if you offer him one.

It is important to understand how an Uber driver earns his pay.  In Tampa Bay, someone using Uber pays the following fare:

  • $1 Safe Rider Fee - this is for background checking your driver and commercial insurance (the Uber driver is also responsible for insuring his vehicle).  The driver gets none of this.
  • $.95 per mile (the driver receives $.76/mile after Uber's commission).
  • $.13 per minute (the driver receives $.10/minute after Uber's commission).
Uber drivers are only paid when a passenger is in the vehicle.  If I receive a request that is 4 miles away, I am not paid for my mileage or my time driving to your pick-up spot.  If I am dropping you off in a place where there is minimal demand for a ride, I also have to reposition my vehicle to somewhere with more demand.  The time I spend waiting for my next fare is completely unpaid.

If I always had another passenger waiting to be picked up after dropping one off, and that passenger was close by, the fees Uber pays would be reasonable.  That rarely occurs.

What often happens is that I will get an early morning request for the airport.  It's important to understand that I do not know where you are going until I pick you up - Uber hides that from me - so I can't cherry pick the rides I wish to provide.  I probably have driven 5 miles/10 minutes to pick you up.  After dropping you off at the airport, you might assume I am picking someone else up.  Unfortunately, flights aren't arriving at 5:00 in the morning.  Even if there is a pickup, it is a crapshoot whether that passenger is headed to my area (the beach - an unusual destination for morning arrivals) or maybe to downtown Tampa, which is in the opposite direction.

Now that I have a full week of driving to analyze, I can report that fewer than half the miles I drive are paid miles.  While I should be able to improve my productivity over time, it is unlikely I will ever do better than 60-65% of total miles being on the clock.  When I am only earning $.76 per paid mile, having 50% of my driving miles go unpaid means my income isn't covering what the IRS says my vehicle is costing me.

Bottom line:  Don't stiff your Uber driver unless they suck.  Give them a tip.  We make so little that your tip could be the only pay we receive for giving you a ride.  Also, rate your driver a "5" unless you want them to lose their job.  Even though driver ratings are on a 5 point scale, Uber considers any score below 4.6 grounds for termination.

Thursday, July 16

Uber Passengers Can be Annoying

Even though I'm still excited by how easy it is to earn money with Uber, the downsides to being an Uber driver are becoming more obvious now that the honeymoon phase has passed.  It has been a full week since I started driving for Uber, and here are some examples of annoying passenger behavior:
  • Many of my passengers are drunk.  Though the experience varies from one fare to another, the greatest challenge with drunk passengers is when they distract me.  They tend to be chatty, loud, and some of them touch me.   I don't like it when a stranger rubs my shoulders or rests their head on my side.  It is weird.  And just because I am agreeing with whatever you say, don't ask me to shake your hand while I'm driving!
  • People say things in front of me about their private lives.  They tell me about their arrest record, their drug use, and their sexual escapades.  I really am a nerd, because I crave more intelligent conversation than this.
  • I picked up an escort who wore nothing but a skimpy bikini.  She spent most of the ride arranging a transaction with her drug dealer.  Must be an expensive habit because she needed $200 worth of whatever he was bringing her.
  • A group of teens and 20-somethings decided they were going to smoke a cigarette in my backseat, after I told them not to.  I guess they figured with the windows down and the girl in front distracting me that I wouldn't notice the smell.  Guess what?  The passenger after you doesn't want to smell your cigarettes.  The entire trip they debated whether they should roll on molly, get faded on acid, or just get drunk.  At least I'm learning the slang these young folks are using these days.
  • Waiting time is time lost.  In Tampa Bay, Uber pays mileage plus time.  Time is paid at $.13 per minute, less Uber's 20% commission.  That means I make $.10/minute waiting on my passenger.  Six dollars an hour is less than minimum wage.  Many of my passengers have needed to make stops.  A couple minutes is not a problem, but having me wait 15 minutes while you get dressed means I am losing out on more lucrative work.
  • This last example is location specific: sand.  Since I am spending much of my time picking up passengers on Clearwater Beach, I am also picking up their sand.  I'm going to have to vacuum out my car almost daily.
  • Very few people tip.  The later into the night it gets, the fewer the tips.  My best tips have come from daytime passengers, and most of those have been short trips.  Few of my longer fares (say, from the beach to Tampa) have tipped.
What I am learning is that the best passengers are my daytime pickups.  People on their way to work are usually sober and respectful of my car.  My favorite rides are the ones where I am tipped, since only then do I make a reasonable income.  I don't mind driving a group of tourists half a mile if they give me a $5 tip, because I'm going to get another fare as soon as I drop them off.  Sometimes the passengers with the shortest trips feel bad though and will tip me for the trouble.

Wednesday, July 15

All Those Gas Station Mystery Shops Make Sense Now

Last week I had nearly 80 gallons of gas stored in the shed.  It feels so good to use it up, and the free gas has kept my driving costs down.  This is one way I will make driving for Uber just a little more profitable.  Unfortunately, I just ran out of reserves and will have to start paying for gas once again.  At the end of this month I have enough shops lined up to fill up my tank twice, so I do have that to look forward to.

Mystery shopping has taken a backseat to Uber, but that's fine by me.  I needed a break.  Besides, the biggest advantage I see with Uber versus mystery shopping is that the job comes to me.  With mystery shopping, I have to search several job boards looking for work.  Then I have to prepare for the job, whether that be reviewing guidelines, printing paperwork, or creating cheat sheets on my phone.  Plus there is all the reporting done afterwards, including uploading photos and writing narratives.  With Uber, if I want to work, all I do is turn on the app and wait for a ping.  When I am done for the day, there's nothing left to do but review my pay statement and update my mileage log.

Our cabinets are being delivered today, and we are itching to get the kitchen back together.  We still won't have countertops.  That is a custom job that I am hiring out and the installers won't take the measurements until I have the cabinets in place.

Next Friday I have an overnight security job through one of my hospitality companies.  Then on Sunday we begin a 3 day meeting in Orlando.  On our return, I have those gas station shops to complete, then we fly to Virginia the following Friday to shop a timeshare.  We'll be gone a week, so it should feel like a real vacation (the shop won't take but 2-3 hours of my time).

I'm in a happy spot right now.  I'm glad I found Uber, even if the pay is less than I thought it would be.

Tuesday, July 14

More Uber Lessons Learned from my first Weekend as a Driver - Part 2

On Saturday, my third day as an Uber driver, I got smarter, but only a little.  My unpaid miles as a percentage of total miles driven was better than Friday, but I still was only paid for 50% of the miles driven.  This has to improve.  My payout was only $117, and I was on the road for 8.5 hours.  I earned $23 in tips from 4 of my 17 fares (two of the 17 were cancellations, but I received a small amount on those since they were canceled after I reached the pickup spot).

I didn't begin until 3:30 PM.  We spent the morning at IKEA ordering kitchen cabinets, so I turned on the app around 3 PM.  I really like beginning my day with whatever fare pings me from my house.  Three of my first four fares were very productive, and little time or miles was wasted (one of the four was a rider cancel, but I still received a small fare since he didn't cancel until I got to his pickup spot).

After the fourth fare, which had taken me from downtown St. Pete to South Tampa, I turned off the app and returned to the peninsula.  It was raining, and I still don't want to waste time trying to learn the streets of Tampa.  Once I made it back to Pinellas County (by now it was 6 PM), it was non-stop activity until just before midnight.  The entire night was a blur, and most of my trips were short.  I spent almost the entire night on Clearwater Beach, and the typical trip was picking up guests from a hotel and dropping them off at a restaurant.  Three of my fares were less than a mile.  It probably would have been faster for the passengers to walk since traffic on the beach was so heavy.  There was a concert at the Capitol Theater, and I had both a dropoff before the concert and a pickup afterwards.  The pickup was a fare to South Tampa.  I like those long rides, but the girls were rowdy and flirtatious.  One of the girls kept rubbing my shoulders, which was weird since I was at least 15 years older than them and was trying to focus on the road.  I still don't know the South Tampa area, so I turned off the app as soon as I dropped them off.  I turned it back on when I was getting off the Interstate, and of course I got pinged.  A drunk guy at a hotel wanted to take his first Uber ride.  He was from Dallas and was looking for a club to continue partying.  He was alone, celebrating his 40th birthday.  I sort of felt bad for the guy, but he was really nice so it made it easier.  He was flirting with me too, but it was easy to ignore him by changing the subject whenever he suggested I clock out and hang out with him.  I'm quickly learning that drunk people do some weird things.

One of the annoying things with Uber is that the passengers aren't always ready to be picked up, and they don't always enter the correct pickup address.  My last fare, which was a paid cancellation, entered her destination as the pickup spot.  Fortunately, I was two blocks away, and it was in the direction I was headed to go home.  When I called the girl, she was at a bar on the beach, half an hour away.  Her speech was slurred and I feel bad for whoever ended up picking her up.  I told her she screwed up (politely, of course) and then canceled her ride.  The fact that passengers aren't always ready is also annoying.  One lady made me wait 15 minutes.  She gave me permission to start the clock though so I was getting paid while I waited for her.

I feel like I know the Uber app well now.  I am quickly learning the streets of Clearwater Beach, including the short cuts and popular restaurants locations.  It's nice when the passenger's destination is a familiar place and I don't need to use GPS.  Still, I'm not sure how to cut down on unpaid miles unless I keep the app running when I make dropoffs in Tampa instead of rushing back to the beach.

Monday, July 13

More Uber Lessons Learned from my first Weekend as a Driver - Part 1

I'm worn out.  It's odd that sitting in an air conditioned car would be draining, but I'm still in my Uber honeymoon phase and the app is making me loose sleep.  It's weird, but the "ping" I receive when someone requests a ride is like a drug - I get an instant endorphin rush every time.  Then when I am home, I am analyzing my shift, reading driver forums and blogs, and trying to figure out how I can be more effective.

On Friday, my second day as an Uber driver, I made some mistakes.  I started my day mid-afternoon by turning on the Driver App while I was at home.  I like it when my first ride is initiated while I'm at the house since I can relax and not waste gas riding around.   The first ride of the day started about two miles from my house, and was a drop-off at a condo on the beach.  It was less than $10, and I drove 6 miles in 15 minutes.  The next two rides were better:  on my second ride of the day, I picked someone up from a beach hotel about a mile from the first dropoff.  The guy was a local who'd hung out with a friend all night.  He was a recovering addict and I had to take him to his counselor.  He told me he would be arrested if he did not report by 11 AM - no pressure!  When we arrived, he asked me to wait and promised he would be back in 5 minutes.  As he left his backpack and phone in the car, I had no choice but sit and wait.  He was a decent guy though, so I was only bothered by the shady characters hanging out in the parking lot.   No one approached me, but three people were in a heated argument behind my car and I was scared it was going to get physical.  When my passenger returned, he had me drive him home, which was on the peninsula but close to the bridge to the beach.  That ride lasted just short of an hour, and I grossed $24.

I decided to stop by Publix for some juice and a snack.  As I returned to my car, I got another ping, less than a mile away.  The passenger was heading to the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach.  This was my first trip where I didn't bother using GPS.  It was so much easier just taking someone to a place I was very familiar with.  Even better, he tipped me $5 for the 4 mile trip.  My first tip, and on an $8 ride.  Sweet!

My fourth passenger was on the back side of the Hyatt, and I was pinged as soon as I pulled away from dropping off my last ride.  There was some initial confusion, as when I called the passenger, it was her friend, who had no idea her friend was using her Uber app.  She called her friend up though and three-wayed me.  See, one of the problems with the Uber app is the passenger doesn't always enter their correct pick-up spot.  Even when they do, you usually need to make contact with the passenger to identify them.  Based on the app, I had no idea where my passenger was, as it looked like they pinged me from inside the hotel, which is huge.  Fortunately, it took no time at all to find her.  She was headed home from a job interview.  Home was on the other side of Pinellas County, not far from where I live.  I only grossed $14, and the ride was 27 minutes and 9 miles long.  This is a good time to explain how low the pay is with Uber.  From the $14, Uber only paid me $10.54.  Take the standard mileage deduction of $.57/mile from the IRS ($5.13), and for my time I received $5.41.  That works out to $11.71/hour.  The problem is, my time is only paid when I have a passenger.  In other words, the most I can earn is about $12 an hour, assuming I am driving someone 100% of the time I am on the clock.  To make this work, I will have to come up with ways to keep my vehicle expenses below what the IRS says they should be.

After that trip I decided to return home.  It was getting hot outside, plus I had one mystery shop I needed to get done.  I took care of that shop (free pizza, so there's my lunch) and relaxed at the house for a while.  I turned on the app around 3 PM and almost immediately was pinged.  It was a short distance from home, but the drop-off was at Mellow Mushroom on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.  It was a quick $7 (after Uber took their money), but then the passenger tipped me another $7.  Sweet!

My next move was a mistake.  The Uber heat map was coloring the area around the Tampa airport.  I figured I would head that way just to see what happened.  My mistake was driving so far to chase after fares.  I drove nearly an hour in traffic to get to the airport area.  The first fare was in a business park with a convoluted address, so I wasted a bunch of time trying to find the passenger, who wasn't answering her phone.  Then I got stuck in the Tampa area during rush hour, and added three more fares, including an airport dropoff as well as a pickup.  The pickup once again was a pain in the rear, because I had to circle around the Interstate to return to the airport, and the passenger didn't answer right away so I had to circle the airport twice while I waited for his call.  The guy was an FBI agent, and I dropped him off at the FBI building near the airport.  It was kind of cool because I didn't know that building existed, and it was a heavily secured area.  I pretended I was on a covert mission for my country.  Patriotic!

My last Tampa fare was my first and only "surge" fare of the day.  I picked up a girl in South Tampa and took her home to Ybor City.  I used the Selmon Expressway, where there was zero traffic.  The drive was easy, and it was a 1.6 "surge", meaning I was paid 1.6 times the normal rate.  Of course, Uber miscalculated the toll I paid by about $.50, but I didn't bother contacting them because I wasn't sure how that worked.  Excluding toll reimbursement, I was paid $14 for a 15 minute ride that was 8.69 miles long.

I decided to get the hell out of Tampa.  Driving in an area I am not really familiar with, in Friday evening rush hour, just isn't much fun.  As I neared my exit off I-275, I was pinged from a hotel I was already passing.  Four guys in town for training at Raymond James' HQ were going to Tropicana Field for the baseball game.  Despite some traffic on 275, it was an easy trip.

I continued working Friday until just before 10 PM.  My net payout for the day was a measly $125.  I had driven 252 miles, but only 107 paid miles.  My lesson for the day:  no more chasing after fares.  Those unpaid miles killed my profit for the entire day.


Saturday, July 11

My First Night Driving for Uber

On Thursday night I started my Uber Driver App for the first time.  It was just a bit scary at first:  Where do I go?  How easy is the app?  What if the passengers aren't nice people?

I left the house around 7 PM.  Since the Clearwater airport is only four miles away, I headed there first after checking their website for arriving flights.  The first flight landed, and nothing.  I waited ten minutes and got bored, so I decided to drive around.  I repositioned to the main strip connecting Tampa and Clearwater, and less than a mile on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard I got my first ping.  The destination was a Christian High School a couple miles away.  I accepted the ping and made it to the school, but then I had no idea what to do.  I couldn't figure out how to call the passenger, and the school was part of a much larger complex so I wasn't even sure where to pick up my passenger.  If that weren't enough, the "passenger" on my app wasn't even the person listed on the screen.  Mom paid me to take her teenage son home.  Fortunately, Mom called me after she saw my car (on the online app) driving around in circles, and after telling her what car I was in her son magically appeared.  It turned out to be a pleasant first experience.  The son took the passenger seat and played on his phone while I drove.  I nervously changed the radio to a Christian station, thinking I was being clever.  He didn't comment so I turned the radio down.  Five miles and 11 minutes later, I dropped him off in his driveway.

That first ride was a good one, because it took me west towards the beach.  I headed back to Gulf-to-Bay and decided I would station myself on Gulf Boulevard.  But before I crossed the bridge, I got another ping.  This one came from Mandalay Avenue, a beach-side strip I knew very well.  Of course, easy wasn't in the prescription, not on my first night!  I drove to the address, which was actually a two-story retail center with no street parking.  I fumbled around with the app, once again trying to call my passenger.  Second mistake: my Republic Wireless phone was set to use Google Voice, but Uber had my non-Google Voice phone number in their records.  When I tried to call my passenger, the phone called me.   Frightened I wouldn't locate my passenger, I logged out of Google Voice and texted the passenger.  She was in the rear parking lot, which was actually on a different street.  I had to convince the lot attendant (parking isn't free on the beach!) that I was just picking someone up, but soon enough I had my second passenger, who took a seat in the back of the car.  That ride was relatively painless, although I took the wrong exit on the roundabout which probably added a few minutes to the time it took to take the passenger to her destination.  $13, less fees, added to the bank.

Unfortunately, my second ride of the night took me to a mostly residential area, and I knew I wouldn't get any fares anytime soon.  I headed back to the beach.  Good idea.  As soon as I hit Mandalay Avenue, I got another ping:  literally from across the street.  I made a quick U-turn and picked up my passengers.  This time, the passengers were awesome friendly.  They were a little younger than me, from Texas, and wanted to chat.  There's was a two-part ride:  we drove to another hotel to pick up their friends, then everyone went to a bar near the first hotel.  The fact that I had two stops was inconsequential to Uber, as I just left the meter running until we reached our final destination.  Easy.

My luck continued, as I got another ping almost immediately.  This one was a beachfront restaurant maybe a mile from the last stop.  It was a group of ladies in town for a social worker's convention.  The passengers didn't enter their destination, and only told me the name of the hotel, so I had to look it up and enter it into my GPS.  What was great about this ride was their destination:  14 miles away.  My four passengers were all from different places, so they were a jovial group and they included me in most of their conversation.  The drive took a bit more than half an hour, and my gross fare was $20.

It was close to 10 PM by now, and even though my last fare was at a hotel by the Clearwater Airport, there wasn't anything going on in the area.  Then I noticed something interesting on the Uber map:  an orange shaded area.  Uber colors their maps to let drivers know where the demand is.  I figured I would head in that direction, but it was more than 10 miles away.  As I drove, an alert popped up saying there was "surge" pricing with fares at 1.5 times normal rates.  Alas, it wasn't meant to be.  Near the Countryside mall the surge, as well as the orange color, faded away.  I decided to circle the mall, thinking maybe a some kids leaving the theater would need a ride.  Instead, I did get a ping, but it was from an employee at one of the mall's bars, who needed a ride home.  I found the passenger easily, and he hopped in the backseat.  He had already entered his destination, so I clicked "navigate" and took him home.  I felt like an Uber veteran, as everything went just as it should.  It was only two miles, but I was ecstatic that I had my first completely flawless ride.

By now it was getting late, and my partner texted to check in.  I was also a little concerned with my phone's battery.  I had the phone plugged into the USB port all night, but I kept getting popups suggesting I use the energy-saver features.  Figuring as long as it was plugged in I was fine, I decided I would take the long way home.  I got on Gulf-to-Bay one last time, heading towards the beach.  The idea was to take the beach south to the next bridge, which would take me straight home.  Before I made it to the beach, I got another ping.  This one was in downtown Clearwater, at the bus terminal.  Someone requested the fare for someone else, so the passenger in the Uber app texted me a phone number to call when I arrived.  I did, and a guy hanging out at the bus terminal answered the phone.  He had been drinking, and we were going to a less desirable part of town, so my adrenaline was up.  Fortunately, the guy was really laid back, and even though he had been drinking, he was nice to me.  Unfortunately, the damn phone died on my way to his apartment.  WTF!  I had no idea what to do.  I remembered the address he gave, so I whipped out my Garmin and entered it into the GPS.  Thank goodness I had that as a backup.  I reached his home, and of course he asked me how much the fare was.  I had to explain that my phone died, but he was cool with that.  I sent an email to Uber as soon as I got home, and they adjusted the fare accordingly.

My first night was quite the adventure.  I'm still learning how to use the Uber app.  When my night began, the app would tell me how much the fare was after each passenger was dropped off.  Then it stopped doing that, and I have no idea why.  I also couldn't figure out how to change screens on the app a few times, which was a little embarrassing.  But I know it will get easier.  I will learn exactly how the app works, which is the biggest source of anxiety right now.  I will also become more familiar with the area, which will help when passengers (many of them from out of town) don't enter their destinations when they request a ride.

Summary

  • On the clock four hours.
  • Accepted all 6 fares I was offered.
  • Gross income:  $61.21; Net income:  $44.17.
  • Moving forward I plan to track paid miles versus total miles driven.  My first day included some preparation driving (test driving the car, taking it home from the dealership, etc.).  Since I will only use the car for Uber, it should be easy to track how much downtime I have both in time and miles.



Friday, July 10

Make More Money - I Drive for Uber

I'm sure this will come as a big surprise, since I haven't mentioned anything about it before.  A couple weeks ago I was looking at an empty work calendar and wondering what I would do with all the free time.  Sure, my kitchen remodel needed to be done, but I dread spending all that money when none is coming in.  Summer is a slow season for hospitality jobs, and mystery shopping is burning me out.  Then I remembered talking with Andy from www.tightfistedmiser.com about how he's dipping his toes into the Uber pool.  I thought, why not give it a try?  I live in a tropical paradise, full of people on vacation.

Signing up was super easy and only took a few minutes.  I had to pass a background check and motor vehicle check, which took two days.  I uploaded copies of my license, vehicle registration and insurance card, as well as a photo of myself.  I was surprised that my Chevrolet Aveo, a really small car, was accepted, but the folks at Uber approved me right away.

Once I was approved, I started reading www.uberpeople.net, the Uber Drivers Forum.  I was looking for tips and tricks on how to be successful.  One of the first things I realized was that the Aveo wasn't going to get me good ratings, and ratings are everything.  After someone takes a ride with Uber, both the driver and the passenger are required to rate the experience on a 5-star scale.  Anything less than a "5" is a failing score for the driver, and if your rating drops below 4.7 you are subject to being kicked out.  That's tough, because some people will rate you a "4" thinking that's a good score.  If your vehicle isn't comfortable, riders will mark off for it.

I spent a few days debating whether I should buy another car, one dedicated to Uber driving.  Truth is, I never liked the Aveo.  The only reason I bought it was because my Chevrolet S-10 was about to become ineligible for mystery shops, and I needed a replacement (in 2013, I drove that truck across the country on a mystery shopping marathon).  Some online research lead me back to Hertz Car Sales, where I ultimately bought a used 2015 Huyndai Sonata.  For now I am keeping the Aveo for personal driving and mystery shopping.  The trade-in was not valued high enough to interest me.  I financed the Sonata for 48 months at 1.99% interest.  As the interest is fully tax-deductible, it wasn't hard to justify tying up the bank's money instead of mine.

The most important thing I learned from the Drivers Forum is that I'm not going to get rich driving for Uber.  In Tampa Bay, passengers pay a base fare of $1 plus $.95 per mile and $.13 per minute.  The problem is, that's not what drivers are paid.  I don't receive the base fare - it goes towards the "Safe Riders Fee" which is used to do background checks.  Uber then takes a 20% commission off the rest of the fare.  As an example, my lowest fare on my first night was $6.48.  From that, Uber deducted $1 plus $1.10 of what remained.  I receive $4.38.  That ride took 7 minutes and was 3.7 miles.  I am only paid when I have a passenger, so downtime and dead miles are unpaid.

Thursday, July 9

Making Money and Getting Free Stuff by Opening Accounts (an Update)

Back in February I decided to play the bonus game by opening up new bank accounts and credit cards just to obtain the rewards offered to new members.  I've been fairly active with this goal:


  • Last week I opened the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card.  Just for opening the account I will receive a free night in a Marriott-branded hotel.  After I spend $2,000 in 3 months, I will receive 70,000 Marriott rewards points (up to 9 free nights).
  • In June I opened a Chase IHG rewards card.  After spending $1,000 on the card I received 70,000 IHG points (valued at up to 14 free nights).
  • Earlier this year I opened a Chase Ink Business Rewards account.  The reward here was huge:  50,000 rewards points (worth $500 cash or $625 in travel) after meeting the spending threshold.  I used my SSN, so actually owning a small business is not necessary.
  • I opened an account with TD Bank and received a Fitbit Flex.  Normally that wouldn't be quite enough to get me to open an account, but it also enabled me to sign up for TD Bank mystery shops.
  • In January I was paid $125 to open a business savings account at Bank of America.  Last week I earned $65 for opening a checking account there.  These were both mystery shops and I don't plan to keep the accounts.
I'm still looking for opportunities to do this.  Normally Chase has an offer to open a checking account - I've seen it as high as $200 cash.  The offer isn't valid right now so I'm sitting on the sidelines ready to pounce when it is available again.

Sunday, July 5

Update on the Kitchen Remodel

This new kitchen is tough work!  Other than some mystery shopping, this past week I have focused on getting the kitchen done.  I added a pantry, which was more work than I ever imagined.  In so doing I realized I am NOT a carpenter.  Fortunately I am nearly finished with it.  Inside, I still have some drywall to hang and then the shelving will be the final touch.  I had to re-route an electrical outlet that was inside, which turned out to be harder than I expected.  Pretty much every task has been harder than I thought it would be.

One task we did complete was installing new insulation.  My partner did most of the ceiling work, and it looks pretty crappy, but it won't be visible after the new ceiling is installed.

Before we finish drywall I will probably lay the floor.  I am using vinyl tiles but will grout the edges to make it look better and more like ceramic tile.  The reason I have put off drywall is because we ran out of sheetrock.  I can't fit it in the Aveo and will need to rent a truck or van, but might combine that with purchasing the cabinets so I can get two jobs out of the truck rental instead of just one.

In all I am happy with the progress we are making, but it has been very slow.  Fortunately, we still have a working refrigerator, stove, toaster oven, coffee maker and sink.  There's no counter space, and the sink is just a single mop sink that drains into a bucket, but we are making it work.




Friday, July 3

My Frugal Miser - June Expenses: $2,241


We traveled extensively last month, so there wasn't time to spend money.  We drove to Nashville for a meeting job, so auto expenses are higher than normal.  Also, even though I don't report my rental property expenses on a monthly basis, I should confess that they were quite high in June.  I rehabbed one of my properties, which cost nearly $5,000 last month.

In June I purchased many gift cards for future use, and I categorized that spending as "food".  American Express offered me a $30 credit each time I spent $100 at Wal-Mart, so I bought $500 in Wal-Mart gift cards.  Steak N Shake had a gift card promotion for a $5 certificate for every $20 in gift cards you bought.  I used my Discover card, which was offering 5% cash back on restaurants this quarter, to stock up on those.  Amazon had a special on a few different retailers where you could buy a $50 gift card for $40. This inflated my actual food spending, which was still high at more than $300.

I paid my periodontist $530 towards a dental implant.  This category will continue to be high as the implant costs more than $3,000.

I report my gambling winnings on the same line as my losses.  During our trip to Las Vegas I won more than $800, so there is income where there would normally be an expense.

June Expenses:  $2,241

$630 Auto ($4 for gas, $626 for depreciation)
$42 Bank Fees
$40 Clothing
$0 Computer
($884) Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol) - income this month
$1288 Food (inflated, as more than $900 was used to buy gift cards that I will redeem in the future)
$0 Gifts Given
$15 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$141 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$530 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$140 Utilities
$298 Vacation and Recreation

June Expenses, Excluding Vacation and Home Repairs:  $1,928

Wednesday, July 1

My Frugal Miser - June Income: $11,505


The house I listed in March is still for sale.  I fired my agent and hired another one.  My new real estate agent is earning his commission.  He did several things to make the house more appealing and I also agreed to lower the asking price.  I will likely use the proceeds to invest in income-generating investments and to pay down debt.  One of the townhouses remains empty.  My handyman finished his work recently, which included a number of repairs and new paint throughout the house.  I laid new flooring upstairs to replace the carpet.  I mailed keys to Birmingham and signed a management agreement with a property manager.  I'm hopeful I can get it rented before school starts as the school district has some appeal in that area.

With two vacant properties, my rental income isn't where I want it to be.  Still, I did okay in June.  We worked two major meetings and I did quite a bit of mystery shopping.  I also benefited from a one-time event:  my maternal grandfather's estate was finalized, and I received a check for just under $4,000.

June Income $11,505

$1,848 Mystery Shopping
$5,467 Rental Income
$4,190 Other Sources

Notes:.  
  • I don't include transactions in my retirement accounts.  This includes rental income, dividends and capital gains and losses.
  • I don't include changes in investments from capital gains/losses or dividends.  Most of my investments are in retirement accounts anyway, but this category will grow as I start selling my rental properties and I will probably change this policy.
  • I include merchandising and hospitality work in the mystery shopping category since the companies that I shop for provide this extra side work.