Monday, December 21

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

I'm headed to Alabama to spend Christmas with my mom.  I'll also visit my Dad's side of the family on Christmas Day.  I am driving the 500 miles to Birmingham, but was able to find 9 mystery shops along the way to help pay for the trip.  Today I am shopping 7 Exxon gas stations.  With bonuses, I will earn $235 in fees and $42 in gas and inside purchases.  The free gas should cover my fuel for the entire trip.  I am staying at an Econo Lodge tonight ($54, paid with a gift card I bought at Winn-Dixie to earn Fuel Rewards).  Tomorrow I am shopping two Chevrolet dealerships.  I will earn $182 plus receive a free oil change and tire rotation.  All these shops are within a reasonable distance from the route I would already be taking.

While visiting Mom, I'll take her out for gourmet tacos on a mystery shop.  I'm also painting/repairing two mailboxes at my rental properties.  I'm saving $80 in labor and the work should take me less than an hour.

I plan on returning home on the 26th.  I'll spend the last week of the year doing some rideshare driving and setting my 2016 goals.

Saturday, December 19

Stand Up for Yourself and Negotiate (the ROI is amazing!)

Lately I've been frustrated by the high cost of some things.  Most people just pay whatever something costs, but whenever possible I try to negotiate.  The extra time and effort it takes to ask for a better price is often well worth it.  Just this month I've saved $300:
  • As you already know, I've been remodeling my kitchen for several months.  I bought countertops at IKEA, and the first step was having someone measure my kitchen.  I thought I was ready for the measurement, but when the first person came to quote the price, he immediately said that my cabinets were not level enough.  He was in my home less than five minutes, and no special equipment was involved.  I even agreed to an appointment time that coincided with the estimator being in my neighborhood.  Since the cabinets weren't level, I was told I would have to pay a trip fee.  I assumed it would be well under $100 based on what an electrician or plumber would charge to diagnose an issue, but the bill from IKEA was $225.  I firmly told the employee at the store that this was not acceptable.  I was willing to pay something, but thought $225 was too much for a 5 minute visit at my house.  When IKEA stood firm, I threatened to pay the $225 fee but cancel the entire remainder of the project.  The employee said she would talk with management and the installer and give me a call.  A few hours later, she called and told me they would waive the entire fee.  I saved $225 where most people wouldn't bother to complain.
  • When I signed up to drive for Lyft, I was promised a $50 bonus after my first 20 rides.  For some reason, I never received the bonus.  It took four separate emails over about two months, but my persistence finally paid off, and I was promised the bonus would be applied shortly.
  • On the more classic side of negotiating, while we were in Cozumel we walked into town, but were worn out and thinking about taking a taxi the 1.5 miles back to port.  Based on what an Uber would cost here in Tampa, I knew the $8 I was quoted was more than I wanted to pay.  I had to ask three drivers, but I finally found one willing to take us for $5... but only after walking away did the driver beep his horn and tell us to get in.

Be honest.  Be firm.  Know what you will do next.  That's all it takes to score a better price.  At IKEA, the employee told me that because I did not cause a scene and was professional with my concerns, they appreciated that I was standing on principles and that was the reason that they helped me.  I didn't raise my voice or try to lie about why the estimator had to make a second visit.  I just calmly stated that the price was too high (and swallowed my pride by admitting I made the mistake by not leveling the cabinets properly).

Have you had success with negotiating the price of something or with complaining about an unfair situation?  What was the outcome?

Tuesday, December 15

Our Free Carnival Cruise

It worked!  I took advantage of a couple hacks to save some serious money on our cruise.  Winn-Dixie always offers Fuel Rewards for purchasing gift cards, but for Black Friday they were offering 5X the normal reward, which is the equivalent of a 10% rebate.  In addition to paying for the cruise with gift cards, I applied the remaining gift cards to my Sail and Sign Account, which I then cashed out in the casino.

Total Savings:  About $250 in free gas, plus 12,500 Hilton Honors points for using my credit card to buy the gift cards.

In addition to redeeming the gift cards, I charged my credit card in the casino to earn even more cash back.  Since Carnival does not charge a transaction fee when you charge your Sail and Sign card at a slot machine, I charged about $1,700 to my card to earn just over 5,000 Hilton Honors points.

My luck didn't stop there.  I also played some blackjack while onboard.  There is a sucker bet called "Lucky Ladies", where for as little as $1 you can place a side bet that your first two cards equal "20".  If your "20" is in the form of 2 Queen of Hearts, you win $125.  However, if you have 2 Queen of Hearts, and the dealer has a blackjack, you win $1,000.  My jaw dropped when I hit on the Lucky Ladies.  My $1 side bet won me $1,000.  The pit boss and my dealer said this was the first time they had ever witnessed this particular win.  Of course, I gave much of that back during the week.

Total Winnings from Casino:  About $700

We had a great, frugal trip.  There was plenty of alcohol - we brought two bottles of wine onboard, received a voucher for one free drink each based on our loyalty, attended an art auction for free champagne, and bought two small bottles of rum in Grand Cayman that we carried back in our pockets.  I was randomly selected to receive a $50 spa gift card, so I splurged a bit on a facial and neck and arm massage.  We also had a $100 onboard credit for being a shareholder, which was applied towards gratuities.  And, the casino gave me $50 in free chips for booking the casino rate for the cruise.  We took advantage of one excursion, which we booked privately.  We did cave tubing in Belize.  The all-day tour, with lunch, was $35/each plus tip.

If not for my luck in the casino, I wouldn't be able to call this a free cruise.  But discovering this new trick using gift cards and then cashing them out turned out to be a very lucrative way to lower our costs.

Saturday, December 5

My Frugal Miser - November Expenses: $11,420


November was a gluttenous month.  Some of the spending was on gift cards that I haven't used yet.  Retailers make aggressive offers during the holidays so I like to "pre-pay" future purchases when I get a discount.  As an example, my Chase Freedom credit card offered me a 10% rebate on purchases at Amazon, so I purchased a $1,500 gift card.  I also bought restaurant, fuel and home repair gift cards.  In preparation for our cruise, I purchased several Carnival gift cards and will attempt to cash those out during our cruise.  I am effectively getting cash at a 10% discount by buying Carnival gift cards at Winn-Dixie to earn Shell Fuel Rewards.  I am crossing my fingers that this hack will be successful.

One large expense in November was the re-purchase of my base kitchen cabinets and installation charges.  I could not get the cabinets level on my own and had to buy them again in order to hire a cabinet installer to do it for me.  It was a very expensive mistake.  I've been thinking more and more that I need to stop attempting home repairs on my own:  I'm just not good at it.

November Expenses:  $11,420

$1,537 Auto ($301 for 6 months insurance, $6 for car washes, $155 gas, $335 depreciation, $739 Rideshare Car depreciation)
$67 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$2,148 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$600 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$3,285 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$141 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$92 Interest Expense
$7 Medical/Dental
$9 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$955 Taxes
$568 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$251 Utilities
$1,759 Vacation and Recreation

November Expenses, Excluding Vacation and Home Repairs:  $8,099

Thursday, December 3

My Frugal Miser - November Income: $9,631


November was a solid income month.  All my rental properties are occupied and rents are current.  I worked full-time driving for Uber and Lyft and was paid for a fair amount of mystery shopping work, too.



November Income $9,631

$657 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$1,532 Uber
$574 Lyft
$6,645 Rental Income
$64 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.