Tuesday, December 6

My Frugal Miser - November Expenses: $6,301


November was a very expensive month, but a large part of the spending went towards pre-paying future spending.  I bought a $1,500 Amazon gift card (household expenses) to take advantage of the 5% cash back on my Discover card.  I also spent $600 on Lowe's gift cards, $200 on a Netflix gift card and $200 on a Groupon gift card.  These earned me free gas through the Shell Fuel Rewards program.  I was able to immediately convert $4,000 in Carnival gift cards to cash, so those don't show up in my spending, but they earned me a significant amount of free gas.  Another $100 of the food category was for two additional gift cards.  Black Friday has become a great day to "pre-pay" for future spending in the form of gift cards.  Another large prepaid expense was the $220 I spent for Bruno Mars tickets.  The concert isn't until next October.

A couple other categories were also unusually high.  I paid $886 for property taxes on my house.  I paid $166 for a red light camera ticket.  My utilities expense was on the high side, too.  The water bill only comes every two months and was particularly high this time.  It's been very dry and our tropical garden requires heavy watering.

November Expenses:  $6,301

$1,357 Auto ($13 gas, $46 repairs/maintenance, $621 depreciation, $166 fines, $511 insurance)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$439 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$540 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$2,145 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$52 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$390 Interest Expense*
$0 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$17 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$886 Taxes
$29 Sharing Economy Expenses (dedicated phone, tolls, car washes, etc.)
$375 Utilities
$72 Vacation

*Interest expense includes student loans and the loan on my car.  As both rates are below 2%, I am completely comfortable paying the interest each month and investing the money that I would otherwise use to pay off these loans.  In November, I paid $376 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Saturday, December 3

My Frugal Miser - November Income: $12,331


November was a great income month.

For rental income, all but one property received rent.  The empty house has now been rented, but one of the townhouses is becoming vacant, so I expect rental income in December to be similar to last month.

Amazon Flex income was down a bit because I traveled to Dallas to work a conference and worked several days in Orlando for a second conference.  Also, we were on a cruise the last week of the month.

I closed out my position in Sea World for a slight gain.  The company has eliminated its dividend, which was the reason I bought the stock in the first place.

November Income: $12,331

$1,949 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$9 Uber
$106 Lyft
$280 Postmates
$3,049 Amazon Deliveries
$5,186 Rental Income
$16 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$1,418 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$317 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. 

Thursday, November 3

My Frugal Miser - October Expenses: $3,323


October was reasonable for personal expenses.  Nearly half of the expenses I reported are non-cash depreciation of my 2015 Hyundai Sonata.  I expense $.24/mile driven until I have completely expensed the cost of the car.  Making deliveries for Amazon puts a lot of miles on my car.

I continued to benefit from the Shell Fuel Rewards cards I purchased on Groupon.  I will most likely burn through the remaining balance in November and then my gas expense will go up.

Food was also on the high side.  Amazon had a fall clearance sale and I stocked up on quite a few things.  We also had a couple of expensive restaurant meals to celebrate my partner's birthday.

October Expenses:  $3,323

$2,060 Auto ($13 gas, $288 repairs/maintenance, $1,412 depreciation, $136 AAA dues, $211 fines)
$0 Bank Fees
$75 Clothing
$0 Computer
$168 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$388 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$0 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$52 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$264 Interest Expense*
$0 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$3 Personal Care
$13 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$135 Sharing Economy Expenses (dedicated phone, tolls, car washes, etc.)
$167 Utilities
$0 Vacation

*Interest expense includes student loans and the loan on my car.  As both rates are below 2%, I am completely comfortable paying the interest each month and investing the money that I would otherwise use to pay off these loans.  In October, I paid $194 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Tuesday, November 1

My Frugal Miser - October Income: $10,077


October was another stellar month, even though rental income is down.

I earned a significant amount from making deliveries for Amazon.  I average close to $30/hour (gross, before expenses) and my goal is to work 40 hours per week.  I added Postmates to my sharing economy portfolio.  In October I received payment for my first two jobs.  Postmates pays very little unless the customer gives you a tip.

Rental income is still down, as one property is vacant.  I lowered the asking rent on that property so hopefully this will generate some interest.  I managed to rent the condo already, so it was vacant less than one month.

October Income $10,077

($11) Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$104 Uber
$25 Lyft
$7 Postmates
$4,796 Amazon Deliveries
$4,868 Rental Income
$263 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$0 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$24 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. 

Friday, October 28

My First Night Experience Working for Postmates

Tampa has seen an influx of new delivery options recently.  Uber Eats expanded this week to St. Pete and Amazon launched restaurant delivery last week.  A third option just launched this week as well:  Postmates.

I learned that Postmates was launching from an ad on Facebook.  I had heard about the service on Youtube and figured it doesn't hurt to add a sharing economy option to my arsenal.  The company approved me quickly - the background check went through within a couple of hours of my applying.  This was by far the fastest approval I have received when signing up with a company in the sharing economy.  A couple of days later, I received an email inviting me to an orientation meeting.  I was given two options to attend the meeting and was promised "dinner and Postmates swag".  I'm glad I decided to attend the meeting, because the swag included the required Postmates debit card.

One difference in how Postmates works is that I have to make purchases using the prepaid debit card.  A customer can use the Postmates app or website to order food or general merchandise from places like Walgreens.  Depending on the location, I might have to place the order when I arrive, or Postmates may place the order for me.  When I arrive, I pay for the order using the debit card they provided me.

The soft launch was Tuesday, but the official launch was yesterday.  On Tuesday I had a two hour break in my Amazon schedule, so I turned on a couple of other apps including Postmates.  I received my first request to pick up a $5 box from KFC about two miles away.  Before accepting a request, all I see is where I have to go to pick up the order.  It doesn't say where my final destination will be.  I had to go inside KFC and place the order and wait for it to be prepared.  Once I confirmed the order, I was given the destination, which was a student housing building at Tampa College, less than 2 miles away.  The entire process was straightforward, but in all this one order consumed about half an hour.  For that, I was paid $4.

One benefit of using Postmates versus Uber Eats is that Postmates has a tipping option on the app.  I was pleasantly surprised a day later when a $3 tip was posted to the KFC order.  Still, $7 is a meager amount to cover both my vehicle expenses and my time.

First Lesson Learned:  Only Accept Nearby Orders

Last night after my Amazon shift, I logged onto Postmates.  It was launch day, and the company was giving away pints of ice cream and empanadas.  As soon as I logged on a request came through to pick up some empanadas.  The pick up location was nearly 20 minutes away.  At the time I didn't realize Postmates doesn't compensate you for your time traveling to pick up an order.  Later in the night I drove 15 miles, 26 minutes, to pick up California Pizza Kitchen.  For the CPK order, which required me to park and go inside the mall, wait in line to pick up the order (this time Postmates placed the order for me), and drive a couple miles to the customer, I was only paid $4.  Totally not worth it, even with the $2.51 tip the customer included.  I spent nearly an hour on this order, and put almost 20 miles on my car, for a grand total of $6.51.

Second Lesson Learned:  Postmates Pays VERY Little

Last night I worked exclusively for Postmates from 6:30 PM until almost 10 PM.  I was always making deliveries (one feature I like is how Postmates will "stack" a second order while you are completing the first, so that you already know where you are headed next).  While I wasn't as efficient as I will be now that I know my travel time to pick up an order isn't compensated, I did feel like I was working pretty hard.  I drove aggressively, hustled at each pickup location, and was extra nice in the hopes of getting tipped.  In all, I made 7 deliveries.  Postmates paid me $33.82.  I received a $2 cash tip and so far have received $10.51 in tips through the app.  Of the 7 orders, 4 tipped, 2 did not tip (how cheap:  their order was FREE and they still didn't throw me a couple dollars!), and one order hasn't been closed out yet.  I made just over $14/hour on what is likely one of the busiest days there will be.  This, of course, is my gross income before accounting for my vehicle expenses.


Thursday, October 20

What I'm Doing in October

Life is good right now.  Other than dealing with a sinus infection.  Those suck.

Work

Having a steady source of income definitely improves my outlook on things.  This month, I've completed two hospitality jobs.  If Amazon stays steady, I won't be working as many hospitality jobs as they pay less.  We do have a job booked in Dallas for November and might have a job in Orlando depending on how much it pays.

I've been delivering for Amazon whenever I can.  Amazon limits driver's hours to 8 per day and 40 per week.  The last two weeks I've met my goal of working 40 hours at Amazon.  I gross around $30/hour including tips before expenses.

I haven't been driving for Uber or Lyft much.  When I have a gap in my Amazon schedule I sometimes turn the rideshare apps on.  Yesterday I was off from Amazon between 4:30 pm-6:30 pm.   I earned about $30 from rides in that time.  I probably will drive on Halloween night since it is so busy.  Our area has seasonal demand and things are picking up, so I might start driving more when I'm not at Amazon.

Play

We are spending the night in Orlando at the end of the month.  I bought tickets to the Sia concert and booked a room within walking distance of the Amway Center.  Since I need to work as many hours as possible this month (property taxes will be due soon), there won't be time for much recreational travel.

Travel

I thought I would need to visit Birmingham to turn over the vacant condo, but I managed to place a tenant without making that trip.  Since I now have a trustworthy handyman, I'm able to delegate any repairs that the new tenants need.  I enjoy checking on my properties, plus Birmingham was home for 35 years.  But a day there is a day I'm not working here in Florida.

Wednesday, October 5

My Frugal Miser - September Expenses: $3,347


Overall September was a very frugal month.  Working as much as I did, I didn't have time to spend money on anything.  In August I pre-paid for Shell gas, and my fuel bill for September was just $12.  Every month I take a depreciation expense to recognize the loss of value of my car.  This is a non-cash expense and is based on the mileage used during the month.

We spent a week in Las Vegas, and during the trip I hit my first Royal Flush on video poker.  I was playing a quarter machine and won $1,000.  I managed to hold onto half of that and used the casino's cash to play with the rest of the week.

I've gone way over my goal for limiting vacation spending this year.  In September, I made two large purchases towards 2017 vacations:  flights to Iceland and Amsterdam and a cruise.

Food spending benefited from the refund from Nutrisystem.  I returned the second shipment of food they sent since I still haven't started on the first month's shipment.


September Expenses:  $3,347

$1,064 Auto ($12 gas, $4 repairs/maintenance, $1,049 depreciation)
$0 Bank Fees
$7 Clothing
$0 Computer
($147) Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol) income this month
$33 Food
$16 Gifts Given
$127 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$52 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$117 Interest Expense*
$25 Medical/Dental
$10 Miscellaneous
$60 Personal Care
$1 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$127 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$160 Utilities
$1,694 Vacation

*Interest expense includes student loans and the loan on my car.  As both rates are below 2%, I am completely comfortable paying the interest each month and investing the money that I would otherwise use to pay off these loans.  In September I paid $103 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Monday, October 3

My Frugal Miser - September Income: $12,060


September was a great month for income, even though we spent one week on vacation in Las Vegas.

I've figured out the trick to getting hours on Amazon Flex, and it's been rewarding.  I enjoy making deliveries, and the tips are significant.  If Uber allowed for tips, the difference in driver income would be ridiculous.  With Amazon, I am earning around $10/hour just in tips.

Rental income was okay, but one property is still vacant and a second one is becoming vacant this month.  As I've added hours on Amazon, I've worked less at mystery shopping and rideshare driving.

September Income $12,060

$332 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$379 Uber
$89 Lyft
$3,364 Amazon Deliveries
$6,734 Rental Income
$15 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$1,068 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$79 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. 

Wednesday, September 28

Back in Business

The Google gods have granted me the continued gift of blogging.  Thanks to those of you who commented on my last post, particularly to Hawaii Planner, who provided the website where I could locate a phone number to call Google.  It took numerous phone calls, but I finally got this house in order and this website has been renewed for another year.  More importantly, I now know how to log in to Google's Admin site to update my credit card in order to avoid this fiasco in the future.

Saturday, September 17

Farewell (This may be the end...)

Ever felt like you couldn't reach a live person who could help?  Well, that's me right now.  I've been getting emails from Google that this domain registration renewal failed due to nonpayment.  I would love to pay Google the $10 to renew the domain, but I can't figure out how.  My domain isn't listed anywhere when I try to log into my Google accounts.  I'm stumped.  Since the site has always just automatically renewed, I've never needed to log in to update my information.

It's been great revealing my personal finances, frugal ways and mystery shopping exploits.  However, come October 21, www.myfrugalmiser.com might disappear.

So, farewell.  I'll miss you guys.

Saturday, September 3

My Frugal Miser - August Expenses: $4,975


August was a mixed bag.  Since we were away most of the month, my auto expenses were very low.  Of the $702 in auto expenses, $400 was to purchase Shell Fuel Rewards cards on Groupon.  I haven't begun redeeming those.  At the end of the month I had to get a tooth extracted.  I opted for a bone graft as well to prepare the area for a dental implant, which comes at a huge cost if I decide to do it.  We spent much more on vacation than I anticipated.  I decided to splurge on several excursions since we may not ever make it to Europe again.

Food spending was the only other unusually high category.  Nutrisystem "force shipped" a 30 day supply of food.  I still have the first 30 day supply they sent.  Guess I should start my diet.


August Expenses:  $4,975

$702 Auto ($487 gas, $11 repairs/maintenance, $204 depreciation)
$85 Bank Fees

$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$106 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$561 Food
$13 Gifts Given
$16 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$52 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$212 Interest Expense*
$1,132 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$61 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$182 Utilities
$1,854 Vacation

*Interest expense includes student loans and the loan on my car.  As both rates are below 2%, I am completely comfortable paying the interest each month and investing the money that I would otherwise use to pay off these loans.  In August I paid $170 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Thursday, September 1

My Frugal Miser - August Income: $7,320


August was an okay month for income, especially since we were in Europe almost three weeks.

Much of the income was from work I did in July, especially on the mystery shopping side.  I have been successful picking up hours delivering for Amazon.  Rental income was especially low.  One of my management companies made the August rent deposit in September.  The townhouse was vacant, but the good news is that a new tenant just moved in.  I have one other vacancy, and it is one of the higher income properties.  I won't be able to list it for rent until next week after carpet is installed.

August Income $7,320

$943 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$273 Uber
$202 Lyft
$282 Amazon Deliveries
$3,140 Rental Income
$1 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$2,250 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$229 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. 

Monday, August 29

Here's How You Can Get $80 in Shell Gas for $45.24 (Expires Soon!)

Right now at Groupon, you can pre-pay for $80 worth of gas for $52:  that's a 35% discount on the price of gas.  To sweeten the deal, Ebates is offering 9% back on deals at Groupon today, saving you another $4.68.   Since Winn-Dixie (and some other supermarkets) gives a 4% rebate towards Shell gas when you purchase a gift card, I bought Groupon gift cards there first.  This saved me another $2.08.  I also receive 5 Hilton Honors points for every $1 I spend on my American Express, so each deal (I bought 8 deals) earned me 260 Hilton Honors points.

Bottom Line:  for $80 in gas, I paid $45.24 and received 260 HHonors Points
Note:  The gas is rewarded as $1 off per gallon up to 20 gallons.  I use gas cans when I fill up to guarantee I get the full benefit of this offer.  ETA:  After calling Fuel Rewards, the cards were added to my account in such a way that I am not limited to just redeeming $1 per 20 gallons.  I can stack these cards, so if gas costs $2/gallon, I can redeem $2 off per gallon for up to 20 gallons.

Monday, August 22

Back from Europe

Pompeii
We've been on a 12 day Mediterranean Cruise.  It's the cruise I paid $125/person for, but it ended up costing much more than that.  I decided we should make the most of the opportunity, since I don't know when I'll ever go back.  We purchased several excursions through a third-party, not Carnival.  This included trips to Pisa, Florence, the Vatican, Pompeii, the Colosseum, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, and Nora.  We also paid for local transportation, museum entry fees, alcohol, a few meals in-port, and a couple small gifts to bring back home.  Plus I gambled, too much on one day  in particular but in moderation the rest of the cruise.

I mistakenly called this a frugal cruise.  True, the price I paid for the cruise was quite cheap.  But the lesson I learned is that Europe is not a cheap place.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  One of the biggest surprises was the Value Added Tax (VAT) within the European Union.  It's like the sales tax we have in the U.S., except it's already included in the price of things.  The VAT was over 20% (as high as 26%) in each of the places we visited.  A small bottle of Coke, for example, cost as much as 3 Euros.

One of our favorite places was the island of Corfu, Greece.  For some reason, prices there were very reasonable.  We toured the island, visited some historical buildings, and shopped local markets.  I bought Olive Oil soap bars for 80 cents and a bottle of Kumquat liquor for 7 Euros.  We were also impressed with Dubrovnik, Croatia.  It, too, was reasonably priced.  I took an Uber there from the port to Old Town for the equivalent of $6.  It would have been double that in the U.S.

Our bodies are still adjusting to the 6 hour time difference.  It's a little after 2 AM and I am wide awake.  I went to bed around 7 PM though.

Tuesday, August 2

My Frugal Miser - July Expenses: $3,263


In July our expenses were a little high.  I completed several services on my car, including fluid exchanges, new air filters, and new headlight bulbs.  I did a lot of driving to generate income, so the depreciation expense ($1,001) is especially high.  I had to get a new dental crown ($473).  I ran the air conditioning every day (electric bill was $95).  The food bill was high, which surprises me because we didn't spend on anything extravagant.  The most expensive restaurant bill in July was just $13.


July Expenses:  $3,263

$1,508 Auto ($11 gas, $398 repairs/maintenance, $1,001 depreciation, $99 moped insurance)
$49 Bank Fees
$11 Clothing
$0 Computer
$38 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$408 Food
$22 Gifts Given
$118 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$52 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$206 Interest Expense*
$473 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$13 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$83 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$281 Utilities
$0 Vacation

*Interest expense includes student loans and the loan on my car.  As both rates are below 2%, I am completely comfortable paying the interest each month and investing the money that I would otherwise use to pay off these loans.  In July I paid $164 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Monday, August 1

My Frugal Miser - July Income: $35,506


July was perhaps my best income month ever.

Most of the income was from stock I sold.  Within the last year I purchased 8,000 shares of Vereit using the proceeds from the house I sold last year.  This REIT, a normally boring and conservative investment, increased by more than 40% in under a year.  There's no reason to be greedy:  I sold all my shares in my taxable brokerage account but still have a significant position in my retirement accounts.

Since conference work is nearly non-existent in the summer, I focused on mystery shopping, Amazon Flex and rideshare driving.  These "active" income sources brought in more than $4,000, but some of that was from jobs I completed in June but was paid for in July.

The vacant property I hold in my IRA was occupied at the end of July.  The townhouse is still empty.  Sometime this month I expect to have another vacancy in Birmingham.  Finally, I only received partial rent once again from one of my tenants.

July Income $35,506

$2,955 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$645 Uber
$663 Lyft
$306 Amazon Deliveries
$5,075 Rental Income
$1,237 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$24,569 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$56 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. 

Wednesday, July 13

Save Big Money on Groceries: Wal-Mart's Yellow Labels

50% off Pecan Pie:  Why Not?
One of the ways I save a ton of money on groceries is by looking for reduced prices at Wal-Mart.  In the grocery department, these discounts are spotted easily by the large yellow stickers.

I can almost always find discounted items, but have had more luck visiting mid-day on weekdays.  First, the bread rack:  my local store hides this in the dairy aisle, far away from the rest of the bread.  Most items are marked down 50%.  This includes pies, rolls, loaves of specialty bread, and cookies.  For some reason, the Cuban bread is 70% off.  I get a long loaf for $.30.  Cream pies are also marked down 70%.  In the meat department, I can always find different types of meat that have been marked down.  Meat is only marked down 30%.  The advantage here is that I can freeze the items I won't be using right away.  Today I purchased ground turkey, sausages, and boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  There were several other deals I didn't take advantage of, including steaks, seasoned Angus patties and pork chops.  Finally, prepared items are marked down by half.  Going just after lunch is a good time to catch these items.  Cooked pizzas, rotisserie chickens, chicken wings, and deli sandwiches are regularly marked down 50% if they don't sell fast.

Wal-Mart is a great place to find discounted groceries.  Another place I go to is Aldi.  Aldi typically discounts special items that don't sell by the time the next circular comes out.  I've got my eyes on some LED lamps right now that I hope will get discounted.  They also discount their bread, refrigerated items like yogurt, and shelf-stable limited time goods, like cake mixes and special potato chips.  Occasionally I will find frozen merchandise like pizzas or ice cream at a discount.

Monday, July 11

My Frugal Miser - Investment Performance Update

From time to time I post an update about how my stock market investments are performing. I am a value investor, and I believe that most people can outperform the market by following a few very simple rules. My investing philosophy is simple:
  • Minimize trading costs and taxes by sticking to a "buy and hold" program.
  • Buy when everyone else is scared to buy.
  • Focus on 1) smaller companies that are growing at a reasonable rate.
  • Focus on 2) companies whose stocks have declined due to what I think are temporary problems.
  • Preference goes to dividend paying stocks.
In 2016 I have sold just a few stocks, all but one at a gain.  Although I generally buy for the long-term, one of my investing strategies is to lock in fast gains and then re-buy the position at a lower price.  For example, I made a $1,200 profit in three weeks on Vereit in a non-taxable account.  I repurchased those shares five days after I sold them for less than the initial transaction's cost. The shares I repurchased are currently up 37%.

How am I doing?

7/1/2016 (Year to Date)
S&P 500: up 2.89%
Roth IRA: up 8.05% 
Taxable Account:  up 18.39%
Rollover IRA: up 20.02%

I am not an investing genius. What I am is a realist. I know not to get caught up in fads - that's why it's so easy to outperform the markets. A large part of "the market" is made up of mutual funds whose managers are chasing after each other. There is very little original thought out there because managers are scared they will make a mistake and lose their job. This fear leads them to follow the pack. It's hard to lose your job when your performance is similar to everyone else.

Investing can be really easy, especially if you do buy and hold like I recommend. Personally I spend about an hour or two each week catching up on news pertaining to stocks I own or would like to own. That's it. 

Simple is good.

Saturday, July 9

My Frugal Miser - June Expenses: $4,417


Overall June was a frugal month.  I bought $2,500 in Carnival gift cards to redeem on our cruise next month, so my actual spending in June was only $1,917.  Almost half of that was the annual premium for my homeowner's insurance.   Food expense was low, but not because I was consuming the Nutrisystem food I bought in May:  those items are sitting in a drawer as I haven't started the diet yet.


June Expenses:  $4,417

$461 Auto ($81 gas, $0 repairs/maintenance, $380 depreciation)
$0 Bank Fees
$7 Clothing
$0 Computer
$46 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$140 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$867 Homeowner's Insurance (12 months)
$0 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$52 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$167 Interest Expense*
$0 Medical/Dental
$2 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$64 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$119 Utilities
$2,500 Vacation

*Interest expense includes student loans and the loan on my car.  As both rates are below 2%, I am completely comfortable paying the interest each month and investing the money that I would otherwise use to pay off these loans.  In June I paid $124 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Thursday, July 7

My Frugal Miser - June Income: $2,445


In June I sold shares of Rent A Center (RCII) at a loss.  Absent that, my income was still down.  However, it was a very busy month and in July I will report the income from all my work.

I currently have two vacant properties, but one is owned by my IRA and is not reflected in my monthly reports.  The other has been empty since April.  I'm disappointed that the management company hasn't been marketing the unit properly.  A third tenant only paid half the rent she should have paid in June.

I haven't been assigned any hours with Amazon.  I only drove a limited amount for Uber and Lyft as the hospitality and mystery shopping work consumed me last month.

On a more positive note, American Express refunded some of the interest charges I had earlier this year.  When I was charged the interest I was caught off-guard as I didn't realize the promotional period was ending.  Apparently they made a mistake in their offer, and the interest was automatically corrected when they caught the error.



June Income $2,445

$1,049 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$225 Uber
$129 Lyft
$0 Amazon Deliveries
$5,520 Rental Income
$0 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
($4,918) Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$441 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. 

Tuesday, July 5

Plans for July

July and August are the slowest months for hospitality work in Florida.  The threat of hurricanes, combined with the heat, keep most conventions from coming.  Last year I signed up to drive for Uber and Lyft during the slow time.  I will most likely do some of that this summer.  The rates are lower this year so I have to focus on the busier dayparts only.  I am starting July with a decent mystery shopping/audit route.  The stores are all local and I will probably finish the entire route this week.  I had a very large audit route in June that I completed before I left for Las Vegas.  That will be a healthy check when I get paid.

I would also like to do some work around the house in July.  This week we are painting the ceiling (or popcorning, not sure just yet) in the living room.  I still have a little work to do where the kitchen and dining room meet.  Right now there is a gap in the floor and the walls as the kitchen was not part of the original house.  I need to cut some molding for the walls and find a transition piece for the floor.  The next big project on the list is remodeling both bathrooms.  I probably won't start on that anytime soon, but who knows.

In August we are taking a cruise from Barcelona.  I need to focus on income this month since we will be out of the country for more than half the month.

Sunday, July 3

Back From Vegas

I arrived home early this morning from a week in Las Vegas.  This was the second year I worked Call Center Week.  After paying my flight and car rental, I earned about $700 for the five days I worked.  It isn't a ton of money but more than I was paid last year.  Since my hotel stays and virtually all my meals were free, I was able to keep my travel expenses low.

Working the conference was mentally and physically tough, but I enjoyed it.  The client gave me a ticket to see the Beatles Cirque du Soleil show, Love.  The Beatles were before my time so I never got into them much, but the show was fabulous and I enjoyed it enough that I will go again.  Since I was exhausted from working every day I didn't do much gambling.  I ended up winning about $100 over the entire trip.  I also "won" a movie pass and t-shirt for playing, so I got to see the new Purge movie for free.


Wednesday, June 22

Simple, Amplified

Maybe my mind isn't as sharp as it used to be, but lately I've been feeling overwhelmed by complexity.  Most of the complexity surrounds my finances.  I have too many accounts, and Quicken is no longer reliably downloading my transactions.  I've been working hard to streamline things.

Financial

I had two credit card accounts that I rarely used.  I called Citibank and converted one of those cards to the Double Cash Card.  I like how straightforward the card is:  I get 1% cash back when I make a purchase, and 1% back when I pay my balance.  I closed the second card completely.  Soon I will close my Chase Ink Business card.  Now that I can ean 2% cash with my Citibank card, the only benefit of the Ink card is the 5% cashback on office supplies and cell phone bill.  That isn't worth the $95 annual fee.

Clutter Control

We are working hard on getting rid of unnecessary material things.  I don't like to be distracted by my belongings.  This includes the wardrobe, where I am paring back clothes I no longer wear, decor around the house, which just collects dust, and tools, which I own a lot of from working on rental properties.  Since I have transitioned most of the rental properties to management companies I no longer need a lot of the tools I have come to own.  I'll be donating a lot of things, with the goal of taking everything to a charity drop off some time in July.

Other Areas

Several few months ago I closed out my UPS Store mailbox.  I save a decent amount in fees and no longer feel the need to make a special trip to the store to check my mailbox.  I also got rid of one of my computers.  Finally, I am trying out the Nutrisystem diet to simplify my food choices.  Once I learn proper portion control and develop a habit of eating right, I should be losing weight and will start buying healthier food from the grocery store.  We have been eating out less when we aren't traveling and I hope to continue cutting back on restaurant meals.

Sunday, June 19

The Week Ahead

We returned from Nashville on Thursday.  I picked up three Chevron shops on the way home with $20 bonuses on each.  That covered all the gas for the trip.  On Thursday night I worked a pharma meeting and Friday morning I drove for Uber and Lyft.  Then on Saturday I completed 31 BP audits in Ocala and Gainesville.  I was on the road from 6 AM until 11 PM, so today (Sunday) I stayed home.  We hung gutters and installed a rain barrel on the back porch, I planned my next BP route in Orlando, and we bought groceries.

Tomorrow I will drive for Uber.  Monday mornings are usually busy.  Then an oil change before I take the rental car to Orlando to work on the BP route.  I have to turn in the rental car Tuesday PM and am trying to put as many miles on it as I can.

On Saturday I am leaving for Las Vegas.  I am traveling solo this year and my flight leaves from Orlando, which was cheaper than leaving from Tampa.  The boss is letting me park my car at his house while I'm gone.  This will be my second year working the Las Vegas conference.  The client specifically requested me as the lead, so I was able to negotiate a higher salary this time.  I will be gone a full week.  Since I love Las Vegas I am really excited to be going, even though most of my time will be spent working.

Sunday, June 12

Hospitality Work in June

Today we are Nashville-bound.  We drove from Tampa Bay to Decatur, AL last night and stayed at the Doubletree.  The hotel is $63/night and is about two hours south of Nashville.

I've been aggressive in picking up hospitality jobs this month because the convention season is just about over.  The Nashville job is an easy one (26 hours over 4 days), but I am only being paid $600 (my partner is receiving $400 on top of that), which includes travel expenses.  We rented a car ($125/week) and other than this one hotel room, I am redeeming hotel loyalty points the rest of the week.

Last week I worked five full days in Sarasota and Orlando.  It was for the same client but two different conferences.  Again, the long commutes really wore me down, but the pay wasn't high enough to book a local hotel.  On some of the events I work, the client has requested local talent, so there are no travel accommodations.

Wrapping up the month, I head to Las Vegas on the 25th to work a large conference.  I worked this meeting last year and really enjoyed it.   The client requested me for this one, which improves my compensation.  My flight is covered and even after paying my other travel expenses (fortunately I had enough comp room offers to cover all my hotels) there will be a healthy amount left over.

I also have over 100 BP mystery shops scheduled for June and July.  These are filling in any gaps between hospitality work.  June is going to be SOLID!

Sunday, June 5

My Frugal Miser - May Expenses: $2,287


May was a mixed bag on the spending side of my personal finances.   I lost money gambling on the cruise ship the last day of our cruise.  Losing 14 consecutive hands in blackjack makes you question how the Shufflemaster can't be rigged!).  My food spending looks high because I bought a $200 Groupon gift card as well as a 28 day supply of Nutrisystem, neither of which I have consumed.  All the other categories were in line with expectations.



May Expenses:  $2,287

$968 Auto ($61 gas, $4 repairs/maintenance, $411 depreciation, $492 for 6 months insurance)
$0 Bank Fees
$7 Clothing
$0 Computer
$1,184 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$408 Food
$8 Gifts Given
($11) Household/Housing/Home Repair (returned an item, so income this month)
$52 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$70 Interest Expense*
$0 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$2 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$49 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$209 Utilities
($660) Vacation (redeemed Carnival gift cards, so income this month)

*Interest expense includes student loans and the loan on my car.  As both rates are below 2%, I am completely comfortable paying the interest each month and investing the money that I would otherwise use to pay off these loans.

Friday, June 3

My Frugal Miser - May Income: $8,167


May was a decent month.  I collected rent from all but one property.  I also started driving for Amazon (future income from Amazon will be lower as the company overhired by about 300 drivers).   Hospitality work was steady.



May Income $8,167

$1,293 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$36 Uber
$43 Lyft
$970 Amazon Deliveries
$5,748 Rental Income
$0 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$0 Realized Gains on Investments
$76 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. 

Thursday, May 26

Birmingham Bound

We are waiting on Enterprise to bring the cargo van I rented as it is coming from another location.  Today we travel to Birmingham to work on my empty townhouse.  On the way I picked up three gas station audits in Panama City that were heavily bonused.  Tomorrow I have five mystery shops in Birmingham that also have a generous bonus.  These mystery shops will cover the cost of the cargo van I rented.

I don't know how much work will need to be done on the townhouse.  The tenant told me they cleaned up and that everything is working, but I'm sure we will have plenty to do over the weekend.  The plan is to come home Monday or Tuesday.  If our workload is light we can visit the Botanical Gardens and maybe see a movie at the dollar theater.

The cruise was amazing, except for the last day (sea day) when I had a run of bad luck in the casino.  I've been working the last three days in Orlando, so those earnings will offset what I lost.

Friday, May 6

Work and Play

Life is feeling especially balanced lately.  I went to the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting last weekend.  Then on Monday and Tuesday I worked 8 hour shifts making Amazon deliveries.  I worked a two hour Amazon shift yesterday, did two hospitality jobs this week, and completed 8 gas station mystery shops.  Yesterday we went to see the new Tom Hanks movie, Hologram for the King.  We're going to the beach today on our scooters.  Then tomorrow we kick off a 5 day gig in Orlando.  We will stay in Kissimmee three nights at a cheap motel:  I would rather spend $35/night on a hotel than 4 hours commuting each day.  I will cap off the work-week with an 8-hour shift on Thursday at Amazon.

Why all this work?  To pay off debt, of course.  I only set three goals this year, and one of them is to reduce outstanding debt to $210,000.  This morning I was able to make an extra $4,000 principal payment against one of my mortgages.  It would be amazing if I could pay off one of my two mortgages before the end of the year.

At home, we're putting the finishing touches on the new kitchen.  I bought some storage solutions for the wall that doesn't have upper cabinets.  On one side of the window I installed stainless steel rods with hooks for hanging things.  On the other side I have open box shelving.  I'm really happy with our decision to not wrap cabinets around that wall as it keeps the kitchen from feeling boxed-in.

Work is easy when you have something to look forward to:  next Saturday we take the Megabus to Fort Lauderdale for our 8-day Caribbean cruise.  I had a casino offer that made the cruise $125+taxes per person.  That's cheaper than staying at home all week!

Thursday, May 5

My Frugal Miser - April Expenses: $2,692


In April my spending was okay.  I lost $670 in Las Vegas, which sucks but our room and food were free that week and the flights were only $92 each.  I spent $314 on flights to Atlanta for our Europe trip (the rest of the flights were booked already) and the one night we spent in Phoenix I spent $101 for a room.  Nothing else was out of the ordinary.



April Expenses:  $2,692

$682 Auto ($143 gas, $7 repairs/maintenance, $532 depreciation)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$705 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$260 Food
$81 Gifts Given
$231 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$26 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$15 Interest Expense
$0 Medical/Dental
$10 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$88 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$114 Utilities
$480 Vacation

Tuesday, May 3

My Frugal Miser - April Income: $9,008


I earned less in April, partly because I was out of town several days.  One of my properties is vacant; all others are occupied and current.  I received significant dividends, primarily from my largest stock holding, Vereit.  Uber stopped offering guaranteed hourly earnings, but they did raise rates a bit in Tampa (unfortunately still lower than they were in December).

Starting this month (May) I will have income from Amazon Prime Now deliveries.  I will also be able to drive more for Uber at the current rates.  I have several hospitality jobs booked as well.  Income should be decent even though we are taking an 8 day cruise this month and will have to go to Birmingham at the end of the month to work on the empty townhouse.

April Income $9,008

$714 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$668 Uber
$6 Lyft
$0 Amazon Deliveries
$6,168 Rental Income
$1,357 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$0 Realized Gains on Investments
$101 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. 

Friday, April 29

My Experience Driving for Amazon Prime Now in Tampa - Day 1

I bit the bullet and decided to try driving for Amazon Prime Now.  The driver side is called Amazon Flex, but customers know it as Amazon Prime Now.  On Wednesday I was scheduled from 8am-4pm, but at midnight on Wednesday more hours were posted and I was able to pick up 4 extra hours from 4pm-8pm.

I arrived early to the warehouse, but there were drivers there already.  You can only check-in through the Amazon Flex app 15 minutes early (you are only paid for the time you are assigned, so there is no benefit to clocking in early).  When you enter the building, you pull a number like you do at the grocery store deli counter.  This is used by the dispatchers to assign orders.  Orders are placed in two hour blocks.  Fifteen minutes before each block, orders begin to be distributed to drivers.  We weren't allowed to choose where we wanted to go or what we wanted to deliver.  We simply accepted the order that was offered to us.

For the first two blocks, each driver was given just one delivery.  Since there were around 70 drivers, this allowed more people to make a delivery, but was very inefficient since you have to return to the warehouse after each assigned set of deliveries.  After this trial run, the dispatchers started giving multiple deliveries to one driver.  Each delivery is designed to be completed in two hours, round-trip.

8:30 AM... I'm given my first delivery:  four items to Riverview, 17 miles from the warehouse.  Most orders are placed in brown paper grocery bags.  If the item requires refrigeration, it is then placed in a blue cooler bag.  Larger items are kept separate.  I have two paper bags and two long boxes going to a residence.  I ring the doorbell and leave the items on the front porch.  I'm back at the warehouse shortly after 9 AM.

Most of the time, the driver has to wait for the next delivery block before getting another delivery.  One exception is when Amazon receives a one-hour delivery.  These orders cost $7.99 and the next available driver is given it as soon as it is ready.  Since there were more than 50 drivers waiting before me, I had a long wait, but at least I was getting paid.

10:12 AM... By chance I receive a one-hour package.  The bag literally weighs 1/10th of one pound (the weight is listed on the shipping label).  For one-hour orders, the recipient must be present to accept delivery.  Amazon calls this an "attended" delivery.  Refrigerated items are also attended.  Most other deliveries are "unattended", which means we can leave them in a safe location even if no one answers the door when we knock.  The delivery is near downtown, right off the interstate.  I am back to the warehouse in half an hour.

12:19 PM... It's disappointing to wait so long.  When I returned from my last order, only ONE driver had been dispatched.  This means many of the drivers assigned the 10 AM - 12 PM block did not receive a delivery.  Fortunately, the noon block was a big one.  Amazon had intentionally limited the number of orders for the first two blocks since we were just getting started.  Now the flood gates were opened.  The dispatchers announced that multiple deliveries in the same area would now be made.  Unfortunately, I only received a single order:  a pet bed for large dogs.  This was being delivered to St. Pete, which was 30 miles from the warehouse.  I spent over an hour to deliver a single 8 pound box.

Depending on your perspective, it either got better or worse from there.  When I returned, I found out the 2 PM - 4 PM block did not have enough deliveries for all the drivers.  At 2:21 PM, one of the managers told all but the next ten drivers to take a break until 3:30 PM.  I would have preferred to make another delivery, but since I had some free time, I went to IKEA.  I'll probably be visiting IKEA often when I work for Amazon since it is on the same road as the warehouse about two miles away.   I found some shelving and racks that I needed for the kitchen, so it was a productive break.

Fortunately, most of the drivers' shifts ended at 4 PM.  This meant that I quickly jumped to the front of the line for the next block of deliveries.  I was given three deliveries in Apollo Beach and Sun City Center.  There was a snafu with Amazon's GPS, as it sent me to the wrong place when it did not recognize the address of a brand new home.  Even so, I made my deliveries and was back to the warehouse around 5:30 PM.

My last delivery block was 6 PM - 8 PM.  Something I like about Amazon Flex is that if you make a delivery and won't be able to return with at least an hour left in the block, you get to go home.  I was given a one-hour delivery to Valrico, which was completely in the opposite direction of home.  I made the delivery with two minutes to spare.  Since it included refrigerated bags, I went back by the warehouse to drop those off.  I confirmed with the manager that I was free to go, and I went home, about 30 minutes early.

I think one thing that Amazon should change is the two hour block rule.  Having drivers return to the warehouse after each set of deliveries is very inefficient.  I don't know if customers can pre-order and specify a future two-hour block, but I imagine they can.  Why not give a driver a route of orders that cover an entire shift?  This would cut way down on dead miles and wasted time.  It's not so bad for the driver.  Sure, I'm losing out on potential tips, but I'm getting paid to cruise back to the warehouse.  Easy driving.

As far as I know, Amazon pays $18 per hour in every city they offer Amazon Prime Now.  The driver is responsible for all his own expenses, including gas, tolls, and maintenance on his vehicle.  One of the greatest advantages over Uber is that Amazon encourages tipping.  They go so far as to automatically add the tip to the customer's order.  The customer has the ability to adjust or remove the tip before placing the order.  On my first day, I was paid $216 by Amazon ($18/hour x 12 hours) and received $34 in tips.  Amazon told us that the first week or two are especially busy, which makes sense considering trial by customers who just heard about the service.  Next week I am scheduled for 24 hours across 4 days.  One of my shifts is just two hours, which is undesirable:  the warehouse is a 45 minute drive from my house.  I'll keep an eye on the app and hope that more hours are posted.  When drivers forfeit their shifts, they are posted back to the job board and you can pick-up same day shifts.

Wednesday, April 13

Is This the Most Frugal Vegas Trip Yet?

A week from today we are leaving for six days in Vegas.  One of the best parts of being self-employed is enjoying a flexible schedule.  When Spirit Airlines had a 99% off fare sale last month, I started looking at flights.  This is the second 99% off sale we have been able to snag.  The first time I saw this offer we went to Panama.  You still have to pay taxes on the flights, but this time we grabbed two tickets to Las Vegas for $92 each round-trip.  I also redeemed my Hertz Free Week certificate that I received when I bought my car.  I still pay taxes on that, too.  Taxes should be around $184 for the premium vehicle I rented.  This isn't a "great deal", but rates were really high the week we are visiting.  The coupon does save me $700 off the cost of a premium vehicle rental.  Last, as always I found free hotel rooms.  The only downside is that we have to move to different hotels throughout our stay:  we are at the Fremont one night, the Suncoast two nights, and the Downtown Grand two nights.  While in the area, we will drive to Phoenix for the weekend.  I am paying for one night in a hotel there.  This room ($90+tax) helps me to meet the requirements for a 30,000 point bonus at IHG (worth about $300).

While in Vegas there are a few ways I plan to stay frugal.  We pay attention to pay tables for one thing.  Since 90% of my gambling is on video poker, I use vpfree2.com to find the casinos with the highest pay tables.  Boyd casinos are usually generous, and Main Street Station gives you a scratch-off card usually worth $2 cash every time you hit a 4-of-a-kind.  The casinos offer us comps even though we usually stick to full-pay video poker machines.  All our rooms in Vegas are comped, and the points we earn from playing usually cover our meals.  I also look for point-based promotions to earn free stuff.   Casinos often give free buffets, t-shirts and other prizes if you earn a certain amount of points, usually on slower days like Tuesdays.  We also redeemed MyVegas rewards for 4 free buffets and two free margaritas.

Getting away for a week is good therapy.  Spending too much time at home right now is stressful because there are so many repair projects I need to do.  Driving for Uber was occupying my time but now they've done away with hourly guarantees and it is hard to find profitable times to drive.  As long as I limit my gambling, this trip will be a very inexpensive getaway.

Monday, April 11

Making Money Driving for Amazon

Recently I learned about a new opportunity to deliver packages for Amazon.  Called Amazon Flex, the position is available in select cities that have nearby Amazon distribution centers.  The company is supposed to offer customers in Tampa a new option soon.  Dubbed Amazon Prime Now, the app-based shopping site delivers within two hours free to Prime members or within one hour for an extra fee.

Today I attended a two hour webinar about the program.  Drivers who are accepted are given two hour shifts that pay $18/hour plus tips.  You provide your availability on Thursday by noon for the following week, but are only assigned two hour blocks based on anticipated demand.  Ideally you would want to be assigned multiple consecutive blocks, since the warehouse is almost 45 minutes away from my house.  During each two hour block you are only given as many deliveries as you could make in that time period, and you are paid the entire two hours even if you finish earlier.

I haven't decided for sure whether I will sign up, but I'm seriously considering giving it a try.  My biggest concern is that the warehouse is so far away from my house that I would be driving too many miles to justify the pay.  I'll post an update later.

Saturday, April 9

My Frugal Miser - March Expenses: $6,480


March spending wasn't too bad.  $2,600 of my spending was on gift cards that I haven't used yet.  This will make March appear to be a heavy spending month while the months in which I redeem the gift cards will be artificially low on the spending side.  I made 9 separate trips to Orlando for hospitality jobs (each trip is roughly 200 miles).  That along with the Uber driving added more than 4,600 miles to the odometer, resulting in an $1,113 markdown for depreciation.  I charge $.24/mile against the value of my car until it is completely written off.  I bought $1,000 in Carnival gift cards (Vacation) to earn $60 in free gas.  I plan to cash those out in May, so this isn't necessarily an actual expense since it should post back as income.  Similarly, I bought $1,600 in gift cards at gas stations since both Discover and Chase had 5% rebate offers ending in March.  This $1,600 inflated my fuel, home repairs and food categories.  Finally, I bought four new tires ($453, charged as an Uber expense).


March Expenses:  $6,480

$2,630 Auto ($1,377 gas, $140 repairs/maintenance, $1,113 depreciation)
$95 Bank Fees
$5 Clothing
$0 Computer
$287 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$332 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$546 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$79 Health and Dental Insurance
$500 Investment Expense
$43 Interest Expense
$0 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$545 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$235 Utilities
$1,184 Vacation

Monday, April 4

My Frugal Miser - March Income: $10,970


March marks another stellar month for income.  All of the rental properties were occupied and current, but I did receive a 30-day notice from one tenant who plans to leave at the end of April.  The majority of my regular income came from hospitality jobs; mystery shopping contributed less than $200.  Finally, I continued to play Uber for the guarantees and surges.

My income won't be as high in April.  I only have one hospitality job lined up and I will be traveling quite a bit, which will leave less time for rideshare driving.

March Income $10,970

$1,756 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$2,565 Uber
$17 Lyft
$6,578 Rental Income
$0 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$0 Realized Gains on Investments
$54 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. 

Friday, March 25

I'm Still Here!

View from the "office" (our backyard).
What a fabulous morning in paradise!  It's currently 70 degrees and highs are going to be in the low 80s.  I slept until 7:30 today.  Usually I am up much earlier but it felt great to just roll over and get a little extra shut-eye.  I will start Ubering today at 11 AM so it's a lazy morning of coffee drinking, reading and web-surfing.

Uber

I've been driving for Uber, but mostly on weekends.  Ever since the January rate cuts, Uber has been offering guaranteed hourly earnings.  The hurdles can be frustrating since I am required to fulfill a certain number of rides per hour to earn the guarantees.  The current guarantees require that I complete two rides per hour.  This can be tough if I get a request on the beach going to the airport, which can take more than 45 minutes.  To play the guarantee game, you want all your requests to be relatively short rides.  On days when there are no guarantees, I focus on surge rates and try to avoid accepting rides when there is no surge.  As an example, last week I caught a 4.4x surge (meaning rates were more than four times the normal rate) from Clearwater Beach to the Tampa airport.  My payout was more than $70 in less than an hour.

Kitchen Remodel

This week I finally made the decision to go with peel and stick tiles for our kitchen backsplash.  I was going to do traditional tiles but I knew this would be really hard to get right.  Cutting around electrical outlets requires some skill.  Plus, even though the drywall is brand new, there are some places where the seams are a little rough and I was worried the individual tiles wouldn't stick.  These peel and stick tiles are like big stickers and I think they will be more forgiving.  I special-ordered the tiles from Lowe's and should be able to pick them up next week. If all goes well, the kitchen will be 95% done by the end of next week.  The only remaining updates will be installing a couple shelves on the wall where the window is, painting the area we don't tile and installing a light over the sink.

Hospitality Work

March is always a decent month for meetings.  This month I had two big meetings and seven small jobs.  We have a big job the first week of April.

Leisure

In February we took a quick 3-day trip to Vegas.  It was so fast I barely remember what we did, only that I didn't lose much money.  In April I have three trips planned:  a day trip to New York for the Biglari Holdings meeting, a solo trip to Omaha at the end of the month for the Berkshire Hathaway meeting, and a week in Vegas and Phoenix.  My partner is from Phoenix so we will have a weekend there visiting family, with Vegas wrapped around the trip.  The flights were under $200 roundtrip each and all the rooms in Vegas are comped.  I also will redeem a voucher for a free car rental from Hertz from when I bought the Sonata.

So much is going on that I barely think about updating the blog.  Fortunately it's all good stuff that's keeping me from being on the blog.  

Sunday, March 6

My Frugal Miser - February Expenses: $5,237


I am satisfied with my February spending.  Interest expense was reduced to almost zero as I paid off the AMEX.  True, auto depreciation was over $1,100, but was due to all the driving I did for Uber and for hospitality work.  The big one was in the vacation category:  I booked two cruises on a casino offer, including one sailing from Barcelona.  I also paid for our flights to Europe.  The category also includes spending on a flight to New York for the Biglari Holdings meeting (not exactly a vacation, but where else to put it?), a quick three day trip we took to Vegas, and the $85 application fee for TSA Pre-Check.

February Expenses:  $5,237

$1,241 Auto ($92 gas, $0 repairs/maintenance, $1,149 depreciation)
$1 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$212 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$153 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$89 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$52 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$15 Interest Expense
$0 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$9 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$91 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$51 Utilities
$3,323 Vacation

Friday, March 4

My Frugal Miser - February Income: $11,420


February was great.  All of the rental properties were occupied and current.  I was paid for three hospitality jobs and received two mystery shopping checks.  Uber increased its guaranteed hourly earnings (a result of the demand created by all the drivers who quit in January), so I drove some when I wasn't working my other jobs.  Finally, I sold two stocks, for solid short-term gains.

February Income $11,420

$1,358 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$841 Uber
$86 Lyft
$6,505 Rental Income
$0 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$2,546 Realized Gains on Investments
$83 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. 

Saturday, February 6

Our $250 European Cruise


Talk about hitting the jackpot:  On our cruise in December, I thought I was lucky when I hit the "Lucky Ladies" while playing blackjack.  The $1 bet paid out $1,000.  I ended up coming home with enough money to completely pay for our cruise.

My luck didn't stop there, apparently.  This week I received a phone call from my Carnival personal vacation planner, Michael.  Michael called to review the details of my new casino offer.  I could choose from over 300 cruises and pay just $125 per person, plus taxes.  Even better, I could select as many cruises from the list as I desired.  We don't gamble much, so I'm very surprised by this offer.  Besides a few hours of video poker, I played maybe 8 hours of low limit blackjack during our last 7 day cruise.  And ZERO slots.

12 Day European Cruise from Barcelona for $250

With taxes, I paid $420 for a 12 Day European Cruise, which sails in August, prime season..  Look at that screenshot up top:  The regular price, before taxes, starts at $1,549 per person for an interior room.  We are saving almost $3,000 on this cruise. We have booked an exterior room with a 4*3 window.  It's on the Carnival Vista, a brand new ship that sets sail in April.  The Vista will tour Europe for a few months before sailing to the United States.  In addition to the great rate, I receive a $100 onboard credit with the offer and a second $100 onboard credit for being a shareholder.

An added bonus, Delta Airlines honored what it says was a mistake-fare.  When I first looked at airfares, I found a round-trip flight from Atlanta to Barcelona for $769/each.  But when I went to book the flight, the fare increased to $1,774 each.  I called Delta to complain, and after escalating my concerns to a supervisor, the airline honored the original fare.

We also booked a second cruise out of Fort Lauderdale.  It is an 8 Day Eastern Caribbean.  Two of the four ports it will visit are new to us.  I bought tickets on Megabus leaving the morning of the cruise and departing the day we return, so no hotel or other travel expenses will be required.  This will be a super cheap cruise all things considered.

Thursday, February 4

My Frugal Miser - January Expenses: $1,900 (really $1,256)


January was decent.  Over the last several months I bought several gift cards, mostly to restaurants.  I already reported those gift cards as expenses, so the actual cash outlay for food last month was under $100.

I stocked up on wine, increasing the entertainment line.  But I also paid off the AMEX, so January is the last month where I will pay exorbitant interest expenses.  I paid $900 to replace a crown.  I didn't like how the old one fit.  Finally, my health insurance went down after I re-assessed my ACA eligibility.

January Expenses:  $1,900

$(1,057) Auto ($41 gas, $0 repairs/maintenance, $674 depreciation, +$1,643 gain from sale of Aveo, +$130 refund of auto insurance policy for Aveo) income this month
$25 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$234 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$89 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$133 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$51 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$161 Interest Expense
$900 Medical/Dental
$644* Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$158 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$291 Utilities
$270 Vacation and Recreation

*My discontent continues with Quicken.  Long story short, I tried to reconcile one credit card account, and it created chaos and serious errors.  In order to balance the account, I created a $644 miscellaneous charge.

Tuesday, February 2

My Frugal Miser - January Income: $11,693


Starting this month I plan to add investment income to this report, which I haven't done before.  I haven't done this before because activity in my brokerage accounts doesn't show up on the same income reports in Quicken as my other sources of income.  More of my income will be coming from investments as I sell off my rental properties.

January was a strong month.  Uber and Lyft didn't drop their rates until the second week of the month, so I still had a fair amount of income from ridershare activity.  I also did a hospitality job and was paid from the mystery shops I did over the holidays.  All rental properties are rented and current.

January Income $11,693

$1,327 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$990 Uber
$577 Lyft
$6,485 Rental Income
$1,047 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$825 Realized Gains on Investments
$442 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. 

Sunday, January 31

A Frugal Miser's Guide to Panama City, Panama

Panama Skyline from the boardwalk near Casco Viejo
This week my partner and I have explored Panama.  It has turned out to be a great place to visit.  In comparison to Ecuador, the country is more modern, English is widely spoken, and American-style amenities are readily available.  But while doing my research I was surprised that some information that would have been helpful was missing.


Metro de Panamá

Panama's new rapid transit system is a single-line subway that runs from the Albrook Mall to San Isidro.  At each station there is an electronic kiosk where you must pay $2 to purchase a permanent fare card (called Sistema Integrado de Transporte Publico Urbano).  You also have to load funds at this kiosk.  Each fare on the Panama Metro is 35 cents ($.35) as of January, 2016.  My advice, if you plan to use public transportation, is to buy your card using a $5 bill and select the option to have the $3 balance loaded to your card.  To pay, you hold your card over a QR reader at the turnstile, which turns green to let you know you swiped the card properly.  You do the same thing when you exit the rail, so keep your card handy (it only charges on the way in though).  Our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in the financial district, was about a five minute walk to the Iglesia Del Carmen stop on Via Espana.

Using Uber

Originally we were going to rent a car, but the Payless counter was closed when we arrived at 3 AM (the website said it was open 24 hours).  I have heard that taxi drivers will overcharge tourists, so using Uber was an easy choice.  The same app I use in the United States works in Panama.  To get from the Tocumen Airport, I paid a $25 base fare and $2.65 in tolls on the Corredor Sur.  That's a little high, but slightly less than a taxi.  Once at our hotel, Uber was super cheap.  Minimum fares in the city are just $2.  As of January, 2016, there is an $.80 base charge, $.10 per minute and $.20 per kilometer ($.32 per mile).  This is ridiculously cheap.  The added convenience of pre-entering your destination reduces any communication problems (our driver spoke some English).  Plus you don't have to worry about being charged gringo prices.

Stocking Up on Essentials

Close to our hotel, on Via Espana, we found the Rey Supermarket.  It is an American-style supermarket, with a bakery, coffee shop and pre-packaged deli sandwiches.  Grocery prices were clearly marked, and there was no tax on food.  We did pay a 10% tax on beer.  Balboa Beer, one of the national brands, was $.64 per 12 ounce can.

Lodging

Just about every American-brand hotel has a presence in Panama.  You can find lower prices if you shop other hotels and hostels, but we like the comfort of an American brand when we spend the entire day in unfamiliar settings.  Our hotel was somewhat less expensive than it would have been in the United States.  The Holiday Inn Express was a newer property with modern amenities.  The weekday rate was $78 and weekends were $73.  I paid in advance for a lower rate.  I was particularly impressed with the breakfast buffet, which was included in the rate.  There were several hot items, including scrambled eggs with pork, two types of potstickers (weird for breakfast, but tasty!), yucca patties, pancakes, and a couple of marinated meats.  There were also several fruits, cereals and juices.  This was far superior to the breakfast you would get in the U.S.

Eating Out

$8 lunch from a vendor at the Fish Market
There were a variety of options.  I saw several American brands, including Subway, KFC, McDonald's, Domino's, Taco Bell and Wendy's.  Local chains included Pio Pio (just like KFC) and Niko's Cafe. If your English is limited, Niko's is easy because you select what you want from a cafeteria line.  Overall I didn't think food prices were drastically different in Panama than they were back home.  I was disappointed by how bland some of the food was.  Back home I am a heavy hot sauce user, but none of the restaurants offered it, not even KFC.




Frugal Things to Do in Panama

Tours appeared to be very expensive relative to the value offered.  Using my smartphone, I could easily look up places of interest wherever we went.  In Casco Viejo, we could have simply joined one of the guided tours we passed, as each guide spoke to throngs of people at once.  Here are a few of the things we did:
View from the Metropolitan National Park
  • We bought a combo ticket for the Frank Gehry Biomuseum and Panal Canal tour ($25 each).  Tickets just to the Biomuseum were $22, so this was a great value.  It isn't advertised, so you have to ask for the combo ticket at either location.  The Uber between the two was $5, and our driver had a newer car with leather seats.  He told us, in English, so much about Panama's history.  We Ubered from the canal to the Albrook mall (less than $4) and took the subway back to the city ($.35) after a quick, late lunch in the mall food court.  
  • We spent several hours walking Casco Viejo.  It is a world heritage site and many of the buildings have been restored to their original splendor.  We took the subway to the Cinco de Mayo stop; it was a short walk from there to Casco Viejo.  We toured a religious artifact museum (free) and took photos of the cool buildings and the boardwalk.  Then we had a late lunch at the fish market.
  • We visited the Metropolitan National Park, which is within walking distance of Albrook Mall.  We hiked two of the trails and caught an amazing view of the Panama skyline.  
  • I peaked my head into the Continental Casino on Avenida Central Espana.  The casino was small, with just a handful of table games, electronic roulette and slots (no video poker).  You have to obtain a card to play any games, and there is a 5.5% tax on anything you cash out from the card.  Fortunately I won a few dollars.  The casino was mostly empty.
Panama is a great place to visit if you are looking for easy international travel.  We flew Spirit from Tampa, connecting in Fort Lauderdale.  The round-trip tickets were $182 each.  I highly recommend using Uber to get into the city (assuming you arrive in the middle of the night like we did, as the buses weren't running then) and the subway whenever possible.  Many people speak English and a lot of the signs are bilingual.  The only part that disappointed me was the bland food.