Monday, April 3

My Frugal Miser - March Expenses: $12,223


March was likely the most expensive month of 2017 because I had to pay my 2016 taxes.  A portion of the $7,536 was a repayment for the ACA credit I took for health insurance.  Ouch.  I guess the flip side to the check I wrote the IRS is that I owed so much because my income was much higher last year.  I sold several profitable stocks, and my Amazon Flex income was outstanding.

We spent a week working in DC, and restaurants are expensive there.  We ate in the apartment for several meals, but those $20+ restaurant bills add up fast.  My spending on fuel was high.  Discover Card had a 5% cashback promotion during the first quarter so I stocked up on fuel gift cards.

The other two unusual charges included the $500 annual maintenance fee I pay for my self-directed IRA and the $1,200 I spent on an Angie's List deal for 40 hours of handyman work.  I am hiring a contractor to help me get the bathroom remodeled and do some other repairs.

March Expenses:  $12,223

$1,401 Auto ($583 gas, $20 repairs/maintenance, $798 depreciation)
$500 Bank Fees (annual self-directed IRA fees)
$22 Clothing
$0 Computer
($367) Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol) income this month
$421 Food
$57 Gifts Given
$1,184 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$28 Health and Dental Insurance (prepaid 2017 health insurance premiums in December 2016)
$0 Investment Expense
$689 Interest Expense*
$218 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$7,536 Taxes
$182 Sharing Economy Expenses (dedicated phone, tolls, car washes, etc.)
$279 Utilities
$74 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 March, I paid $620 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Saturday, April 1

My Frugal Miser - March Income: $10,163


March was a great month.  A significant amount of income (more than $4,000) was from work last month.  I cranked up my rideshare activity as well as my Amazon Flex deliveries.  I also worked several meeting jobs.

I received rental income from all but one property.  That home is now rented, so my rental income for April will be higher than March.


March Income: $10,163

$2,163 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$480 Uber
$85 Lyft
$20 Postmates
$1,783 Amazon Deliveries
$5,795 Rental Income
($184) Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$0 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$20 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 17

Another Frugal Vegas Vacation

After grinding for two months I decided to get away for a few days last week.  Frontier had a great sale on flights and I was able to book a round-trip to Las Vegas for under $200.  I am also visiting Denver for a day for less than $40.  Originally I was not going to rent a car, but the rates make it logical to do so.  Since the hotels I am staying at are not on the strip, public transportation would take forever, and Uber rides would actually cost more than renting a car.

My hotels were free.  This is interesting, because the last time I was in Vegas was six months ago in September.  I didn't do much gambling then, but I did win on that trip because I hit my first and only Royal Flush.  I would love to know how a casino decides what to offer in comps to get players to visit.  I received  4 free nights and $35 in free bets.  Basically all my meals were free by using points accumulated on my player's card.

I never expect to win, but once again I came home with more money than I started.  Virtually all my gambling was on video poker, where I won $300.  My blackjack sessions were break-even.

For the frugal traveler, both Frontier and Spirit have aggressive sales from time to time.  I've signed up to receive email alerts from both companies.

Tuesday, March 7

My Frugal Miser - February Expenses: $4,412


February was a bit expensive.  I paid the $450 annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.  This is really a $150 fee with the $300 travel rebate I received.  I also completed a 0% cash advance on a credit card but had to pay a $291 fee for it.

I had several work-related expenses.  We drove to Birmingham to work on a rental property, which used a lot of gas.  I bought a new phone from Wal-Mart to replace my Republic Wireless Moto X.  The new plan is only slightly more expensive, but my Republic phone had 3G and a very slow processor.  I also decided to buy a monthly unlimited car wash plan.  A fancy new car wash opened up about a mile from my house.  Not having a clean car has kept me from driving for Uber and Lyft on some occasions, and I think this might motivate me to do some more rideshare work.  Finally, I bought two new suits.  Some of the hospitality jobs require a business suit, and the only suit I had got a hole in it.  I bought that suit 10 years ago so it was time to replace it anyway.

It seems like I spend money on vacations every month.  Last month I booked an EasyJet flight we will be taking during our summer European vacation.  I also spent $186 on a roundtrip to Las Vegas... and that included $57 I spent to pick a seat.  While there, I'm going to Denver for a day.  That flight was only $38 roundtrip.  Air travel is so cheap!

February Expenses:  $4,412

$891 Auto ($275 gas, $0 repairs/maintenance, $616 depreciation)
$741 Bank Fees
$949 Clothing
$0 Computer
$55 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$383 Food
$41 Gifts Given
$42 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$28 Health and Dental Insurance (prepaid 2017 health insurance premiums in December 2016)
$0 Investment Expense
$243 Interest Expense*
$36 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$35 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$339 Sharing Economy Expenses (dedicated phone, tolls, car washes, etc.)
$233 Utilities
$396 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 February, I paid $202 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Sunday, March 5

My Frugal Miser - February Income: $8,888


I made a fair amount of money last month.  I had one vacant property (new tenants are moving in April 1st).  We spent a week in Birmingham fixing it up.

Amazon Flex was okay, and I did a few Uber and Lyft rides when I had free time.  The majority of my working time was spent on hospitality jobs.

I don't have any stock sales or dividend payments to report for February.   In my Prosper account one of my loans was written off, which resulted in a negative $51 adjustment to my account.

February Income: $8,888

$1,999 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$116 Uber
$18 Lyft
$0 Postmates
$1,044 Amazon Deliveries
$5,723 Rental Income
($51) Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$0 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$39 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, February 27

How I Simplified My Life in February

This year I'm trying hard to focus on the things that make my life better.  Something that has been bugging me for some time is how complicated certain areas of my life are.

Specifically, I have too many financial accounts.  Keeping track of everything is stressful.  For example, I almost paid another annual fee on a credit card I intended to cancel.   Just by chance I remembered to look up the anniversary date, and it happened to be the very next day.  That would have been a $95 mistake.  Account canceled!

I also need to get rid of some material things.  Since we moved two years ago, the laundry room has been so full of stuff that, in order to access the back of the room I would have to spend several minutes moving things around just to get to it.  We aren't finished, but I did make more room by eliminating a set of shelves on one wall and taking my former roommate's bicycle to her new place.

What's Next?

I have big plans for March.  Earlier in February we worked on a vacant property in Birmingham.  I spent so much time looking for tools and supplies that I realized I needed to be better organized.  I bought several storage containers that were on clearance at Staples.  I was using deep file boxes for everything, and I will replace them with several smaller containers that will be labeled with the contents in each container.  I also want to get rid of some of the gas cans in the laundry room.  Since I no longer do the massive amount of mystery shopping I used to do, I don't need the equivalent of 80 gallons of storage for the free gas I was getting.

I also want to crank up the remodeling of our house.  We finally removed the old steel bathtub in the guest bathroom.  Demolition is 95% done in that room.  It's time to make this house our home, even if it means bringing in contractors instead of doing everything myself.

Sunday, February 5

My Frugal Miser - January Expenses: $3,070


January wasn't a bad month for spending.  I had a super-high water bill ($433) from the slab leak, even after the utility company took $300 off the bill.  I paid for an Airbnb for our summer Iceland trip and had some expenses from the cruise.  None of the other expenses were out of the ordinary.

Notice that I spent nothing on gas.  I used the Carnival gift card hack to get free gas at Shell using the Fuel Rewards program.

January Expenses:  $3,070

$456 Auto ($0 gas, $0 repairs/maintenance, $456 depreciation)
$0 Bank Fees
$191 Clothing
$0 Computer
$457 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$177 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$11 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$25 Health and Dental Insurance (prepaid 2017 health insurance premiums in December 2016)
$0 Investment Expense
$227 Interest Expense*
$35 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$0 Sharing Economy Expenses (dedicated phone, tolls, car washes, etc.)
$658 Utilities
$832 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 January, I paid $186 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Friday, February 3

My Frugal Miser - January Income: $13,041


January continues the trend of healthy income.

I received rent from every property last month, but my February rental income will decline because I now have a vacant property.

Amazon Flex income was down for two reasons.  First, I worked more hospitality jobs and we went on a five day cruise.  Second, with all the new drivers that were hired before the holidays, it is now harder to get hours when I am available to work.

I also made a small amount of side income from rideshare.  I did a few rides on NYE and worked one Monday morning.

On the passive investing side, I received $1,100 in dividends from Vereit (my largest position).  I also made a fast $582 on a short-sale of Sears Holdings:  I shorted the shares on a Friday and closed out my position on the following Monday.

January Income: $13,041

$1,940 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$193 Uber
$55 Lyft
$3 Postmates
$1,936 Amazon Deliveries
$6,991 Rental Income
$1,115 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$582 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$227 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, January 27

Caribbean Cruise, Among Other Things...

Secluded Cozumel Beach
January begins the peak season for meeting and convention work.  Carnival's casino division offered me a sweet deal on a cruise though, so we spent five days aboard the Carnival Paradise earlier this month before kicking off a series of meeting jobs.

Vacation

Our cruise departed from Tampa, which made it a very convenient Lyft ride to the port.  We were supposed to visit Cozumel and Grand Cayman, but the weather was too bad to tender at Grand Cayman and the captain canceled that port day.  Even so, we had a blast.  We did the Behind the Fun onboard excursion, where we got to tour the crew areas, engine control room and bridge.  We even had our photo taken with the captain.  In Cozumel we rented mopeds and drove around the island for a few hours.  It was so much fun, and the vacation was very budget-friendly because I booked the casino rate:  $100 + tax per person and a $100 onboard credit.

Work

January has been a busy month for hospitality work.  I completed two multi-day pharmaceutical programs.  Both meetings included meals, mileage reimbursement and a hotel room, so my pay was 100% profit.  Today we started another program, one I do each year.  Our hotel isn't included, but all meals are provided.  We (my partner and I, who is also working the event) booked a $35/night room.  We finish this meeting on Wednesday and start another meeting on Sunday.  

Amazon Flex has been slow.  There are too many drivers and it has been difficult to get hours.  I try every chance I get, but fortunately the hospitality work has kept me busy.  I also drove for Uber and Lyft twice this month.  On New Year's I worked about 2 hours and gave 5 rides for $187 in fares.

It's a busy time of year.  After we finish our meeting work - we have another program that ends on February 11th - we will head to Birmingham to work on an empty rental property.  No rest for the weary!

Monday, January 9

My Frugal Miser - December Expenses: $8,267


I spent a lot in December.  Fortunately much of the spending was one-time in nature.  I switched health insurance plans, and was offered a one-time chance to pay my premiums with a credit card.  To maximize my rewards, I charged 12 months of health insurance premiums all at once.  I also paid over $2,000 for a dental implant.  In entertainment, I lost $500 gambling on our early December cruise.  The balance of that category was spent purchasing tickets to several events we will attend in 2017.  I had an expensive home repair.  I got a $800+ water bill (not paid yet) and had to pay to have a slab leak repaired.  In food, I bought $200 worth of gift cards to take advantage of holiday bonuses.

December Expenses:  $8,267

$1,381 Auto ($0 gas, $4 repairs/maintenance, $1,377 depreciation)
$0 Bank Fees
$6 Clothing
$0 Computer
$946 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$410 Food
$52 Gifts Given
$817 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$1,381 Health and Dental Insurance (prepaid all of 2017 premiums)
$0 Investment Expense
$504 Interest Expense*
$2,198 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$8 Personal Care
$35 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$21 Sharing Economy Expenses (dedicated phone, tolls, car washes, etc.)
$239 Utilities
$241 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 December, I paid $490 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Friday, January 6

My Frugal Miser - December Income: $12,168


December was another stellar month.

I received rent from every property last month, and I received two payments from one of the management companies that deposited November's rent at the beginning of December.

Amazon Flex income was stellar.  The company increased our maximum daily hours to 10 the week of Christmas, and tips increased as well.

I did some tax-loss selling last month by disposing of one losing stock position.

December Income: $12,168

$262 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$85 Uber
$8 Lyft
$47 Postmates
$4,503 Amazon Deliveries
$8,027 Rental Income
$70 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
($848) Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$14 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, January 4

My Experience Driving for Amazon Prime Now in Tampa - 9 Months Later

Back in April I started making deliveries for Amazon.  Initially I only worked a few hours here and there, but now I consider this my full-time job.

When I first started driving, I was under the impression that most of the hours I worked would be scheduled ahead of time.  I had heard that an occasional block would be offered on the same day, but when I would check the Offers page (basically the job board), there would be nothing there.  But now I've figured it out.

Getting hours is still a huge challenge.  Honestly I spend more time trying to get on the schedule than I do making deliveries.  That's because in our over-saturated market there are hundreds more drivers than we need.  Ahead of the holiday season Amazon hired many new drivers, and the competition for work is fierce.

On the plus side, a few months ago Amazon added restaurant delivery in our market.  Internally we call it Hot Wheels.  These shifts are less desirable for a number of reasons, but some days they are the only hours I can get.  They are less desirable because you make fewer deliveries, resulting in less tips.  It's also harder to "connect" blocks on Hot Wheels.

The way I work full-time at Amazon Flex is by "catching" a block, and then connecting it with other blocks that drop throughout the day.  Most warehouse blocks are two hours, and connecting them is possible.  On Saturday, for example, I worked straight from 10-6, even though I wasn't scheduled for the day.  Hot Wheels blocks vary by duration and start time, so connecting them is really hard.  On Sunday I worked Hot Wheels.  My blocks were 11:30-1:30, 2:00-4:00 and 5:00-8:00.  I only worked 7 hours, but my schedule spanned 8.5 hours.

Delivering for Amazon Prime Now via the Amazon Flex app requires patience and persistence if you are trying to make it your full-time job.  The reason I do it is because I really enjoy the work.  We have a close-knit group of regular drivers, so I get the social contact that comes from a normal office-type job.  The money is also respectable.  I gross around $30/hour with my tips.  This is significantly higher than is possible driving for Uber or any of the other sharing economy jobs in Tampa.


Monday, January 2

My Frugal Miser - 2017 Goals

Happy New Year!

Once again it's time to lay out the annual roadmap.  Publishing my goals keeps me accountable:  it's a constant reminder of what is important to me.

  • Simplify
I'm still using Quicken to manage my money, which I wanted to replace last year.  First, I need to consolidate bank accounts and really make managing my finances a piece of cake.  They aren't that complicated anyway, but I have too many accounts at too many banks.

Once I close some accounts, I've got to figure out what to do about Quicken.  Do I buy a better computer and upgrade to the latest version of Quicken?  Or do I find something else to use?  It's been broken for so long.  I need financial software that properly downloads and reconciles transactions and produces accurate, actionable reports.  

I also want to be more loyal to fewer companies.  If I only stay at a couple of hotel brands I could earn better status and more points.  
  • Debt:  Reduce outstanding debt to less than $150,000.
I am closing out 2016 with about $221,000 in debt, a $40,000 reduction from one year ago.  I'd like to reduce it by $50,000 in 2017.
  • Spending:  Spend less on vacations and entertainment.
We love to travel, and I like the game of finding a deal.  However, we've probably been traveling too much.  In 2017 our big experience will be the summer trip to Iceland and mainland Europe.  For the rest of the year, I will gamble less, take fewer trips, and be very mindful of our spending when we do go somewhere.  I have to remember that when we spend a week out of town, I am also foregoing a week's wages.