Saturday, December 30

My Frugal Miser - How I Fared on my 2017 Goals

For 2017 I set three goals to accomplish:  simplify my life, reduce debt to $150,000, and spend less on vacations and entertainment than in prior years.  Today we will take a look at how I did.
  • Simplify
My primary concern this time last year was with the complexity of my finances.  Surprisingly, I found that switching to manual updates in Quicken has made a huge difference.  Seems ironic, doesn't it?  Because I manually record all my bank, credit card and investment transactions, I feel I have a better grip on where I spend money and how I am doing financially.  I also tend to concentrate my spending to one or two credit cards because it is easier to reconcile transactions.  

I'm still using Quicken to manage my money, but I'm also thinking about "starting over" with a new version and not transferring data.  A fresh start would allow me to clean out all the junk in the old database.  

I also wanted 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.  I've been doing this with my credit card accounts for several months.  We also concentrated our hotel stays to two major brands in 2017.

The other major area I am always working on is reducing my material possessions.  We've done a great job of this.  We eliminated a table and chairs, several odds and ends stored in the carport, and culled a lot of things from the house.  This will continue.
  • Debt:  Reduce outstanding debt to less than $150,000.
At the end of 2016 I owed $221,000 to various creditors.  I am closing out 2017 with about $163,000 in debt, a $58,000 reduction from one year ago.  In 2016 I only reduced outstanding debt by $40,000, so I made good progress.  But, I failed to bring it down to $150,000.  The main reason for this is because I spent nearly $20,000 on home renovations, including gutting both bathrooms.
  • Spending:  Spend less on vacations and entertainment.
We love to travel, but can we be smarter with our travel budget?  Here's how our vacation and entertainment spending has been for the last four years:

2014:  $9,664
2015:  $11,207
2016:  $16,822
2017:  $7,256

Mission Accomplished!  This wasn't by chance, and we don't feel like we sacrificed this year.  In 2017, we spent nearly two weeks in Iceland, Amsterdam and London.  I relied on AirBnB and loyalty points to keep our expenses down.  We spent a week in Belize, but used airline points for the flights and stayed in an inexpensive AirBnB.  We visited Las Vegas three times and took two cruises, but instead of gambling the whole time, we did inexpensive excursions and side trips.  When I did gamble, Lady Luck was with me, as I had a net win for the year.

Overall, I'm really happy with the progress I made in 2017 on each of my three goals.  Even better, the quality of life has improved even as we cut back on some spending.

Monday, December 4

My Frugal Miser - November Expenses: $3,498


November wasn't a terrible month.  Three large expenses accounted for over $2,000 in spending:  car insurance, medical bills and the annual property tax bill.  I bought a new Chromebook, some Christmas gifts and spent a little during our cruise.  We did very little gambling, but I won just a little, which offset the money we spent on alcohol in the Entertainment category.  There weren't any other unusual expenses last month.

November Expenses:  $3,498

$647 Auto ($60 for gas, $11 for service, $576 for 6 months insurance)
$0 Bank Fees
$113 Clothing
$105 Computer
$21 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$268 Food
$110 Gifts Given
$6 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$0 Homeowner's Insurance (annual payment)
$28 Health and Dental Insurance (prepaid 2017 health insurance premiums in December 2016)
$0 Investment Expense
$65 Interest Expense*
$647 Medical/Dental (income)
$0 Miscellaneous
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$904 Taxes (Property Taxes on my residence)
$52 Sharing Economy Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$388 Utilities
$144 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 $46 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of stock. 

Friday, December 1

My Frugal Miser - November Income: $13,502


Almost half my November income was a capital gain on a Sears put option that I sold.  It wasn't a great month for income otherwise because I still have two non-performing rental properties.  I wrapped up a large mystery shopping route.  The bonus for that route will be paid in December, but otherwise my mystery shopping income will fall in December.  Amazon income was way down because we worked a meeting for a week in Dallas, took an 8 day cruise, and I was focused on finishing the BP route.  In December I think Amazon will be a much larger source of my total income.

November Income: $13,502

$2,757 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$0 Uber
$0 Lyft
$0 Postmates
$1,200 Amazon Deliveries
$3,578 Rental Income
$0 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$5,926 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$41 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.