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.