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Friday, August 23

Small Savings, Big Impact

Yesterday we wrapped up a two night, three day getaway to New Orleans.  I planned the trip around the Queen concert we attended Tuesday night.  Because of the irrational exuberance in Tampa, we were able to get better seats for significantly less cost in New Orleans.  Blame that on Ticketmaster's dynamic pricing algorithm.

For me, it's an exciting game to find and exploit deals and cost savings.  The reason we are able to afford to splurge once in a while on things like concert tickets is because small savings have a big impact.  You've heard about the "latte factor."  Here's a real example of the latte factor in practice:

I booked our flight during a sale on Southwest Airlines, and I redeemed points, so our only out of pocket cost on the flight was the Terrorist Fee ($5 and change per ticket).  Because we visited during August, a typically slow time for New Orleans, hotels were less expensive.  I found a nice hotel in a great location for $83/night.  When rates are that low, it usually doesn't make sense to redeem points for a free room.  I prefer to save our points to use on more expensive hotels or during peak periods when they are worth more.

One trick that I always use for hotel and car reservations is to keep checking rates even after I make the reservation.  A couple weeks before our trip, hotel rates had dropped even more.  We switched to the Residence Inn New Orleans Downtown, for $67/night, saving $34 + tax.  Plus, the Residence Inn offered free breakfast and an evening reception, which we were not going to have at the other hotel.

Heading to the airport, there were a couple choices I made to save money.  Since this was a short trip, using Lyft wasn't practical.  There's a toll road (the Selmon Expressway) that the GPS suggested, but since it was 5:30 in the morning, there was no traffic.  I took Adamo Drive, which runs parallel to the Selmon.  The distance was comparable and it may have added 3 minutes to our travel time at that early hour.  Saved about $3 by not taking the toll road.  At the airport, we parked across the street at A-1 Express.  It's not the cheapest off-airport lot, but it's the best.  It's $4/day less than parking at the airport, plus I get 15% of what I spend there back as a AAA rebate to offset the cost of our AAA membership.  Total savings including the rebate:  $15.60.

I booked the earliest flight into New Orleans on a Tuesday, and the latest flight out on a Thursday.  Those tend to be the least expensive times to fly (Saturday is also cheap, but it didn't fit into our plans).  Because most people don't like to save money, we had to share our flight from Tampa to New Orleans with 52 other travelers, meaning the plane was less than 1/3 full.  This meant we didn't have to share our row with other travelers.  The way I see things, booking the early flight meant we had an extra day to play in New Orleans.

We arrived in New Orleans before 8 AM.  Now, only fools rent cars if they are staying in New Orleans.  Parking is difficult and expensive.  At our hotel, parking a car would cost $39/night.  Taking a Lyft to the hotel was $40.  But even that was stupid.  The better choice:  we bought a day pass for the local bus for $3 each ($34 saved).  It's important to note that there are two buses that will take you from the airport into the city.  Only one of those, the 202, accepts the day pass.  The E2 is operated by a different company, so our pass would not be eligible for that trip.  Still, either option was a fraction of the cost of rideshare or renting a car, and the additional time it took to get to our destination was negligible.

Because of my Marriott status, I'm often able to snag an early check-in as long as a room is available.  Since as I mentioned, this is the slow season, there were of course rooms available.  We were able to check into our room at 8 AM.  This absolutely changed the quality of our day.   We were traveling only with backpacks, but who wants to tote that on your back in the muggy heat all day?  One unexpected benefit:  the front desk agent who checked us in invited us to enjoy the complimentary breakfast.

The three days we spent in New Orleans were amazing.  The joy of saving money here and there made it even more fun.  During our trip, I was able to show our AAA card to save on admission to a plantation we visited.  I purchased a Lyft ride pass for $5 to get $5 off each trip, which we used a couple times when public transit wasn't practical.  I really wanted to bring home some pralines, so I lucked out when I found a deal on Groupon to buy a dozen for $15 (plus 9% cash back on Rakuten/Ebates).  When we looked in stores, pralines were $2-$3 each.  And we used our Sunken Gardens membership to get free admission to the Longue Vue House and Gardens.

Amplify this example into our daily life, and the cost savings are tremendous.  As I said, it's a game that I enjoy playing.  I'm sure for some people it might be stressful to think about saving a couple dollars here and there, but the opposite is true for me:  the regret when I don't save ruins the experience, so I have to seek out the best deal to feel good about my choices.

Tuesday, August 20

Making Money Selling Concert Tickets

I just made $2,200 profit selling two concert tickets.

A couple months ago I bid on the chance to purchase premium seats to see Madonna.  I bid in multiple cities - I knew there would be a lot of demand - and I won the chance to buy tickets for a show in Chicago.  These were primo seats - front row, center.  The package I bought included the seats as well as some additional bonuses like a pre-show party and photo on stage (sadly, no meet and greet).

As a kid, I was the biggest Madonna fan.  I've never seen her in concert, so I was willing to spend a lot for this special opportunity.  Alas, once I purchased the tickets, there was a little bit of buyer's remorse.  I started to think about what I could have done with the money.  For example, last week we went to see Live/Bush/Our Lady Peace and had fourth row seats that only cost $99 each.  I could see 16 concerts like that for what I paid for the Madonna tickets.  I could go on a really nice Mediterranean cruise and pay all my travel - flights, hotel and cruise - for what I paid for these tickets.

Happily, Ticketmaster has a Verified Resale program.  I discovered it a couple years ago when we had to sell our Bruno Mars tickets because of a work conflict.  I made a decent profit on my Bruno Mars tickets, and they weren't anywhere near the stage.  Not all artists or venues allow resale.  In fact, I don't know how to determine this before actually purchasing the tickets.  Fortunately, this concert allowed for it.  Since I still was okay with keeping the tickets if they didn't sell, I offered them at what I thought was a ridiculous figure: over $3,000 each.  A few weeks went by and nothing.  Then, I get an email last week telling me they sold.

Total profit:  $2,233.38

My jaw dropped.  So, I have learned a new way to make a little money on the side.  Since I can't identify before I buy the tickets whether they are allowed to be resold, I would only do this for an artist I would enjoy seeing anyway.  In this case, I'm going to see Madonna still, just not from the front row.  After she announced the initial dates, Madonna added a mini-residency in Miami, which wouldn't require air travel.  So technically, since I also canceled our flight to Chicago (so glad I booked on Southwest!), I did even better than the $2,200 profit.  Now, I can see her for free, using the profits I made selling the other seats.

One key to making the most profit is to buy the best possible seats.  People are obviously willing to pay to experience front row center.  Recently I was reading an article about this very idea:  I think it was Steve Wynn (yes, an older article) who discussed the idea that people will pay big bucks to feel like they are getting a one-of-a-kind experience.

Wednesday, August 14

I Paid Off my Student Loans!

Quick update from the steamy swamps of Tampa Bay...

I've been working tirelessly this year to simplify my finances by eliminating accounts and paying off debt.  August marks a major milestone:  I have now paid off my student loan debt.

Getting rid of my student loans wasn't about saving on interest:  I consolidated at the perfect time and my interest rate was only 1.625%.  It was about eliminating a monthly debit from my checking account.  The psychological affect - one less bill every month, one less form to file on my taxes, one less account to track on my monthly spreadsheet - was more important than anything else.

So, with that, there's a new, more noble goal:  pay off the mortgage on my rental property.  I owe about $58,000 on it, and pay $449/month.  Getting this paid off will have a noticeable impact on my cash flow.

Monday, August 12

Cut, cut, cut...

If it doesn't "spark joy", why are you doing it?  Not to steal a phrase from Marie Kondo, but it's true.  We often spend money on things that don't make our lives better.  I've been questioning why I'm spending money on everything lately.  With that, it's cut, cut, cut.

  • After satisfying our 12 month agreement, I called to cancel our Busch Gardens passes.  We were paying $30/month for them, and in the last year we visited once for about two hours.  What a waste.
  • I've been thinking about canceling Netflix for a period of time.  More and more I notice that new movies aren't coming to Netflix.  My queue is loaded with content made by Netflix while noticeably void of movies that actually played in theaters.  Don't get me wrong - overall I love having Netflix.  But it seems like canceling for 90 days or so wouldn't hurt us at all.  We still have Sling and Amazon Prime.  Doing this would save around $50 with basically no consequences.  For now, I'm testing a downgrade.  I changed from the $12.99/mo HD plan for 4 devices to the $8.99/mo standard plan for one device at a time.  It's $4/month in savings... I want to see if we'll notice a difference in video quality.  Canceling altogether is still on the table.
  • I would love to find a way to reduce the cost of the big stuff, but how?  Auto insurance with GEICO - I've had auto insurance for more than 25 years, never filed a claim.  What am I getting for my $100/month besides piece of mind?  Same with health insurance.  I cut that cost down to $379/month this year, but that's still $379 more per month than I spend in actual costs.  I haven't filed a single claim with my insurer.
  • Same goes for the rental properties.  Do I really need termite protection?  What about property insurance - having never filed a claim, the premiums I have paid since becoming a landlord in 2006 could have nearly paid to replace one of my properties.
I'm taking a hard look at all recurring costs.  The immediate benefit, simplifying my finances, is all the motivation I need.  But knowing the money I earn isn't being wasted is just as important.

Thursday, August 8

My Frugal Miser - July Expenses: $9,390

July was an expensive month.  Fortunately my income exceeded my spending.  My Sonata has over 192,000 miles on it.  I don't have a car payment, but it does require some repairs every now and then.  Last month I replaced the serpentine belt and the rear suspension.  Spending on gas was also higher because I drove for Uber and Lyft some and did a lot of Amazon deliveries.

Spending on food and fun was higher last month.  We went to Costa Rica for a month, which accounts for a lot of it.  Last thing to mention:  $1,600 of my spending was directed as an overpayment of my student loans.  Not really an expense.  I'm getting really close to having those paid off.

July Business Spending:  $2,944
July Personal Spending:  $6,446

July Expenses:  $9,390

$1,150 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
$49 Bank Fees
$214 Clothing/ Personal Care
$570 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets) 
$470 Food
$530 Health & Dental
$1,482 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$1,608 Miscellaneous (Student loan overpayment)
$117 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$25 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$58 Unreimbursed Employee Expenses
($476) Reimbursed Employee Expenses income this month
$256 Utilities
$1,445  Rental Property Expenses
$1,892 AirBNB Expenses

Tuesday, August 6

My Frugal Miser - July Income: $11,645

What a solid month! July will be the last "great" month of the year, unfortunately.  Airbnb bookings have slowed down significantly.  And while I have a few meetings booked, most of my work the rest of the year will have to come from making Amazon deliveries or driving rideshare.

July Income: $11,645

$30 Mystery Shopping
$2,556 Meeting Jobs
$162 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Scooter Charging, etc.)
$1,604 Amazon Deliveries
$4,040 Rental Income
$3,247 Airbnb Income
$66 Interest Income
-$60 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  $13,927

July was another great month for my stock investments.  Much of my portfolio is now in low-risk bonds and CDs, which should shelter me from the next correction.