Today's Focus

Current Goal: Automate Savings and Mortgage Paydown

1) Extra $1,100/mo. to mortgage
2) $1,000/mo. to short-term savings
3) $400/mo. to investing

Previous Goal: Eliminate Mortgage on Rental Property
Interest Rate is 5.125%!

January 1, 2019: $59,592
August 11, 2020: PAID!


Search My Frugal Miser

Friday, December 4

My Frugal Miser - November Expenses: $13,660


November expenses were above-average once again.   One reason is because every year around Black Friday I buy discounted gift cards for future purchases.  
  • Airbnb expenses were high as we continue to prepare for peak season.   The biggest expense was the annual property tax bill.  I received a 4% discount by paying in November.  I bought a new set of pots and pans.  I also replaced the vinyl flooring in part of the house.  Lastly, I bought a few gift cards to take advantage of a special credit card offer.
  • Rental expenses include the property tax bill for the condo in Birmingham.  At just under $500, it is my smallest property tax bill.  Alabama has the lowest property taxes in the country.
  • The household expense also includes the purchase of gift cards.  This year Citibank offered a 5% Black Friday rebate on online purchases, so I bought gift cards in both Citi accounts to max out that offer.
  • Spending on food should start to go down in December.  I did a lot of stocking up on keto-friendly foods that will last a while.

Fun

The "fun" category is still hefty on fun, and I'm really excited at how far my travel dollars go right now.  I think by April of next year the pandemic will be well under control and that this will cause a huge spike in leisure travel.  Prices for flights and hotels will normalize.  I booked several trips for 2021 so that I could "lock in" COVID-discounted rates.
  • I plan to end my keto diet at the beginning of April, and since Frontier was having a big Cyber Monday sale (plus I was able to status match with my SWA Companion Pass, so our bags and seat assignments are free), I booked a flight to Austin.  We went there once before, but I had a massive toothache which ruined the fun.  Time for a do-over.  Two roundtrip flights were $84.  
  • We booked a December flight to Asheville, NC ($88 for 2).  
  • I rented a car to visit my mom.  
  • Finally, the most exciting of them all... I paid deposits for 2 trips later in 2021:  an Australian cruise in August and another trip to China in November.  The China trip is the same unreal deal we booked 2 years ago:  $299 each for a package that includes flights, hotels, breakfast, transportation and some tours.   The Australian cruise fulfills a bucket-list trip, plus the value was solid.  I paid $148/night for a balcony stateroom.  I will receive a $1,000 onboard credit and we both get free drinks.  That onboard credit and the free drinks are worth as much as the cost of the cruise.  Insane value. 

November Business Spending:  $6,169
November Personal Spending:  $7,491

November Expenses:  $13,660

$762 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
$550 Bank Fees
$46 Clothing/ Personal Care
$1,130 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets)
$957 Food
$581 Health and Dental
$2,965 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$80 Miscellaneous
$92 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$0 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$0 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
$0 Reimbursed Job Expenses
$327 Utilities
$1,118 Rental Property Expenses
$5,050 AirBNB Expenses

Wednesday, December 2

My Frugal Miser - November Income: $8,186

 November was a decent month, especially since the meeting industry is still shut down.

Amazon work picked up a bit at the end of the month but has generally been slow.  

The Airbnb continues to be a bright spot.  It was booked 27 days in November, and income exceeded $3,000.  Not bad for a house I bought in 2014 for $45,000!  

The condo tenant did not pay rent in November.  All the other rental properties are current.

November Income: $8,186

$0 Mystery Shopping/ Merchandising
$0 Meeting Jobs
$39 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Food Deliveries, etc.)
$1,608 Amazon Deliveries
$2,400 Rental Income
$3,178 Airbnb Income
$23 Interest Income
$938 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  ($24,102)

My investment accounts did well.  Since Vereit is my biggest position, it doesn't take much to move the needle.  Last month Vereit shares were up.  My put options for AMC declined a little, but I still believe bankruptcy is looming.  Carnival Cruise Lines gained some, and I sold a portion of my shares in one account.

Monday, November 9

Keto Diet: 1 Month Update

 A month ago I decided to try the keto diet.  30 days in, and it seems to be working:  I have lost 9 pounds!  The hardest part about this diet was learning what I could eat.  I am particularly glad that I learned how many carbohydrates are in the foods I have been eating all my life.

Right now I am severely restricting carbs.  That's what keto is all about.  Eventually, once I have lost weight, I will "graduate" from the keto diet.  What I have learned in the last month is that there are good carbs and bad carbs.  Most of the carbs I have been eating in the past are bad carbs, the kind that come from "white" foods like white bread, white rice, pastries, etc.  Even when I am done with this diet I now have the knowledge I need to choose healthier foods.

I have a long way to go, but so far I have no regrets about starting this diet.

Friday, November 6

Becoming an Energy Wise Home: $147/year savings

 The savings continue as I prepare for a much lower-cost of living in 2021.  The Airbnb is serviced by Duke Energy, which rolled out a new program in our area called Energy Wise.  

Energy Wise is Duke Energy's solution to heavy usage.  The way it was sold to me is, during extreme usage, the company normally has to crank up more expensive power plants.  If customers would agree to moderate their power usage during this time, everyone benefits.

A contractor is coming next week to install wifi devices on my water heater and A/C unit.  When demand is unusually high, I agree that they may shut off those appliances for a few minutes every half hour during high demand.  I am optimistic the impact to our guests will be minimal.

Just for agreeing to participate, I will receive a monthly bill credit totaling $147/year.  The actual savings may be more since I am giving the company permission to turn off the A/C and water heater during heavy demand times.

Thursday, November 5

My Frugal Miser - October Income: $10,253

October income held steady.  Because I made a couple of annual property tax payments on rental properties, my income was a bit less than my expenses.

I didn't work any meetings or do any mystery shopping or merchandising work.  App-based income, which is mostly deliveries outside of Amazon, was pitiful.  I cut back on working because it was too slow to justify being in my car.  People aren't ordering delivery.  Amazon work was steady, but not great.

The Airbnb turned in an impressive performance.  It was occupied for all but 3 days.  I did lower rates significantly to fill up mid-week days that would have otherwise been empty.  I managed to bring in just over $3,000 from that one property, which has consistently been my best-performing rental property.  

I received rent from all rental properties.  The condo tenant, who is a couple months behind, made two rent payments in October.

October Income: $10,253

$0 Mystery Shopping/ Merchandising
$0 Meeting Jobs
$663 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Food Deliveries, etc.)
$1,003 Amazon Deliveries
$4,046 Rental Income
$3,050 Airbnb Income
$21 Interest Income
$1,469 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  ($1,025)

My investment accounts were down.  Vereit shares declined again last month.  Towards the end of the month I purchased a significant amount of put options on AMC.  With a put option you are betting the price will decline.  It's highly probable the theater company will file for bankruptcy in the coming months and I am optimistic my puts will offset some of the losses I have seen from other investments, specifically Carnival Cruise Lines.

Tuesday, November 3

My Frugal Miser - October Expenses: $10,632

October expenses were a bit higher than my income because I paid the property tax bill on two properties.  Property taxes are easily the largest expense I have on my rental properties.  I still have other property taxes to pay in November.
  • Airbnb expenses increased a bit.  We are approaching the busy season so I've been investing in linens and landscaping.  I also bought a wood chipper so that we can tame the overgrowth in the backyard.  It's exciting to be able to clean it up without having to rent a truck to haul off the branches.
  • The "fun" category ($1,315 in October) was pretty expensive.  We went to Las Vegas and Los Angeles to celebrate my partner's birthday.  I spent on the car rental, tour and garden tickets, and gambling and food.  I also bought tickets to see the Florida Orchestra, where live performances have resumed.
  • Spending on food was crazy expensive, but this can be attributed to our transitioning to the keto diet.  If we can stick to the diet, I think we will save on restaurant bills which will offset the increased cost of the food we have to eat on the diet.
  • I spent $537 on my car.  Most of this is for gasoline.  Those Amazon routes eat a lot of gas.  Fortunately my Walmart + membership now allows me to fill up at Sam's Club.  We have one a couple miles from home, and it is consistently the cheapest gas around.  As an example, earlier this week I paid $1.72/gallon there.  The gas stations around it were charging between $1.94-$2.03.  In addition to gas I paid for an oil change and tire rotation, and I stocked up on engine air filters to take advantage of a cashback offer on one of my credit cards.

October Business Spending:  $4,982
October Personal Spending:  $5,650

October Expenses:  $10,632

$537 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing/ Personal Care
$1,315 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets)
$1,186 Food
$586 Health and Dental
$1,602 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$18 Miscellaneous
$131 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$0 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$0 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
$0 Reimbursed Job Expenses
$274 Utilities
$4,181 Rental Property Expenses
$801 AirBNB Expenses

Sunday, November 1

Changing Health Insurance: $397/mo savings!

 The snowball keeps accumulating!  Open enrollment for 2021 Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) plans began this morning.  

I've been using an alternative called Liberty Healthshare for the last 2 years.  In 2018 I earned too much money and had to pay back the credit on my ACA plan, so I switched.  At the time it saved me money.  The problem?  Liberty Healthshare is an alternative to regular health insurance, meaning there aren't a lot of doctors who take it.  This was my excuse for not seeing a doctor in the last two years, simply not knowing where I could use my insurance and whether Liberty would pay (reviews I read in the last year indicated they were slow to pay).  Then a couple months ago Liberty had a massive price increase ($100/mo).  This is on top of the fat premium (pun intended) they have been charging me for being overweight ($79/month).

Bottom line:  even if I didn't qualify for a credit under ACA, the new plan is virtually the same cost as my current insurer, but it is a Florida Blue plan, which is accepted all over the place.  I will no longer be worried about using my insurance.

The tricky part will be making sure my income is close to what I estimated for 2021.  My goal will be to ensure I get as close as possible to the income I reported.   I haven't done much research, but it looks like there are some levers I can pull.  For example, selling stock at a loss seems like one way I could lower my income if it is tracking too high.

For those of you using Obamacare, do you have any suggestions for keeping your income in line with estimates?  

Tuesday, October 20

Downgraded Internet Plan: $35/monthly savings!

 Maybe this is common knowledge for most people, but did you know that you have to be hard-wired (ethernet cabled) into your Internet in order to reach the advertised speeds?  Wireless routers are only capable of a fraction of the speed you are paying for.

About a year ago I increased the Internet speed at the Airbnb.  The TV in the living room was buffering, so I blamed it on the slow speed.  I later learned I just needed a range extender; speed was not the issue.  As so often happens with recurring expenses, it slipped my mind that I had upgraded the plan and was paying more.  

I've been taking a look at all my recurring expenses when I stumbled on this one.   I was paying for the fastest possible speed, but getting none of it because everything is wireless, so the speed was already capped.  To sweeten the deal, I told the representative I was thinking about canceling so that I could get an even better rate than first quoted.  

Bottom line:  I reduced the monthly fee from $70 to $35, and all it took was a 10 minute phone call.  That's a $35/mo savings!

I'm Cancelling Netflix

 I'm feeling hardcore the last few days.  So after reading a comment online about users who cycle through streaming services, I questioned the value of my Netflix subscription.  A few months ago I downgraded to the single user $8.99 plan, which isn't very expensive.  However, I got to thinking... what's the worst that would happen if I cancel for a few months?

Tonight, I found out.  Once I logged into my account, I saw the cancel button.  Once I clicked the button, Netflix offered me a choice of new plans, which I declined.  It then said my profile and preferences would be saved for 10 months.

I'm fairly certain I'll be back.  But after sales taxes, a 3 month divorce will save me almost $30.  During that time, I still have Amazon Prime, Spectrum with Showtime (included with HOA dures), plus a number of free streaming services.  

Saturday, October 17

Cutting More Expenses, New Diet, Update on Goals

 Much has been going on in the Frugal Miser's life.  

Diet

I've struggled with my weight my entire adult life.  I've successfully lost weight a couple of times and then gained it back.  But it's been 15 years since I lost any meaningful amount of weight.  I started on the keto diet on Wednesday, October 7th.  So far it has been very educational.  I had no idea how many carbs are in the foods I love.  The first few days was an adjustment period - learning what I can eat, trying to make the food I already have work (much of it did not), and getting used to eating more meat and fat than I have ever eaten. Now that the weather is starting to cool off I will start adding in exercise.  I plan to post progress updates regularly.

Reducing Expenses

A keto diet will probably cost more, but because it is really hard to follow this diet and eat at restaurants I am hoping to save money by rarely eating restaurant food.

I cancelled the satellite radio subscription.  I will receive a refund for the payment I made in September and the company offered me three months for a flat $2, so I don't even have to give it up.  I just have to remember to cancel in 3 months.

I also cancelled the Sling subscription ($56/mo).  My HOA approved a new package with our Internet provider that includes cable (I voted against it, but it was approved anyway).  I should be able to use the Spectrum app on the TVs at the Airbnb so that our guests continue having a cable TV option.  The HOA dues increased by only $20/month which means a net savings of $36/month.  Bonus:  after I cancelled, I found out I still have access to Sling Free.  The same app we had been using will provide free access to thousands of shows and movies.

I am looking at what else can go.  Just like recurring income can be your best friend, recurring expenses can be your worst enemy.  We lull ourselves into complacency when bills are just automatically paid as they come due.  
  • I have a few recurring charges for entertainment:  $9.76 for Netflix, $48 for 2 AMC A-List memberships, and $119/year for Amazon Prime.  With the state of the exhibition industry and few new releases, it's possible we will cancel our A-List subscription.
  • My alternative health insurance, Liberty Healthshare, just enacted a massive price increase.  I am now paying $479/mo for a plan I've never once used.  I will take another look at the ACA plans for 2021 to see if I qualify for something more affordable.
  • It's time to revisit landlord insurance.  I would love to just cancel and "self-insure", but the management companies require I have insurance.  I plan to shop my business to find cost savings.

Goals

I set 3 financial goals:  $400/month deposited to my investment account, $1000/month to short-term savings and $1000/month to my home mortgage.  It's been two months since setting that goal and I am meeting it so far!  To force accountability, I automated two of the three goals to that the transfers happen automatically.  I plan to automate the last transfer once my checking account balance has stabilized.

Wednesday, October 7

How an $89 Repair Saved $550 in 10 months.

 

Even someone as "aware" as I try to be can lose focus.  Our Airbnb, which is our most profitable rental property, was suffering from high water bills last year.  I chalked it up to guests taking long showers.  But I had been ignoring a slow leak at the hose bib in the backyard.  Only after a guest mentioned the leak did I decide to address it.

So, how much did this slow leak from a single faucet cost me?  




From the December 2018 bill to the August 2019 bill, which represents 10 months of usage, I paid $1,206.29 in water bills.  For the same period in 2019, I paid $655.53.

Total Savings:  $550.76

I bought a deal on Angie's List for the repair.  The plumber completed it in 5 minutes.  I had no idea how much that "small" leak was costing me.










Monday, October 5

My Frugal Miser - September Expenses: $5,124


I tried to be very mindful of my September expenses.  My income is dropping a bit and I want to be proactive.  I spent just over $5,000 for the month; there simply weren't many expenses last month I could have reduced further.  
  • My largest monthly expense is the mortgage ($1,600).  I also paid the quarterly HOA dues in September.
  • Airbnb expenses were bare-bones.  Besides utility bills and lawn service, I spent a small amount on cleaning supplies.
  • The "fun" category ($373 in September) is the only variable I can easily control.  Last month I paid $132 for 12 months of satellite radio.  I also paid for our AMC A-List membership ($24 each).  Finally, we spent a night in Orlando ($53 for the hotel).  While there we spent a little on dinner and two adult beverages, as well as on a Groupon for a round of mini-golf ($11 for the two of us).  

September Business Spending:  $1,333
September Personal Spending:  $3,791

September Expenses:  $5,124

$353 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing/ Personal Care
$373 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets)
$403 Food
$406 Health and Dental
$1,795 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$0 Miscellaneous
$205 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$0 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$0 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
$0 Reimbursed Job Expenses
$255 Utilities
$753 Rental Property Expenses
$581 AirBNB Expenses

Friday, October 2

My Frugal Miser - September Income: $9,967

September income was down from August, which was down from July.  Fortunately I still earned nearly twice as much as I spent.

I didn't work any meetings.  I was paid for a mystery shop I did a couple months ago.  App-based income continued to decline.  People aren't ordering delivery as much.  Amazon work was steady.

September is usually the slowest month for the Airbnb.  Things were looking bleak mid-month so I lowered rates dramatically - again - and was able to salvage the latter part of the month.  The weekends were all booked up, but mid-week was empty.   I managed to get bookings for 24 days in September thanks to price cutting.

My tenant in the condo in Birmingham did not pay rent.  He has been falling behind since the pandemic began.  

September Income: $9,967

$59 Mystery Shopping/ Merchandising
$0 Meeting Jobs
$1,391 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Food Deliveries, etc.)
$1,724 Amazon Deliveries
$2,435 Rental Income
$2,310 Airbnb Income
$22 Interest Income
$2,026 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  ($9,896)

My investment accounts were down.  Vereit shares declined a bit last month.

Saturday, September 5

My Frugal Miser - August Expenses: $7,785

I followed through in August with plans to pay off the rental property mortgage.  That means the only debt I have is on my primary residence.  This will reduce monthly expenses by $449 starting in September.  

There were a couple of other beneficial transactions last month.  The electric company decided I was "over-securitized" and refunded the deposit to my account.  I didn't have to pay a bill in August and still have a $43 credit that will be applied to the September bill.


Large Expenses

  • By far the mortgage on our home is the largest expense.  Right now I pay $1,600/month.  This will go down some next year because it currently includes a payment to make up a shortage in my escrow account.
  • I paid $300 to renew two types of termite protection on the Airbnb.  I had to have it tented when I purchased it in 2014 so this coverage protects me should there be another infestation.
  • We had a lot of "fun" last month.  Early in the month I went to Tunica for a few days and lost at blackjack.  We have also been doing mini-getaways.  In August we visited Boca Raton, Fort Myers, Sarasota, Naples and Atlanta.  Hotel stays are included here but fortunately rates are really low.  I was able to take advantage of Hilton's price match guarantee for three separate bookings.  While I was booking a price-match room with Hilton I was offered bonus points to listen to an offer from Hilton Grand Vacations.  I decided to take advantage of the offer for a Hawaiian vacation, so the deposit for that is included as well.   In all, I took 5 trips and paid for a sixth, all for $1,800.

Everything Else

Rental property expenses were more than $1,000.  When a new tenant moves into one of my managed properties I have to pay a leasing fee to the management fee.  My largest rental property rented in July and the $700 leasing fee was billed to me last month.

August Business Spending:  $2,497
August Personal Spending:  $5,288

August Expenses:  $7,785

$447 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
$85 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing/ Personal Care
$1,818 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets)
$688 Food
$406 Health and Dental
$1,640 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$38 Miscellaneous
$100 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$6 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$0 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
$0 Reimbursed Job Expenses
$65 Utilities
$1,382 Rental Property Expenses
$1,108 AirBNB Expenses

Thursday, September 3

My Frugal Miser - August Income: $10,967

 August income was down from July.  Fortunately I still earned more than I spent by about $3,000.

I didn't work any meetings.  I was paid for some merchandising work I did in July.  App-based income has declined every month since peaking during the quarantine.  People aren't ordering delivery as much now that they can go out and pickup their own food.  Amazon work has picked up a bit.

Bookings at the Airbnb have slowed down.  There were 9 days last month where the house sat empty.  I lowered rates for September which has helped with some early bookings.  

I collected rent from all 3 Birmingham rental properties.  I also received a quarterly dividend from three of the apartment investments I have at Realty Mogul: $425 from one and $823 and $175 on two owned by my retirement account.  I don't include transactions from my retirement accounts in the monthly figures but thought it was worth noting the amount.

August Income: $10,967

$43 Mystery Shopping/ Merchandising
$0 Meeting Jobs
$590 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Food Deliveries, etc.)
$1,854 Amazon Deliveries
$3,441 Rental Income
$3,225 Airbnb Income
$22 Interest Income
$1,793 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  $14,942

My investment accounts improved nicely.  My largest position is in Vereit, and shares were up in August.

Tuesday, September 1

My Next Financial Goals

 This month I am embarking on a new set of financial goals:

  • Pay an extra $1,100/month on my home mortgage.  This will eliminate $1/week in interest expense.  My mortgage rate, 4.75%, is 50% higher than prevailing rates.  I tried to refinance, but the defective underwriting process finds I don't earn enough money to pay a less-expensive mortgage.  No irony there!
  • Transfer $1,000/month to investable savings.  I have designated a savings account for funding investments.  This can include making improvements to the Airbnb or rental properties, investing in new opportunities, or for anything else that can increase my recurring monthly income.
  • Transfer $400/month to my brokerage account.  The last several years were focused on debt reduction.  It's time to start increasing my nest egg.
At first glance these sound like "softball" goals.  All I am doing is committing to moving money around.  In reality, I am committing to earning enough income to achieve these goals.  If I am falling short, I will have to earn more income to make up the shortfall or cut something like a vacation or unneeded expense.  

This is just the start!  I'm going to monitor my progress.  If the goals are too easy, I will adjust them.  Since I am committing $2,500/month towards this, I think it will be a big enough goal to motivate me to work harder but not so big as to discourage me.

Friday, August 14

Opportunities for Cheap Travel Are Everywhere Right Now

 I've always been one to seize an opportunity.  During the housing crisis I bought foreclosures.  When the pandemic caused a temporary but hefty drops in stocks, I bought shares of Vereit for $4 (currently in the $6.50ish range, but I'm holding onto them).

The "current" opportunity seems to be in travel.  We've taken several mini-getaways recently.  This week we visited Fort Myers, FL.  Here's the details:

  • I looked on Expedia to get an idea of hotel prices and noticed several nice hotels with rates under $100.  I found a Hilton Garden Inn for $73.  I normally book directly with the hotel website because I want to earn loyalty points for my stay, but the same room there was $89.  "Hmmm..." I thought, "I wonder if they do a price match guarantee."  A quick Google search confirmed:  Hilton not only matches the price, but offers 25% off the lowest competitor's price.   There were two routes I could take to get the match:  fill out a form within 24 hours of booking, or call Hilton to get the price match at the time of booking.  Not wanting any drama, I opted to call to lock in the price right away.  The call was a bit painful:  I was on hold for 28 minutes, then the first agent said Expedia listed the room as "Deluxe" while the hotel website did not include "Deluxe" in the room description.  Frustrated, I asked to be transferred to someone else.  This strategy worked, as the second agent was able to honor the guarantee.  Bottom line:  we reserved a room at the Hilton Garden Inn, including a free cooked-to-order hot breakfast, for $54.
  • We wanted to visit the beach and the Edison-Ford Winter Estates.  I found beach parking online for $2/hour.  That sure beats the typical $25 price of parking on Clearwater Beach!  Our membership to the Sunken Gardens in St. Pete includes reciprocal privileges at other places, and Edison-Ford was on the list.
  • For food, Doordash has a summer promotion for Dashpass members.  My Chase Sapphire Reserve card includes a free subscription to Dashpass.  This week's promotion is BOGO free entree at Chipotle.  There happened to be a Chipotle across the street from our hotel, so we picked up our dinner there and enjoyed it in our room.
This quick 2 day getaway ended up costing us less than $100.

Our Strategy for Travel Deals

We plan to do more short getaways in the coming months.

  • I predict that fall hotel rates will remain low (or will go even lower than now).  As PPP funds run out, hotels are going to be competing for a smaller number of travelers.  Business travel is virtually non-existent, and leisure travel is always light after Labor Day.  Our strategy is to search for business-class hotels in areas that typically rely on business travel.  For example, hotels near airports are still a short drive to the activities we want to do, but will be the properties most affected by lighter business travel.  
  • Mid-week travel should be the most affordable, as evidenced by the bookings we are receiving at the Airbnb.  Lately, weekends at our rental have been booking at higher rates than last year.  Mid-week I have had to drop rates to keep the house occupied.
  • Right now it usually makes more sense to pay cash rather than redeem points.  Rates are so low now that there's more value in saving my loyalty points when they will be worth more.  Besides, our cash helps hotels more than our points.
  • We are favoring outdoor activities since they "feel" safer during a pandemic.  Many of these excursions are super affordable.  Hiking, swimming at the beach, and visiting botanical gardens are great ways to get exercise while breathing in fresh air and distancing from others.
Have you found deals for frugal travel?


Tuesday, August 11

My Rental Property Mortgage is PAID!!!

 I did it.  

This morning I paid off the mortgage on my rental property.  And I did it in under 11 years.  Back when I started this blog, I was reeling from an unexpected job loss and had over half a million dollars in debt.  Fast forward to today and the only remaining debt is the mortgage on my primary residence.

I love this rental property: 

  • With added options I only paid $103,000 for it.  DR Horton abruptly decided to stop building in this neighborhood (this was during the housing crisis) and was liquidating the remaining spec homes, so I got a ridiculous deal on it.  As a side note, another builder stepped in a few years later and finished the buildout of the neighborhood.
  • I've had the same tenant the entire time.  One tenant, and rent has always been paid on time.  Rent has steadily increased and the tenant is currently paying $250/mo more than when they first signed the lease.
What I didn't love was the interest rate.  When I bought it, 5.125% was the going rate.  Today, it's about 2 points higher than prevailing rates.  My outstanding balance was too low to justify refinancing, so I decided a year ago to focus on paying it off.

It feels great to check this off my list.  Now onto the next financial goal.  Details coming soon!

Monday, August 3

My Frugal Miser - July Expenses: $8,417


July was a great month for paying down debt and keeping most of my expenses in check.  Setting business expenses aside, I spent just over $3,500 last month.   And, with an end of the month large principal payment I have almost paid off the mortgage on the rental property.  Chances are I will pay it in full in August. 


Large Expenses

  • Half of my monthly expenses were related to my rental properties.  I rented our largest rental property, but it required several repairs.  The entire house was repainted, and several other small repairs added up.  Fortunately the house shouldn't need more work for a while.
  • The IRS sent me a refund in May I should not have received.  I was finally able to speak with someone on the phone for instructions on returning the funds.  That lead to a large tax expense.

Everything Else

I sold the Sonata for $1,500.  This offset all the other vehicle-related expenses and resulted in income for that category.  With the new-to-me Elantra, I had no repair costs.  The car is also more fuel efficient.  Food spending finally went down considerably.  American Express has a shop small promotion right now which results in a $5 credit every time you spend at least $10 at a small business, so we saved on our dining out expense.  

July Business Spending:  $5,058
July Personal Spending:  $3,359

July Expenses:  $8,417

($1,202) Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.) income this month
$49 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing/ Personal Care
$316 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets)
$392 Food
$412 Health and Dental
$1,602 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$0 Miscellaneous
$1,698 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$6 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$0 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
$0 Reimbursed Job Expenses
$92 Utilities
$4,247 Rental Property Expenses
$804 AirBNB Expenses

Saturday, August 1

My Frugal Miser - July Income: $12,349

My income in July was solid.

I worked a short one day meeting job.  The meeting was an expo to demonstrate safe meeting practices during a pandemic.  It is going to be a long time before live meetings and events return, but it was nice to work for a day and I got to see a lot of my meeting friends.  I also did a merchandising route last month.

The Airbnb is doing great and we only had 4 empty days.  We took advantage of two consecutive days of vacancy by refreshing some of the paint and doing a few minor repairs.  There is always work to do as the house was built 70 years ago.

I collected rent from all 3 Birmingham rental properties.  One house is newly leased and I only collected a partial months rent.  My management company managed to rent this house less than 2 months after it became vacant.  For the Birmingham market this is good, particularly considering the pandemic as well as several weeks when work was being done to the home.

July Income: $12,349

$72 Mystery Shopping/ Merchandising
$120 Meeting Jobs
$1,018 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Food Deliveries, etc.)
$1,599 Amazon Deliveries
$2,782 Rental Income
$3,519 Airbnb Income
$23 Interest Income
$3,216 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  $1,422

My investment accounts improved slightly.  I could see that Tailored Brands was getting ready to file for bankruptcy so I sold all my shares at a hefty loss.  Some of my other investments gained in value which offset the declines.

Tuesday, July 7

My Frugal Miser - June Income: $18,531

Even though the meeting industry is shut down, I managed to keep our income up.  There were some one-time inflows which made this the best month of the year.

The Airbnb is doing great.  We only had 3 empty days.  The trend is definitely towards shorter stays from drive-in guests.

Meeting work was zero.  It's possible we will work one day in July for a special gathering to demonstrate safe meeting practices.  I'm a bit skeptical about the meeting taking place, but we'll see.

Rental income only includes a house and a condo in Birmingham.  The other Birmingham house was vacant.

I received a $1,000 bonus for upgrading a bank account.  My partner received a lump sum for unemployment and made a hefty contribution towards our bills, which is posted in Other Income.

June Income: $18,531

$0 Mystery Shopping/ Merchandising
$0 Meeting Jobs
$1,424 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Scooter Charging, Food Deliveries, etc.)
$1,556 Amazon Deliveries
$1,665 Rental Income
$3,509 Airbnb Income
$23 Interest Income
$10,354 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  $21,873

My investment accounts continued to recover from the corona crash.  Unfortunately a couple of my positions may be permanently impaired.  The largest loss has been Tailored Brands, owner of Men's Wearhouse and Joseph A. Banks.  The company could be headed for bankruptcy and my 12,000 shares will likely not recover.

Sunday, July 5

My Frugal Miser - June Expenses: $24,319 (!!!)


I made a lot of progress in June towards reducing ongoing expenses.  I bought a used Elantra to replace the Sonata.  I will be selling the Sonata soon.  This will reduce auto expenses in a couple ways:  the Elantra is more fuel efficient, so I'll save on gas.  It will also reduce repairs.  The other thing I did was make a significant principal payment on the rental property mortgage.

The rental property has a 5.125% mortgage.  I had money sitting in a bank account basically earning nothing.  In June I paid $35,575 towards reducing the balance.  This cuts $150/month in interest.  I will pay off the entire mortgage as fast as possible, which means $449 in monthly mortgage payments will go away soon!


Large Expenses

  • I paid $1,358 for the yearly insurance on the Airbnb house.
  • I spent $2,308 on our rental properties.  We worked on the vacant Birmingham property last month.
  • $532 was spent on the Sonata.  This includes two new tires (an almost new tire had to be replaced due to damage from a nail) and an emergency repair that required a tow to the shop.
  • We replaced the carpet in our home's living room with vinyl tile.  Eventually I will probably extend the tile to the master bedroom.

Everything Else

Our food costs are always high.  In June we traveled to Birmingham and Las Vegas, which contributed to higher restaurant spending.  Fortunately the Vegas trip was super-frugal.  The hotel rooms were free, I had credits on Southwest for the flight, and I hit a Royal Flush on video poker, which paid for the trip.  I also spent $154 for a Groupon to tint the windows on the new car.

June Business Spending:  $3,970
June Personal Spending:  $5,959
June Car Purchase:  $14,390

June Expenses:  $24,319

$14,390 New Car
$1,151 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing/ Personal Care
($10) Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets) income this month
$856 Food
$406 Health and Dental
$2,605 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$0 Miscellaneous
$640 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$0 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$0 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
$0 Reimbursed Job Expenses
$309 Utilities
$2,308 Rental Property Expenses
$1,662 AirBNB Expenses

Sunday, June 28

Sleepy Summer Sunday

It's summer here in Tampa Bay and the heat is on.  Lately the middle part of the day has been too hot and humid - temperatures in the mid-90s - to be outside.  There's so much uncertainty these days that I've been spending the indoors time thinking about our future.

Financially

I want to keep reducing debt.  The focus this year has been on the last rental property mortgage.  Earlier this month I withdrew $10,000 from a savings account to make a large payment on the mortgage.  The balance is now under $40,000.  When I took out the mortgage in 2009, a 5% rate wasn't so bad.  Rates are around 3% today.  What makes it even worse is that savings rates are almost zero.

I've kept higher cash balances because of all the uncertainty, but I'm seriously thinking about paying off the mortgage soon.  It's a little scary since the meeting industry remains shut down, but then again, our income has remained high.  The Airbnb is doing as well if not better than this time last year.   I needed the security blanket that was a hefty cash balance, but am feeling better about things.  Paying off the mortgage would feel amazing!

Fun

Earlier this month we went on a quick 4 night getaway to Las Vegas.  It was so much fun.  Having been stuck at home for so long, we needed to go somewhere.  We visited Mt. Charleston for the first time and went on a 3 hour hike.  It was a great escape from the heat.  

My Second-Ever Royal Flush
Of course we did a fair amount of gambling.  I hit my second-ever Royal Flush!  The $1.25 bet turned into $1,000, which virtually paid for the trip.  

Las Vegas post-COVID-19 is a different place.  With little to do besides gamble, I think the casinos are returning to a more value-focused proposition:  parking is free once again basically everywhere.  Hotel rates were low (our 4 nights were free thanks to my Boyd B-Connected membership).  When I was booking I almost booked a room at the Bellagio.  Rates were $54/night, but with a $45 resort fee I was turned off and stuck to totally free.

New Car

Last week I bought a gently used Hyundai Elantra from Hertz.  If you haven't heard, Hertz went bankrupt recently.  Now is a great time to buy a used car!  The timing couldn't have been better:  I had planned to sell the Sonata at Carmax (Hertz only offered $1,000 for the trade).  The next day, the check engine light came on and it started driving poorly.  I thought I had it fixed, but yesterday it stopped running and I had to be towed.  In retrospect it would have been better to just sell it to Hertz!


Friday, June 5

My Frugal Miser - May Income: $10,426

Even though the meeting industry is shut down, I managed to keep our income up.  Unfortunately my income was slightly less than my expenses in May.

The Airbnb turned in a decent report considering the shutdown.  It sat empty 9 days, and rates were lower on the days I did rent it.  There is some good news:  towards the end of the month, as the quarantine ended, I saw new bookings at close to normal nightly rates.  We even received a 12 night booking in June at rates higher than last year.

Meeting work was zero.  It will probably be this way for the foreseeable future.  Summer is the slow season for corporate meetings, but that doesn't matter right now because gatherings of large groups are still forbidden.

Once again I did deliveries, mostly for Doordash and Uber Eats.  This is a real grind.  It doesn't sound so bad, but it's very long hours for relatively low pay.  Strip out the mileage deduction and very little is left.  Unfortunately Amazon has been reducing the number of routes available to Flex drivers as they shift more volume to the branded blue vans.  It looks like most of my Amazon income is slipping away.

Rental income includes the two houses in Birmingham and the March rent from the condo.  One of the two houses was only rented half the month and is now empty.

I received a $300 bonus for opening a bank account.

May Income: $10,426

$0 Mystery Shopping/ Merchandising
$0 Meeting Jobs
$3,876 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Scooter Charging, Food Deliveries, etc.)
$960 Amazon Deliveries
$2,315 Rental Income
$2,130 Airbnb Income
$33 Interest Income
$1.112 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  $1,740

My investment accounts increased slightly but are still down YTD.

Wednesday, June 3

My Frugal Miser - May Expenses: $11,427


May was another expensive month.  Fortunately the biggest expense by far - paying my 2019 federal taxes - is a one-time cost that shouldn't recur next year.

Large Expenses

  • I paid $309 for the yearly insurance on the Birmingham condo.
  • It cost $133 to take the cat back to the vet when she wasn't feeling good.
  • I booked an October cruise for $473.  Cruise lines are desperate, and this cruise includes free drinks and a $500 onboard credit.  This will be our first Baja Mexico cruise.
  • One of the Birmingham rental properties needed an emergency repair.  It also became vacant (not related to the repair) which means there will be more spending in June to prepare for the next tenant.
  • $820 was spent on the Sonata.  This includes an oil change, new filters, 6 months liability insurance, and gas.  
  • The largest expense was for a payment towards 2019 federal taxes.  I sold 5 properties in early 2019, and had to pay taxes on the capital gains.

Everything Else

Our food costs continue to be high and is perplexing.  Almost all our food comes from Walmart or Aldi.  The most expensive restaurant meal was only $25.  I could definitely cut back on fast food, but it's not a daily occurrence.  I need to work harder at reducing this.

I already know June will be a tough month.  Our largest rental property has to be prepared for tenants and that is always a costly turnover.  The Sonata has 224,000 miles and will need to be replaced soon.  And I need to do some repairs and improvements to our house also.  I would like to move back to Pinellas County which will reduce monthly housing costs, but the current house will need to be in pristine condition in order to sell it.

May Business Spending:  $2,441
May Personal Spending:  $8,986

May Expenses:  $11,427

$820 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing/ Personal Care
$836 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets)
$707 Food
$406 Health and Dental
$1,624 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$174 Miscellaneous
$4,305 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$25 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$0 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
$0 Reimbursed Job Expenses
$114 Utilities
$1,560 Rental Property Expenses
$856 AirBNB Expenses

Saturday, May 23

Normalcy is Returning. I See Opportunities...

Every few years the world experiences an unusual event causing society to believe things have permanently changed.  Each of us forms our own unique perspective about these things that shapes our lives.

During my adult life these are the events I remember:

The Internet

My freshman year of college I took a creative writing class.  It was in this class that I first experienced the Internet.  There wasn't much to do online just yet, but I didn't know that then.  Dial-up Internet was all we had, and we didn't know how slow it really was.  AOL chat rooms.  The familiar "You've Got Mail" after connecting to the service.  Being able to read the news online.  Who can argue that this technology that has only been commercially viable for 25 years would change our lives in so many ways?  Today, we watch TV over the Internet, manage our finances online, and shop for groceries, all from the comfort of home.

The Dot-com Bubble

This was the first time I lost money in the stock market.  Like many other investors, I got caught up in rising prices.  I remember a story on the news about Cisco Systems becoming the most valuable company in the world.  $500 Billion market value.  I wanted in and pretty much bought at the very top.  I also bought stock in a defunct operating system and who knows what else.  From the crash I learned invaluable lessons.  I learned that you should never overpay for something.  Patient investors, and even consumers for that matter, will be rewarded... eventually.  I discovered Warren Buffett during this time.  In the grand scheme of things, the money I lost in 2000 was a cheap education that has served me well.  

9/11

A terrorist attack on our soil, killing thousands while exposing weak links in our security.  Air travel was grounded.  Stock markets closed.  We were at war.  How did this affect me?  In truth, it barely did.  You see, everyone has a unique perspective in life, and the things going on in mine ensured that 9/11 was barely more than an interesting story on the nightly news.  Not meaning to be insensitive, just pointing out how different people perceive events in their own way.  Within a few weeks of 9/11, and totally unrelated to this tragedy, my life was basically starting over.  I had gone through a traumatic experience and had a renewed hope for what was possible.  Within a year of 9/11 my home situation changed, I had a new job, I was back in school with a new major, I lost my father.  

The Housing Foreclosure Crisis and Recession 

I lost my job during this period.  That's the first thing that comes to mind.  It was somewhat related to and caused by the crisis.  This was also the peak of when I was purchasing foreclosed homes and turning them into rental properties.  I started blogging about my frugal life.  We opened a restaurant.

COVID-19

Relatively speaking, this one has affected basically everyone.  It's the first time in modern history a health scare has shut down the economy, quarantined nearly the entire world, and brought about Depression-era unemployment in a matter of weeks.

How I'm Taking Advantage of the Pandemic

We as a society are resilient.  We bounce back, even if things aren't exactly the same.  After 9/11, the way we fly changed.  But with TSA Precheck and a good knowledge of the rules, it's barely an inconvenience.  After the 2008 crisis, housing recovered. 

There are opportunities for those of us who can see beyond today. 

  • In the stock market, certain sectors have been negatively affected.  I invested a significant sum of money into Vereit.  It's a stock I've owned for years, and it has been cut in half in the last few months.  The company owns single tenant properties, mostly retail.  Think Walgreens, Dollar General, and casual dining restaurants.  They don't own malls or shopping centers, which I think are going to struggle.  Sure, things are going to be rough this year.  But my money is on a recovery.  
  • I am reevaluating my career.  I've been working in the meeting industry since 2012.  There are some things I like about it, but I've never been passionate about the work.  Since this industry will struggle for the foreseeable future, now's the chance to consider something else.
  • I'm looking for opportunities to save money.  The rental car industry is struggling - Hertz just filed for bankruptcy.  I think used cars will be cheaper and plan to buy one soon.  If the housing market also goes down (I don't know that it will), I'd like us to move back closer to the Airbnb.  I just booked a short getaway to Las Vegas.  I'll blog later about how we're saving money.  I'm also looking at cruises.  Now's the time to book a cheap cruise!
I'm choosing to see the opportunities in our current environment, not just the problems.  How can you take advantage of the situation?

Wednesday, May 6

My Frugal Miser - April Expenses: $9,267


April showed some promise as far as reducing expenses, but some hefty unexpected repairs ran up my expenses.

Not So Good

My Birmingham rental properties all cost me money for repairs.  The A/C went out and had to replaced at one.  There was a plumbing leak at a second house and the third property's A/C went out and required a new condensation pump.

Our washing machine had been making funny noises for about a month, and the agitator stopped working.  Even though it was less than 2 years old (builder included it with the home purchase), I've learned over the years it's usually impractical to have a home appliance repaired.  Better to invest that money into a brand new appliance.  Unfortunately, Home Depot was on back order for over half their inventory, so I ended up paying more than I had intended.  We do a lot of the Airbnb laundry at our house, so it was important to pick a decent washer.

My cats got into a fight after they saw a stray in the backyard.  The vet calls this redirected aggression.  One of the cat's claws went into the other cat's eye.  That wasn't cheap.  The good news is she fully recovered.

Food was expensive.  We had a few restaurant meals:  Texas Roadhouse is doing a $6 lunch right now, plus we ordered delivery a few times.  But most of the spending was on groceries.  Early in the month I did some stocking up, so the pantry has more than it usually does.  I'm optimistic that this will offset my spending on food in May.

Better

After paying the $450 annual fee for my Marriott Bonvoy American Express, I decided it didn't make sense to pay this fee since I can't take advantage of the card's benefits.  I cancelled and was issued a refund.

The "fun" category was nearly zero.  It's difficult to spend money during a quarantine.  I bought a little alcohol, that's it.  I'm seriously considering booking a cruise or two though as prices are really cheap for some odd reason.

The phone bill went down after switching from Google Fi.

I also cancelled the commercial liability policy I have for my meeting work and received a $300 refund on that.


April Business Spending:  $4,926
April Personal Spending:  $4,341

April Expenses:  $9,267

$304 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
($450) Bank Fees income this month
$0 Clothing/ Personal Care
$10 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets)
$690 Food
$406 Health and Dental
$2,943 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$253 Miscellaneous
$0 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$11 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$0 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
$0 Reimbursed Job Expenses
$184 Utilities
$4,650 Rental Property Expenses
$265 AirBNB Expenses

Monday, May 4

My Frugal Miser - April Income: $13,371

I was certain my income would drop in April.  It was a grind, but I was able to avoid that outcome. 

The Airbnb was occupied nearly the entire month.  We had a group of workers stay 13 nights.  The rate was half what I normally charge.  I also received a bit of income from cancellations that Airbnb paid out at 25% as a goodwill gesture.

Meeting work was zero.  I shifted to deliveries and hit the pedal hard.  I worked about 90 hours a week.  Even during a global pandemic, deliveries just don't pay much.  Still, $3,500 is nothing to sneeze at.  I also earned $1,200 delivering for Amazon.  Again, that's been tough, too.  Amazon has done away with daytime deliveries for Flex drivers, and has been limiting one day deliveries.

Rental income includes the two houses in Birmingham and the March rent from the condo.  The tenant is over a month behind now.

I received a $250 bonus for opening a new bank account, $1,200 from the stimulus program, and a $1,000 SBA grant.

We both applied for unemployment in March.  So far we have received nothing and were deemed ineligible. 

April Income: $13,371

$96 Mystery Shopping/ Merchandising
$0 Meeting Jobs
$3,541 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Scooter Charging, Food Deliveries, etc.)
$1,206 Amazon Deliveries
$3,065 Rental Income
$2,874 Airbnb Income
$33 Interest Income
$2,555 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  $37,906

My investment accounts recovered some of their losses in April.  I am way down from where I was in February.  It will take some time to recover from this as I have large positions in cruise lines and retail.

Sunday, April 12

Cutting Costs 'Cause of COVID-19

While some of us practice frugality all the time, others may just be learning the ropes.  Never in our lives has practically the entire economy shut down.  There's no better time than today to make some small changes to reduce your ongoing expenses.

Here's what we did in March and early April:

Cancelling Accounts:  $751 refunded

  • Since my industry is shut down, there's no need for me to carry commercial liability insurance.  I called Hiscox and am receiving a $301 refund.
  • Last month I paid the $450 annual fee for my Marriott Bonvoy card.  Why do I need a hotel credit card if I can't travel?  I cancelled that and will be refunded $450.

Consumable Items

  • We're going to start using our supply of paper and plastic bags from retailers.  We spend $.14 per kitchen garbage bag, which gets emptied 2-3 times per week.  
  • We are saving on laundry detergent, water and electricity by doing less laundry.  There's no reason to wash pants every time you wear them, especially if you are quarantined at home.  They aren't dirty.
  • We are removing things instead of replacing them.  It feels normal to simply replace something when it breaks or wears out.  At the Airbnb, if a rug becomes permanently stained, I won't immediately replace it (we will wait for clearance sales for a deal).  If a piece of furniture breaks, we'll decide if it is even necessary.  At our home, I'm similarly not replacing clothes that are ripped or stained.  I've got plenty of clothes, and there will probably be some incredible clearance sales in the next year due to the slowing economy.

Phone Plan:  Saving $120/month

We switched from Google Fi to Sprint's Unlimited Kickstart plan.  Each line is $35/month for unlimited everything, plus they are offering a $300 prepaid gift card.  Basically you can get free phone service for 8 months.  In March I paid off the balance owed for our Pixel 3 phones and sold one of them on ebay.  The other phone has a cracked screen, with virtually no resale value.

In the months of March and April, I've trimmed $1,000 from the budget.  This was painless, no sacrifices at all.  It may become necessary to do more hardcore cost-cutting, depending on how deep this recession becomes.  What are you doing to control costs during COVID-19?

Wednesday, April 8

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 21 (Saturday, April 4th)

Day 21 (Saturday, April 4th)

Today I worked a little over 12 hours.  The morning started out slow, mostly Walmart deliveries.  Fortunately some of the tips were generous.  Lunch picked up a bit and then a friend let me know Amazon had a few routes on the board.  I took a 3.5 hour route.  It was in Lutz, north of Tampa.  Traffic was so light and the neighborhoods I delivered to were mostly ghost towns.  I had 37 stops, spread out a bit but not too bad, and I finished in just over 2 hours.  The nice thing about Amazon is you are paid the entire route time, even if you finish early.

After the Amazon route I drove back to my home area.  It was time for the dinner rush so I continued doing Doordash.  In all, it was a decent day.  I earned $268.  With Walmart deliveries it's possible to receive tips several days later so I am optimistic my earnings for the day will increase.

On the way home I used a gift card to order Outback to go.  We have an Outback/Carrabba's Express near our house, which was designed just for takeout and delivery (brilliantly relevant today, don't you think!?!).  I had the Alice Springs Chicken and my partner had the Sirloin.

At home we watched American Dad for about an hour before I went to bed.  Tomorrow I will probably do more Doordash deliveries.

Tuesday, April 7

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 20 (Friday, April 3rd)

Day 20 (Friday, April 3rd)

I slept in today - all the way until 6am!  I've never been one to sleep late.   Guess the optimist in me is up and ready to take on a new day.  I've always been an early riser.  I fed the cats, brewed a pot of coffee, then read yesterday's Wall Street Journal.  

One investment I would avoid is in delivery companies.  I'm learning quickly that there's no money in it.  Today I was scheduled to do Doordash throughout the day.  Even during this pandemic, the worst crisis of our generation, when EVERYONE is ordering delivery, the pay after deducting for vehicle expenses is less than minimum wage.  Customers just don't care that I am risking my life to bring them food.  One McDonald's order did not tip me at all; another gave me a $2 tip.  A Panda Express lunch order tipped me $3 - I drove 8 miles to deliver the order.  Doordash only pays $2-$4 per order, and I may receive two orders per hour.  It's insane.  Imagine during normal times how little the pay would be.

Evening food deliveries are more lucrative, but you couldn't live decently from working two nights a week.





Monday, April 6

My Frugal Miser - March Expenses: $8,478


March, 2020 was the first month most U.S. households experienced the effects of COVID-19, the coronavirus.  We certainly did.

Not So Good

The alternator died on my car.  Replacing it cost $1005.  I'm at the tipping point where it makes sense to replace the car as the repair bills are starting to cost more than I can justify.

The cost of food was high after a couple months of more reasonable spending.  With meeting work cancelled, there were no more free meals.  Plus there was some stocking up on non-perishable canned goods.

The "fun" category was high.  Right before everything started shutting down we took a last minute cruise.  I lost a few hundred dollars in the casino.  Also in the category, we spent $166 on a fun night out with a work friend.  I paid for all three of us.  We also spent $48/month for unlimited movies at AMC.  None of these expenses will be repeated in April unless I book another cruise, which I'm considering.

I paid the annual fee on my Marriott Bonvoy American Express.  The benefits, once I'm able to travel again, pretty much cancel out the cost of the card, but it's still expensive at $450/year.

Better

We switched phone plans.  Sprint began offering a plan called "Unlimited Kickstart."  For $35/mo per line, we have unlimited talk, text and data.  We also will receive a $300 prepaid gift card each, which essentially means 8 months of free service.  This is simply the best deal I've seen for heavy-data phone plans.  I did have to get a new phone, but it was only $50.  Utilities are high because I also paid off our Pixel 3 phones when I switched.

Our April expenses will see a noticeable drop, but my income is most likely going to fall even harder.  I'm looking for ways to reduce recurring expenses, but there's very little we can cut.



March Business Spending:  $1,280
March Personal Spending:  $7,198

March Expenses:  $8,478

$1,260 Auto (service, gas, insurance, AAA, etc.)
$450 Bank Fees
$31 Clothing/ Personal Care
$1,347 Fun (vacations movies, gambling, alcohol, concert tickets)
$618 Food
$406 Health and Dental
$1,735 Household/Mortgage Payment/Home Repair
$0 Interest Expense
$0 Miscellaneous
$420 Taxes includes quarterly tax payments
$5 App Jobs Expenses (tolls, car washes, etc.)
$0 Unreimbursed Job Expenses
($504) Reimbursed Job Expenses
$924 Utilities
$1,151 Rental Property Expenses
$633 AirBNB Expenses

Sunday, April 5

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 19 (Thursday, April 2nd)

Day 19 (Thursday, April 2nd)

Another day, another stay at home order.  I don't know about you guys, but this is getting old.  The staying at home is mundane, but with it I get this gloomy feeling that the economy is going to take a very long time to recover.

Today, upon reflection, was productive.  A few years ago I found a box of cabinet handles on clearance at Lowe's.  They were a special order that the customer didn't pick up.  I'd used most of them at the Airbnb, but there was a box just sitting in the garage collecting dust.  Since DR Horton didn't include cabinet hardware in my kitchen, I decided it was time to use those handles.  I installed everything I had, but we were short a few.  I found a match online.  Then, to get free shipping, I added extra handles to my order and will use those in the bathroom.

While I was installing the handles I had Doordash turned on.  I only received two Walmart orders over the hours I was available.  I also found a 5:15pm route for Amazon.  I spent over an hour in line at the warehouse.  They've added virus procedures including limiting the number of drivers inside the warehouse, which really slowed the process down.

On the way home from my route, I called a friend back in Birmingham who was going through some family issues.  It was nice talking to him even though things weren't going well for him.  His wife told him to leave and I think he might end up sleeping outside tonight.

Saturday, April 4

My Frugal Miser - March Income: $10,004

March will be the last 5-figure month for income for the foreseeable future.

The Airbnb was occupied nearly the entire month.  We had a 28 booking which paid out in February, so the income isn't reflective of that.  This income will be dramatically lower in April.

I was in the middle of a meeting in early March when it was cancelled.  Fortunately I was paid for the entire meeting as well as another meeting I was scheduled to work.  Meeting income will be zero in April as our industry is completely shuttered.

Rental income includes the two houses in Birmingham but not the condo, as the tenant in the condo did not pay his March rent.

I received a $500 bonus for a credit card I opened, which is reported in Other Sources.

As everything else shut down, I focused on delivering for Amazon and Doordash.  It's a fraction of what I earn elsewhere, but at least it's something.  Contrary to the news, delivering for Amazon is worse now than it's been in the four years I've been a driver.  The company overhired drivers and eliminated daytime routes for "Flex" drivers in favor of the third party companies that drive the blue vans.  Doordash is meager, less than minimum wage, except on weekend nights.  During weekdays, most of the deliveries are for Walmart groceries, and not everyone tips.  It's a shame that drivers are risking their lives, yet some customers are too stingy to tip the driver for the service.

We applied for unemployment on March 28th.  I will include that income in future months assuming it gets approved.

March Income: $10,004

$81 Mystery Shopping
$3,810 Meeting Jobs
$275 Gig Apps (Rideshare, Scooter Charging, etc.)
$1,605 Amazon Deliveries
$2,365 Rental Income
$1,321 Airbnb Income
$24 Interest Income
$555 Other Sources

Investment Accounts Change in Value:  ($95,278)

My investment accounts were slaughtered in March.  I am optimistic about my two largest positions:  Vereit and bonds I own with Southwestern Energy.  Both were way down last month.  My other large positions are in Carnival Cruise Lines, Tailored Brands (owner of Men's Wearhouse), and AMC Theaters.  Those three companies are shuttered and the outlook is bleak.  I know the economy will take a long time to recover but I am optimistic and currently plan to hold onto most of my stocks.

Friday, April 3

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 18 (Wednesday, April 1st)

Day 18 (Wednesday, April 1st)

One of my friends texted me at 1am, waking me up.  It took a couple hours to get back to sleep, but I managed to sleep late and woke up after 7am with my cat walking on me.  We had an Airbnb guest check out early.  He was in town for work but the virus prevented him from working so he left two days early.

We left for the Airbnb around 9am.  I stopped by Lowe's on the way to pick up a couple things that the weekend guest destroyed during their unauthorized house party.  Lowe's was nearly empty.  Fortunately the house wasn't in bad shape and we finished within a couple of hours.

On the way home we stopped by Aldi's.  We are eating at the house much more frequently.  It's saving us money versus eating out but it seems like we need to go to the grocery store all the time as a result.  We had a late lunch of homemade burritos.  We used ground chicken so hopefully they were healthy.

Afterwards I worked a 3 hour route for Amazon, and on the way home I did a couple of Doordash deliveries.

Thursday, April 2

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 17 (Tuesday, March 31st)

I slept really well last night and didn't wake up until 6am this morning... success!  When I did, I brewed a pot of coffee and opened up the Wall Street Journal.  No car in the garage means there's no reason to look for an Amazon route or schedule Doordash.

Around lunchtime our Airbnb guest asked if he could cancel the rest of his stay.  He said he wasn't going to be able to continue working due to the virus.  That sucks, but I'm grateful for the two nights we will be paid.  Guess we'll be going to clean tomorrow.

Right before 6pm the mechanic called to let me know the car was ready.  They offered to drop off the car at my house, and a few minute later I was back in business.  I quickly found an evening Amazon block ($36 to make one delivery) and also did two Doordash deliveries.  In total I earned $54 for about an hour or work.

Also today I looked into other assistance programs such as an SBA loan.  While cash isn't tight yet, I want to be prepared.  It's possible the economy doesn't quickly bounce back after the virus is contained, and I want to be ready.  My personal opinion is that we have a long journey ahead of us.  Things are going to be tight for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, April 1

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 16 (Monday, March 30th)

On Sunday I had a lightbulb moment.  Walmart offers free pickup.  Let a Walmart employee do my shopping for free.  They even bring the order to your car.  Sounds like the smart thing to do in this age of social distancing.  So bright and early yesterday I placed an order, but no order windows were available until today.  Still, this is much better than Amazon Fresh.  They haven't had a delivery window available for days.  I even managed to grab a pack of toilet paper, but that is being rationed and I had to go inside to purchase it.

There were several issues that popped up over the weekend and today.  Two of my Birmingham properties had issues.  I have to replace the HVAC system at one property.  The other one had a pipe inside the wall burst which leaked through the ceiling in the garage.  I got on the phone with the air conditioning guy, who I've worked with in the past, and was able to knock $1,200 off his quote.  Still going to be painful.  The burst pipe repair is likely going to cost around $1,000.

If that weren't enough, the battery light came on in my car this morning while I was doing Doordash.  I finished my delivery and went home to try to figure out what was wrong.  It's a newer battery so I didn't think that could be the problem.  I cleaned the corroded terminals, but that didn't make the light go off.  Doing some Internet research, it looked like it could be an alternator issue.  I took it to my mechanic, and I was right.  That's another almost $1,000 expense.

So, I'm at home, carless.  The alternator had to be ordered and won't come in until tomorrow.  I spent the day reading.  Sadly, the Tampa Bay Times is cutting back paper distribution to 2 days a week and will be available online the other days.  It's an excellent piece of journalism and I was sad to hear this.  The editor said they have lost over $1 million in ad revenues due to COVID-19. 

We also prepared dinner together.  Usually my partner does the cooking.  We made homemade meatball sliders.  They were AMAZING!  Afterwards, we signed up for a 7 day trial of Cinemax so I put on The Sitter.

Tuesday, March 31

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 15 (Sunday, March 29th)

This Amazon driver can't get a single route!
I forgot to mention that we filed for unemployment yesterday.  It doesn't look like the meeting industry is going to crank back up anytime soon.  I had been holding off on filing for a couple weeks.  For one, I have mixed feelings when it comes to accepting help.  I don't like doing it.  But after yesterday's real estate issues I realized that our cash flow will be dramatically lower for the foreseeable future.

I thought I was diversified:

  • Income from work included meetings and events, rideshare driving and making deliveries.  Even Amazon deliveries have slowed down dramatically as they way overhired drivers here.  There's just not enough work to go around.  The entire meeting industry has ceased and I'm not comfortable giving strangers rides in my car at the moment (not to mention the significant drop in demand).
  • I own real estate including single-family long-term rentals, a short-term Airbnb, and am a minority partner in 5 apartment complexes.  I am also geographically diversified.  The Airbnb is obviously suffering - beaches are closed.  My long-term tenants are struggling to pay or planning to move out.  The apartment complexes are also struggling with cash flow issues.
  • My stock portfolio was heavy on dividend paying companies, cruise lines and retailers.  I expect dividends to be cut, and most of the stocks have plummeted in value.
So, even though our income is derived from multiple sources, it's taking approximately a 90% hit right now.  Thus, I don't feel I have a choice but to file for unemployment.

Monday, March 30

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 15 (Saturday, March 28th)

Day 15 (Saturday, March 28th)

Can we delete this day and move ahead?  

Around 2am I received an inquiry for the Airbnb.  It was a short message asking me to call the potential guest, but Airbnb doesn't allow phone numbers to be transmitted so all I could do was respond to the guest.  Airbnb warned me the guest may be trying to book outside of the platform and reminded me that this was forbidden.  While I was awake I also noticed the thermostat at the Airbnb had gone offline.  No message from the current guest, so I didn't worry too much.

I went back to sleep until nearly 8am.  I never sleep this late, but it was nice to get a full 8 hours for a change.  Then I started looking at my emails.  I still own three rental properties in Alabama.  I had received maintenance alerts for two of them.  One reported that the A/C was not working.  The other reported a fairly significant leak with water damage.  I'm still waiting for the March rent on the third property, by the way.  As they say, when it rains, it pours.

We don't normally include holes in our doors.
And that's when the storm hit.  That "future guest" who had attempted to contact me overnight messaged me again.  Turns out she lives across the street from my Airbnb.  The police were called to the house twice overnight.  There was a party, fighting, the sound of breaking glass.  She'd tried to reach out at 2am not to book our home, but to let me know what was happening.  My heart sank.  I mean, it felt like the world was caving in all around me.

After confirming with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office that they had indeed come to my house, I only had one choice:  remove the guest.  We don't allow drama.  No parties, no groups over 6 guests.  My partner and I left for the house.  I arranged with the sheriff's office to have a deputy accompany me when I removed the guests.  Three cars showed up at once.  My fears and anxieties were lifted, and a newfound confidence restored by the fact that three officers of the law were backing me up.  Fortunately the guest only protested slightly.  Within half an hour they were gone.

That's a rug.  No, smoking is not allowed.
The house did have some damage, but it could have been much worse:
  • Someone punched a hole in an interior door.
  • Area rug was ruined by smoking (marijuana, not tobacco).
  • Every sheet and pillowcase was stained.
  • Vomit on bathroom floor and behind toilet.
  • Electrical outlet covers broken.
  • The drain pipe for the air conditioner had been knocked loose.  It was 85 degrees in the house because it triggered the shut-off - this explains the thermostat going offline.
Fortunately, we were able to restore the house in a few hours.  All that's left to do is to replace the area rug and repair the door.

So, that was our Saturday.  How was yours!?!

Sunday, March 29

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 14 (Friday, March 27th)

Day 14 (Friday, March 27th)

I woke up just after midnight and had trouble falling back to sleep.  I made the most of it, reading the Wall Street Journal and drinking water.  Finally around 2AM I went back to sleep and I slept until 6AM.  

Every once in a while I do some merchandising work.  Surprisingly, one of my clients had a liquor store project (surprising since most jobs are on hold right now).  I had 12 stores to go to, for $8 each.  Not much, but all I had to do was put stickers on a few bottles of gin.  It was super easy and only took a couple of hours.  

While I was visiting liquor stores my partner was painting doors at the Airbnb.  We're trying to spruce it up while the weather is still nice and while we have some downtime.  While I was out working, I received a 2 night booking for the weekend.  It's such a huge relief to still be getting reservations.  Yes, rates are much lower than normal.  But right now we need cash flow.  It just doesn't feel right having that house sit empty.

Saturday, March 28

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 13 (Thursday, March 26th)

Day 13 (Thursday, March 26th)

I woke up at 5am sharp, which is reasonable these days but not enough sleep.  Instead of jumping out of bed I reached for the computer to see what happened overnight.  Pinellas County issued a stay at home order.  I live in Hillsborough County but our Airbnb is in Pinellas.  Not sure how this will affect bookings.  It's not like business is booming, but we have managed to receive a couple last minute bookings at lower than normal rates.

Companies are beginning to warn about their ability to survive this situation.  Cheesecake Factory said it won't be able to pay its April rent.  AMC Theaters furloughed its corporate staff, even the CEO.  On the one hand, this is really stressful to think we may lose some companies that I do business with.  However, it also makes me wonder why those companies weren't better prepared for hard times.  Sure, the situation is unlike any other.  No one plans for a 100% decline in sales.  But companies should have the means to continue operating at least for a while under dire circumstances.  I hope this virus changes the way companies handle their balance sheets.  Less debt, more liquidity.

This morning we had to clean the Airbnb.  The guests were  radio silent since making their last minute reservation and I was hoping they were gentle with our home.  Turns out they were very respectful, and it was super easy to clean.

Later I did a couple Doordash deliveries and an Amazon route.  

Friday, March 27

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 12 (Wednesday, March 25th)

Day 12 (Wednesday, March 25th)

I woke up around 5:30 in the morning, which is fairly normal for me.  I had a stomach ache, which seems to happen whenever I eat right before I go to bed.  Nevertheless, I jumped out of bed.

After feeding the cats I started to read the newspaper.  My stomach and the lack of caffeine had me feeling sluggish, so I decided to go for a ride on my bike.  There's something about fresh air, especially early in the morning while the weather is still nice.  When I returned from the brief outing I was already feeling better.

Yesterday I made Spam Onion soup.  Yes, it makes me laugh, too.  We had some perishable items that needed to be used up.  The Spam Onion soup included rice, peas, green onions, cilantro, chicken broth, yellow onions and spam, along with some seasonings.  It turned out better than I thought, so I had some for breakfast along with a grilled cheese.

The big economic news of the day was that the Senate finally approved a stimulus plan.  Things looked fairly uncertain until late in the day.  The House is doing a voice vote on Thursday.  I learned a voice vote means they do not have to reconvene the House in Washington, D.C.  But if one House member objects, it would slow down the process.

I completed a 3 hour route for Amazon at the Brandon warehouse today.  I also did a handful of Doordash deliveries.  My income is way down, but it's better than nothing.


Thursday, March 26

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 11 (Tuesday, March 24th)

Day 11 (Tuesday, March 24th)

Today we had some structure!  After lowering rates on the Airbnb we received a 2 day booking and the guests checked out this morning.  We left home around 10am and headed there.  The house was in pretty good condition but I did spend extra time disinfecting, wiping down doorknobs, etc.  While we were there, we got a last minute booking that wanted to check in right away.  I approved the request and let the guest know we would be finished cleaning around 1pm.

As we were driving home I started looking for an Amazon route.  I also noticed Doordash had immediate availability so I signed on.  Both efforts were rewarded:  I found a 3 hour route in Sarasota for 4:15pm and I was able to accept a Walmart delivery on Doordash.  The Sarasota route was pretty easy and I finished in an hour and a half.

Once I got home I showered then had a couple of beers while we watched Karate Kid.  I fell asleep during the movie.

Wednesday, March 25

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 10 (Monday, March 23rd)

Day 10 (Monday, March 23rd)

I woke up around 5am for no particular reason.  Good thing I did because I was able to grab a rare Amazon Fresh route for 7am-9am.  I made 6 deliveries and it was easy.  I tried to get a second route but was unsuccessful.  I turned on Doordash instead and did a couple of Walmart deliveries.

While I was at Walmart I did some shopping.  The store was still out of a lot of things.  The toilet paper/paper towel aisle - yes, it is an entire two sided aisle at this store, was 100% sold out.  There were quite a few other shortages as well, especially canned goods.

This afternoon I got a 4 hour route in Sarasota.  It was a tough one all the way down in Venice.  I put a lot of miles on my car today.  

While driving home I spoke with a couple of my meeting industry friends.  We all agree our industry is on life support.  One company that provides me a significant amount of income laid off 95% of its staff today.  The CEO sent an email out detailing the problems and other cuts they were doing to try to survive.  He said things aren't looking good in the next few months.

Once I got home, I ate a light dinner, checked emails and then watched Schitts Creek.

Tuesday, March 24

Economic Quarantine, a Diary: Day 9 (Sunday, March 22nd)

Day 9 (Sunday, March 22nd)

A few days ago we got a 2 day Airbnb reservation.  I expected the guest to cancel after the beaches closed, but he did not.  So, we left early to go over there.  The house was already clean, but it is oak pollen season and, with very little to do otherwise, I figure the guests might want to lounge on the patio.  We wiped everything down and I dusted a bit in the house.

We came straight home and I started looking for an Amazon route.  I also looked for and quickly found a Doordash schedule.  It wasn't exactly busy:  in 4 hours I received 4 orders, all for Walmart deliveries.  The pay is low - $6-$7 per order - and I'm not sure how tipping works.  One customer gave me $5 cash but the other orders say a tip can be added later.  We'll see.  I ended up with a 3 hour route in Sarasota on Amazon.  That's it.

After getting home from my route, I looked at the news.  A mistake.  Senator Rand Paul has coronavirus.  I'm usually not a fan of big government but this time is an exception.  We can't have our senators coming down with the virus and delaying these important decisions.  Ugh...