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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.


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.