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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.