Let’s have a little fun today. That last post about keeping track of your Roth IRA contributions was very important, but a little dry. Today, I’m going tell you about a few stressful money situations I had recently. Well, stressful is a little strong. The amount of money involve is pretty small in all cases so maybe anxious is a better description. Check them out and let me know what you would have done in my place. I’ll put some polls up so you can vote anonymously.
A little background
I’m a pretty frugal person. I don’t like spending money because my income is not steady. My blog income last year was below $30,000. That’s not bad for part time, but not great either. This year is much better, but it is still a fraction of what I made when I was an engineer. I’d rather put all that income into my solo 401(k) than buy anything. Spending on groceries and things we need are fine, but I’m just very hesitant to spend on extra stuff.
When I was working full-time, I was a bit more relaxed about spending because the fat paycheck was coming in every few weeks. Even with good pay, I never spent that much. My family struggled financially when I was young and my parents rarely buy shiny new stuff. Being frugal became a habit and I always looked for sale and avoid high priced items. That’s why I don’t believe in Apple products. A PC (or android phone) works just fine, right?
These days, we are doing pretty well financially. Mrs. RB40 still works and she make good income. My online income is also very good this year and our passive income is picking up steam. We generate more income than we spend every month and we can save over $50,000 per year without too much trouble. Also, our net worth is more than 40x our annual expenses. At this level, I shouldn’t be so cheap, but a 20 year habit is hard to break. Lastly, we’re being extremely conservative now because Mrs. RB40 plans to retire in a few years. Our income will drop after she retires and it’ll be harder to make ends meet without dipping into our retirement funds. (Which is okay with me, as long as we withdraw less than 3% or so.)
Okay, let’s go on to these anxious money situations.
A few weeks ago, I met up with Mrs. RB40 for lunch at the Portland Penny Diner. This is a diner in the fancy Hotel Lucia, downtown. The Portland Penny Diner is a concept by renowned chef Vitaly Paley and shares the same kitchen as the more expensive Imperial restaurant next door. This is a counter service diner. You go up to the counter, order, pay, and the server will bring the food out.
I got a patty melt and Mrs. RB40 ordered fried chicken. The food was good. But the most impressive thing about the meal was the amazing house made hot sauce. It was similar to Sriracha, but had a deeper, more satisfying bite. And it was in an eye dropper bottle. I thought that was pretty neat. Our lunch cost $8 each.
Here is a picture I found on the internet. This fried chicken in the picture was served at the Imperial and cost $19. Mrs. RB40’s diner version was $8 and much smaller. There was less protein, but the smaller serving size was just right for her. She enjoyed it immensely.
Anyway, the problem was I didn’t understand the tipping procedure there. You pay right after you order and I wasn’t sure whether to leave a tip or how much. I used a credit card and it didn’t feel right to tip before I got my food. After lunch, I was thinking about tipping, but I didn’t see a tip jar. I also didn’t have small bills. So I decided to be a cheap bastard and left without tipping.
I’m not familiar with the tipping procedure when the place wants you to pay up front. I always tip if I pay after the meal, as long as the service and food weren’t completely dismal. This paying process is kind of like getting coffee at Starbucks. I don’t tip there and I don’t feel guilty about it. On the other hand, I felt like a cheap bastard for not tipping at a diner.
*update – I forgot to add that I bused our dishes and got our water.
How do you tip in this situation?
Being devious at the US Post Office
Here is one where I didn’t cheap out. Our son hasn’t played with his Thomas the Train tracks in a while so we thought we’d pass it along to his younger cousin. His cousin is a little younger and he loves Thomas the Tank Engine. Mrs. RB40 packaged it up and sent me to the post office to get them shipped out.
At the post office, the counter lady asked me if these are books. It’d cost about $10 for books instead about $20 for anything else. Books, CDs, and other media qualify for the cheaper media mail service. This box felt like it had books in it. Nothing was rattling and the weight was just about right.
I was tempted to tell the USPS lady – yes, these are books. However, I just told her the box was full of toys. I’d probably have gone for the cheaper rate when I was young and really cheap. The chance of getting caught is extremely low. The Postal Service reserves the right to check the package, but I doubt they check very often. Even if you get caught, they’ll just make you pay the regular price. No penalty for getting caught? That’s not a very effective deterrent.
Anyway, I paid the regular price and didn’t try to pull a fast one. Good for me and the money losing USPS. The U.S. Postal Service posted a net loss of approximately $5.6 billion for fiscal year 2016…
Would you cheat and go for the cheaper rate? The change of getting caught is minuscule and there is no penalty.
Paying extra to go to the gym
Oh man, my gym is closed until further notice. Last Tuesday, I was working out when the fire alarm went off. I quickly grabbed my stuff and walked home. I didn’t smell any smoke so I thought it was just a fire drill. However, it was a bit more serious. The facade was falling down and they evacuated the building. The whole building is closed until they can put up some scaffolding to protect the pedestrians.
Anyway, I have been going to the gym regularly and I don’t want to mess up my system. There is another branch nearby that I used to go to so that was my second option. At least until I drove up and found that they didn’t have their free garage parking anymore. I had to pay $2 for street parking to work out that day. That sucked! Paying $2 for parking will almost triple my cost of going to the gym. I’m offended by having to pay for street parking just so I can work out.
Luckily, there is another branch across the river. It’s a bit further drive, but they have plenty of parking. Am I being too cheap to balk at paying $2 for parking? Let me turn it over to my frugal hero – George Costanza.
George: A garage. I can’t even pull in there. It’s like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay, when if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?
*Update – My gym is opened again. Yay! They are still working on the facade. Here is a picture I snapped. I like walking to the gym. It’s a nice little warm up and a chance to take the pulse of the neighborhood. Lots of protests around this area near the city hall.
Paid focus group
This last one is about making money. Recently, I had an opportunity to participate in a focus group. It would have taken 2 hours and paid $125. That’s pretty darn good. I accepted, but I really didn’t want to go at all. The problem was the timing. They will hold the discussion group from 8 to 10 pm on a Wednesday at a not so good neighborhood. (Chinatown, of course…)
Luckily, they had to reschedule and I declined to participate. I guess I’m getting old and grouchy. I can’t even remember the last time I stayed out that late. It must have been over 10 years ago. 8 pm is bed time for my kid and I work on my blog after that. It would have been much better if they held the focus group from 6 to 8 pm or something like that.
Anyway, I turned down $125 and I don’t feel too bad about it. That money won’t make a big difference for us in the long term. It’s a nice side hustle, but I’m just not up to it. Blogging is a much better side job. See my guide on How to start blogging and why you should.
How cheap am I really?
So what do you think? Am I a cheap bastard or merely frugal? I constantly think about money and it’s probably not very healthy. At this stage in our journey, I should be a bit more relaxed about money. Being cheap is a hard habit to break, though.
Alright, that’s it for today. Do you have any interesting money conundrums that you’d like to share? Do you worry about the nickels and dimes?
For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.
Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.