November Financial Update

Phew – 3rd month in a row of only a financial update. My apologies! Again, we’ve been juggling two houses, construction work on the new house, two toddlers, and my being pregnant (and exhausted).

At the beginning of the month, we closed on our old home. It wasn’t an easy process (as usual) with the title company, even down to having the wrong amount on the check at the closing table, but it all worked out. Being free of that burden has been lovely. We immediately cashed the check, but it’ll have to be a separate post for what we did (and are planning to do) with those proceeds.

RENTAL PROPERTIES

We had our court date on November 1st for the tenant that left a house with garbage and damage. She didn’t show (after providing us a fake address), so the judge ruled in our favor for the full judgement. She then has 10 days to appeal. We’re beyond that window, so I now reach out to her to establish a payment plan. If she doesn’t respond, then I file it with our attorney to proceed with garnishment.

We had a few small items to pay for with the rentals, but we have everyone’s rent that was due by now. I typically expect to see more late payments in December and January with the holidays.

NET WORTH

We’re still carrying a high balance on a 0% interest credit card. I did pay off a card that had a payment plan on it (it was free, and why not … except, I was tired of figuring out and managing new purchases versus the payment plan portion, so I just paid it all off once our proceeds came in; it was about $1100).

Our investments recovered in the market from last month, and we significantly increased the balance in our taxable accounts and cash due to investments from the proceeds of our sale.

September Financial Update

Whew, we’ve been busy. Son turned 4. Lots of traveling. Kids started school. Managing two houses. Managing the rentals. Being 7 months pregnant.

We’ve been working on our old house to get a lot of the things moved to the new house, while keeping enough there to live. A slow move sounded great in concept, but dragging this out for 3 months now, with another 6-8 weeks to go probably, has been rough. We unload the car, put it in the new house dining room, and then I need to unpack all that and find it a home. Then we come with another dump of things right after I clear that out. It’s been exhausting. Meanwhile, I’ve been painting almost all of the new house, changing out light fixtures, changing out some electrical switches/outlets that were dated, etc. Mr. ODA has started working on the rebuild part of the bathroom renovation, so we happily have gotten all the electrical work that we wanted to do done (we need to hire an electrician to run a line for the dryer), and then got the shower framed. He’s also been working on the yard and landscaping, which is a big project because the original owner of the house put in a lot of landscaping, and then the people who owned the house for about a year before us didn’t maintain any of it.

We’re listing the house this week, and we’re hoping for a reasonable offer ASAP and a closing at the beginning of November. That closing will pay off our mortgage (~$265k) and our HELOC (~$82k).

RENTAL PROPERTIES

October brings a lot of rental bills. KY’s property taxes are due in October and November, and none of the houses we have here are escrowed, so I need to plan on about $6,500 outlay. Right now, we have a HELOC on our last primary residence, so I have that to fall back on. Typically, I project out 2 months of expenses, and I know how much I have “left over.” The “left over” usually is paid towards a mortgage or, currently, our HELOC balance; in the Fall, I plan to have that “left over” go towards the taxes. Luckily, our houses in Virginia that aren’t escrowed have the tax payments due half in December and half in June.

While our credit card balances are high (we’re carrying a large balance on one that’s 0% interest), we didn’t have a lot of expenses this past month. Mr. ODA’s work trip hotels and restaurants are on the credit cards that will get paid this week, and we’ve had higher gas expenses because of my driving to/from NY and then capitalizing on Kroger incentives so filled up one car. Other than that, we’ve only eaten at restaurants sporadically and have been focused on getting projects done, so haven’t gone out much.

This is the first month of the newly executed lease with a tenant who paid late every month. Their rent total increased for the convenience of paying twice a month (although the total owed now is still less than their rent and late fee they had been paying). They paid the first half on time, and they haven’t paid the second half, which if it’s not paid by the end of today will incur a late fee. Rent was $1450, so they were paying $1595 every month. Rent is now $750 twice a month. If they pay on time, it’s $1500 per month. If they pay half late, then it’s now $1575 per month.

I submitted the security deposit charges to the tenant that moved out. She asked a question about the charges on the list, but then didn’t acknowledge by the deadline. We need to have our property manager file the charges in court. Somehow it’s the 19th of the month, and we haven’t pursued that yet because we’ve been so busy.

Other than that, we didn’t have any service calls on any of the houses, and everyone else has paid their rent.

NET WORTH

We have a busy October planned. I hope we’ll finish the projects at the new house and be close to closing the chapter of our last house. Our investments have declined significantly (almost $91k!) from last month. Our cash is higher than usual because of the cycle timing for this update compared to the bill due dates. And finally, the credit cards are higher than usual, and they’re higher than last month, but that’s because we’re purposely carrying a balance on a 0% interest card. So while our overall net worth has decreased over $33k since last month, the stock market issues have been offset by paying down mortgages and increased property values.

August Financial Update

We took a week-long vacation the first week of August. I haven’t taken an entire week trip in a very long time. The kids are young, and the daily activities of swimming at the pool and the beach were exhausting for them, but we had a great time. I had projected about $500 worth of food expenses for the week, but we only spent $250 (including a grocery shopping trip). Our daily schedule was dictated by children sleeping, so it was a lot of little meals or snacks at the condo rather than looking to take the time to sit down at a restaurant. It also helped that we paid about $3.45 for gas (which is still terrible, but it’s not $4.30!), so our gas costs for the 11-12 hour trip each way was $190. Our lodging costs were significantly more than we’d typically spend, so the reduced costs in other areas was welcomed.

We’re still working on the new house and haven’t moved. That’s starting to weigh on me. We won’t see much progress this month based on our activity schedules, but hopefully we’ll knock nearly everything off the list next month. Our expenses were high in June and July for the house, but now it’s just a matter of finishing the projects that we already bought materials for, so hopefully expenses will be low the rest of this month. Our HELOC balance increased because we used it to pay for our concrete replacement at the new house (tear out driveway, garbage pad, walkway and stoop to the house, and 3 sidewalk squares; then replace everything in kind except widen the driveway).

RENTAL PROPERTIES

We offered our tenant that has paid rent late 71% of the months we’ve owned the house a new option, and they accepted. They had been paying rent around the 15th and then the last Friday of every month. After several months of this, I spoke up that it was unacceptable. They started paying the first half by the 5th, but the second half was still coming the last week of the month. That means every month, they’re paying $1450 in rent and $145 in late fee. We offered them the ability to pay half at the beginning of the month and half by the 15th. Each payment has a 5 day grace period, and then the late fee is tied only to the payment not made. However, since this is an inconvenience to us, the rent increased to $1500. They could be saving $95 per month if they pay both payments on time. However, they could also be paying as much as $1650 per month now if they pay each payment late.

We got one house turned over and rented last month, and rent was paid timely this month. We also received credits from our KY property manager for costs they overcharged us on.

NET WORTH

We continue to hold high balances on credit cards because of 0% interest incentives. As I mentioned, you don’t typically see a personal mortgage line increase, but we drew almost $9k out of the HELOC to pay for concrete replacement at our new house. Our investments have increased in value over the last month, offsetting the additional draw on the HELOC and higher-than-average credit card balances, helping increase our net worth.

New Credit Cards

We turned over a rental in April, bought a new house that requires work in June, and turned over another rental in July. Those activities have a lot of expenses associated with it. While we could have strategically spent the money and paid off credit cards, it’s nice to have a cushion. When we’re faced with a lot of large expenses, Mr. ODA searches for a new credit card.

Why do we open a new credit card for big expenses? Because it’s a free short term loan for us. We’re looking for a card that provides an introductory 0% interest period, as well as some other bonus(es). Carrying a balance on a credit card and paying up to 25% interest is a non-starter in our financial portfolio.

Mr. ODA had searched for a new credit card back in the April timeframe, but we had multiple credit hits around that time, and I didn’t want to risk it. We paid off the expenses for the first rental turnover through our regular credit cards. Once we bought our new house and we knew that turning over another rental was looming (with big expenses like carpet replacement), Mr. ODA found a credit card he wanted.

At the last second, Mr. ODA switched which card he wanted. The card gave an introductory offer of $200 back after you spent $1000 within 120 days, up to 5% cash back on two categories you choose, 2% cash back on one everyday category, and 1% on all other purchases. It had 15 months of 0% APR and no annual fee. He received a credit limit of $500. Seriously. He called to get a credit increase and find out why it was so low, but they said they required another credit report pull to talk to him about anything. Nope. So we have this random $500 limit credit card in our portfolio. We’ve spent our $1000 and will get our $200 cash back (unless they find a loophole, which I would expect based on how this company’s relationship has been so far), and then this card will just sit unused until they close it years from now due to inactivity.

Since that was a bust, Mr. ODA opened a different credit card in my name (spread the wealth on credit inquiries). I was granted a $9,000 credit limit, and we got straight to work spending that. There’s no annual fee; it has a 15 month 0% introductory period; and earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top spending category (automatically, without choosing a category) up to the first $500 spent and 1% cash back after that. It gave us $200 cash back after we spent $750 in the first 3 months.

Two of our first few expenses were a vanity for our new master bathroom and 1,000 sf worth of vinyl plank flooring for a rental. Our balance within the first week was over $5,000. As much as I can’t stand to see that balance sitting there, it has helped us move money around. Usually we focus our spending in the categories that each credit card offers with higher rewards, but for these bigger expenses, we’re focused on being able to float them for several months.

We used a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) for the down payment on the new house. Originally, we had been paying down the principal on that, and put $14k towards that over the last month. We then decided we should focus more into buying the dip of the stock the market instead of paying down that account with 4% interest rate (although that’s variable). That’s what we’re currently focusing on, knowing that when we sell our current house, proceeds will pay off the HELOC in a short few months. We currently have about a $1500 cash cushion because we know that we have the HELOC to fall back on. For instance, we’re replacing the driveway and walkways at our new house, and we’ll pull cash out of the HELOC to pay for that (they don’t take credit).

If your credit is in favorable standing and you have large expenses looming (without a need for a new loan/mortgage in the near future), then look for a new credit card. Don’t open any random one. You’re looking for 0% interest for 12-15 months, no annual fee, and the possibility of a reward system (whether it’s an introductory offer related to spending, a cash back incentive for spending, or some form of both).

July Financial Update

Welp, I haven’t posted in a month. We have been so busy and exhausted.

We bought a house on June 15. That process was not smooth in the week before closing, even through the day of. Our attorney had to come to our house the next day to have us sign other papers. Our lender was great, great, great, until they weren’t at the 11th hour. As always, everything went through, and we have ownership of the house. And that week will be a distant memory soon. But why does the mortgage industry get away with operating this way? I feel like there hasn’t been a single transaction we’ve done where there wasn’t a “where’s my paperwork????” or “why’s this wrong the day before closing???” moment (or my favorite, when we begged for the HUD-1 to review it before closing, and a traveling notary showed up at our house, only for the HUD-1 to be different than the closing disclosure and the numbers to be wrong on both documents).

We used our HELOC on our current house to pay the downpayment and closing costs on the new house, so that was a quick debt addition. We started with a balance of about 86k and have paid it down to 75k. We didn’t necessarily need to take the whole amount from the HELOC, but it was easier to get one cashiers check from the HELOC and immediately pay towards it than to transfer some from the HELOC and do a wire from our checking account.

This new house will be our personal residence, but it requires work. We’ve gutted the master bathroom, and I’ve been painting nearly all my free waking moments. I have the first floor mostly done (including making a ceiling go from navy to white.. ugh) and the kids’ bathroom done.

We opened two new credit cards in the last month, but I’ll get into that in the next post. Just note that our credit card balances are higher than our usual, and will remain that way.

We had opened a checking account for rewards a while back, and the account required $500 of direct deposits each month. It was one more account to manage, and it was no longer serving a purpose, so we finally closed that. Now we just manage two checking accounts.

RENTAL HOUSES

We have a vacant rental house as of June 30th, which I’ll also get into in a future post. The good news is that one of our houses that’s a repeat offender of not paying rent is now out of the picture. We still have one house that never pays on time, but I’ve at least got them paying half the rent by the 5th so that we aren’t constantly floating their mortgage and bills until the last Friday of every month.

We had two rental increases go into effect this month. One was for $20 (good tenants, long term, told us in advance they wanted to renew, but we also needed to cover our cost increases) and another was for $50.

Our property manager in KY hasn’t been easy. We’ve had to do a lot of managing the manager. All of our paperwork says not to charge the 10% fee on contractors. The document that they put in our file says it, and that’s the same document they put the charge on. I keep having to ask for all the documentation. Once I ask, they note the 10%, but it’s not until I ask.

We paid a plumber to fix a shower handle in one of our houses. On June 1st, she texted that it was loose. She didn’t really explain the situation, and I asked her to tighten the screw and let me know. She texted me on July 8th that it didn’t work. Where have you been for a month?! Then she said “let me know when the plumber is coming so I can wake my husband.” Um, you waited 5 weeks to tell me that it’s still broken, I’m not rushing a plumber out there today.

One of our insurance companies dropped us once they found out we don’t live within a certain radius of the houses. We have a property manager, so this rule doesn’t make sense to me. They let us finish out our policies, but they wouldn’t renew. Our agent quoted one company that doubled the cost we had been paying because the roof “may have been last replaced in 2000” (and we couldn’t prove otherwise). I said nope, and I asked another agent to give a quote. Their increased our cost by about $100, but it was better than $300. I executed that at the beginning of this month.

We had an HVAC go out, but luckily it was able to be fixed (for 225) than replaced.

NET WORTH

Well, even though our investments are declining and we took on a lot more debt, our net worth increased by 75k from last month. Truly, I’ve focused on the work we’ve had to do over the last month, and not necessarily on the spending or the market. At some point I’ll need to get through all our expenses and identify how our spending has changed, but perhaps that’s a job for another season while we continue to work on a new house and work towards moving our family in the coming months.

June Financial Update

We ramped up our travel this month, which has actually led to us canceling a few trips that were planned for this next month. I went to visit my family for my sister’s baby shower, we went on a family trip for a long weekend, and then Mr. ODA was gone all week for work. We’ve done a few local activities, but several of our plans have been cancelled or postponed due to the current gas prices, which are about $4.75. Even Sam’s Club and Costco, which were holding strong in the low 4s, are both at $4.69 right now.

We’re working towards closing on a new house next Wednesday, so that’s been the stressor right now. We had a month and a half for closing, which is literally the longest we’ve ever had, and then yesterday I got asked for tax information. Seriously, what have you been doing for the last month since I signed off on the initial disclosures? We went with an online bank, so that’s been an extra factor in uncertainty through this process.

RENTALS

I served a notice of non-renewal to one of my tenants. Her lease ends on 6/30, and we want her out. It’s the first time in 6 years that we’re so fed up with a tenant that we actually said it’s time to leave. We’ve had issues with tenants in the past, but we’ve just increased their rent as a means of giving them the option to leave, or compensating us for our frustrations associated with them living there. She, of course, didn’t pay rent by the 5th. When I asked her where rent was, along with the balance of outstanding late fees and the current late fee, she said she was trying to secure a place to live, so she wouldn’t be able to “pay towards that” until the 17th. Pay your rent timely OR communicate a need for more time without the landlord having to hunt you down. That will keep a roof over your head so you don’t have to move when you don’t want to, and it’ll also put you in a position where your current landlord can actually provide a referral at a new place.

My other usual suspect, who I told needed to start getting their act together and pay rent before the last Friday of every month, paid half of rent on the 3rd and sent an email saying we won’t get the rest until the last Friday of the month. Progress, I guess.

We had a massive issue with our property manager in Kentucky. The accountant felt he had a little too much power and ran with it. Mr. ODA went to meet with them, where the accountant had to admit his mistake in charging us $900 in front of the owner. As a means of making amends, the owner credited us the management fee they took out of our security deposit. While I understand their thought process that our contract says “10% of income,” and a security deposit gets counted as income for tax purposes, I disagree with them taking a commission out of it. If that’s the case, our security deposits under them should be 10% higher than a month’s worth of rent. A security deposit’s purpose is to reimburse us for our costs to fix a unit that has been unreasonable mangled by a tenant before their departure. In this case, we have $4000 worth of costs. The security deposit was $895. Them taking $89.50 was insult to injury in this case, especially after they took 18 days before taking any action to confirm the place was abandoned. Moving on.

That house that was abandoned ended up getting rented for June 1st. We’re netting about $250 more per month with the higher rent there.

One of our mortgages was going to be paid off in May, which I mentioned last month. I scrambled to find out how to pay the taxes, which wasn’t easy (it’s a different jurisdiction than most of our houses… being in the county instead of the city). I finally got that figured out and paid the taxes at the beginning of the month.

PERSONAL FINANCES

This month we actually had a few “receivables” to expect. We learned that our lender wasn’t requiring an appraisal (we don’t get it), so they were going to refund us the appraisal fee of $525. We had a major issue with Home Depot and getting an appliance delivered, which ended with us going to the store, buying the appliance, putting it in our car, and driving it to the rental. We had to wait for the terrible delivery company to “scan” the not-delivered appliance back into their warehouse, and then we got $600 back. When I registered my kids for preschool, the system glitched and charged an extra $100, so we got that back. I had already registered my oldest at the same school as this year before we learned we’d be moving, and they were kind enough to return my registration fees, so that was $300.

All that to say, stay on top of your finances. Know what you owe so that you know when you’re overcharged. When someone says you’re owed a refund, pay attention that you receive it; we had to follow up on the refund, and it turned out she hadn’t processed it. Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s an option for a refund in some cases. Just those transactions are $1525 worth of money back in our pockets in a month’s time.

SUMMARY

We have work on a rental that’s still outstanding. I don’t expect her to actually be out on June 30th at 5 pm like she’s been instructed. I have our property manager handling the move out (even though she doesn’t manage that property). This way, if she’s not out on the 30th, I haven’t driven 8 hours to find out I can’t do any work on the property.

We plan on doing a lot of work on our new house after close next week. That’ll take up a lot of our free time over the next few months.

The stock market has somewhat rebounded. It’s not back to levels it was once at, but it’s nice to see balances go up instead of down. Our credit cards are down significantly because I am purposely keeping a low balance right before we close on a house (down by paying it off, not down by not spending…). Our funds for closing are coming from our HELOC, so it hasn’t been a stressor to keep a cash balance to go towards our cash-to-close.

April Financial Update

The market has recovered a good bit, so our net worth jumped. Our retirement accounts were at an intriguing low, but they’re back on track now. We also saw a few sales in the neighborhoods where our rentals are, so that increased our net worth based on the comps. We added a new property over the course of the last month as well.

NEW HOUSE IN OUR PORTFOLIO

We closed on a new house on March 24th. We worked on it for a few days, I held an open house, and we were able to get it rented as of April 8th. We had 16 days of vacancy. While showing it, most people were looking for a May or June start date, so we were lucky someone qualified for an April date. Back in 2016-2019, we were looking to follow the “1% Rule.” That means that if you buy a house for $100,000, your goal is to set rent at least $1,000 per month. This house isn’t even close. This market doesn’t allow for such a goal anymore because housing prices are soaring. The next goal would be to list for about $1/square foot. This house is 2100 square feet, but since the upstairs has smallish rooms and the basement is all open, we thought it wasn’t really worth pushing for $1/sf.

We bought it for $240k net, and ended up renting it at $1750. I wanted $1800, Mr. ODA wanted $1695, and when I went to list it, Zillow suggested $1750, so we went with that. Multiple people commented on how they appreciated the price, so we may have been able to get $1800 without an issue. I’m happy to have it rented, and I think these people are going to take good care of the house.

RENTALS

We put more money towards the house that we’ve been paying off, which is owned with a partner. We put our half towards it ($8,500), and it has a balance of about $600 now. The pay off quote required us to pay the anticipated taxes that will be paid out of escrow in May. We didn’t appreciate that, so we just went ahead and paid it down. We’ll let the May mortgage payment go through, wait for the taxes to get paid out of escrow in mid-May, and then pay it off. That’ll make 7 houses that are owned outright! But that also means I need to stay on top of insurance and tax payments.

We were just informed that one of our properties in Lexington that’s under a property manager hasn’t paid rent. She said it’s unlike them and that they aren’t even responding. She’s going to go to the house tomorrow to check on the situation. Since we’re paid a month after rent is received, this hasn’t affected us. A neighbor reported that they were moving out last month, but the tenant denied it. Perhaps they abandoned the property.

Once again, our two usual suspects didn’t pay rent on time. However, both of them actually made a better effort than they have been. One has paid this month’s rent in full, but has a balance of $286.31 (seriously…) to make up several late fees. I’m happy to waive late fees when it’s someone who communicates and isn’t always a fight to collect rent, but I’m holding this one to the balance owed. Another one told me that they wouldn’t pay until the last Friday of the month. I drafted an email to tell them that this is unacceptable because it’s been several months that they’re paying this late, and we need to work towards getting back to paying rent at the beginning of the month. Right after I drafted that, she sent half of this month’s rent. Better than nothing!

SPENDING CHANGES

Over the past month, we didn’t go out to restaurants very much. We haven’t been traveling because my family came into town for our daughter’s birthday party, and then I’ve been working on the weekend. Most of our spending went to gas (going back and forth to Lexington (half hour drive) multiple times per week!) and expenses to get the new house ready for a tenant.

I’m flying to my sister’s baby shower next month, so that another large and unusual expense on our credit cards ($250).

SUMMARY

We still have our state taxes to get paid. We went through the process of entering all our taxes, but we haven’t hit submit just yet. Surprisingly, we’re expecting a refund from the Federal side. The amount owed and the refund basically end up as a wash.

Our new property’s loan is a commercial loan, so it doesn’t get paid on the typical mortgage schedule, but on the 1 month anniversary of the opening. Therefore, the next payment is due on 4/24, and there’s no “1 month without a payment” type thing.

Clearly, our cash balance dropped significantly since last month because we had the closing. That was about $46k that we wired out, which was the expectation when we completed all the maneuvering with the cash out refinances in January. Our credit cards reflect our lower spending too, coming in about half what the balances were last month.

Credit Card Rewards

A while back, I wrote about how, if you really wanted to put the effort in, you could be maximizing credit card rewards. If you don’t want to put the effort in that I’ll get to in a second, then you could at least have one reward-earning card that you use for all your purchases and pay off each month.

Important reminders:

We don’t use cash. Everything goes on a credit card unless it’s prohibited or there’s a service charge that outweighs our rewards.

We pay off the balance of every credit card every month. We have never paid interest on a credit card balance.

Let’s dive in.

REWARDS

Credit card companies are offering rewards for using their card for purchases. Some even give a reward for making payments on it too. The rewards can be in a point system, cash back, or incentives for specific companies (e.g., Delta, Disney). We prefer more generic reward options, but some people like to use a specific reward card. The best reward credit card for you is one that matches your spending habits.

An example of a specific reward credit card would be a a Disney card. As you earn money, it goes towards their trip to Disney. Psychologically, they feel that their expensive annual trip to Disney is “paid for.” While this may work for some people, our thought process is that if I earn $1,500, then I have the flexibility to put it towards a Disney trip or can buy something else.

The simplest way to collect rewards is to have an all-category-cash-back credit card (e.g., 1% cash back on all purchases). However, to make the most, you could be using multiple credit cards so you can earn extra rewards in different categories. Then you need to know which card to use when, and also keep track of your statement periods so that you pay it off in full each month. A category type credit card can give rewards in multiple categories (e.g., 4% on gas, 3% of restaurants, 1% on all other purchases), can rotate reward categories (e.g., first quarter is 5% on gas, second quarter is 5% on groceries), or can be geared towards one specific category all the time (e.g., 5% on gas). There are typically earning caps in these categories.

CHOOSING A REWARD CREDIT CARD

Each credit card company has a variety of cards that offer different rewards. You can decide what fits your spending pattern the best. If you don’t want to identify the categories that you spend, then the Citi Double Cash is a great “catch all” with no annual fee and no reward earning cap. You earn 1% cash back on each dollar spent, and then an additional 1% on each dollar paid towards your credit card balance. We deposit our earnings into a checking account instead of a statement credit, because we learned that we don’t earn cash back on the statement credit made.

Some credit cards have an annual fee. We typically shy away from anything that has an annual fee because we don’t like paying money to spend money, but we did have a couple of exceptions. For instance, one card had a $450 annual fee. You earn 3% points (one point is the equivalent of a penny if cashed out) on all travel and dining purchases and 1% points on everything else, but if you redeem the points earned through their travel portal, you get a 50% bonus. One of the rewards was reimbursement of $300 worth of travel costs. The card reimbursed the cost of TSA Precheck too, which as $75, and had a DoorDash credit of $30. Then the last $45 of the fee was offset by the rewards granted through point usage. But the annual fee increased to $550, and we no longer thought it was worth keeping and that the cost would be fully offset by the rewards.

We also look for a sign on bonus. If we’re going to have our credit checked, we want to capitalize on it. Sign on bonuses are typically additional cash back or points once you hit a certain spending threshold. For example, the card may say “once you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll earn a statement credit of $300.”

In addition to a sign on bonus, we would also prefer opening a card that offers a 0% introductory rate. I’ve shared before that we most often look for a new credit card because we have a large expense coming. When faced with paying for in-vitro-fertilization out of pocket, we opened a new credit card that had 15 months worth of 0% interest. This way, when we paid the tens-of-thousands owed, we gave ourselves an interest free loan. That particular credit card was only used for that expense because the reward categories were worse than other cards we had. However, we didn’t close that card because it helps our credit by having more of credit line open.

OUR REWARD USE

Besides the Citi Double Cash, we’re partial to the Chase options out there. We use different cards for different categories, and then use the Citi for anything that doesn’t fit into a category.

Between 5 credit cards, we brought in $4,232 worth of rewards last year. That’s money in our pockets that we did nothing except spend other money to get. In the past, it’s usually about $1,500 per year that we bring in with credit card rewards. The amount in 2021 was higher due to sign-on bonuses that were earned in a previous year, and then the credit card changed their reward redemption options, allowing us to pay ourselves back for restaurant purchases. We had previously been using the rewards to purchase travel needs through their portal, but we were able to dwindle down our rewards with this reimbursement change.

What could you do with a “free” and “extra” $1,500?

If you’re smart with credit cards, they can be a powerful tool to create financial flexibilities.

March Financial Update

We have been surprisingly busy around here. I’ve been juggling a few rental issues, staying on top of some billing issues, and trying to make it through a commercial loan process.

At one point, most of our loans were held by one company. That was a more simple life. Even though we’re down to 6 mortgages under our name, it’s through 5 different companies. I’m really struggling keeping up with them and getting in a groove after our most recent refinance. I’ve mis-paid things 3 times now. I’m always on top of our payments, but something just isn’t clicking right now for me. I just paid one of our mortgages due April 1 instead of changing the date to be an April pay date. At the moment, we have a buffer in our account because we’re getting to this closing next week, but we usually don’t, so hopefully I have this figured out now that I’ve made so many mistakes.

RENTAL PROPERTIES

LEASE RENEWALS

We had 3 properties process their renewals this past month. Each of them had cost increases to their lease renewal (875 to 950 effective 5/1, 850 to 900 effective 8/1, and 1025 to 1100 effective 5/1). We have another property that will have a renewal offer go out this week. Then we have 3 that will need action by the end of April because the leases expire 6/30, and one that will need action by the end of May because it expires 7/31.

MAINTENANCE

We had a tenant reach out to us that they found bugs in their bathroom tub. She sent pictures and, sure enough, they were termite swarmers. I have way too much experience with termites. I called our pest company, and they sent someone out for an inspection to confirm they were termites. Then I got a call that because we didn’t pay the annual fee to keep our warranty current for the last 3 years (we had the house treated for termites in February 2019 when we bought it because there were active termites and extensive damage by the front door that needed repaired), they could charge us $650 again. However, since we’re considered a business account, she’d be happy to let us back pay the termite warranty and they’re treat it. So I paid $294 for the treatment instead (split with a partner on this house). She also informed me that they had cut off the hot water to the kitchen sink because there was a leak. I don’t know why tenants don’t tell us these things right away! I had my plumber out there the same day, and he replaced the whole faucet. That was $378. That’s one of those charges that’s frustrating because we could have replaced the faucet on our own, but we don’t live there anymore. Oh well; it’s also a cost split with our partner, so that helps.

We had another tenant reach out saying that her kitchen sink drained slowly. She’s been with us since we bought the house and never asks for anything. She’s on top of communication and was super appreciative each time we agreed to renew her lease. We had done a huge sewer line replacement project at this house, so I was skeptical of the issue. It turns out there was a plastic fork lodged down there, but I just let it go (meaning, she’s then technically responsible for the cost). Our property manager let her know that if it happens again, she’s financially responsible, but we’ll cover the cost ($200) this time.

RENT COLLECTION

We FINALLY got the check for one of our tenants that had an approved rent relief application. They submitted an application in November to cover December, January, and February rent. By mid-December, they ended up paying December rent because they hadn’t heard (and the application expires, meaning their protection from eviction expires (not that I would have pursued eviction for this group because they’ve been great tenants for several years)). They received approval for 3 months worth of rent and 2 late fees on January 11. We received the check on March 4th. So frustrating in that process, but still better than an October approval and us getting those 3 months paid at the end of January.

We had our usual suspects not pay rent. On the one house, they didn’t tell us they weren’t paying rent for the longest time. Now, they tell us they’ll pay us on a later date. I let it go this month, but with them paying on the 23rd, that means we’re in a perpetual cycle of not getting rent on the 1st. We have a partner on this house, so I plan to address it next month if they claim another 3+ week delay in getting us the rent. On the other house, she let us know in February that she’d struggle to pay rent and she gave us random amounts throughout the month. I let her know she was still $106 short from February and that she was now in default of March’s rent, and I got no response. Then Mr. ODA had $1000 show up in his account on Friday. She still owes $371 between the two months, but at least we have the mortgage payments covered. She’s also the tenant that we plan on not renewing her lease because she’s caused issues throughout her tenure.

BUYING A NEW PROPERTY

We’re still in the process of getting through closing on a new rental property. We’re expecting to close not he 24th, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s a commercial loan, and it operates different from residential mortgage underwriting, so we’re in the dark. Communication has been next-to-nothing. We’re currently waiting on the appraisal to come back. That was our one hurdle to getting into the house. I said once the appraisal clears, then we (as the buyer) shouldn’t have any risk in getting to closing. Therefore, we were hoping to have the house painted before we close (I would do the painting), then we could refinish the floor and get the rest of the cleaning done the weekend after closing, and get it listed for rent for April 1. I suppose I wouldn’t be trying to get to the house before Friday, so I guess I can be patient and wait to see what happens with the appraisal for a few more days (even though the appraiser was on site last Tuesday, and I’ve never had it take more than a day or two to get the paperwork).

REFINANCE FOLLOW UP, STILL

We still have an issue with the mortgage that I ended up paying 3 times for the 2/1 due date. Our refinance was difficult, and the communication continued to be difficult after closing. I asked on 2/1 whether our loans had been sold yet because I was surprised I hadn’t heard. Usually, I see a note saying to pay the new company before the first payment, thereby not paying the first payment to that “first payment notice” place that comes with the closing documents. The company’s contact said to keep paying them because they hadn’t sold the loans yet. I didn’t open the attachments in his email because I assumed he was reiterating what he said in the email. Turns out, one of the loans was already sold, and I should have paid the new company. Well, I processed a paper check to go to a completely different company (started with a C, and I didn’t catch that I selected the wrong one in bill pay). Luckily, that company sent us our check back, saying they think our loan is closed with them and they can’t process the payment (thank goodness we once had a loan with the address I put in the memo line so they could clearly make a connection and say “we don’t want this!”). When I noticed my mistake on the 14th, I sent a handwritten check that I rushed to the post office at 4:55 to get post marked. In the meantime, I found out that I was able to set up an online account with the new company even though I didn’t have the loan number yet (they gave it to me over the phone). I paid the new company online to make sure I didn’t have anything on my record claiming I didn’t pay by the 15th and it was late. I figured I’d rather manage 3 payments being made than fight the credit companies to change my credit report. Well, the initial company cashed my handwritten check, but they still haven’t sent the money to the new mortgage company. They just kept telling me they have 60 days to get it to them, and I said that’s unacceptable that they’re holding my money. That was a week ago that I was told I’d get a call back, and I haven’t heard from them.

PERSONAL EXPENSES

Now that the basement is done, I had a strong urge to finish projects. There were several things that were starting but not completed. Those final punch list items always seem to take forever. I was impressed that Mr. ODA pushed to get some of the things in the basement done right away, even though they weren’t on a critical path. However, I didn’t uphold my end of the project by painting those things, so I got back to that. I mentioned several of the projects in a recent post, and I’ve done a whole lot more since that post. But all that to say, I’ve spent a lot of money in the last month. I bought a lot of supplies to finish off these open projects. I also had big purchases of cabinet hardware, a dining room table, a desk, and a wood. We haven’t done very much out of the house, so we don’t have a lot of other expenses than these projects, which means our credit cards are actually have the usual balances. We did book an AirBnB for a trip at the end of the summer with friends of ours. That was a big hit on the credit card for a week at the beach, but they reimbursed us for their half.

SUMMARY

It feels like I just keep lowering the balance in our investment accounts each month, but I went to look at February 2021 to see the total. Even though some balances have decreased, we’ve still contributed to the accounts, so overall they’re $21k higher than last year, which is encouraging. I guess I should also focus on the property values raising significantly. We’re over $500k higher than last year in our assets, and our liabilities (i.e., mortgages) are about 13k less than February 2021. We’re also still over $3M on net worth, even if we’re hovering right around that. We’ll add about $50k to our net worth by the end of the month, as long as we close on the new property on time.

Year in Review: Part II

I have gone through all our expenses in 2021 and categorized them, which was very time consuming. I swore I’d do better this year, but it’s March, and I haven’t done anything.

In the past year, we hit a net worth of $3 million. That’s really exciting, but we have more goals. It’s important to note that the net worth is through our investment properties, retirement accounts, and other investment accounts, so it’s not liquid funds. The values on our properties have drastically increased, many of which we’ve recently refinanced and have an appraisal on file showing just how much equity we’ve gained on these. Except for the cash that we have in our savings account right now, as we prepare to purchase another property at the end of the month, we don’t typically carry a cash balance. Our philosophy is that, if there’s an emergency, there are very few things that can’t be put on a credit card, and we can liquidate investment funds within 24 hours. We don’t subscribe to “3 months worth of expenses in savings” type actions. We’ve had plenty of large expenses hit us with rental properties, fertility treatments, and other random health needs, but it hasn’t ever been something to drown us financially. So while it’s exciting to see that new net worth, it doesn’t change our spending philosophy.

DIVIDENDS, INTEREST, & REWARDS

Mr. ODA used to have our dividends get reinvested automatically, but now they are transferred into our checking account. That was over $6,500 that came in, mostly at the end of the year, but there was ~$30 per quarter deposited also. In a different time, interest earnings on accounts used to be something to be excited about. Our checking and savings account combined brought in $6.51 for the year.

Mr. ODA is set up with GetUpside. When I went to their site to get a better description, I learned that you can earn cash back through gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases; I thought it was just gas. It’s an app that allows you to earn cash back through your normal purchasing. However, it also gives you an incentive for referring people, and so when that person buys gas, you get some cash back. By checking the app for a participating gas station (and only using it if the incentive offered is a better price than surrounding gas stations), Mr. ODA deposited $32.45 for the year.

Between 5 credit cards, we brought in $4,232 worth of rewards. These are simply earned by either spending or paying the credit card, no further action. We preach and preach to have credit cards with rewards. Everything we purchase goes onto a credit card; at the end of every cycle, we pay that credit card off. We’ve developed a mindset for spending that means we’re not afraid of what we put on the credit card and whether we’ll be able to pay it off in full at the end of the month, because we’re not spending frivolously. I will caveat that this amount of rewards was possible due to sign-on bonuses that were earned in a previous year, and then the credit card changed their reward redemption options, allowing us to pay ourselves back for restaurant purchases. We had previously been using the rewards to purchase travel needs through their portal, but we were able to dwindle down our rewards with this reimbursement change.

INVESTMENTS

Every month, we each put $500 into our investment accounts as an automatic contribution to max out our Roth IRA contributions. Additionally, each kid gets $50 deposited into their investment accounts each month. We also received the child tax credit each month, so with that, we put $125 into each kids’ account. The thought process was that we received $600 for them, and so after investing in their accounts, we were left with $350 to go towards “raising” them, which was the intent of the money being sent out in advance.

EXPENSES

My categories were super broad. For instance, if we traveled, I included all the expenses (e.g., lodging, flight, activities, parking, dog-sitting) as “entertainment.” But “entertainment” also included watching horse racing, baseball game, zoo, babysitting, etc. “Home” includes any furniture purchased, decorations, cabinet knobs, pictures/frames, etc. Even with the broad categories, I still had too many.

There are 3 categories that we have more control over, so I took a closer look at them: groceries, gas, restaurants. These are the ones that we can control our actions to change if we wanted/needed.

GROCERIES

A shortfall on my tracking is that I don’t know if Walmart purchases were necessarily for groceries or for something else. I removed a $300 purchase from my list because we wouldn’t have spent that much in one transaction in groceries, but I can’t figure out what we did spend it on because it was too long ago.

I investigated the spike in June, and I didn’t come up with anything jarring. There’s a transaction for $165 on a day with another transaction, so that may not have been food. August had several trips to Kroger. Trips to Kroger mean that we’re buying in bulk, so things purchased there are typically several of a particular deal they’re running that week versus an actual grocery shopping trip. There are 19 grocery transactions in August, which is higher than usual. August also included an emergency “find this kid some medicine while we’re on the road” that cost us $8 worth of medicine.

Lesson learned: We can do better meal planning and making fewer trips to the grocery store. We can be more deliberate about what we’re purchasing instead of stocking the pantry without a plan. We have a Sam’s Club membership and sometimes we tag along to Costco to scope out deals, so those lead to more bulk purchases, which will fall by the wayside in 2022. The Kroger deals will continue to be on Mr. ODA’s radar though.

GAS

Interesting that January through April are so much lower because we didn’t necessarily stay home. We drove about an hour away for a trip in January and a trip about 90 minutes away in March, went from our house to Lexington (about a half hour) every weekend, and went to the zoo (about an hour or so away). I guess we stayed home during the week more, which kept our gas costs low. April was when we gave up on a lake house and decided to be deliberate about going on trips, so I expected to see an uptick in gas costs at that time. I described that whole thought process and what we did in this post. Some of the uptick in certain months can also be contributed to us trying to maximize gas prices (e.g., we fill up if we’re going to be near Costco, even if we don’t necessarily need the gas at that time). In October and half of November, I was working in Lexington on the weekends, so that was 3 days a week that I was driving 25 minutes each way. Then in December, we drove from KY to Long Island, which is a whole lot of gas.

Lesson learned: We like to be active, so I don’t foresee a change in our gas-purchasing patterns in this year. As I type this, gas prices are soaring all over the country. Since we like to travel, our trips are usually within driving distance versus flying with two kids, so spending the money in gas is cheaper than 3-4 plane tickets.

RESTAURANTS

This is a funky one to track. While we’re traveling, we’re clearly eating at restaurants more often. That’s seen in the higher spending that happened over the spring and summer months. I don’t remember spending all of February in the house, but our credit card purchases seem to say that’s what we did – no gas and no restaurants. In March, we splurged on a birthday dinner ($77!), which is unusual for us. From April through August, we were traveling (and therefore eating fast food and at sit-down restaurants), Mr. ODA had work trips (so he’s going out to eat with coworkers for multiple nights), and there seems to be one or two transactions each month where we paid for a group dinner that was reciprocated (and not captured). Under the restaurants category is also when we went for drinks somewhere. We went to a winery and had a couple of drinks with friends, and that could probably be considered “entertainment” versus eating outside the home.

HOUSE WORK

We put a lot of money into our house this year, which is surprising since it’s new construction. We finished our basement, which was about $15k instead of the $75k-100k that other people have been quoted for the job. We bought a patio set, a grill, and an entryway table. Mr. ODA built a “shed” under our deck (we can’t have free-standing sheds per the HOA, so we enclosed under the deck .. not “free standing” 🙂 ). Most of our furniture moved with us from the last house without an issue, but there were a few purchases needed. Between our initial move in purchases (a kitchen table and chairs), purchases in 2021, and a few purchases that have already happened in 2022, we should be done with big house purchases.

INCOME

I quit my job in 2019. I manage our 12 rental properties as my “job” now, but I also am open to part time jobs as something to do. In April 2021, I was asked if I could help fill a position at the race track during their Spring meet. It wasn’t a job that I wanted to go back and do in future meets. I mentioned that I’d work the Fall meet if I could do something like pour beer, and Mr. ODA’s dad (who works there) made it happen. I also worked some of the days of their horse sales. I worked 22 days for the year and contributed $5k to our family’s spending for the year.

LOOKING AHEAD

I’ll try to track our expenses in real time this year, so that I can categorize them more accurately. Watching expenses month-to-month means you can also make adjustments if you see you’ve spent more than usual in one category.

Finishing our basement meant that we moved furniture around. A sections that was in our dining room moved to the basement, freeing up the dining room to actually be a dining room; I purchased a table and chairs. The “playroom” toys were moved down to the basement, and that room became the guest room. It’s nice that the guests can have their own space on the first floor and not share a bathroom with the kids. That freed up the previous guest room to be an actual office, so I purchased a desk (our old desk was in poor shape and it didn’t move to KY with us). Other than that, I don’t see any major expenses on our own house for this year.

We expect to travel a lot again this year. We already have six trips planned. They’re all driving trips, so that’ll increase our gas category. I have one trip expected to fly to my sister’s baby shower, but that hasn’t been scheduled yet. We’ll also have day trips that we’ll do around our house, which is usually an hour to an hour and a half worth of driving.

While we don’t “budget” or believe in the “envelope system,” we do watch our spending on a regular basis. We check our accounts every few days to ensure there are no surprises as well (i.e., don’t wait for your statement to come and find out there have been false charges). Keep paying attention to what’s being spent and where your money is going so that you can make informed financial decisions.