How much house do I actually own?

By Josh July 10, 2018

Hey reader! Overall, my home ownership story has been a truly awful experience that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone… but these days, I am finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

Front door of Josh's house
My first house

Quick recap: Bought a 1,180 square foot townhouse in Southwest Florida in April 2006, for $175,000. My mortgage is through a credit union, and they only required a 3% down-payment for First Time home-buyers like me. That sounds like a good way to get people into their own homes for the first time, but very few people predicted what happened to the housing market. This was especially true in my area, which led the nation in foreclosures for years after the bubble burst.

Long story short, my home dropped in value by well over 50%. According to my assessed values, my house dropped from somewhere in the 100s down to a low of 27,430. While that was good for my tax bill (see below for past 10 years of property tax bills), I worked for local government at that time, and when local government isn’t collecting as much money in taxes, they make staffing cuts, and I quickly found myself with an underwater mortgage AND no job.

Property Tax history 2008-2017

So where am I now? A couple months ago, I passed the 12-year mark since I bought my first home. The recovery from the great recession has been slow, especially since Real Estate Rule #1 “Location, Location, Location” hurt me when the golf course that my property is located within went kaput! If you clicked the link above about foreclosures, you will see my neighborhood at the 1:15 mark. There are plans being considered by the County to permit a luxury development and revamp of the golf course, which should make my property worth considerably more in the next few years, but for the purposes of this post, I will stick with current Zillow value: $126,519

Twelve years of paying mortgage payments, and my house is worth $48,481 less than when I bought it. But I also had the good fortune to know about a grant program for distressed homeowners, such as myself a few years back, and I was awarded $50,000 towards my mortgage principal, which effectively makes my net purchase price $125,000. That 50k grant was actually a 5-year forgiveable loan, in $10k increments, so at the time of this writing, I actually still “owe” $10k on that grant, should I sell and walk away anytime between now and February 2019. For that reason, I will consider my purchase price $135,000 ($175k – 4x $10k)

Doing this math, I have zero equity. I am $8,481 in the hole.

Counting all of the mortgage payments I’ve made over 12 years, I currently owe $80,376 on the mortgage. Subtracting this from the Zillow value, I own $46,143 worth of house. Based on its current Zillow value, I own 36.5% of my house. That’s 430.7 square feet, or the approximate size of my master bedroom, living room and the half-bath downstairs. But I don’t yet own my master bathroom, nor the stairs to get up to my bedroom and guest bathroom. The kitchen, laundry room and dining room still belong to the credit union, too!

$48,481 isn’t a lot of progress in 12 years. Just over $4,000 per year or a little more than $336 per month.

I’m not really a proponent of paying off the mortgage early, if you have a low fixed-rate mortgage or an adjustable rate mortgage (like me) that is still sitting on the floor of the possible rates I could be charged. I’m glad my adjustable rate was low during the high balance years, so now I’m better able to withstand a rate increase without hurting my bottom line too much. If my rate goes up beyond 5%, I’ll start paying down my balance with more gusto, and above 6% I’ll discontinue putting money into my taxable brokerage to kill off the debt beast. Fortunately, my mortgage balance is now down to around $80k, so any interest rate increases won’t hurt me as badly as someone carrying hundreds of thousands of adjustable rate mortgage debt.

My Freedom Trip – May 2018

By Josh Published June 30, 2018

Hello reader! As I began typing this post, I was sitting on an Amtrak train on the Coast Starlight route, from Los Angeles, California to Seattle, Washington. The trip took 34 hours, and included magnificent sights including the Pacific Ocean, Silicon Valley, and Mt. Rainier.

The trip was possible because I had scheduled 15 days of “Funemployment” between jobs. I needed to turn in my work vehicle and all of my work materials and computer equipment when I left employment with the State of Florida. But since I live in Southwest Florida, and the State Capitol is in Tallahassee (in the Panhandle), I started my trip with a 400-mile drive to Tallahassee for one last work day.

Day 2, in the morning I turned in my stuff and said goodbyes. In the afternoon, I took an Uber to the Tallahassee airport, and then I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, which is a hub for a large portion of trips to/from the Southeast US. I booked the flight on Delta, using 32,000 Delta Skymiles I had accumulated over the years, mostly from a 30,000 Skymiles offer on the Gold Delta Skymiles credit card from American Express a couple years ago. Don’t be like me, wait for a 60,000 or 70,000 point offer before you sign up for this card. American Express cards are usually only available once per “lifetime”.

While in Atlanta, I was able to use my Priority Pass Select membership (free with my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card) to spend a free hour in the Minute Suites in Terminal B at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It was nice to unwind a bit, kick my shoes off, and have room to spread out, without having to keep a vigilant eye on my luggage.31557195_211205462988170_3385738348822790144_n

From Atlanta, I could arrive in just about any major city in the US, so I caught a cheap flight on Southwest for only $130. I had a voucher for $51 from finding a fare reduction on a previous business trip, so I only had to pay $79 out of pocket. I have developed the habit of arriving early and asking the gate agent if there are any available seats on the plane, and this time there were 32 empty seats. So my next question for the agent is to see if I can get an extra seat and pre-boarding due to my height and large frame. This has worked on each of my last 6 flights with Southwest. This way, I’m able to raise the armrest between the two seats and sit diagonally to gain some extra legroom.

I arrived at LAX and caught a quick Uber to my hotel a couple miles away. I had initially booked 5 nights of lodging at 3 different hotels in the Los Angeles area, but when I left a Facebook message for my cousins living in the Anaheim/Buena Park area that I was flying in that night, they reached out to me to have me cancel my stays and sleep in their guest bedroom. One night at the Holiday Inn LAX ran me 30,000 IHG points (and I got 2,000 back from an Accelerate promo), earned from the Chase IHG credit card last fall (100,000 point offer for $2,000 spend in 90 days), and I was able to check-out early and recoup the points that would have been spent for my second night stay. I was able to cancel my 4th & 5th nights stay easily and got the points refunded, but unfortunately I changed my plans too late for the cancellation window on my 3rd night stay at the Hotel MdR – a DoubleTree Hotel in Marina del Rey. I used 50,000 Hilton Honors points, and since I couldn’t get them refunded, I went ahead and borrowed my cousin’s car (she had left on a trip to Ohio the night prior) and I went exploring in that area, and went ahead and stayed in the hotel, since the points had been spent, anyway.

On Day 4, I set out to adventure with my counsin’s car. From Buena Park, I drove to the Santa Monica Pier, then went on the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, turned around and came back towards Hollywood via Sunset Boulevard to the UCLA campus, and on to Rodeo Drive before driving back to Marina del Rey to beat the evening rush hour. After checking in, I walked about 2 miles to Venice Beach and grabbed an early supper at Cabo Cantina, to munch on some chips & salsa and a quesadilla, while sipping a margarita and watching the Cavs-Raptors Game 2. I walked back to the hotel and spent the majority of the evening relaxing poolside and called my parents to fill them in on my trip so far.

Day 5, after checking out of the hotel and grabbing the breakfast buffet (should have been a $4 upcharge from the complimentary continental breakfast I receive for my Gold status at Hilton properties, but the waiter was gracious to upgrade me for free), I drove back to Buena Park and went golfing with my cousin’s husband. We played “Dad Miller Golf CLub” which is where Tiger Woods played when he was in high school. Apparently the guy named Dad Miller was a 93 year-old golfer who hit a hole-in-one on the 11th hole, and they named the course after him! I hadn’t really planned on golfing during this trip, so I didn’t have my normal golf clothes, shoes, hat, glove, golfballs, or golf clubs(!) so I played in a too-heavy shirt, tennis shoes, no hat, and with borrowed clubs, on a club I’d never heard of before that morning, so I was fairly pleased with my 93 I carded that day. My playing partner shot 108 and he’s a member, so I felt decent about the round, given all of those limiting factors.31028404_240783569991601_4917978647614193664_n

That evening, I went to a school carnival at my little cousins’ elementary school. They are finishing up 1st and 6th grades, so they were excited to show off their school projects from the whole year to their parents and their unexpected-visitor/cousin from Florida 🙂

Day 6 happened to be Cinco de Mayo, and being in Southern California, I knew there’d be a party! This time, my other cousin hosted a bunch of us at her (very nice) house with a pool in the backyard. All of my little cousins were jumping onto and playing with their “Cous-uncle Josh” because I’m the age of their uncles, but I’m officially their cousin (2nd cousin, once removed?). I got way too much sun, and had way too much fun. Ate way too much chips & salsa and had a few adult beverages to wash it all down.30957250_548424358891774_3502835478187474944_n

Day 7, before heading to Union Station, my golf buddy (cousin’s hubby) took me to see Huntington Beach, where the AVP was hosting the annual Huntington Beach Open beach volleyball tournament. Action had not yet started for the day, but it was cool to see it up-close, since I’ve seen it on TV several times in the past. Upon arriving downtown at Union Station, I checked in to get my seat assignment and grabbed a handful of snacks for the train. I found my train platform and fairly quickly found my seat (and the empty one next to me, which I definitely will not complain about!). I booked this train trip (LA–>Seattle) on the Amtrak website for $122 cash out of pocket. I went with a regular coach seat, knowing that there is ample legroom and wider-than-airline seats, 120v outlets, and it’s possible to get up and explore the train (dining car, observation car with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a cafĂ© lounge car that operates like a mini 7-Eleven onboard the train). We got delayed by more than an hour in the Oakland area, and have been gradually losing more time between stops. But this caused us to be near Mt. Shasta as the sun was rising, and I got to see some cool sights that would normally have been passed by during the dark.

Around 9pm on Day 8, I arrived in Seattle, and checked in at the Grand Hyatt Seattle for two nights, with a list price of $548/night. I paid 15,000 Hyatt points per night instead, which I earned from the 40,000 point sign-up bonus on the Chase Hyatt credit card (plus a 5,000 point bonus for adding an Authorized User when I opened the card). I can’t believe I got nearly $1,100 in value out of that Hyatt card signup bonus, with another 15,000 points remaining that I used for Day 11 in Boston.

On Day 9, I purchased the CityPass for $89, which includes admission to 5 top destinations, including the Space Needle, Chihuly Museum & Gardens, Museum of Pop culture, Seattle Aquarium, and the Argosy Harbor Cruise (the 5 options I chose; you can opt for a different museum in place of Chihuly and #MoPop), and these are valued at over $160. I woke up to a perfect weather day, sunny and in the upper 50s. Working through the list of suggestions from friends and locals I had tapped via Twitter (Shoutouts to @CeceMcKiernan, my friend Kelli @FloodGeek101, Angela from @TreadLightly_RE, and Ty Roberts from @CampFIREfinance, along with some Twitterless peeps), I started out in search of breakfast at Biscuit Bitch. These Bitches are very popular, and there was a line out the door for people to get their hands on some scrumptious fixin’s and coffee. I Tweeted to the OG Bitches (@bitchesgetrich) that I found their Mothership!

Moving on from there, I walked 2 blocks to Pike Place Market, which was full of merchants getting set up for the day. I walked around for a bit and checked out the GumWall, which might be cool to some people, but I’ve seen more gum on one wall at a loose-meat sandwich shoppe in Greenville, Ohio (Shoutout to Maid-Rites). From there, I walked through Belltown to check out the Space Needle in Seattle Center. The Space Needle is undergoing a “Spacelift” (facelift) right now, so my views were partially obstructed by construction workers and ongoing construction, but it was such an amazing view. Mt. Rainier stands so much higher than, and closer to, Seattle than I expected! With the morning’s marine mist still showing up, the peak of Mt. Rainier looked like a perfectly-painted mountain from a Bob Ross painting, sticking its head above the clouds.

After Space Needle, I checked out the Chihuly Museum and Gardens, which were impressive, but I had already seen a large collection of Chihuly works at the Morean Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. I also went to the Museum of Pop Culture, but felt underwhelmed by it :/ Last on the agenda for sight-seeing was a one-hour harbor cruise around the Elliott Bay, which was full of opportunity to take more pictures of the Seattle skyline and enjoy the nice sunny day. The onboard bar didn’t hurt, either!

As cool as those sights were, the highlight of my day came later, around Happy Hour, when I met up with a fellow Personal Finance blogger for the first time. Ty Roberts had a meeting downtown, and met me for a beer at Yard House. Honestly, this was the first time I’ve ever been able to talk to someone In Real Life about FI, FIRE, blogging, and this PF community that I honest-to-goodness LOVE. Ty was so easy to talk to, encouraging, and I just had the most amazing chat with him. I can’t wait to experience more of that at FinCon in Orlando this September!31413927_377655086063470_2628653116253274112_n

Day 10, I wanted to check out more sights that were recommended to me, so I walked to Pier 51 to catch the Ferry to Bainbridge Island for $8.35 (round-trip).

The ride over & back were the most enjoyable part for me, because I arrived so early in the morning that most, if not all, of the local shops had not opened for the day (around 10-10:30AM). In fact, I hopped back on the return ferry by 10:25 and made it back to Seattle by 11. After that, I used up the last ticket in my CityPass to check out the Seattle Aquarium just a few piers away. In the early afternoon, I went back to the hotel to shower up and pack my bag so I could check out of the hotel room by 2pm (late checkout granted for my World of Hyatt Discoverist status). I left my bag with the front desk, and took the Link over to the University of Washington campus to check it out.

After walking around campus for about an hour, I went back to the hotel, grabbed my bag, and took the Link to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Arriving at the airport 7 hours before my flight was not ideal, but I was able to once again use my Priority Pass Select to gain entry to an airport lounge with free snacks and beverages. The Priority Pass app shows 5 lounges that we are supposedly able to access, but the Alaska Airlines lounges had signs at the entrance that said they were not accepting Priority Pass holders that day. So I walked up and down every terminal (C, D, B and then A) except N & S, and counted at least 10 airport lounges in that airport. I finally gained access to The CLUB at SEA where I spent a couple hours charging my devices, listening to a podcast, called my grandma (awww) and took advantage of somde free snacks.img_20180509_201456

At the end of Day 10, at one minute until midnight(!) I flew on a JetBlue flight in Mint class (first class with a lay-flat seat) to Boston. I booked the flight using JetBlue TrueBlue points, only 33,700 points, when that class was listed on other flights the same day for 70,000-110,000 points). I figured for my first-ever Red-Eye flight, it was a good idea to trade-up for some comfort, and I really wanted to check out Mint, anyway.

Arriving in Boston on Day 11, I will use some additional Hyatt points (15,000/night) at the Hyatt Regency Boston in downtown. Unfortunately I was about 1900 points shy of having the 15,000 needed for my second night, so I transferred 2,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points at a 1:1 transfer ratio to Hyatt from my accumulated Chase points (reminder: I have Chase Sapphire Reserve, Freedom and Freedom Unlimited, and I transfer all of my rewards to my Sapphire Reserve points balance to allow the points transfers to Chase’s travel partners). I was pretty exhausted from the overnight travel, but I did manage to walk 2+ miles to Fenway Park to take the tour of a sports and cultural icon, with some amazing views of the city.

 

Day 12, having caught up on sleep, I set out for a day of exploring. I had previously visited Boston in 2003, on a family trip before I turned 21, so I knew I had to stop at Cheers and have an adult beverage. I checked out the Freedom Trail and walked over to Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution. I also killed at least an hour watching various street performers in the Quincy Market area. I explored Chinatown a little bit and grabbed a local hard cider to go along with my dinner.

Day 13, I took the Silver Line MBTA bus to Boston-Logan International airport for $2.75 instead of the $23 and change that I paid a (terrible) Uber drive on Day 11 morning when I arrived in Boston. For my return flight to Southwest Florida (RSW airport), I used 8,600 TrueBlue points from JetBlue. I had these points plus the Day 10 red-eye flight points from the Barclays JetBlue Plus card, which came with a 40,000 point bonus for spending only $1,000 in 90 days. I forgot that the card also gives me a 10% refund on award redemptions, so I ended up getting  over 4,000 TrueBlue points back into my account (over $80 worth at 2c a piece).

So I share this whole story to say that I went overboard on a 13 day trip to celebrate the end of my previous job. I worked in a position that was effectively a full-time temp for almost 3.5 years. Due to this work status, I did not have any paid holidays or vacation time in that time, so I had this pent-up urge to hit the road, skies and rails to see more of this magnificent country. I could probably do without the overwhelming scent of weed/pot in the various cities/states I visited, but that only minimally reduced my enjoyment of these fine places. I’m excited to be moving into a position where I will be earning a standard 2 weeks of vacation and 11 paid holidays to help me get back on the road moving forward. I’m glad I had the opportunity to bank all of these various points so I could use them in this blowout trip around the US. Many in the travel-hacking community chirp the mantra of “earn and burn” or “churn and burn,” because there are constant devaluations occurring in the many points & miles programs. But for someone like me, there were zero opportunities to use the points/miles over the past 3 years (except for a few quick trips “home” to Indiana for the holidays) so the points were worthless to me until I could actually use them. And it was SOOO worth it once I could actually use them on a trip that will be in my memory bank until the day I die.

Mid-year 2018 update!!

By Josh  June 30, 2018

Can you believe that 2018 is already half over? It’s been a really busy year for me so far (details below), so time has just been flying by! I started this blog on January 5th 2018 with a post about writing down goals so you can track them, and I figured 6 months later it was time to follow up on my progress. So here they are again, with individual updates below:

  1. lose weight, obv
  2. achieve 1/4m NW
  3. draw down my travel miles/points through actual travel, not point expiration
  4. give up unhealthy/unproductive habits (especially driving for Uber)
  5. actively meet new & interesting people (Hello #FinCon18)
  6. begin a creative pursuit

1. I do not have good progress to report on this one. I actually have no idea what my starting point was for 2018 (bonehead move, Josh). But I recently started a new job that provided an opportunity for a Health Reimbursement Account (up to $500/yr in tax-free money to spend on health-related costs), but I had to go through a health assessment and have blood work done to set a baseline. I weighed in at a whopping 365.8 lbs. That’s 40 pounds more than Vince Wilfork and 30 pounds more than William “Refrigerator” Perry. So obviously this has sparked a renewed vigor in my daily actions to try and move the needle downward and make my weight loss goals to achieve that free $500. Wish me luck!

2. I have made progress this year on my net worth goal of $250,000, but in the past month it seems to be disappearing. I reached $245k in late May, but sit around $235k right now. Main culprit appears to be that Zillow has dropped my house value by $11k in the past 2 months. I also missed a few weeks of getting paid while I was between jobs.chart

3. Speaking of being between jobs; I was able to draw-down some of my travel points balances on a 13-day trip around the US from April 30-May 12. I had to turn in my work vehicle and computer equipment to headquarters in Tallahassee, so I decided to start my “Freedom trip” and used various points/miles from Delta, IHG, Hilton Honors, Hyatt, and JetBlue. I spent less than $217 out of pocket for a trip to Tallahassee, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle (by train), Boston, and back home to Fort Myers, FL. Across those 5 programs, I spent a total of 206,940 points/miles, keeping in mind that not all points and miles are valued the same. I estimated a total cost savings of $3,596 by using points & miles. And I still maintain almost 700,000 across various programs for future travel!

4. After writing a 3-part series on the ups and downs of driving Uber as a side hustle, I picked up the habit again. I did it, in part, because Spring Break is the busiest time of year here in Southwest Florida, and also because I knew I had the job change coming up and needed to stash some extra cash to help ease that transition. I’m happy to say I’m now done with Uber (caveat: I turn on the app during my ~1 hour commute, each way, which earns me enough to cover my fuel expenses).

5. I’m still super stoked for #FinCon18 but I have been trying to meet new people in other settings, as well. I recently had the opportunity to attend a national conference of the Association of State Floodplain Managers (yes, I’m a total geek), and I gave a presention on a one-of-a-kind project I worked on for the past 3.5 years. Having that platform, while slightly terrifying, provided an opening for me to share how much I love being an expert in my field and that I relish in the opportunity to help others. I had people from all over the country come up to me throughout the rest of the conference and try to pick my brain or otherwise engage in conversations about their own programs. It was such a great week, even though it was Phoenix, in June!! I’m also getting ready to attend the annual ESRI User Conference in San Diego on July 9-13. I have never been to this conference before, so it will be eye-opening and another opportunity to meet complete strangers.

6. Creative pursuit!! As you can now see, I have migrated this simple WordPress-hosted blog onto my own domain! www.joshovermyer.com belongs to me for the next 10 years, and I just paid to migrate it to a business page on WordPress for the next 2 years, so I am going to have to put some more effort in over here now. I should have the extra time, now that I’m done with Uber (again, for emphasis). I also still have some amazing creative ideas for items to bring to FinCon, so I will need to explore ways to make those ideas in my head become a reality. If anyone wants to help me make my sparks of creativity become actual things, I would love to talk to you about them.

Roth or Traditional IRA?

By Jover Originally drafted July 11, 2016. Posted March 10, 2018

Congratulations! You’ve decided to put your retirement future in your own hands and open an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA). But which should you choose, a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA?

A Traditional IRA allows an individual to invest money pre-tax. That is the one true time when you can “Pay Yourself First”, even before Uncle Sam gets his hands on part of your paycheck. Investments grow tax-deferred, and you pay ordinary income taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement.

A Roth IRA is an account whereby the individual invests money after tax has already been paid. The same contribution limit of $5,500 still applies (in 2018), so why invest after-tax dollars? Upon the age of 59.5, all of the money in a Roth IRA can be withdrawn tax-free, because taxes were already paid in the current year, none are due on the investment dollars, nor the growth on those dollars.

So how do you decide which is right for you? It depends on your outlook.

If you expect tax rates to go up in the future, or you will have more income that puts you into a higher tax bracket, it might make sense to pay the income taxes today and invest in a Roth IRA for tax-free retirement dollars later.

If you have a high salary today and plan to live on less income in the future, a Traditional IRA is the way to go, to lower your taxable income in the present and pay taxes in a lower tax bracket in the future.

If you aren’t sure what to think, it is possible to split your $5,500/year investment into both. This year I already maxed out my IRA contributions, with $3,000 going into Traditional IRA (to lower my current taxes) and $2,500 into my Roth IRA (to give me tax-free withdrawals in retirement).

Another consideration is what types of investments you will be making with each account. Some investments such as stocks or REITs pay dividends, which may be treated as taxable income. Consult a tax professional to see what is right for your preferred investment choices.

Some people prefer the Traditional IRA because $5,500 of your annual income can go straight to the account and you’ve met your annual maximum contribution and will reduce your taxable income by $5,500. On the other hand, one must earn $6,160 before taxes (assuming 12% for this example) to earn $5,500 after taxes for the maximum Roth IRA contribution, and there are no tax benefits in the current year.

There are income limitations for Roth IRA contributions, which vary depending on marital status. Some people have figured out a back-door Roth conversion from Traditional IRA contributions, but taxes must be paid in the year of the conversion.

A final word on the Traditional vs. Roth IRA battle royale is that there is no wrong decision. In fact, it may be useful to employ any of the different combinations explained above, including contributing to a Traditional IRA during your working years, and then using a Roth IRA conversion ladder as your income shrinks in retirement. Many Early Retirees use this strategy to combine the tax benefits during their working years with the tax-free income benefits during early retirement.

Soured on Precious Metals

By Josh Originally drafted July 11, 2016. Published March 10, 2018.

In an attempt to become a diversified investor, I began purchasing precious metals in mid-2012. Earlier, in 2011, Silver had touched $50 to match the all-time high experienced in the 1980s, and Gold had broken out to new highs above $1900. By the time I started investing, Silver had retreated 30% to around $35/ounce, and I was not looking to get into Gold near its all-time highs.

So began a series of novice investor mistakes, especially in the realm of precious metals investing. The first place I started was eBay, since it is so familiar to most of us and easy to bid on an auction or click “buy it now” and have your order on its way to your door. I began buying premium silver products and graded silver coins, both with massive premiums above the “spot” price. Spot price is basically like a stock’s price, there is a Bid and an Ask price at any given point in time. As silver continued to slide, from around $35 when I started buying, all the way down into the $13.xx range in early 2016, I chased the price down, down, down by buying more, more, more silver.

I also eventually got into the Gold game by buying expensive fractional gold rounds and coins 1/10 or ¼ of an ounce at a time. Fractional pieces come with their own premiums attached, because it is expensive to mint such small coins/rounds when calculated on a per-ounce basis. For example, it takes 1000% more time, dies, equipment to pump out 100 ounces of 1/10th ounce fractional gold pieces as it does 100 one-ounce gold coins. Due to the extra expense of the premiums and the falling gold price for the past 3 years, I found myself down about 25% on my gold purchases. In June 2016 I sold all of my gold coins and rounds, as I had decided to close out my investment in Gold.

But back to Silver, I have occasionally made some money in Silver, even with the falling spot price. Usually around payday, I would stop in at local antique shops, coin shops and jewelry stores to see what silver coins they had for sale. I once bought a Spanish Ocho Reale (pirates called these “Pieces of 8”) for $20 and sold it on eBay for $60. I also paid $20 for a 20 gram silver coin from the Monnaie de Paris and sold it to a buyer in China for $64. But for the most part, I lost money each and every time I bought silver because the spot price continued its helter-skelter decline from $50 in 2011 to less than $14 at one point in 2016. I was able to accumulate over 800 ounces of silver by making small irregular purchases over the course of about 4 years, but my silver only held about 2/3 of the value of what I had paid, even with the “dollar-cost averaging” that I thought I was employing.

Luckily for me, silver prices bounced a bit, crossing $20 in 2016 before retreating back into the $16-17 range for quite a while now. In 2016 I sold off some pieces that I had bought at lower prices, and then in 2017 I sold off approximately 60% of my silver to put that money to better use in my taxable Vanguard brokerage account. I will no longer be blindly purchasing precious metals for investment’s sake.

So here’s my case against holding physical precious metals:

  • Cost of storage (bank safety deposit box, private facility storage, or a safe inside your home)
  • Unlike many other investments, there are no dividends
  • Not very liquid, especially for premium pieces. You might be able to unload at spot price or a little below, but you won’t get true market value without selling each piece individually on a site like eBay, and then you will pay listing fees and PayPal fees to the tune of around 13%
  • Very volatile, especially silver. Sometimes can swing in price by 3-4x the amount that is typical in the broad market index funds. This amount now seems tame, in comparison to cryptocurrencies and their wild roller-coaster price changes.

Despite all of this, I am still thankful for my journey into silver coins, bars and rounds. I was able to satisfy my “spending” urge, while buying something that actually retained some/most of its value. Instead of buying a new video game or another piece of electronics equipment that was out of date within 6 months, I bought items that have been appreciated for sometimes more than 100 years. This helped me get into the habit of saving instead of spending, although I really wish I had put this money into a Roth IRA back in those years because I would have more than doubled my money instead of taking the loss that I have experienced.

I also spent a lot of time in those years cataloguing my purchases into spreadsheets as well as a YouTube channel. If you’re extremely bored or want to see what I was so obsessed about, check out my old Jover Silver channel where I still have 20 videos posted. Look at the shiny goodness! No wonder I couldn’t resist.

Useful travel tools: TripIt Pro

By Jover March 10, 2018

For a long time, I avoided the whole world of travel hacking. I don’t know if it was the word “hacking” in the name, or if I was just OK with earning 1% cash-back or some points to spend at Best Buy (a former addiction) with all of my usual purchases. I didn’t shy away from it for the “Anti-Credit Cards” reasons that D.R. preaches, because I had already been responsibly using credit cards since 2005, when I first got out of college.

Once I made up my mind to try it, I fell down the rabbit hole. If you’re interested in starting, don’t open any cards until you’ve taken the free course at TravelMiles101.com. It will change your life! I also have a resources post here on the blog if you’re looking for more digestible information on some of the top cards on the market.

Once you have a stash of points burning a hole in your pocket, you might start making all sorts of travel plans. Confirmations for flights, hotels, and event tickets start to clog up your inbox. This is where TripIt can be a huge help. TripIt is a product of Concur, one of the largest travel and expense management service companies for businesses, and it feels like they’ve made this product for both leisure and business travelers.

I travel frequently for business, and I have a mixture of business and personal hotel reservations floating around in my inbox at any given time. I also get email confirmations on my parents’ travel plans, especially when they come here to Florida to visit me. Sometimes I will also reserve a hotel room *just in case* because it’s a busy time of year such as the Legislative Session in the state capital city. Once you link TripIt to your email inbox, they do all of the rest.

Take a look at the screenshot below. It shows all of my upcoming travel plans that involve a flight or an already-booked hotel and/or event ticket. The trip in September in Orlando is my first FINCON! 🙂

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As you can see, I have some upcoming workshops and conferences already in my travel plans. If you click on any of the individual trips, it will show you an itinerary of all of your related travel confirmations, as shown below.

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I upgraded to TripIt Pro in August 2017, and I am thankful that I did. They were running a special at the time, $34 for the first year, regular price $49. Now I receive “Go Now Alerts” which tell me when to leave for the airport, Terminal and Gate reminders (which help when traveling through an unfamiliar airport or when gates suddenly change), Check-in reminders (24 hours before on Southwest Airlines flights to get a good boarding position, amirite?), automatic trip sharing with your network that you set up in the app (great for work or for personal reasons), and best-of-all: Flight Refund Monitoring!

Last night, I received an email from TripIt at 9:18pm stating that my upcoming flight to Atlanta had decreased in price by $51, and they gave me the steps to follow to request that refund. I called Southwest and they were able to quickly make the change, and gave me a $51 flight voucher, good for one year from the purchase date of this flight. This one refund more than paid for my $34 annual fee on TripIt Pro! I’m totally sold.

In case you’re not quite sold, here’s a few more benefits:

  1. Point Tracker – once you get involved in the travel hacking game, you will have points spread across multiple hotel, airline and flexible bank point programs. This saves a lot of time spent manually tracking your various points.
  2. Seat Tracker – helps you find a better seat on flights
  3. LoungeBuddy – Comes with a free $25 airport lounge credit
  4. CLEAR – Not all airports have this service, but TripIt Pro comes with a 4 month free trial for the fastest way through airport security, even faster than TSA Pre-Check!

My first side hustle: Uber driver

By Jover March 9, 2018

[This is Part 1 of a 3 part series on the ups and downs of my first side hustle. I will link to Parts 2 and 3 at the bottom.]

Before I get started, I need to give a little bit of background as to why I ever considered becoming an Uber driver:

  1. I spent 8 years as a City Planner in my area, so I know the area very well.
  2. I had just started a new job, which allowed me to work from home and completely eliminate my commute. I figured I might as well put my car to good use, otherwise it would just sit in my parking spot.
  3. I was driving a BMW 525i, on which I only owed about $2,500 at the time. My thought was that I could drive Uber, make some extra cash and pay off the loan. I completed that in only 2 months.
  4. I’m don’t really get excited about going out to the bars and wasting money, but figured this might allow me to at least get out, socialize, and make a little bit of money. With the cash surplus, I maxed out my Roth IRA for the first time, and started a taxable brokerage.

I had heard about Uber maybe 6 months earlier, as my brother in law had been a driver for a while in Indianapolis. Indianapolis has major sporting events throughout the year, with the Indianapolis 500, Colts, Pacers, Big Ten championship games in various sports, etc. I live in Southwest Florida, which is a tourist destination in the winter months for people up north who are escaping cold, snowy weather in favor of beaches or golf trips.

One thing I really liked about the opportunity to drive with Uber was that I was able to make my own hours. With the Uber Partner app, I could turn on anytime I wanted to/was available to drive, and I could shut it off anytime I wanted to/needed to do something else.

Uber works based on GPS, so the closest available driver gets the first opportunity to accept or decline the ride request. We only have 15 seconds to accept, or else the request is passed along to the next closest driver. This practice provides for the ride to be provided as quick as possible to the passenger, while all-but-avoiding requiring a driver to drive across town just for a pickup. This is a major advantage over traditional taxi services in moderately-sized cities.

In the early days, there weren’t a whole lot of rides to be had, and sometimes I would have to drive 8-10 miles for a pickup, and the passengers would only be going a mile or so down the road. But because Uber needed for there to be some level of coverage throughout the area, they ran driver promotions that would pay up to $20 or more per hour guaranteed, as long as the driver stayed logged on and performed an average of one trip per hour. That lasted a few months, as Uber ridership began to grow.

In this aforementioned touristy area, lots of trips begin or end at the airport. Again in the early days, this was not a problem. We would sit in the cell phone lot and wait for a ride request to pop up. But as more drivers came along, the “game” became more competitive. Some drivers would figure out a location to park their car where they were slightly closer to the terminal for the ride request to ping them instead of the other drivers in the cell phone lot, but those locations were remote; sometimes a 15-minute drive from the terminal, which I thought was excessive to make our passengers wait that long.

I was only driving part-time, usually just Friday and Saturday nights for 4-5 hours, and I was easily bringing in $200-300 every weekend. It was much slower in the summer months because that is our rainy season, coinciding with the Atlantic Hurricane Season, so tourists don’t flock to this area in the summer months. Still, there were plenty of people beginning to use Uber to go to/from bars and the beach, especially on holiday weekends (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day weekends) so I had a slow but steady bit of business coming in.

I also seemed to do better than most drivers in terms of my driver rating and in tips. Drivers and passengers each have the opportunity to rate each other, which provides for accountability for both parties. You can’t be an awful driver and last very long on the system, because your passengers will report you to Uber. Conversely, you can’t be an annoying, loud, obnoxious, or messy passenger very often, or you will have trouble getting drivers to accept your ride requests from a 3.2 out of 5.0 star rider. I was never very good at small-talk until I was driving every weekend for Uber. Most people appreciated my knowledge of the area, or recommendations for restaurants, site-seeing or golf. It also helped that I am a single guy driving a BMW, which I kept meticulously clean. It compared well against other Uber cars, which doubled as family cars when not in service with Uber. Despite it being a 2007, I was constantly being asked if it was new, even up until a few months before I traded it in for my current car in August 2017.

I continued to push harder and harder with my Uber side hustle, but the income was limited by the amount of business in a given area at any given time, divided by the number of other drivers online and available in those areas. Because of the way the GPS-based system worked, there was no way to differentiate myself as a top driver that passengers could request in lieu of the straight-up-gambling option in the app. But one time, I had a sweet old lady of 75 years of age, who asked me for my business card so that she could contact me directly whenever she needed a safe ride to the doctor’s office, airport, or to a restaurant or wine bar. I was ashamed to admit that I didn’t have business cards for my side hustle, since I only operated on the Uber app, and it was all random. She explained that at her age and condition, she didn’t want to just trust anybody, and she has her own driver in every city where she travels and has a home. She gave me $10 and said “go to Vistaprint and get 500 cards for $9.99” so I did that and have turned her $10 into more than a few thousand by offering scheduled pickups for airport pick-ups and drop-offs. This was finally one area where I could differentiate myself from other drivers, providing a private car service with a well-groomed driver and a clean BMW sedan.

Everything was going well (except my sleep schedule on the weekend) but there was still a limit on how much I could make. And I would go through periods of being completely burnt out…

Part 2 – The downsides of Uber

Part 3 – Why I’m done with Uber