Category Archives: Money

How To Save Money By Negotiating When Using Airbnb

Update: The credit for signing up has been increased to $50!

Lauren and I are taking our first big vacation since our honeymoon two years ago. After going through all our options for a November vacation, we settled on a 10-day trip to Italy and Israel. Lauren is about to finish her master’s degree in speech pathology and will start working once all the paperwork goes through, so this is our last chance to go a big vacation before scheduling and vacation time gets even harder.

This trip is not going to be cheap. We knew that going in, but that didn’t stop of from getting the best deals we could. First, we started with flights. We found flights that fit our schedule, and then I tracked them for a few weeks to find the patterns when they were cheapest and most expensive. When I found a price we liked, I pounced. Putting down three thousand dollars on plane tickets alone was a bit nerve-wracking, but knowing that I had 24 hours to cancel if necessary made it a bit easier (if you didn’t know, you have 24 hours to cancel with no fee on all U.S. flights).

Hotels vs. Airbnb

Once we had the flights booked, we moved onto hotels. To put it lightly, hotel rooms in Italy are neither cheap nor large. In most places, the room consists of a bed, which rubs up against a chair and table. If we’ll be traveling for a 10 days, that type of cramped space might not be enough. It would be nice to relax on a couch as we plan out our next day’s activities, and a fridge to store some food would be very convenient. Unfortunately, hotels don’t offer those types of amenities.

Enter Airbnb. For those who are unfamiliar, Airbnb allows people with houses and apartments to rent out their spaces for a price they set. This can be a great way to earn money from an otherwise dormant apartment, and for those looking to travel, can be a cheaper way to find places to stay (and in a more home-like environment in many cases). We have never tried it before, but with a $25 promotion, it made even more sense for us. Plus, we could look for all the amenities that were important to us: free wifi, and a washer and dryer in Florence so that we can pack a little lighter. For everything we were looking for, it was about half as much on Airbnb as it would be to be in hotels. And more comfortable for us!

Negotiating for Even Better Rates

In each city, we picked out our 2-3 favorite apartments that had the amenities we wanted and were in our price range, and I contacted the hosts asking if they could be flexible and offer a slightly lower rate since we’d be staying 3 nights. Some could not discount the rate further, but some were willing to offer a discount for us. In Rome, instead of $364 (including all fees) for 3 nights, we were offered $335 for a very modern 1-bedroom apartment that we are really excited to stay in. Add in the $25 credit we were given being referred, and we paid just $310 for it. What a deal!

In Florence, we went from $358 (including all fees) all the way down to $316. That’s $42 in savings just for asking! Add in the $25 we got because I referred Lauren (and now I have a $25 credit in my account, too!) and we paid just $291 for a really fantastic 2-bedroom apartment.

Lessons Learned

Once again, it never hurts to ask. In this case, we saved $71 just by asking for it. And it feels especially good since we got another $50 off with the referral credits (get $50 off your first stay here). We booked about 7 weeks in advance, so if you are not in a rush like us to book something (the more time the better), I highly recommend not only checking out Airbnb, but also asking for discounts from any properties that you’re considering. There is really no downside, and the upside is tremendous. The longer the trip, the better deal you can get!

What It’s Like Driving For Uber

One of Lauren’s biggest complaints is that I come home from work and watch sports for several hours. On Sundays, she commandeers the TV during the most important parts of games because “you’ve been watching football for 8 straight hours,” as if that’s a valid reason. Well, I found an alternative that keeps me busy, entertained, and earns a little cash on the side! It’s not as passive as some other ways to earn money each month, but it is a lot of fun! Uber has everything I look for: super flexible hours (work only when you want), interaction with people, and the more you put in, the more you get out.

The Approval Process

At the prodding of a friend, and after reading a lot about it on The Rideshare Guy, I signed up to be an Uber driver. Or rather, I started the process of becoming an Uber driver. The first step was getting a background check, which took a few days, and once I was approved, I got my car inspected. It took about an hour and cost $20, but it was well worth it. I’m now confident I don’t have any major issues with my car, and am aware of a small one that I should get fixed at some point in the next few months.

I uploaded my inspection documentation, my license and registration, and a few pictures of my car, and waited. And waited. After about a week, I emailed asking about the status, was told it could be a few more days, and waited some more. After another few emails, I finally got approved to take my first trip.

Preparing My Car

I cleaned the inside and outside of the car, brought along some charging cables (iPhone and Android), and hit the road. We just bought a handheld vacuum, which came in handy (and will save me time and money in the future if I drive regularly). There are certain points in life where I consider having “made it.” Having a dustbuster is one of them.

Hitting The Road

My first night (a Wednesday), I left the house at around 7:30, and drove a few blocks away to the restaurant area, hoping to pick up the after-dinner crowd. After about 10 minutes, I got my first ride, from someone not at a restaurant. Go figure. I plugged in her destination (a comedy club), took off, and started to make some conversation. Of all the people I drove the first night, this was easily the best. It was a 15 minute trip, the conversation flowed freely, and we were going to a popular part of town where I was sure to pick up more people.

I’ve read stories about forgetting to start the trip, but somehow, I let it happen to me. I was too focused on the directions and forgot to hit the start button until the very end of the trip. I cost myself $7, but after requesting a fare review and explained that it was my first trip ever, Uber credited me with the difference.

After dropping off the first passenger, I had to wait nearly 15 minutes for my next ride. From speaking to other Uber drivers, that seems like a long wait. A couple of short rides later and some more waiting around, I decided to pack it up and start heading home. Of course, as soon as I did that, I got alerted that there was another ride available, so I took it. 3 drunk people entered the car, I started driving to their place, while one asked if I wanted to rob a bank. I said “not tonight,” and he said, “Of course not tonight!” as if I was the crazy one.

Again, as soon as I dropped them off, I got another ride. I took it, hoping that it would bring me closer to home. Nope, 3 girls were going out to a hotel for a fun night out. Another good ride, and as luck would have it, as soon as I dropped them off, I got pinged that there someone at the hotel who needed a ride. Awesome! They got in and directed me to within a few blocks of home. Amazing!

But there was an issue with that last trip. The total came out to $6.66! I don’t like that vibe, so I contacted Uber and they gladly changed the price to $6.65 for the sake of everyone’s luck. Success!

Lessons Learned

Overall, I had a great time, but did learn a few lessons. Lesson one: Start the trip! This was a dumb mistake but luckily, I got it out of the way early. Lesson two: Get a phone mount. I was constantly looking down and the audio wasn’t working properly the whole time, so I decided to buy a phone mount for the car. This way I just have to glance and I won’t be as distracted. Well worth the money and in my mind, it’s a necessity. Lesson three: Stay in one spot. I got a bit antsy waiting for passengers, so I tried moving around a bit. This didn’t work and cost me gas, so lesson learned. Better to not get a ride in one place than not get a ride and waste gas in the process. Lesson four: Start later in the night. I started way too early and the first hour or so was very slow compared to later in the night. Maybe it was a one-time thing, but I don’t see a reason to leave the house before 8pm. I need my sleep so I don’t anticipate driving until 11 or 12 every night, but I will pick my spots so I’m more profitable while I’m out there.

Overall, it was a great first night and I enjoyed the experience. I will definitely be back on the road soon and will do some lessons learned posts!

2014 Third Quarter Business and Personal Finance Goals Update

I changed my goals for 2014, going with 3 goals that keep us accountable both on a personal and business level. We’re into the home stretch now, so let’s see how we’re doing and if we can finish the year off strong.

As always, I am leaving out steps on the way to achieving my goals (like fully funding out Roth IRAs and contributing to 401(k)s) because they would have simply been checkboxes. I don’t believe in setting goals that are more of a given than anything else. It’s not impressive to make a long list of achievable goals and when you accomplish 18 out of 20, to claim that 90% were completed when those last 2 might have been the most important.

1. Grow My Blog Carnival Submission Service To Over $500/Month

This has been stagnant, but something I’m ok with. I don’t see a huge opportunity to grow the business, and the time that would be required to grow this to $500/month might outweigh the benefit.I definitely haven’t put in effort to recruit new users, for a few reasons: I have been lazy and haven’t made it a priority, and I don’t want to step on the toes of friends and other bloggers who have similar services. It does seem like a few carnivals have stopped in the past few months, and for some, it’s been harder to find hosts. If I see things go back to normal and bloggers are more willing to host, I will renew my search for new users.

2. Create At Least Two New Streams Of Income That Bring In $100 Per Month.

At the beginning of the year, I said I had an idea for one of these income streams, and in March, I achieved that mark. With a friend, we buy some items in bulk and resell them individually for more on eBay. It worked very well, but due to circumstances outside of our control, we had to shut the operation down. It was a great run while it lasted and netted me more than $1,200 (or $100/month for a whole year), so I’m going to consider that a success. It certainly wasn’t a failure, or if it was, I hope all my ventures “fail” as spectacularly as this one did.

My perk farm is now earning about $150/month, so that is a huge check mark. It involves very little work and has a low barrier to entry (and anyone can do). Check out that post if you’d like to earn that much, too!

Other that that, I’ve got one last idea in the works. It’s no sure thing, but it is something that I want to try out to see if it has the potential that I think it might. Sorry for the lack of details!

3. Keep Discretionary Spending to 105% of 2013 Levels

In the 3rd quarter, our discretionary spending was 22% higher than the first quarter, and a whopping 37% increase over our second quarter of 2013. This was caused by a huge $3,000+ international round-trip flights we booked for November. We’ll be traveling around Italy for a week before heading to Israel for a few more days. It’s a lot of money, but it will be a lot of fun and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. For the year, we’ve spent 22% more than last year at this time, which comes down to less than 4% when that single transaction was excluded. 5% was a stretch considering two international trips, but other than those we’re doing awesome (and we aren’t going to change plans to hit a goal).

As a reminder, our new car is not included in this calculation (we decided to pay it off over 5 years instead of paying in cash). Our typical grocery bill, insurance, charity, tuition and student loan payments, rent, and utilities won’t count toward this goal, but everything else does. We want to see if we can keep our discretionary spending in check, because that’s all we can really control.

I’m not terribly excited that we spent more this year than last, and I don’t think our spending is out of control. Hopefully we can finish 2014 strong (but we still have to book a hotel in Florence and traveling itself won’t be cheap)!

Rating Our Progress So Far

I’m definitely encouraged this quarter by the business progress, having a few extra streams of income, even if they’re temporary, definitely takes the sting out of spending a bit more. We have some room for improvement, so our work is definitely not done. Overall, I’m pleased by our progress and performance, and am looking forward to more of the same!

How are you doing on your goals so far? Where are you succeeding?