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Archive for August, 2017

Europe Trip

August 31st, 2017 at 06:50 pm

I had a rough estimate in my head that we would spend about 100 GBP per day, or about $1,500 total incidental spending (with some rounding up and pre-trip purchases). Though I wasn't going into this trip with a super frugal mindset. Kind of a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so if it cost more then it cost more.

I mentioned in my last post that we were never very hungry. We also pre-paid some tours which included food, so between all that we kept food down to $50 per day. (That's $25/each for three meals a day. Though we certainly splurged on some nice meals out, for the most part the food was much less expensive than I imagined. We also pretty much never buy drinks out, but it was reasonable enough and part of the culture that we did buy drinks with most our bigger meals. Lord knows we could have spent a LOT less if we really wanted to).

My accounting is still somewhat rough at this point, but we paid for the airfare and hotel long ago with our regular vacation budget. All of the tours were paid for with credit card rewards and snowflakes. The rest came out to about $1,200: transportation (Tube), Bus, Theater tickets, admissions, tips, and last minute tour change. Not bad considering that we were at about $1,100 before the last minute change.

I was planning to take $1,000 from savings and then throw MH's first paycheck back ($500) towards the trip. In the end I might lean more on his paycheck and would only have to pull $700 from savings? Will see how it pans out. My checkbook is a total mess right now because I am doing like three BIG credit card rewards at once. So I may just have to pull $1,000 anyway to make it all balance. In the meantime I come up with roughly $1,200 cash + credit spending during trip and this seems to be close to my spreadsheet. ($1,200 spending would be for *everything* except the flight and hotel).

Here's the cost breakdown:

$1,929 per person! Our flight was non-stop and the room rates were so good that we didn't even look at anything with less than 5-star reviews. Our hotel was REALLY nice. Nothing we'd ever splurged for before (paying cash). We did pre-pay because the exchange rate was SO LOW when we booked (it was a refundable rate though). In the end this saved us about $50. Exchange rate was 1.25 when we paid (a historical low) and 1.29 during most the trip.

My parents live right by the airport. We garaged our car at the in-laws house (since they were at our house). In-laws handled kids/pet/house so we didn't have any of those type expenses to worry about. I do usually pull from grocery/gas budget when we travel but we had to drive 250 miles or so to/from airport and left a fridge full of food for everyone and so I can't say we saved any money on those fronts. Lord knows what the electric bill will be like. In-laws are super frugal but they aren't used to our heat.

This is what we accomplished on our trip:

Tower of London @ opening. Our hotel was near here the Tower and MH had the last minute idea to just go there at opening. It was not crowded at all so that was our MO for the trip. So this is a lot of how we were able to get some off-peak time in. In contrast, the in-laws had skipped the crown jewels (when they were in London) because the line was too long. There was no line when went.

Some random shop front:

Hop On Hop Off Bus

We were pretty lazy this first day and only got off the bus for Hyde Park. LOVED it and had a lovely lunch there.

Westminster Abbey @opening ~ beat the crowds and had the cutest tour guide.

National (Art) Gallery **FREE

British Museum (we did this over 2 days) **FREE
We did a free foot tour from some unaffiliated group, which was okay and we did pay a tip for that.

Our hotel had a restaurant and had free drinks/free concert one night. It was the night before Paris so we didn't stay long, but it was neat that we could enjoy some of the concert. We frantically did laundry during the concert (had a washer in our room).

One day in Paris: river cruise, lunch @ Eiffel Tower, and 2 hours at the Louvre.

On Day 7 I decided to sleep in and have a nice brunch @ St. James park. MH wanted to fit in all the free museums he could find. I can see this now as I piece together our itinerary. After getting a very late start and enjoying a leisurely lunch... We went to a free art museum (it had some Roman ruins in the basement), Churchill War Rooms (er, not free), Museum of London, etc. At the Museum of London I parked myself in the cafe with food and wifi, while MH looked around.

We did a free walking "ghost" tour that night. I was surprised MH wanted to do that and it was pretty dumb. But we saw some really neat parts of the city so I did tip the guy. Definitely was worth it from that angle. (I would totally like a ghost tour, but just don't think it was the best tour. MH usually just makes fun of me that I would like a ghost tour, so no idea why he thought it was a good idea. Big Grin ).

I loved St. Bartholomew:

Dover Castle & Canterbury Cathedral (free tour; paid for with rewards). I really loved Dover Castle and we were able to hear the pipe organs in the Cathedral. WOW!

On our last "free" day we went back to British Museum. We went to the Globe to pick up show tickets but unexpectedly their museum was closed. Frown We walked by the Tate and MH didn't want to go in because it cost money. He peeked inside and I guess it was free after all. It worked out kind of perfect because we had time to kill and were pretty tired on this day. (I think we did a million steps at Dover, so yeah. I am remembering why we were so beat this day and not wanting to walk even to the Tube). The Tate had really great views of the city on the top floor. They did ask for donations and I let go of some of my change since I thought the museum and the view was worth something, and we were trying to spend down our cash so we wouldn't have to exchange any. We saw some Picasso, Warhol, Pollock, Salvador Dali, etc. A very unexpected treat!

We saw Much Ado About Nothing that night and it was awesome. Really a neat experience in the old Shakespeare theater. You could pay just 2 GBP (I believe?) to stand in the middle of the theater, but we knew better than that and spent over $100 for some really good seats. (I just knew we wouldn't be up to standing for a few hours!) So that was money well spent.

I mentioned in my last post that we had booked a Stonehenge/Avebury tour, but they canceled it rather last minute. MIL (who is very pushy) was very pushy that we must see Windsor! So when frantically trying to find our way to Stonehenge, I noticed an available (albeit pricey) tour that started at Windsor first thing in morning. I was sure Windsor was lovely but all the reviews were pretty meh re: summer crowds. But we decided if we could do Windor first maybe it wouldn't be so bad. (It wasn't bad, but it didn't do much for me. Maybe expectations too high after MIL went on and on and on about us not going. By then we had seem a million old castles, right?).

Windsor Castle

Stonehenge we knew we'd love it or hate it. It was a really hot/sunny day when we went. I LOVED it. It is just a bunch of rocks, but it was neat to see up close.

We ended that day eating in an old pub. Someone took MH's dinner (mis-ordered or something) and so he waited forever for his food while I waited forever for the bathroom. But they had some of the Harry Potter movie locations in this little town and it was definitely worth a stop. So yeah, we squeezed a lot in that we weren't planning to.

Oh, and we just used wifi so didn't have any phone charges at all. Were able to call and text the kids over wifi. (Mostly hotel wifi, but most of the museums, buses and the Eurostar had free wifi so we had a fair amount of phone access).

We REALLY lucked out with the weather. It was mostly cloudy and never really rained. Very mild. We had a little bit of sun during the second half of the trip.

Home Sweet Home

August 31st, 2017 at 12:17 pm

So glad to be home! We survived our trip to Europe.

I think overall things went as smooth as could be. Phew!

We did have a huge flight delay on our way home. I am starting to think that is our jinx. This seems to happen more often than not to us, that our flights home are canceled or delayed. Anyway, accordingly (since we are so used to canceled flights), and not knowing how up we'd be for the 100-mile drive home, we didn't expect to get home until today anyway. So maybe that part wasn't very "smooth" but we were pretty mellow about it.

The only other trip hiccup was that our tour for Stonehenge/Avebury was canceled. We got this news late one night when we got back to the hotel. Ack! We were relieved that we were easily able to book a last minute Stonehenge tour. Phew! But I am bummed that we had to skip Avebury. Neither of us had any desire whatsoever to drive abroad or to pay for a more private tour, so we just let it go. (Our tour was apparently the only bus tour to Avebury, and they had some "technical difficulties").

That whole thing is going to be a bit of a mess because we paid for it with a reward credit card (with rewards). I didn't do much today but I did spend a few minutes making sure that getting a refund for that tour doesn't mess up our rewards. It looks like it should be okay but I just don't know how they will hash it all out. We will get a cash refund, but they are going to have to realize we never actually paid any cash for that trip which means they will probably refund us in rewards. & then I can just apply to other travel expenses we booked on that card. We are lucky that it will probably work out. For most credit rewards I just book the bare minimum for the reward but in this case we had booked some tours up (spent more than minimum for reward) and we have some new travel spending to offset these rewards. They count the tube expense and the new bus tour as "travel expenses" that we can pay with rewards. So it should all work out, but I just don't know exactly how. First things first, still waiting for our refund. (I actually applied all our rewards for tours because they were non-refundable. So yeah, I never expected any scenario where we would get a refund. I tried to be smart about it, but it is what it is).

I think we kept the entire trip to $2,000 per person, which is incredible! I will do an accounting and share some pictures later. Maybe tomorrow. (In the end I started typing this around 9am yesterday but crashed for the rest of the day. We did get back home about 1am on Wednesday morning. Just woke up and it is early Thursday now).

I am always in awe of other big city public transportation, but London takes the cake. We pretty much just did the Tube but I don't remember ever waiting more than like 1 minute for a train. We were really lucky and seemed to miss all the crowds. & everyone warned me that we would walk so much, but we really didn't. The transport is *everywhere*. For comparison we did DC last year mostly on their subway and that was a LOT of walking. The stations just aren't as close together. The Tube cost about half as much as DC subway did.

I just think it's all relative. The other thing is I really didn't find London to be that expensive, but I am from San Francisco. So, just more relativity. I thought the transport was insane cheap, and the food was much more reasonable than I had expected. & then all the museums are mostly free, so what else is there? Even the hotel was much cheaper than I would have expected for London. Our flights were cheap too, but that is what motivated the entire trip in the first place.

All this to say that we had a very pleasant/frugal-ish holiday.

(We would mostly never travel during summer and I thought we were probably insane, but we somehow seemed to miss a lot of the crowds. For example, when we went to Parliament there was a huge mass going towards Westminster Abbey and so on. Even MH was super annoyed I wanted to walk along the canal first, but NO ONE WAS THERE and we had the entire place to ourselves. Unreal! So we seemed to luck into some off-peak somehow throughout the trip).

On the flip side, there are a lot of reasons I don't particularly care for traveling. But one of the biggest is that I just don't deal with it well physically. On this trip I think I did pretty well with the sleeping, but I absolutely never adjusted to the time change otherwise. I thought we planned bad when we made big dinner reservations on our second full day there. We both just picked at our food and it was just really bad planning. But now 10 days later I can't say I would have done any better on our last day. I LOVE to eat and so I was really bummed that I mostly felt like crap the whole time and couldn't even enjoy any food. I picked at food the *entire* time and I know this is some of why we ended up spending very little on food. We also had a kitchen/apartment which helped to keep our costs down. I suppose this part was harder than usual for me since we expected this to be a bit more of a culinary trip.

I am hoping the adjustment is easier on the US side, since I never really adjusted to the time zone anyway.

I think I could have packed lighter if I put more effort into it, but overall we are super light packers. I noticed this a lot particularly on our Paris trip. We went on a tour because we wanted to see *everything* that we could in one day. That was one day our weirdness really shone through because someone had lost her luggage (on her flight) and everyone was going on and on about that. Yeah, it sounds horrible, but I don't understand why you'd need to check baggage in the first place. I don't know what other people pack. We really keep it to the essentials. (Everyone else had clearly checked bags as they went on and on how they kept some stuff on their carry on and made sure not to check this or that).

I *really* appreciated this when we got home. I swear it took me like 5 minutes to unpack. We did all the laundry when we woke up. I don't know if I've ever packed so light before for such a big trip and so I really noticed what a non-event it was to unpack. (Mostly dumping my suitcase into a laundry basket). I admittedly still have to sort through toiletries but that is about it.

It was on the same trip, Paris, that most the tour group skipped the Louvre in favor of shopping. Seriously!? I do not get people! The Louvre was just amazing. We only had a couple of hours there, which is just sad. (We maybe saw 0.001% of the museum?) But was definitely better than not seeing it at all. Big Grin So glad we went.

I just can not fathom going to the Louvre to shop. I am sure many can not fathom going to Paris and not shopping. I am well aware that we are the weird ones.

I will post later more about the trip, pictures, and cost breakdown.

Oh, and we toyed with the idea of seeing An American in Paris. We decided not to go. One day when I saw a bunch of advertisements I told MH I wanted to see that one back at home some time. Wouldn't you know it? Went through the mail yesterday a.m. (also very light because we do most things electronically) and it's one of the musicals they will do in our city next spring! The tickets go on sale January and so I told MH that's my birthday/Christmas.

I don't go back to work until Tuesday, thank goodness! Glad I can squeeze in some quiet down time at home. It is long overdue. I was dreading even getting kids to/from school but that just seems silly now. I can take them (since MH is not a morning person) and he can deal with the afternoon insanity like he always does. I guess that's maybe 1/2 hour commitment for a couple of days. I will survive. Wink We may go grocery shopping today, but we had left a ton of food for the kids and in-laws and still have some left. MH starts back work on Tuesday (the end of his summer break). I forget how easy this is when we are both home.

Computer Update

August 13th, 2017 at 10:53 pm

Post from January:

MH ended up buying me a very small computer. He kept seeing sales in the $100 range. This is an incredible deal if you already have all the accessories. But I haven't had a desktop since I've been displaced by kids. So... $500 later. The motivation was not "minimalism" but I am LOVING it from that standpoint. The computer is about the size of the original roku? (Or how I recall the original roku to have been). It just hangs off the back of the monitor. & I told MH several times that I did not need speakers. He did not believe me, so he ended up getting me a monitor with built-in speakers. So it looks like I just have a monitor/keyboard/mouse. We got it set up in our bedroom, for now. Glad it is so compact, because I might want to move downstairs in the summer.

To be clear, we just put the computer in our bedroom. I just used MM's old desk.

In the end, I have surprisingly not needed to move downstairs. I recall that we *never* used the upstairs A/C until we had kids. Now I remember why. All the cool air (and heat in the winter) seems to float up our bedroom. So it's been okay.

I realized that I never showed any pictures of my tiny computer:

This is the computer, just hanging off the back of the monitor:

Back to School Spending

August 13th, 2017 at 03:45 pm

I think we have made it through the Back to School spending.

Drama Llama (7th Grade)

$20 new clothing and lunch box
$20 art supplies (donation requested)
$15 lab fees (donation requested)
$15 music books
$120 lunch (Funded the max, for about 1/2 of the year)

Well, I am clearly getting off easy with this one. His PE clothes still fit from last year and should last through next year also.

He also has free use of a school instrument, for band, but we will probably re-evaluate at some point. For now, will give it some time to see if he sticks with it.

Monkey Monkey (9th Grade)

$40 running shoes
$40 ASB sticker (covers PE clothes)
$90 graphing calculator
$120 lunch (Funded the max, for about 1/2 of the year)

I suppose there will probably be track uniforms. He isn't sure if he will stick with fall track, so will see.

I thought to check the shoes in stock at Kohls because I have been buying men's double wide shoes for myself (online). Anyway, we got him a really good pair of shoes. These are the kind of shoes I'd buy him anyway because he is very athletic. (He has WIDE feet like his mother, but these seem better stocked for men). We've never really found a good place to buy him shoes before. Kohls? Who knew!

We otherwise spent $35 on school supplies (to cover both kids). That's about $14 of MH's super frugal shopping (he got a lot) and $20 of that was a last minute run to Walgreens (after my last post). MM needed a combination lock, which I couldn't find anywhere else (in my sphere of fast/convenient). But Walgreens had much better folders and we also bought several of those.

MM hasn't bought much school lunch in recent years because he never liked the quality of the food at his location for the past couple of years. He did end up buying at the high school on Friday and said it was good and large portions. If the portion sizes are appropriate for him (a BIG eater) then the school lunch is a steal and will encourage him to buy a lot this year. In fact, I was funding their lunches thinking maybe 2-3 days per week buying, when I came up on the maximum I could fund. So anyway, I just did the max that I could. Will see how long that it lasts. You have to pay a fee every time you fund, so I had gotten in the habit of just doing twice per year. I think I have always prepaid ahead, regardless. Makes life more simple.

Being Thankful for Our Abundance

August 12th, 2017 at 02:44 pm

I came across this beautiful article today:


Text is and Link is

"Recently I posted a picture of myself in my kitchen, and I immediately started receiving generous messages from people wanting to help me “update” it. Along with their messages came pictures of how my kitchen could look, if I’d just put some effort and money into it."

"You guys. I have a REFRIGERATOR.

This thing MAGICALLY MAKES FOOD COLD. I’m pretty sure in the olden days, frontierswomen had to drink warm Diet Coke. Sweet Jesus. Thank you, precious kitchen.

Inside my refrigerator is FOOD. Healthy food that so many parents would give anything to be able to feed their children. Not me. When this food runs out, I’ll just jump in my car to get more. It’s ludicrous, really. It’s like my family hits the lottery every freaking morning."

"Sometimes it seems that our entire economy is based on distracting women from their blessings. Producers of STUFF NEED to find 10,000 ways to make women feel less than about our clothes, kitchens, selves so that we will keep buying more. So maybe freeing ourselves just a little from the Tyranny of Trend is a women’s issue – because we certainly aren’t going to get much world changing done if we spend all of our time and money on wardrobe and kitchen changing."

I will say that gratitude is an important ingredient to living debt-free. I am often bemused by the "sacrifice" people project on to our choices. We are so incredibly blessed, so the bemoaning of our very minor sacrifices always sounds so melodramatic to me. We will survive. Wink We've always been very blessed. We haven't always had the latest and greatest, but we've always had everything we needed and then some.

Back to School

August 9th, 2017 at 07:12 pm

My kids go back to school today. It's just random that they both start back on the same day.

MM(14) starts high school. He has a full load of AP and Honors classes, and is joining the track team.

This will be the first year that either of my kids attend a regular public school (they've only attended public charter schools), but this school looks to be a great fit for MM.

MM is still doing gymnastics. I am relieved he can keep that with his schedule. He probably would have chosen gymnastics over track, if he had to choose between the two. (Will see how he feels after track practice in the peak of the heat today. He will have about 3 hours to refuel before gymnastics. I do also expect it to cost $$$$$$$$$ to feed him with track practice every day).

DL(12) gets to start diving into art school a bit more. He will have 2 or 3 art periods this year. We still need to sort his schedule out and make some decisions. The year-round elective he got was vocal training. I expect that he will also be learning an instrument this year. & on top of that he gets a semester of visual arts and a semester of drama. The instruments is more extra class/extra time or will be utilizing their very low cost and convenient private after school lessons. That's the part we have to figure out. It may all be too much and he may do nothing, but that might free up his schedule to do the school musical. Regardless, he has MANY opportunities, and a lot more this year than he had last year.

Back to School Spending has been pretty light. The kids are both out of uniforms now but neither seems to need any clothes. I think MM will eventually but I don't think it's the worst to get used to non-uniform school first (before buying more clothes). I don't remember buying DL any clothes since he graduated out of uniforms over a year ago. I maybe spent $20 buying him a few shirts and some shorts, since he was outgrowing some. But mostly seems rich in hand-me-downs still.

This is the first year we have to buy school supplies for MM, but last year was the first year for DL and so we had some things on hand already. Our spending was very small on this front. MH also shopped around sales, like composition books for a quarter each.

I think the regular public high school is going to be more careful about asking for money (since it's not really allowed in our state). But, will see. I know DL's public charter school will "require" $20 here and there for more specialized art supplies and science lab fees. I don't mind that at all. I don't want to shop for specialized art supplies. But once that stuff starts to roll in I will tally it up. I will tally all of the above, but it's just not going to amount to much. (Well, as to school supplies and clothes. I will have some other bigger expenditures. Might even add a band instrument to the list).

July Savings

August 3rd, 2017 at 01:38 am

Received $50 bank interest for the month of July.

Snowflakes to Bills:

Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our grocery card.

Redeemed $53 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $3 cash back on Visa dining/fuel card.

Other snowflakes:
--$10 (sold old skateboard on Craigslist; MM got a new/bigger one for his birthday) ~ I set this money aside to pay for gymnastics (it's cash only)

Savings (From my paycheck):

**skipped $200 to investments**
+$ 300 to cash (mid-term savings)
+$ 900 to IRAs

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):

+$1,300 to cash
- 500 Dentist/Medical/New Glasses(DL)

{Note: MH has no wages during summer months}.


**Interest should bump up to $55 per month. I found a savings account that pays 3%. (This month was only a partial month, so a little less).

**I am always a month behind on savings withdrawals because anything I charged in June will be settle up in July. July was a birthday/Murphy month and also had a $600 insurance bill come due, so that will reflect in next monthly update.

Because it was so expensive this month (which reflects more in August), I decided to skip funding investments this month. It's not something I do lightly. But I seem to be doing this (skipping investments) about once per year. I don't mind cutting ourselves some slack since we generally err on the over-saving.

I redirected our snowflakes to cover bills. (I do usually invest snowflakes).

I've already paid all of the August bills (which were mostly July expenses).

I guess not much else to report. August and September will be spendy months. August will be paying off all this birthday/Murphy spending (which I've already done). September will be paying for August Europe trip.