Travel Hacking New Orleans

Flights & 4 nights for 5 people- under $300

Hey!  We just returned from New Orleans and I wanted to share with you how we saved so much money on this trip by travel hacking our accommodation & flights.  We’ve been able to travel more since learning how to better utilize our credit card points.  For more info, start HERE:

Why this Dave Ramsey follower still uses a credit card

Travel Hacking the Canadian Rockies

We flew to New Orleans on Southwest airlines.  The total cost of 5 flights on Southwest would have been $1269.40!  Instead, our total was $56 and some change thanks to using 56,350 points.  You could get this many points by getting the sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred and then transferring the points to Southwest.  Check out 10xtravel for more info on all things credit cards!

Savings: $1213

For our hotel nights, we wanted to do a plantation tour, but also stay in the city.

Because we were arriving into New Orleans on a Saturday night during Jazz Fest, city hotel rates were really high.  We decided that we’d stay outside of the city for the first night, then drive in on Sunday.

The first night we stayed at the Home2 Suites by Hilton in Gonzales, LA.  This was a perfect family-friendly property.  Our room with two double beds and a sofa bed was HUGE, and the free breakfast was sufficient.

The total cost for that night was $112.78.

We had some points left on our Barclaycard Arrival+.  Which allowed us to completely “erase” the purchase.  Barclaycard is offering a 50,000 point sign-up bonus which is good for $500 of travel purchases.

Savings: $112

In New Orleans, we picked our hotel considering what would accommodate our family, but was also not too close to the French Quarter.  I’d read on some blogs that the French Quarter can get a little rowdy at night and little ones (or their big mama, lol) would have a hard time sleeping.

Brian had some Hilton points to burn, so we chose the Hampton Inn by Hilton by the Convention Center.  If we would have paid out of pocket for the Hampton, 3 nights would have cost us just over $694.  This is without 2 nights of valet parking (we were able to park the first night on the street), which would have added an additional $88). Hilton now allows you to redeem an uneven amount of points – i.e. the Hampton was 36k a night and we redeemed 77k to help us save a little more on the last night.

Our final bill at check-out was

3 nights at the Hampton with 2 nights parking FULL PRICE: $782

3 nights at the Hampton with 2 nights parking WITH POINTS: $235

Savings: $547

We also rented a car, but it’s not a necessity when visiting New Orleans so I won’t include it.  Our reason for renting was because we did want to drive out to the plantations, and we needed cost-effective airport transportation.  I’m so glad we did have the car because of all of the flight debacles we had on the return.

Also, when flying on Southwest Airlines, your car seats fly for free!  This is a big money-saver!  We bought car seat bags a couple of years ago from Amazon and this backpack one is our favorite.  Hands-free with kids is a must!

We also just purchased this inflatable booster seat for our oldest.  It worked really well – and we could fit 3 kids across the back of a Ford Escape.

 

(If you weren’t traveling with three small kids you could easily purchase a plantation tour with hotel pick-up plus airport transfers).

So that’s how we did flights for five & 4 nights of hotel for under $300!  Do you travel hack?  Have you been to New Orleans?

While in NOLA: Visit the Garden District & Tour Lafayette Cemetery

** Leah’s disclaimer:  It’s never a good idea to go into debt by using credit cards.  We use them for most of our business/personal expenses and then pay the statement each month.  Don’t play this game if you lack self-control. **

 


Booking.com

Why this Dave Ramsey follower still uses a credit card

As much as I preach the Dave Ramsey financial gospel, there is one solid thing that I disagree with him on.

I think you can get out of debt and pay your bills and still have a credit card.  

Now, as Paul Harvey would say, here is “the rest of the story.”

We never struggled with credit cards.  We had a car loan and student loan when we took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  We were young and dumb, BUT we were smart enough to know that paying 18% interest was just DUMB.

So I say this all with a disclaimer:  If you’re still silly enough to pay 13%-30% interest, or think balance transfers are an advanced financial decision, this post may not be for you.

In the last couple of years we began to use credit cards fairly heavily.  Not because we’re accruing debt, but because of the type of household we run.  My husband is a self-employed salesman and we realized that all of the money he was spending each month on gas, hotels, and even some fast food, was doing nothing for us.  After a visit to our local bank branch we realized that opening one of their cards could help us accrue some points and at the very least get cash back or some small travel.

Here are three reasons we use credit cards:

Travel Hacking  

Exactly two years ago my mom saw Bryce of 10xtravel talking about Travel Hacking on Good Morning America..  Not only was Bryce a familiar face from my hometown of only 3500 people, but he helped me (via email) come up with a plan to fly our family of 5 to Australia using credit card points.  I know that Dave likes to poo-poo credit card points ,but we were able to cut the cost of our Australian airfare by nearly $4000.  We also saved $450 on an expensive Sydney hotel and still came home with a bunch of miles to fund some free flights to Banff(we paid about $125 in taxes vs the $1356 cost).  Travel hacking takes focus, but for organized people like us, the benefits outweigh the work.

American Airlines what I would have paid

Discounts

We have two American Express cards- two major hotel branded cards- and both of them offer discounts on everything from groceries to airlines and even chocolate.  If you have an American Express card, scroll down on the main page and just “Add” these discounts to your card.  Here are the promotions currently added to my card:

credit card savings

Another example I can think of is the Fairmont credit card.  They provide breakfast coupons, spa discounts, and more when being a cardholder while also staying at their hotels.  The Fairmont card does carry an annual fee, so it’s important to weigh the cost with the benefits

Security

I know numerous people say that debit cards are just as safe as credit cards, but I beg to differ.  If someone gets ahold of your debit card number, they aren’t essentially spending the issuer’s money, they are spending YOUR money.  Credit cards also provide numerous extra benefits that my debit card does not- such as some rental car coverage, lost baggage coverage and more.  I feel safer using a credit card online (and who doesn’t make lots of purchases on the internet?).

Conclusion

So while we LOVE Dave Ramsey and will forever be indebted to him (see what I did there?) for our financial peace, we really do think that credit cards can be used responsibly.  It’s not for everyone (if you’re renting your couch, please don’t open a credit card), but we’ve found using credit cards to be beneficial to helping us reach our travel goals-  and save us some moola!

What do you think?  Do you use a credit card for travel benefits and discounts?

DR credit card

**This post may contain affiliate links**

3 More Ways to Save Money

It’s President’s Day!  In honor of the day that celebrates Washington and Lincoln, I thought I could save you some Benjamins (who wasn’t a President, but whatev). 🙂  Here are three more things we do to save money.

save money header

We don’t give it to the government

Seems a little ironic, right?  While I’m patriotic to the US of A, the tax code should always be used to one’s advantage!  It’s YOUR money, anyhow.  Since my husband is  self-employed, we do our best to keep track of all business write-offs, everything from meals while he is away to our cell phone bill to mileage accrued.

 It’s important to know what you’re able to write-off and keep great records.  We also get our taxes done by a CPA (Do not do H& R Block, they will rip you off).  Yes, it’s an investment up front, but they know the tax laws and they are able to package everything up for it.  Your time is valuable.  That said, if you have a small business (I see you Miss Scentsy, Noonday, Jamberry, It Works!) make sure you know if you need to be paying quarterly taxes.  A huge bill come April is one definite way to get your budget off-track.

Another way we avoid taxes is living in a city that doesn’t have high real estate taxes.  If we had the same home in a neighboring suburb, we’d pay 2-3 times a year more because of better schools, which would be appealing, but we aren’t sending our kids to public school. 😉  It’s worth it to do loads of research before you buy.  Consider the schools your children will be going to.  Look at the income tax that your city requires, plus the school district income tax.

We were unclear about homeschooling before we bought our home (and we still are some days, Ha!), but it’s good to base your decision not only on what you can afford, but the education you desire for your children.  That said, don’t overpay in the area of real estate taxes.  I cannot imagine paying $200 or $300 more per month to live in a similar home, only to complete a tax payment.  No way!

Food is important

We need food to live (thanks, Captain Obvious), but more than that, food can control our budget! For our family, groceries are our highest monthly expense after our mortgage- and I’m sure in a few years as the kids grow a bit more, it will easily PASS our mortgage!  So making good choices with our spending on food is absolutely necessary!  I’ve blogged before about shopping at Aldi and how we pay cash for groceries, but I wanted to go into a little more detail.

The easiest ways to save money on groceries are to only shop once per week (or once bi-weekly) and plan meals.  I’m not organized enough to plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner so we stick to staples for breakfast like cereal or frozen waffles (try the fit & active waffles from Aldi!).  Lunch is typically pb & j or a cold meat sandwich.  I do plan most dinners (and yes, I even plan pizza nights, as I need to know if I have money in my envelopes!).

I hate cooking, so planning meals helps not only save money, but sanity.  I buy 3/4 of my groceries at Aldi and fill in things like meat and some produce at Kroger.  Some ideas for quick and inexpensive meals- chicken & noodles, sale-priced meat with baked potato and salad, spaghetti and meatballs (I’ve heard good things about Aldi frozen meatballs).

Some of my favorite recipes:

Chicken and vegetable pot pie from Real Simple (Tip: Use split chicken breasts.  You’ll spend an extra 2 minutes pulling out the bones, but you’ll save about $1,50/lb on the chicken).

Pineapple pepper pork– Crockpot meal!

Green enchilada pork chili– It’s usually less expensive to use boneless chicken thighs.  It tastes just the same!

Buy used

What do cribs, cars, and children’s clothes all have in common?  We buy them USED.  About 6 months ago the rocker we had in the baby’s room was falling apart.  Literally.   Thanks to some rambunctious boys, the arm was falling off.  For 6 months we read books with a broken arm.  Then one day I sat it out for a garbage man.  About a month later I saw a rocker/glider on a Facebook selling wall.   FOR $20!  I nabbed it.

Just today I met a lady at Wendy’s to buy a winter coat for C for next winter.  $5.  Ok, yes, so looking for deals will take some time and a little effort.  However, instead of needing to find a coat in October when we get our first cold spell- and shelling out $25- I’ll now have one clean and ready to go- and a savings of 80%.

What have we bought used?

  • Every single car
  • Dining room buffet
  • Lamps
  • Side tables
  • 90% of our children’s clothing except for shoes and underwear
  • Specialty children’s wear- Easter outfits, Christmas dress, snow boots.  Most are worn very lightly and you’ll save 50% or more!
  • Baby supplies – carrier, exersaucer, high chair
  • Post-baby outfits.  (i.e. clothes to after childbirth before your original clothes fit again)
easter clothes
Easter clothes- everything was thrift or consignment except C’s shoes and socks (they were new!) and Jackson’s pants and shoes (they were hand-me-downs from a friend, LOL). Btw, my kids love to pose. Obviously.

There are some things you have to avoid when buying used.

  1. Do not overbuy.  Just because something is a great DEAL does not mean you NEED it.  I don’t go to Goodwill/Thrift stores unless I’m specifically looking for an item, because I know I can be easily sucked in by a deal.
  2.  Join a local buying/selling wall but ALWAYS meet at a public location.  I will never pick-up or drop-off  from someone’s home.  Let a friend or spouse know what time and where you are meeting someone.
  3. Bargain.  I’ve asked people to go lower on their price at yard sales, on selling walls, and even at Goodwill!  If I see a small stain or pilling, I”ll ask for a discount.  The best way to do this is at a yard sale.  If you are buying 10 items and say they are about $1 each, say, “would you take these 10 items for $8?” As Mom always said, “The worst they can say is NO.”

I don’t think you can save yourself to wealth, you must work on your income as well.  However, sometimes we need to start doing things the old-fashioned way, handling money like our grandmothers did.

What’s one way you save money? Have you thought about your tax rates before?  Are you a thrift shopper like me? I’d love to hear!

Budgeting 101

(i.e. How you afford to do the things you want to do)

You can read lots and lots of financial advice.  There are books and blogs and e-courses,oh my!  However, we’ve found that truly the ONE thing you must have if you want to succeed financially is the dreaded B word- a BUDGET!

The months when we get off track with our budget are the months that we lose sight of the big picture.  Creating a budget gives you the space to save, invest, and prepare for emergencies.  Even if your income is small, giving “every dollar a name” (Dave Ramsey stuff right there) and living under your means allows you to do this.

If you don’t have a clear picture of what money is coming in each month and what your set expenses are each month, how can you prepare?   What happens when 2 of your little ones get strep and the Dr visit + the medicine is $190 (hmm, wonder who this happened to?), now your sickness becomes a financial crisis.

Once you budget consistently for 3-6 months, you’ll notice something.  You will hardly check your bank account!  There’s no need to check it- you’ll know that you have the money because you told that money where to go!

We’ve been doing a budget each month since 2006.  It’s never one-size-fits-all.  You must meet each month and discuss the changes for that time.  Utility charges vary by season, kids need clothes and shoes at different times of the year- you must anticipate these things.

 

A few friends have asked what we have in our budget, so I thought I would post the Excel list of our budget below.  Obviously, you may have more or less categories, but this gives you a good idea to start with!

Here are the items that we budget for every single month, along with some notes:

Church giving
Compassion Int
Missionary
Mortgage
Utilities
Electric
Water
Gas
Telephone
Trash
Automobile Gas
Grocery {Cash}
Blow/Fun money {Cash}
Eating Out {Cash}
Diapers
Health Insurance
Life Insurance 1
Life Insurance 2
Work expenses
Husband’s spending money {Cash}
Newspaper
YMCA membership
Planet Fitness Membership
Chiropractor
Babysitting {Cash}
Clothing
TOTAL SPENT Should Equal Total Pay

 

Budgeting Tips:

  1. Some items are not listed (like car insurance) because we’re able to swing them through my husband’s commission.  In your own budget, I would recommend breaking down your larger expenses into monthly expenses (you’ll notice I do this for our term life insurance policies).   For instance, maybe you pay your car insurance twice per year and the cost is $600.  Instead of trying to come up with $600 in June and December, allot $100/month in your budget and then DON’T TOUCH THAT MONEY.  When the bill comes, the money will already be in your checking account.  You can also do this in saving for Christmas or other big purchases.
  2.  You must use (some) cash.  It’s very hard to adhere to a budgeted number if you only use debit or credit.  We take out cash on the 1st and 15th each month to pay for groceries, eating out, blow money (usually ends up being eating out) and babysitting.  Having money that can be physically touched causes a different emotion than swiping a card.  I’ve tried using debit/credit for groceries and I always underestimate how much I’ve spent.  Seeing that there’s only $30 in my grocery envelope shows me that it’s time to buckle down and eat from the pantry or freezer, instead of making another trip to Kroger.
  3.  A budget works better when you stay out of debt.  Don’t look at your monthly budget like, “Oh, we have an extra $165 dollars every month, we could afford an upgrade on xyz.”  Negative, ghostwriter.  You’re looking for money to save, invest, and give.  Stop asking if you can afford the payment and start asking if you can afford IT.  (Notice there are no lines for a car payment?)  You can’t get out of debt if you keep taking on more!  Whatever you need to do to push yourself- do it!
  4. If there is money leftover, start saving for an Emergency fund (if you don’t already have one).  A $1,000 should be enough in the short run to cushion you against car repairs, a leaky roof…or strep throat. 😉
  5.  Notice these are just expenses.  I didn’t add lines for saving, investing, or even vacations.  Add whatever you need to add as long as you aren’t spending more than you make!

 

Do you do a budget?  Is it like napkin-worthy or do you really stick to it?  What’s your #1 budgeting tip?

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4 things I always buy at Aldi

Mr. Yoder Toter and I have always been frugal food shoppers, but having three children has added a dimension of buying things that we never did before.  Whereas I used to eat the only bowl of cereal each morning, there are now 4 bowls of cereal.  Or instead of using 4 pieces of bread for a sandwich, we’re up to 8 or 9.  All of this change has prompted some modifications to how I shop.

Aldi has swept in and become the hero of the day, saving me cold-hard-cash on many products I use every single day.

Aldi isn’t always the most convenient place to shop– they don’t have everything like a WalMart or Target, and many items are seasonal. Maybe even more depressing, our Aldi does not have large carts for bigger families (no 3 or 4-seaters, here).

Those cons aside, I save significant money just from shopping these four categories.

aldi-logo

1. Snacks

Our kids can put away a box of graham crackers in the time it takes me to change a load of laundry.  Aldi’s prices on crackers, chips, snack-sized fruit cups, and more, can not be beat.  The kids are pumped when I get home, and it saves me significantly over Target or Kroger.

2. Organic products

I’m a stickler for organic apple juice and produce.  Aldi is carrying more and more organic products in their stores, including canned diced tomatoes, black beans, and spaghetti sauce.  I even found grass-fed cheese there this past week (move over Amish Country, this may be my favorite cheese ever).

aldi cheese
This cheese is amazing… and Australian. Run, don’t walk, to Aldi and get some.

 

3. Batteries

With a brood like ours, we go through AA batteries like water.  Every other gadget in this house is consuming batteries and at $1.99 for a pack of 8, I can be sure to save a bunch when I buy my batteries at Aldi.

4. Frozen foods

Frozen vegetables, pizzas, and waffles are all at a price much lower than the competitors.  They also offer many convenience-type meals which are great for a busy season (we ate a lot of their frozen manicotti after C was born) or if I know a sitter will be here.

What type of products do you buy at Aldi?  Is there anything I’m forgetting? 

Also, just a fun Aldi fact, the carts in other countries take different amounts of money- while we only pay a quarter here – it’s a whopping $2 coin Down Under!

I was not compensated by Aldi for sharing my affections. 

Why we need to stop saying, “You need a bigger house.”

Guys & Gals,

There is something that a few people have told me lately and it really gets my goat.  Pretty much since baby #3 was just a bun in the oven I’ve often heard, “You need a bigger house.”

I don’t get this statement (and I have to curb the need to say, “You need a smaller mouth” LOL).

Here’s the reality:

I don’t need a bigger house. 

house

Our family of 5 lives in a humble 1300 square feet.  When Brian and I bought the house we figured we may have a baby or two and they’d fit just fine considering we had three bedrooms, a yard, and a garage.  Built in 1920, our house is pretty typical for the time in was built.

The current average home size in America is 2,679 sq feet.  The average household contains 2.54 persons.  (I’m not sure where the .54 lives but I think in our case we have 5.54 persons because Miley cat weighs 18 lbs.  I digress.) When new build home statistics were calculated in 1973 the average home size was 1660 sq. ft and there were 3.01 persons in the home.

We’ve shrunken our families but increased the size of our abodes.

In the UK the average home is 818 sq feet, Germany is 1,173 and Spain in 1,044.  The Yoders are actually living high off of the hog compared to our European friends.

Truthfully, there are days when I want a bigger house.  When you walk into our home you are smack dab in our living room.  I’d love to have a foyer to drop our shoes and bags so they aren’t greeting you at the door.  I’d like to have an office where Brian and I could shut the door and hash out those budget meetings.  For goodness sakes, I’d like a toilet on the main floor!

The thing is, we could totally buy a bigger house TOMORROW.  We are in the financial shape to do so and could be approved for a larger mortgage (not tooting our horn, just putting it out there).  We CHOOSE to stay in our home because we love our neighbors, enjoy a small mortgage payment, and really just aren’t up for selling and moving right now (like I wanna keep a house spotless with three littles around).

Also, I don’t think there is anything wrong with kids sharing a bedroom!  Our kids have a few toys in their bedroom but they are typically only in there to sleep.  It doesn’t hurt them to share a dresser and a few square feet, someday they may go to college and have to do this and eventually they may get married and be sharing a whole lot more.

Furthermore, I think as Americans (or Canadians or Australians- at 1948 sq feet and 2303 sq feet, respectively), we can throw this around flippantly without really thinking about what we are saying.  Are we telling people that their home isn’t good enough (even though we don’t live there)?  Are we denying that sometimes people don’t have the financial wherewithal to support a bigger place?  Are we implying that a big home is the marker of success and perfection?  These are issues I think we have to work through.

Also, as Christians, I’ve heard it approached as if “well if they want to have more kids, adopt, foster, etc, they are going to need a bigger house!!!”  Maybe this is just said flippantly, but this is not the Gospel.  The Bible says to “take care of the widows and orphans” not “go get yourself strapped into more debt so you can take in your grandmother.”  Children (and adults) need an environment that is loving and safe- they don’t need their own closet and bathroom.

We choose to have a smaller home because it allows us to give more, save more, and travel more.

Having a small mortgage (and lower utility bills) allows us to pay cash for cars, take vacations, and give to causes when led.  It makes me consider all the stuff I may bring into our home because there may not be a space.  I’m working on living a more minimalist lifestyle and I’m thankful that our smaller house forces me to do that!

So next time your bff or your neighbor tells you that now that baby #2 (or 4 or 6) is on the way you’re going to need a bigger house, ya’ll can smile politely (or roll your eyes) and tell them confidently that you’re doing JUST fine where ya are!  I’m pretty sure our grandmothers had babies sleeping in dresser drawers. 😉

xo

Leah