Travel Hacking New Orleans

Flights and 4 nights for 5 people- under $300

We just returned from New Orleans thanks to some serious travel hacking and I wanted to share with you how we saved so much money on 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 travel hacking and 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

Travel Hacking the Canadian Rockies

A four-night, four-star trip for next-to-nothing.

I’ve been so eager to tell you how we took second-honeymoon style trip to the Canadian Rockies for pennies on the dollar.  We started travel hacking about 2 years ago and using points and miles has definitely helped with our travel game.

After booking our trip to Australia last year, I had a bunch of American Airlines miles left.   Reading Bryce’s blog about how to use the Fairmont VISA gave me an idea- I’d been dreaming of staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise since I was a teenager- travel hacking the hotel was the ticket!

fcll1

lake-louise-cover

First, I booked our flight from CMH -> Calgary using 75,000 AA miles.  Here’s what I would have paid using the same flights but paying cash.

american-airlines-what-i-would-have-paid

Instead, here’s what I paid:  75k miles + $123.60 in taxes and fees

Savings on flights:  $1,232.40

You can accrue AA Advantage miles by signing up for 2 Platinum Select Citi AAdvantage cards- if you got the business card and the personal card, you’d immediately have enough miles.  More info HERE.

Our first night of the trip was at Emerald Lake Lodge (review).  Not only was the place exquisite, it’s very pricey.  One night was $329 CAD + taxes.  Our bill at check out for one night + dinner in the lounge and breakfast in the dining room was a whopping $497.89 CAD!

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Before we left home, the Barclaycard Arrival + was offering a sign-up bonus for 50,000 miles after spending $3k in the first 3 months.  We used the card for all of our expenses on the trip, plus  all of our personal expenses and my husband’s business expenses.  After less than 2 months, we hit the minimum spend on this card- giving us 50k points/ $500 in travel credit.

The charge at Emerald Lake Lodge converted to $375.82.  See how I erased the purchase below:

barclay-point-post
Showing we hit the minimum spend and all the points we accrued.
barclay-redeem
You can only erase purchases that cost over $100 each. These are the options Barclay gave me.

barclay-emerald-lake-lodge

So for 2 nights and 2 great meals: FREE

A savings of $375.82

Next we spent 2 nights at the aforementioned Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.  This travel hack involved signing up for the Fairmont Visa Signature Card.  We applied for this card over a year ago in order to have time to earn the miles and have open availability for the resort.  This card also requires spending $3000 in the first 3 months, but with that comes a bonus of 2 FREE nights!

After achieving the minimum spend I called Fairmont and booked the two nights at the Chateau Lake Louise (you must book directly with Fairmont resorts to use your free nights).  The resort quoted me a resort fee of $13/night, but I wasn’t charged it at checkout.

Here’s what our nights would have cost without credits:

fairmont-hack

$669 CAD is currently $501 USD per night!!  Just having this credit card saved us $1002!

Earning Premier Status also gives you breakfast and dining credits at the resorts.  We were able to use 2 of these at check-out. The parking was $30/night.  Here’s our first bill from the resort and then a second one showing what we paid after the credits were applied:

fairmont-hack

We had horrible weather while at Lake Louise (our mountain view room became a fog-view room), so we really just enjoyed the resort and the room service (YES!).  Our bill at check-out (after Fairmont dining credits) was $163.12 CAD.  This came to $123.13 USD and we were able to erase the entire stay using the Barclay points.

barclay-fairmont

Total cost of 2 nights at the Fairmont + Dining if paid for out of pocket and without credits:  $1002 + $216 USD ($288.12 CAD) = $1218

Total spent for 2 nights at Fairmont + gluttony and room service after HACKS = ZERO

The last night of our trip was in Banff.  I had prepaid for the hotel through AAA.  In hindsight, I could have also booked the hotel with the option to pay at check-out and used the Barclay points to cover it.  However, it was the least expensive option by quite a bit- we stayed at the Banff Aspen Lodge for $133 USD.  The room and amenities were just fine, but I would recommend this more for budget travelers or families.

Total for air and 4 nights before Travel Hacking: $3082.82

Total for air and 4 nights after Travel Hacking: $256.60

Savings: $2,826.22

Bam!!  The Canadian Rockies was one of the most magical places we’ve ever visited.  I think I’ve covered everything, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section. I’m not the final authority on all things travel hacking- I recommend reading 10xtravel.com for more info!  I love them so much, I wrote a blog for them!

Have you done any travel hacking?  Maybe you’ve been the Canadian Rockies?  Maybe you cry, too, when you see a dream come true?

travel-hacking-header

** I’m undeniably one of the world’s biggest haters of debt.  We only use these credit cards with the premise that the uses are already budgeted for and the cards are paid off EVERY month.  I don’t recommend using a credit card if you lack self-control.  My husband is also self-employed so we can easily hit the minimum spends just by charging his gas and other work expenses along with our household expenses.  More HERE.  End sermon. **

 


Booking.com

No thanks, Pittsburgh: Your museums cost too much for my young family

I booked our last minute trip to Pittsburgh without doing something I preach over and over:  Cost planning.

I used Chase Rewards points we’d been accruing for YEARS and booked the Doubletree by Hilton for a whopping $57 total.  I had a total budget for the weekend, but completely overlooked the cost of experiences.

A few blogs and friends mentioned some different museums.  Which was all hunky dory UNTIL I looked at the prices.  How are these museum prices family-friendly?!

Let’s review the total prices to visit each museum for our family of 5:

  • Pittsburgh Children’s Museum: $74
  • Warhol Museum: $60
  • Phipps Conservatory: $63
  • National Aviary (for entrance + one show): $92
  • Carnegie Science Museum: $111.60

A weekend at the museums could literally set you back just over $400.

header pgh museums

I haven’t even fed my children yet.  Or paid for city parking.

Guys, I am a free-market capitalist.  I don’t want anything for nothing.    But, holy heck, this is not even realistic.  I look at these prices and think, “no wonder people think that travel isn’t worth it…or completely unattainable.”

On top of that, the Children’s Museum, the Phipps Conservatory, AND the National Aviary all charge for my 2 YEAR OLD.  It’s not significantly lower, either.  The National Aviary price for admission + one show is $19 for adults and $18 for kids 2 and up.  Geez, thanks for the $1 markdown for my child who may be sleeping in the stroller throughout our visit.

I really hate sounding angry, but I was so disappointed.  I’m not typically a museum person (especially when I’m wanting to read signs and kids are eager to go from station to station), but I’m sad that it literally costs so much for a visitor to see the inside of a building.  I know these museums and zoos have lights to keep on, and try to persuade people to get memberships, but the typical middle-class, out of town family, is going to just stay away.

So as much as I enjoyed our time in Pittsburgh, I kind of have a bad taste in my mouth.

Maybe our next trip will be to Washington, D.C. where most of the museums are free…  you know, courtesy of my tax dollars. (I crack myself up)!

What do you think?  Please tell me I’m not the only one thinking this is absurd!

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!

How to make a budget

(AKA: How to 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 will allow you to do this.

I’m going to walk you through how to make a budget in the same way we have been doing one for 12+ years.  All you need is a Google spreadsheet or a Excel file.

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

 

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 making 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.

 

 

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? What does your budget look like? 

budgeting header

There’s Nothing Evil about Making Money

Dave Ramsey will often say, “Money is amoral.” It is just a tool.  It is neither evil or good. Can money be used for evil or good?  Absolutely.  However, the $20 bill in my wallet is not evil itself,  it’s just sitting there waiting to be plucked out for groceries or the babysitter.

Oftentimes the Bible is misquoted by folks that say, “Money is the root of all evil.” Negative.  The Bible says, “For the LOVE of money is a root of all kinds of evils.”  (1 Timothy 6:10).

If you love money more than God or people when you make $30,000, you’ll have the same issue (and idol) if you make $130,000.  Or 1.3 million.

If your desire to make more income comes from a heartfelt desire to better provide for your family, but also to be able to give more away, who is to judge your motives?  Let’s give an example: My husband and I, since taking Financial Peace University, have believed that 10% to charity was a minimum amount that we felt comfortable giving.  We don’t believe in the Old Testament tithe, per se, but 10% is a minimum we believe to be a jumping off point.  God has provided us everything anyhow, it is only our money to steward.  

MMM blog header

We could argue then whether that’s 10% of net or gross  income, and we’ve moved from the first to the latter. But for accounting ease, let’s use gross.  Let’s say that first year we started budgeting, Brian and I made a combined $43,000 (I didn’t pull tax returns or anything, but that seems about right).  So that year, let’s say we were able to give $4300 to charity (which may be just a bit high).  The second year I got a different job and was working more hours, as well as had a few part-time gigs, and that year we collectively made $58,000.  So that year our giving would have been closer to $5800.

Now, who would say that I should have not pursued a better job?  How did us as a couple, making $15,000 more per year, hurt anyone?  Would anyone say we were being greedy?

Now let’s talk about those evil people in the 1%.  🙂  Let’s say that they have been thoroughly blessed and they make $250,000 per year.  This enables their 10% to be $25k!  Wow!  $25,000 going to fund missions and orphanages and pregnancy centers.  A single mom walks into their life and they can easily write her a check for $1000 and feel no pain, whereas my husband and I at $43,000 would have felt the ache of giving $1000 to someone.

I just finished an excellent book by Crystal Paine, the founder of MoneySavingMom.com.  I admire Crystal not only because she is a brilliant blogger and business owner, but because she is a transparent woman who shares her victories (and even a few failures)!  Crystal’s new book, Money Making Mom, is a must-read for every mother, working or at home, that would like to make a few extra dollars – either to help Junior play in the football league, to start a non-profit, or just to take some of the pressure off of her breadwinner husband.

The wisdom Crystal shares is business advice that I can endorse because 1. She  doesn’t believe in going into debt to start a business and 2. She knows the reality of “balancing” a family and a business.  She actually shares how at one point she was working TOO hard and staying up too late-or all night- and letting her health and sanity get out of whack.

After Crystal offers page after page of start-up business advice, she states the following,We should focus on making money to impact our family and loved ones for the better, In addition, our focus for making money should be to help those who are struggling in our community and around the world.”  YES!  We don’t go out there and work hard just so that Skippy can have an XBox and we can live in the nicest house on the street, we make more to SERVE others through our finances, but also through our time that we get back.

money makingmom

It’s not immoral to put money aside for retirement or buy yourself a few nice things. It is wrong though to be so tied to your business or your lifestyle or even your DEBT, that you can’t live for others and give back to your community.  When we love possessions more than people, we are loving money (or what it can give us), instead of pursuing excellence to better our families and their future families.  Crystal sums this nicely with, “If you want to live an amazingly fulfilling life, you must live for something bigger than yourself, something besides material desires, words of praise from others, or a long list of accolades.”  We can fight against the culture by how we live.  We need to stop viewing money as evil and see how WE can be the ones to truly use it for good.

 

money making mom bookMoney Making Mom can be purchased at Amazon

 

**As a part of the Money Making Mom launch team, I was given a free copy of the book.  I was not compensated for my views, though, and all opinions are my own.

Labor Day Financial Check-up

Most people ring in the end of summer with a day by the pool or campground, but we chose to use a morning at home to do a financial check-up.  It’s never a bad time to review your yearly finances, but the unofficial end of summer seems even more timely!  The calendar is showing a slow-down to pop-up cookouts, weekend roadtrips, and high gas spending, so we can evaluate where we’re at and what expenses we have coming up.

labor day financial check-up

We also talked about 2016. This year is two-thirds completed so there’s no harm in focusing on big expenditures that will happen in the new year and how we can best budget for them.

Topics we covered:

  1. Are there any expenses we can cut?  Can we rein in spending on groceries, eating out, etc?
  2. Are we budgeting enough in some categories?  (For instance, when I made a 2015 overview budget, I underestimated medical expenses and clothing– these kids don’t stop growing)!
  3. What plans do we have for the house in 2016?  Are the planned renovations the best use of our money and time?
  4. What charities have we supported this year- what goals do we have for supporting those charities next year?
  5. Will we replace my minivan in 2016 or should we drive it until it falls apart?  (Or maybe both will happen at once?! ;))
  6. What travel goals do we have for 2016?  How much money are we willing to allot for travel?
  7. How can we be intentional about contributing as much as possible to our Roth IRAs?  How much more do we need to contribute this year?

I feel so much better after this conversation!  I think it’s so important to “cast a vision” with your spouse so you are both on the same page, but more importantly, so you have peace that you are being good stewards of your finances!  We believe that God gives us everything and it’s our job to manage it faithfully.  Budgeting is really the ONLY way to do this!  You must must must must must have a budget.  Got it?

What do you think- Did we forget to cover something?  Maybe you had a financial check-up, too?  

(This was obviously our conversation as husband and wife, but I think it would work for singles, too)

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. 

Stay in that apartment- Renting wins over buying

As I admitted in an earlier post, it is all my fault that we jumped into the real estate market when we did.  I had the baby fever and obviously thought that a 19.5″ little baby needed his own space to spread out!

Here we are 8 years later, and while we adore our neighbors and fit wonderfully into our home, I know that we would have been smarter to continue renting.  Maybe indefinitely.  Owning a home is a money pit and renting wins over buying.

Sure, you’re “building equity” (although most people aren’t really because they put 0% down) but in the meantime you’re also dealing with plumbing debacles, furnace issues, and a leaky roof.  When you’re renting and disaster strikes, a quick phone call to the landlord is made and then HE or SHE is responsible.  I realize that all landlords are not created equal, yet it is still THEIR responsibility to correct the issue- you’re wallet is taken out of the equation.

 

Before I get flack for killing the American dream, I urge you to try the Rent/Buy Calculator at the New York Times.  I suspected it would tell us we should rent- and it did.  If it tells us we should rent, and we live in a very middle class home with a mortgage and insurance under $850, I hate to think what it is going to tell some of you!  What’s the one major budget buster behind the reason we should rent?  Utilities and RENOVATIONS.

A similar apartment or home is most likely going to cost us less in heating and electricity (and zero in property taxes), and with the money we are constantly shelling out to fix things, we could be investing a few thousand a year in a mutual fund that will typically earn about 8%.   Instead we’re here maintaining the property and we’ll someday pay a real estate agent about 6% to sell it for us.  Yuck!

Most of my reasons for owning a home are purely emotional.  I want to paint and decorate the way I choose.  I want a private yard for my children to run in.  I simply don’t want to have the “apartment lifestyle” at age 31.  None of these things are necessarily wrong or evil, but I can acknowledge them to be true since I know that paying a mortgage every month doesn’t make me better than anyone or even more financially savvy.

I think we need to stop preaching the Gospel of Home Ownership  in America.  There is nothing wrong with buying, but the long-term costs and fixes should be evaluated instead of the age-old adage “You’re throwing money away while renting.”  The reality is, you’re not.  If you’re really living below your means, you could be throwing money at a better investment than four walls with a roof.

What are/were your reasons for buying?  Did the NY Times calculator tell you to buy or rent?  Do you think we preach home ownership way too much in America?

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For your continued reading:

Renting Smarter Than Buying for Half of Homeowners

Renting vs. Buying – The True cost of home ownership