Well Heeled Blog » Save Money, Have Adventures, and Travel the World

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Since my last post I have packed and shipped all my stuff, finished grad school, and went on an AWESOME and not-at-all-frugal  vacation with my parents to New York City, Boston, Montreal, and Quebec City. It was their first time to the East Coast and to Canada. I’ve been to Boston and New York City before, but what struck me the most was the picturesqueness of Vieux Quebec, the walled old city. That place is probably as close to a real-life Disney set as there ever is. My parents both loved Quebec City, and seeing my mom’s face light up is my most treasured memory of this trip.

The other thing I realized is that I LOVE being a tourist. I’ve read some bloggers who make a distinction between “travelers” and “tourists” (usually with the implication that travelers are more authentic), but well, being a tourist is pretty great. Apparently, I love doing unabashedly touristy things such as going to see the most significant sights, taking tons of photos, and doing walking tours with people who dress in costumes. My whole family does!

We ate out every night at places and got desserts almost every meal. Speaking of food, we had many great meals, especially in Boston at my favorite place, the Courtyard Cafe at the Boston Public Library, and Montreal. We strolled and walked and took the subway when convenient but also splurged on taxis when we got tired. We sat in the Orchestra section of a Broadway show, and did not stand in line for day-of tickets at the TKTS discount booth in Times Square. We went up to The Top of the Rock observation deck. I hired a private guide to lead us around Lower Manhattan. We took trains when flights would have been cheaper (but less comfortable). My parents bought souvenirs, a few landscape drawings by a street artist from Quebec City and a book from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

It was a great trip – a bit hurried as we covered 4 cities in 12 days, but I’m glad we went to the cities that we did. I’m glad we didn’t cut out Montreal as I was considering at the beginning. I was impressed with Montreal – it seems very affordable (our 1-bedroom AirBnB in the center of Le Plateau was less than $100 a night), extremely clean, and the boulevards are beautifully lined with trees, restaurants, and boutiques. Unfortunately I will never live in Montreal because 1. The winters. The winters!, and 2. je ne parle pas français. If only the whole year has May weather – I would be motivated to learn French in that case. 

All in all, I calculated that this trip cost a total of ~$7,500-$8,000 for this family of tourists, or an average of $220 per person per day. On the one hand, the trip wasn’t extravagant, or at least, it didn’t feel extravagant in the way that a 5-star hotel suite or limos or first-class flights would feel extravagant. On the other hand, I – and my parents – almost NEVER spend money without calculating fairly detailed budget, and on this trip, while I kept an eye on menu prices and we had breakfast inside our apartments many times for convenience as well as cost, we didn’t count the pennies. Or even the dollars. So that was extravagant for my parents, as this type of spending is probably 4 standard deviations away from how they normally spend. My parents paid while I offered to cover our accommodations ($2,400-$2,500). My dad has always liked to see places, but now I think my mom has caught the bug as well. She has already said she wants to do a family vacation to Europe in 2015.

  • Erin - GOOD FOR YOU!

    I’ve been reading your blog for years and years now, and have always admired your ability to focus on both the micro AND the macro when it comes to personal finance. There is a lot to be said for traveling on a shoestring budget and making your money stretch as far as possible. But there is also a lot to be said for splashing out and simply enjoying yourself with few (if any) holds barred.

    On one hand, I’d say this was the trip of a lifetime and so you and your family very rightly did it up. But I hope it’s NOT the trip of a lifetime! I hope you guys go on to enjoy many, many more trips where your primary concern is to spend time together, eat good food, see great sights and simply enjoy yourselves, without the constantly worrying about the budget.

    Congrats on finishing graduate school as well….that’s amazing!ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Thank you Erin. I really hope it’s not the trip of a lifetime, as I hope to have many more trips with my parents. I’ve already mapped out about 3 different itineraries in my head for our Europe trip. :-) ReplyCancel

  • Alicia @ Financial Diffraction - Oh those are some of my favourite touristy places. My hearts second-favourite place (after my home province) is Montreal. I used to spend so much time there. I love it :) Surprisingly, I haven’t been to Quebec City… yet!

    Glad to see you had a great time. I think that would be an awesome trip with the parents. Whenever my parents come to visit we go and do touristy things. Nothing major, but go to a museum, or a nature park.ReplyCancel

  • NZ Muse - Sounds rad. Unfortunately we had barely any time in Montreal – overnight, got in late and left early – but liked what we saw. Didn’t get to Quebec, but I daresay we got our French fix in Paris.ReplyCancel

  • Kitty - We just went to Montreal and Quebec City and was amazed at the reasonable prices too! (granted we’re in the SF/Bay area so we’re use to sky high prices) But gosh the Citadelle was cold and windy. Do you have any tips on traveling with your parents? I’m in early 30s, my parents are in their 60s. They’re healthy, but I’m setting up a family trip (likely renting a condo in Hawaii next year) with them, and it’ll be first trip we take as a big family (me and my spouse, my sister and their S.Os, and my parents) and also the first trip that the kids will be paying for everything. So not sure how to budget/plan for this?ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - It sounds like you have at least 8 adults going – parents (2), you + spouse (2), two sisters and SOs (4?), plus however many kids. I’m not sure if you can find a condo big enough to accommodate everyone, but I would try to find condos that are right next to each other or that are within a minute’s walk of each other in the same resort. Then each family can just pay for their own place (find a condo with 2 master suites, if you can, if you need to share with sister and her SO) and split the cost of Mom & Dad’s accommodations.

      In terms of food, I’d put in $20 or something a day into a communal pot for buying milk, bread, for breakfast, etc., and then you can take turns picking up the tab dining out or you can keep the receipts and divide everything evenly afterwards. Much of it will depend on how financially responsible/responsive your sisters are and whether you have similar financial resources. It’s harder to split everything evenly if one person in the family is a doctor and another person is a teacher.

      Have fun on your trip! I think it’s an amazing gift you are giving your parents. I’m sure they will treasure it.ReplyCancel

  • save. spend. splurge. - The winter is pretty nasty in Montreal, especially if you consider that with the corrupt government there, the money slated to clear the snow from the streets goes to line their pockets instead, so you kind of need a 4×4 or a truck to make it through Montreal sometimes with all the snow that builds up :P :P :P

    I hope you went to Vieux Montreal! (Old Montreal). It’s my favourite tourist-y part of Montreal. That, and the stretch of St-Denis and St-Catherine.. both are very nice as well.

    Quebec City is nice, but I prefer Montreal.. call me biased.

    Also, learning French is not hard. It’s surprisingly close to English, just say everything you would say in English but with a French accent ;) ;)

    (This is kind of what I do. I’ve managed to guess at a few words this way, verifying with BF that my guess was correct)ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - We did go to Vieux Montreal – went on a nice walking tour and saw Notre Dame Basilica. It was lovely! I liked both that area and Le Plateau.ReplyCancel

  • Jack @ Enwealthen - Congratulations on graduating, and a well planned trip!

    Despite being a tech person, it is still amazing to me how much money you can save using AirBnB. The quality of the accommodations for the price in most areas I’ve been is surprising. I still tend to go for the hotel for the short trips, but for anything more than a few days, renting someone’s place, especially for a family or group, is usually a great deal and a great experience.ReplyCancel

  • Mathieu Lebrun - Wow! That was amazing! Congratulations on graduating! And your wonderful trip!ReplyCancel

This is the night view from our balcony in the Condado district of San Juan, Puerto Rico. This was somewhat of a spur of the moment trip – a good girlfriend wanted to go somewhere to celebrate the impending end of our graduate school journey, but she had visa issues that precluded traveling outside of the U.S. So Puerto Rico was the perfect solution. It didn’t hurt that we found roundtrip tickets for $250 and that our lagoon-side accommodation, with a balcony, was only $120/night. Neither of us have been to Puerto Rico before, so this is a chance to just relax, recharge, and lounge!

Isn’t it beautiful?

condado Hola Puerto Rico

  • Raquel@Practical Cents - Wow, That was definitely a good deal on the airfare. I’m really do back for a visit. I hope you enjoy my beautiful island.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - We went to the forts in Old San Juan today. I loved it… I think I have a slight preference for San Cristóbal.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Amazing! We went a few years ago and it was one of our favorite trips. Have a great time! :) ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - It’s going well so far. :-) Even the heat hasn’t bothered us too much, because there’s always a breeze.ReplyCancel

  • Mel @ brokeGIRLrich - San Juan was always one of my favorite ports when I worked for the cruise line! I hope you guys made sure to drink some Bacardi while you’re there!ReplyCancel

  • The Wallet Doctor - I love Puerto Rico. It is such a fascinating place. I hope that you get to try some delicious plantains while you are there!ReplyCancel

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be on my way to Boston where I’m meeting up with Mom & Dad for our first ever family vacation to the East Coast. It will be great because I will be done with finals!! and I will get to go on vacation with Mom and Dad.

When I was growing up, our family never took big family vacations. My mom was too frugal for that, and my parents would use all their vacation days to visit my grandparents in Asia. So no money + no vacation days = no big family vacations for us. The only trips I remember were a trip with my aunt and cousins to Canada, to Stanley Park, and a combined family trip to Yosemite National Park in California in the late 1990s.

So, as I mentioned, this week-and-a-half family vacation is our first big family vacation ever, and I am so so so excited. This will be my parents’ first time to Canada, and my first time to Eastern Canada. I want to make sure they have a good time so I researched the heck out of AirBnB locations, emailed many friends and fellow bloggers for their tips on location and sights, and dug deep into bank account to the tune of $2,700 to pay for all of our lodging for this trip. I love to give “vacations’ / “experiences” as gifts, and I’m glad that we’ll have the money, the time, and the health to all go together.

I really hope my parents have a good time, and that I’ll be able to take them to other destinations before too long. My dream is to do an European river cruise with them in the next couple of years, and make sure we hit some big travel highlights (London, Paris, etc.) while they are still healthy enough to travel.

The other thing I realized is that as I get older, my desire to be closer to my parents – physically – has gotten much stronger. So funny. When I was growing up, it’s all I can do just to leave the nest and FLY AWAY. And now I realize that there’s something really great about hanging out with family. I hope that family vacations will become regularly scheduled programming and I’ll get to experience many new places with my parents.

  • Emily @ Urban Departures - My childhood was similar in that we never went on family vacations because of a money. We went on a cruise one year, which at the time, cost a lot of money and took my parents a couple years to save up for. We had a blast. I would love to take another family vacation, including my siblings, but it’s difficult because of the different schedules (i.e. school, work or other familial commitments).

    And I totally understand the desire to be near family. I’m lucky to have my parents live 20 minutes away in a neighbouring city, but sometimes I wished I lived down the street from them.ReplyCancel

  • SavvyFinancialLatina - That’s so cool! I’m currently in the stage of wanting to be as far away from my parents as possible. I think it’s just a cycle that comes with age…ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - Have fun! Eat lots of lobster rolls and clam chowder. :)

    I want to take my parents on a west coast trip in the future. Maybe next year when things slow down at work. =/ReplyCancel

stuff How I feel about stuff right nowThe above picture probably makes it quite clear how moving makes me feel about furniture, clothes, decorative items, necessary items, i.e. all of the stuff that I own. My room is looking extremely empty right now, thanks to a frenzied bout of Craigslisting in preparation for my move after graduation. This situation is akin to a trial run for minimalist living – will I miss all the stuff I’ve sold / donated / consigned? Will I realize that I will never be as minimalist to go without a bed? (I just sold my bed, and so I’ll be spending the next few weeks sleeping on a makeshift futon. I hope I don’t live to regret this decision.)

This will be my fifth move in 7 years. I’ve schlepped my stuff and packed up my suitcases in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, and now, 2014… and every time I move I swear to myself that I will never have so much stuff again.  I’ve mostly kept that promise in that I have progressively whittled down my number of possessions, but I know I’ve purchased more things than I needed, or things that I wanted in the moment but when the moving time comes I wonder why the heck!? The hardest thing for me will be to step back from the pretty/useful/quirky home decor items (a la a cheeseboard from the Oakland Museum of California, these soapstone horse bookends from Novica, and anything from Uncommon Goods). But with at least one more move – likely more – in the next couple of years, I need to remind myself that fewer stuff = fewer stuff to MOVE.

How do you feel about stuff when you are moving? Has moving around frequently encouraged you to scale down on the type of possessions?


  • save. spend. splurge. - Pre-baby it took us 7 hours to pack up and unpack (5 to pack, 2 to unpack)

    Post-baby.. not sure. :) Depends on how old/active he is I guess haha!

    Anyway, the less you have, the better. I keep trying to remind myself of that fact as I accumulate coats and boots :| ReplyCancel

  • The Wallet Doctor - I always end up cursing my stuff when I move. Even when I move into a home knowing I will be moving in the not so distant future, I manage to accumulate so much stuff. Minimalism is super appealing when it comes to moving, but its a lot harder to remember that as you get comfortable in your place.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I indeed forgot how much I hated moving stuff when I settled in.. but fortunately I minimized the big pieces (furniture, etc.) and only added to, well, clothes. Which at least are easier to move.ReplyCancel

  • Camille @ Challenge Mantra - Yes! I am very anti-stuff and pro experiences. I will make exceptions for stuff that we use frequently even if I don’t use it frequently. Vice versa, my husband never uses my Vitamix but I whip it out all the time. I can’t say that about a lot of purses or shoes I have but that I still want to keep for some reason.ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - During one of my moves I starting throwing things in a dumpster without a second thought. Too. Much. Stuff. Still, I never truly went minimalist until the firm sent me abroad with two suitcases. A year and a half later and I’m still surviving. We need so much less than our colleagues in the marketing department have led us to believe!ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I seriously started investigating getting a Japanese futon (shikibuton?)at my new apartment, if only to save myself the headache of buying / moving / selling a bed.ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - Not really. But then again, I haven’t moved as often as you. That being said, I’m no pack rat either. I wouldn’t call myself a minimalist but I keep things that I truly like and enjoy with me. I think that’s the most important idea – not to have clutter in one’s life/fill it with stuff you don’t enjoy or need.ReplyCancel

  • Jack @ Enwealthen - Minimalism is great when you’re younger. Once you have a family, and a house, just managing the furniture alone makes any move a significant event.

    Personally, I love moving. It’s painful, to be sure, but it forces you to make those hard choices on what’s worth moving, and what isn’t. There’s nothing like unpacking in a new place and enjoying all that free space from the things you got rid of…ReplyCancel

So says a new Time Magazine article that concludes “Millennials are scary smart with their money”. After I read the article, I wouldn’t go so far as to say “scary smart”, but it seems that more Millennials understand the importance of saving than other generations. In fact, financial security may be one of THE most important priorities for some Millennials, over having kids, exercise, and fun (?!?! Is this smart or sad?)

A survey by the Principal Financial Group Knowledge Center found that…

84% of Millennials describe themselves as passionate about creating financial security—more than are passionate about raising well-rounded kids (60%), having fun (66%), making a difference (49%) and exercise (44%).

As an almost 30-something, I’m definitely closer to 34 than to 18. And as an older Millennial I’ve lived through the 2008 financial crisis / economic implosion. I’ve lived through a bout of unemployment. I’ve seen relatives get laid off. I’ve seen friends get laid off. Through all this I think I’ve grown to appreciate, even more, the importance of building a financially secure future. I wouldn’t say I’m fantastic with money, but I do think I have the basics down pretty well – I know I should save money, I make a consistent effort to save money, and I invest said money in funds appropriate for my risk tolerance and future needs. (And I don’t even need to photo-age my picture to get the motivation to save!)

Are you a Millennial (loosely defined as people between the ages of 18 to 34), and are you good with money?

  • SavvyFinancialLatina - I think I’m pretty good with money. I try my best. I do think I care more about financial security than having kids. I can’t understand why people have kids who are not financial secure. To me it sounds super scary! You are stressed financially and then add kids to the mix. I don’t have to be rich, but I don’t want to be living paycheck to paycheck.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I have a very low tolerance for financial stress – other types of stress, yes, but one way I handle other stress is by structuring my life so I have low personal financial stress. So it sounds like we kind of think alike. :) ReplyCancel

  • nsheils - I’m 28 and if it weren’t for my student loans (113k down from 169k) I would certainly be a lot more financially secure, but those should are scheduled to be gone in 2 more years after 1 year of repayment so far. We are still saving, putting away for retirement and saving a bit for college for the girls. I certainly know many people who are in the same boat as me or much better off financially without lots of loans/kids.

    I think it comes mainly from seeing how hard it was for my parents. My mom filed for bankruptcy, grandmom and I think my dad as well. I’ve seen people put $5 worth of gas in their car. I don’t ever want to be in that situation. It scares the crap out of me, so much so that my husband admonishes me for fixating on it too much.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - You are paying off $170K in 3 years? That is amazing. Please tell me you’ll do a guest post on how you are able to do that… I think I have a lot to learn from you!ReplyCancel

  • NZ Muse - I do care A LOT about financial security, more than most people I know. I would say it’s because I became independent very young, younger than any of my peers/friends. Also paired up very young. Was still studying when the GFC hit but T was working and got laid off. And then he got laid off again this year.

    I’m 25 so slightly closer to 18 than 34, but definitely would rate myself toward the older side in regards to finances.ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - I’d say that… I am good with money but not great with money. I am DEFINITELY closer to 34 than 18. Hahaha. o___o;;ReplyCancel

  • Deia @ Nomad Wallet - I think I’m pretty good with my money. I’m well on my way to early retirement and it’s because of my money smarts — not hard work. (The kind of people who want to stop working ASAP? Naturally not the hardest-working bunch.)ReplyCancel

  • MakintheBacon - I guess the age range with millennials seems to vary. I thought they ranged from 18-25, since they grew up in the 2000s. (It doesn’t seem as weird when you say the 80s and 90s). I’m in my early 30s and consider myself more of a Gen X/Y.

    I care a LOT about money. Probably more than my friends and family. Sure we all complain about money, but how many people do you know that actually care about it? (as in monitor, plan, maintain their cash flow, try to grow their net worth, manage their finances, etc). I think a lot of it has to do with all this talk about people in their 60s not being able to retire. Fortunately my parents are not in that category and are enjoying their golden years.ReplyCancel

shopping mishaps Shopping Mishaps, or Hindsight is 20/20

One of the benefits of having blogged as long as I have is the the clearly noted purchases of years past. Going through my archives, I found many, many things that I’ve purchased and in retrospect, really shouldn’t, or I could’ve gone without. As I’m evaluating future purchases, I try to keep those shopping mishaps in mind.

Shopping Mishap #1 $300 Lela Rose dress

I wavered quite a bit on whether or not to snap up this beauty on sale, and ultimately did make the purchase. I still really like the dress and think it’s lovely, however, I would not have paid $300 for it again. I just don’t have that many occasions to wear it, and I believe in the past 3.5 years I’ve only worn it twice.

Shopping Mishap #2 $140 Kate Spade Tote

This Kate Spade Quinn tote is still one of my favorite purses in terms of style and color, but it just doesn’t fit my lifestyle. I am too afraid of spoiling the light-colored leather, and the open top makes it easy for things to fall out. So the result is I’ve carried this bag out the door at most 7 or 8 times in the past two years that I’ve owned it. If you think it’ll fit your life better, I’m selling it for $90 + shipping.icon smile Shopping Mishaps, or Hindsight is 20/20

Shopping Mishap #3 $50 Urban Decay Naked Eyeshadow Palette

I bought the famous UD palette to do my makeup for my wedding. While I love the palette and the colors, it’s been almost two years and I’ve barely made a dent. I just don’t wear eyeshadow very much – at most once a week. So again, this was a case of being lured by the “pretties” and not realized what would actually work for my lifestyle. In hindsight, I should have just purchased an individual eyeshadow.

I think I need to reread #5 of Why We Are So Bad At Buying Happiness, and be more careful of getting things that will truly improve my quality of life.

  • saverspender - You mean Urban Decay Naked, not Nars right? :)

    You could always try and resell it. I bought mine from someone online (a fellow blogger)…

    Well we all regret things. I regret quite a few, myself, which has taught me a good lesson — DO NOT BUY THINGS.ReplyCancel

  • SavvyFinancialLatina - I have had a couple of these buys. The more costly have been furniture wise. I bought a few pieces of furniture and decor for my house and now I don’t want them…sigh…do not rush into decorating your home. It’s so important to choose your decor before buying stuff. I’m actually funneling any additional savings straight into investment accounts, so I don’t feel comfortable to spend it.ReplyCancel

  • Jess - This couldn’t have come at a better time for me to read! I’ve started a new job where the pay is amazing but its monthly. Payday was due yesterday and I was still twiddling my thumbs this morning waiting for my salary to hit my account, hundreds of dollars worth of clothes and makeup sitting in shopping carts on web pages. Then… I get a call from the payroll department saying they’d lost my new employee paperwork and I wasn’t going to get paid this month, I had to wait until next when they’d make it up to me. WHAT THE?! I freaked out, then put it all into perspective. I was so excited about the haul of unnecessary items I was about to fork out for, and now I had to worry about putting fuel in my car and buying food.
    Kinda makes me think twice about it next time too…ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - I have a couple of those $300 dresses sitting in my closet right now. Mainly, because I have gained so much weight lately that I cannot even fit in them! I hate “one day” dresses!ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - I have TONS of regret purchases. Stuff I don’t wear or use because I bought it not really LOVING it. Or I bought it because I was just fixated on it. Oh well. My most expensive regret purchase would be my laptop. I have no idea why I thought it’d be a good idea when I’m very much a desktop girl. Oh well. At least my Dad has something to use to visit YouTube…ReplyCancel

Let me introduce you to the 3rd dress I’ve purchased in 2014: this 3/4 sleeve maxi dress from Old Navy, currently on sale for $25 + 30% off sale. I got it for just $15, and it’s one of the most comfortable dresses I’ve ever worn. I love it because it’s easier than putting on sweatpants and 10x more stylish. More impact, less effort. Sounds like my kind of dressing.

old navy maxi dress This Maxi Dress is Perfect. Get Thyself to Old Navy Now

It comes in charcoal, deep red, black, and heather grey. I can probably live in a dress like this, so the challenge is stopping at one and not stocking up on all the colors.

Speaking of comfortable dresses, where do you get yours?

  • NZ Muse - Hmm, I can tell just by looking at it that I’d look like a sack in it. Maxi dresses just don’t work on me.ReplyCancel

  • Cristina - Thanks for the link! I just bought it in black and red. I cannot usually pull off maxi dresses (I’m short and they seem to drown me), but I’m pregnant and I think they will be a staple of my wardrobe for the next few months. I love that this one has sleeves so it can be dressed up for work.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - This dress runs short as well (I’m very petite and I can get by without hemming the dress if I just wear a tiny heel). I hope it works out for you as well as it does for me.ReplyCancel

  • saverspender - I can’t do maxi dresses because they always get wrapped around my legs when I walk.. I speedwalk so this is a problem.

    Even while pregnant I preferred dresses that were midi or just above the knee.. I like freedom !!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - That maxi style doesn’t work on me, but I have two Old Navy maxidresses (the v-neck faux wrap tank top ones) and I love them a million times over.ReplyCancel

When CB and I were sharing our travel destination dreams, he mentioned that Japan is the one country that he really wants to visit. So… we are visiting the Land of the Rising Sun at the end of June. The whole reason we can afford this trip is because we redeemed our United miles for round-trip flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo. $2,600 worth of flights for only $78.80. Now THAT is a win in my book!

japan Konnichiwa Japan!

We will be spending 10 days and 10 nights in the country – 5 in Tokyo and 5 in Kyoto. Our accommodations are made via AirBnB, looks to be tiny by non-Japan standards, and averages out to $81 per night. I haven’t been back to Japan since 2005, and I’ve never seen Kyoto before, so that’s the part of the trip I’m looking forward to the most. Other than that, I’m excited about ramen, donburi, curry, and tempura! A luxe sushi dinner isn’t in the cards, nor is a stay at a Kyoto ryokan, nor do June/July have the best weather, but whatever… we are going to Japan!

Our budget for Japan:

  • Round-trip flights: $78.80 (paid already)
  • Hotels for 10 nights: $811 (paid already)
  • Food, budgeted at $45/person/day: $900
  • Attractions: Free is the way to go. Fortunately, many of the sights and temples do not charge an admissions fee. I may splurge on the 3,000 Yen fee to visit Koke-dera, or Moss Temple in Kyoto (~$60 for the both of us).
  • Transportation: $360. This includes round-trip bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto for the both of us, plus local transportation.

The whole trip should come down to $2,300 or $115/person/day.

Do you have tips and recommendations for Japan, particularly Kyoto and Tokyo? I’m all ears!

  • Leigh - I was in Japan last fall! The bullet train was pretty cool. I went to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto and it was gorgeous! http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/lang/01.html (I think it was actually free!) I also went to see one castle, near Kyoto. In Tokyo, I loved the Imperial Palace East Gardens and the zoo. I also went to the Botanical Gardens in Kyoto. I got a JR rail pass, which was somewhat useful, but it wasn’t useable on the metro in Tokyo or some of the buses in Kyoto, so it was a little annoying, but still made things convenient. I also went to an onsen (amazing!) and stayed in a ryokan in Tokyo. It was a pretty cool trip!

    I have a Charles Schwab checking account and they refund your ATM fees anywhere in the world, but I never had any ATM fees in Japan. I don’t know if you’ve been to Japan before, but very few places took credit cards, so I was carrying around large quantities of cash a lot. Not having to pay ATM fees made me feel better since I could carry around less cash at a time and go to an ATM more often.

    (Note: I’m a wandering around, gardens and castles, minimal museums kind of tourist.)

    Hope you enjoy your trip!!!ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Thank you! Your comment was so helpful – I’m adding Kiyomizu-dera Temple on my list. I love walking around and seeing temples and historic buildings, so I think Kyoto might just be my cup of tea. Good tip about the ATMs. I’ll make sure to investigate the cash situation before I go.ReplyCancel

      • Jenny - Chiming in to say that the ATM thing is an issue. In the last year or so, the ATMs in the 7-11s stopped taking certain American debit cards (including my bank’s debit card). A lot of foreigners depended on those locations heavily! I had a problem with this in Kyoto, but in Tokyo I always seem to be able to find an ATM that takes my card.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Wow sounds like an awesome deal! I’ve never been to Japan, but I would love to one day.ReplyCancel

  • anna - So excited for you and your husband! We only stayed in Tokyo, but would have loved to explore Kyoto and other areas. The people watching at Akihabara District is pretty cool, and the temples are beautiful. Looking forward to seeing your pics and traveling vicariously through you! :) ReplyCancel

  • Cassie - That’s awesome! I hope you do a recap of your trip, Japan is on my list of must see places :D Have a great time!ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ Urban Departures - Ah, got to love travel points- that’s a pretty good deal you got there! I would love to visit Japan one day. It’s definitely on the list.

    Have you watched the documentary Jiro’s Sushi? Care to pay $300/person for a meal? That’ll be 2/3 of your food budget, so I’m guessing not?ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - $300 a person!?!? I hope one day I can afford that, but alas, that day is not today (or a few months from today).ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - Thoughts on food prices in Tokyo — lunch sets during the week seem to be a good deal on eating out (900-1,000 JPY per person for a meal that might cost double at dinner time), konbini (convenience store) food is much better than in the US and, if you’re looking for a light breakfast you can get sliced fresh fruit for about 490JPY (serving for one person) plus any kind of drink for 100-200JPY. Knowing how well you research your trips, you probably know all this already :)

    If you want to do a (free!) guided tour of the Imperial Palace, you need to sign up in advance http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english/guide/koukyo.html but, as Leigh mentions, it’s also possible to walk through the gardens on your own (there is some signage in English!). The Imperial Palace is across the street from my office so maybe I can sneak out and say hello when you’re in the area! I go walking there on my lunch break often.

    If there are any restaurants you really want to go to, make a reservation in advance. Last weekend I was with friends walking through Nakameguro and we could not find a restaurant that would let us sit down (group of 4). If you need help with the reservation send me an email and I can arrange it.

    Finally, fun pf fact: no tipping in Japan!

    So excited to get your take on Tokyo and Kyoto.ReplyCancel

  • Deia @ Nomad Wallet - Whoa, that’s a nice deal you got there! I guess having a long-distance relationship means collecting a lot of air miles then? ;) Have fun in Japan!ReplyCancel

  • Karen - The majority of the buses in Kyoto have English signs and recordings. You board from the back and pay as you get off.
    You can get a multi-day pass (slip this in the reader when you get off). http://www.city.kyoto.jp/koho/eng/access/transport.html (card pass. Lots of other bus and subway info).
    Japan-guide.com I think this is the world’s best info guide! It will tell you what to see, how to get there, admission costs, what’s under construction, how to pay respect at the shrines and temples, etc…Suggested itineraries: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2400_tokyo_9.html

    I suggest seeing Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.

    Regarding ATMs http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2208.htmlReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - I really want to visit Japan! I’m so full of envy right now. I particularly want to go to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Unfortunately, coming from Toronto, it’s WAY too pricy usually. :( Have fun! Take lots of photos!! :D ReplyCancel

  • John @ Coughupthedough - Wow, that is a awesome cope you got there! I really want to visit Japan. I think having a long-distance connection indicates gathering a lot of air kilometers then? Have fun!ReplyCancel

tax refund I LOVE Tax Refunds

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it againI love tax refunds. This love is exponentially increased when we are experiencing somewhat of a cash crunch and are trying desperately to bridge that gap between my full-time employment in August and the dwindling amounts in our saving accounts.

Last weekend, we stayed up until 2AM crunching the numbers, and it turns out that our Federal + State refunds netted out to $6,000. SIX THOUSAND. That sounds like a small fortune to us. Thank you Lifetime Learning Credit!

Did you get a tax refund? And what are you doing with it?

  • The Asian Pear - HOLY! NICE! I thought my $1500 tax refund was good too. WOW.ReplyCancel

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life - I always hope I don’t get too big of a refund because that means I gave the government an interest free loan. I’d rather have held onto that money and earned interest on it myself.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - That makes sense. Although in these low-yield environments even a $6,000 will get you < $50 in interest in a bank account.ReplyCancel

  • Money Beagle - I just wrote a post earlier this week about how we’re allocating our refund. Mostly toward savings goals and paying down some self-debt (you’ll have to read to understand), and a little toward fun. I was pretty excited to see that our refunds arrived in our bank account today!ReplyCancel

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance - Holy cow Batman! I think ours is going to be around $1000, and it’s going straigh to savings… or a vacation. I don’t think we’ve decided yet.ReplyCancel

  • spiffi - I also LOVE my tax refund. I know technically it’s an interest-free loan blah blah but honestly, I love having a lump sum come available in April!

    My estimate was that I’d get about $4000 – but I ended up with about $1300 more than that!

    Since I’ve bought my house, I’ve been putting my tax refund toward the principal on my mortgage. This year I was weak, and only put the $4k I had estimated I’d get back, to the mortgage, and kept the “bonus” and it’s going into my vacation fund!ReplyCancel

  • Daisy - WOW. $6,000 is a ton of money! I would so go on a vacation with that cash, haha. I am not getting a refund (in fact, I’ll owe probably around $2,000), and I think this will be one of the first years I am not getting anything back. My fiancé is getting a small refund of less than $500 but I am sure he will appreciate the extra money. Have fun with that cash!ReplyCancel

  • Terry - That’s a nice windfall!

    A couple years ago I put it toward paying off a car loan, last year a credit card. This year I’m using it for vacation.

    Maybe you could do a post on how you got such a big refund?ReplyCancel

An almost $300 nylon bag (albeit one that gets RAVE reviews?) - I need you to Tell Me I Should Not.

Here it is, the Lo and Sons’ O.M.G. bag at $275. I’m eyeing the Army Green or the Navy option.

loandsons omg Tell Me I Should Not

The O.M.G (Overnight & Medium Gym) bag was on sale a few days ago for select colors. I didn’t pounce and now that sale is done. But even on sale a bag was $220-$250, so it’s still a big purchase.

Anyhow, the O.M.G. bag looks like it’d be perfect as a carry-on bag that can double as a work tote, but the price! I got a Briggs & Riley suitcase that normally cost $450+ for $230, and it’s just really hard to swallow that a nylon bag – even a classy, well-designed one such as the O.M.G. - is worth almost $300. On the other hand, I will eventually need something that can hold my laptop, wallet, e-reader, toiletries, and even a change of shoes, and the O.M.G. fits the bill. On the imaginary third hand, again, the price. Plus, again, my not-working-no-income-grad-student status.

Tell me I should not, or at least I should wait. Or, alternatively, if you do have the O.M.G., share your thoughts on the quality and utility.icon smile Tell Me I Should Not

  • Kelley - I have two Lo and Sons bags, and LOVE them. But – definitely wait for one of their 20% off sales – they seem to happen frequently!ReplyCancel

  • A - I’m sorry, I can’t tell you not to get this :)

    I bought a Lo & Sons OG with part of my bonus last Christmas, and it’s the best travel purchase I’ve ever made. I love it so much. It looks very nice to take to meetings, and it travels well. The quality is fantastic. I wasn’t sure about a nylon bag at first, but I ended up liking it because it returns to its shape so easily, and I don’t feel like I’m damaging it if it gets a little wadded up under the seat or something.

    Plus, all the compartments make going through security easy.

    I got the navy, and it’s blue enough that I can carry it with black or brown and feel fine.

    You should wait until another sale comes, though. They’re always sending out coupons or having sales.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Thanks enabler. ;)

      I do love the navy, great to hear you’ve had such a good experience with the bag!ReplyCancel

      • A - I know! I’m not a very good voice of reason…ReplyCancel

  • Rose - I’ve had this bag (in green) for three years. It’s still in great shape. I’ve thrown it in the washing machine. I’ve carried it on airplanes. I use it on my walking commute every day (and I LOVE that shoe pocket). It’s a great weekender, too. It’s been worth every single penny.ReplyCancel

  • Abby - I wouldn’t go for it, just because I personally don’t care for the style. I also think in that price range, you could do better than nylon. If I were in your situation, I’d probably go for one of the Everlane totes, which would look much nicer in a work environment.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I’ve been advised to get nylon because leather will be too heavy for travel. But yes, I agree – it’s hard to stomach that a nylon purse can cost so much when I’ve gotten great leather bags for half the price.ReplyCancel

  • tiffany - I can’t tell you because I’ve been dying to get that bag too! I have the same concerns that you do; be sure to let us know what you decide.ReplyCancel

  • Cassie - I think I’m still in the same line of thought on this bag as I was on the last bag – nope. Hold off on getting a bag until you’re working again. $250 for a nylon bag is kind of overpriced in my mind, but that may just be because I’m mentally comparing it to Longchamp. The last purse you looked at was better in my honest opinion.ReplyCancel

    • The Asian Pear - Agree with everything Cassie said. It’s the same argument before. It’s not needed now so hold off. It’s not like finding bags you like is hard. ;) Give yourself a chance have a reason to own it.ReplyCancel

  • j* - I have the Lo & Sons Catalina bag as well as a Kate Spade Saturday Weekender bag. Also eyed Everlane’s weekender bags. But the bag that I love the most in terms of bang for the buck is the LL Bean Zip Top Tote Bag. Not as chic looking but super durable and the large size is great for weekend trips.. best part is its only $30! http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/38534?page=hunters-tote-bag-zip-topReplyCancel

  • Jenny - I’m not familiar with this brand so I was really surprised to see how spendy it is based on its appearance. The B&R purchase makes sense to me, but this seems more of a nice-to-have not an essential. FWIW, I’d wait!ReplyCancel

  • SP - I really like the look of it, but way too expensive for what it is!

    For what it’s worth, I ended up with a bag like this (http://www.amazon.com/Knomo-Lola-24-254-BRZ-Laptop-Bag/dp/B007J8JKJ8/) after searching for my every day travel bag. It isn’t 100% perfect, but close enough, and I use it everyday as a laptop bag + purse combo. I wanted something just the right size, for a reasonable price, not leather but not cheap looking. Mine is red and black (that was the color that was on sale at zappos when I got it. Complaints? The angle of the straps and the lack of a little thing on the back to attach it to luggage handles.

    I don’t understand why the PERFECT $100 everyday tote simply doesn’t exist. Like the one above, but not brand name? It can’t possibly be that expensive to make.

    I also want a “weekender” but absolutely have no way to justify it to myself.ReplyCancel

  • Deena Dollars - STOP, I am usually so good at the “tell me I should not” game, but I just got back from a week of travel, and every time my carry on bag fell off my rolling suitcase, I daydreamed about this bag. So I will NOT tell you that you should NOT…ReplyCancel

I’m going to live with a roommate after graduation, and it’s going to be great.

Up until a few weeks ago, I was sure I would live alone once I graduated. After all, my city has extremely reasonable rents once you venture outside the fanciest part of town. I’ve gotten past the adventurous stage of my life where I wanted to look for roommates on Craigslist. But… I’m going to end up with a roommate, and far from being disappointed, I am very excited at this turn of events.

roommates Living with a roommate   its going to be great

We are hoping to find a little bungalow… like this one. But preferably more structurally sound.

My future roommate is a friend who is also moving out to the same city, who will be working in the same high-travel industry, and with whom I get along quite well. I’ve had pretty good luck with roommates (even with the folks I’ve found on Craigslist), and I don’t see any reason why my friend wouldn’t be just as great – or even better – than previous roommates.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to folks with frequent travel jobs. One is: “if I’m going to be on the road all the time, I want to come home to a place that’s nice and comfortable.” The other is: “if I’m going to be on the road all the time, I don’t want to pay for a nice apartment that I won’t get to enjoy 70% of the week.” My friend and I definitely lean more towards the second school of thought.

Therefore, we have decided to combine forces -and rent budgets- and live together so that we’ll have someone to come home to and save more money. Instead of each paying $650 or $700 for a 1-bedroom, we can easily get a 2-bedroom apartment for $950 and then only pay $475 a person. We’ll also share utilities / DSL. Then other added bonus for me is the one of reduced expectations. When I was looking at a one-bedroom, I felt the need to decorate and feather my nest to something Apartment Therapy-worthy. Now that I’m going to be living with a roommate, it’s almost a reality check. As long as things are functional and looks neat, that’s all I’m going to ask for. And functional + neat is a whole lot less expensive than chic and stylish.

I do wonder whether almost 30 is almost too old to share an apartment, but then I quickly banished the thought. It just makes sense – financially, personally, socially – to live with a friend/roommate in a city that is still quite new to both of us.

Also, the money saved! $200 a month is enough to pay my car note.

In the spirit of this post, share your BEST roommate stories.

  • Walnut - My roommate and I have lived together for six years. We were casual friends prior to sharing a residence, but are best friends now. She’s moving out at the end of this month and I don’t even think I realize right now how much I’m going to miss her.ReplyCancel

  • NZ Muse - I have NO good stories about living with others, alas.

    A flatmate who travels frequently would be the dream. When we first returned to NZ we considered a house share where the other person would travel a lot but unfortunately the house itself sucked.ReplyCancel

  • Fig @ Figuring Money Out - I’ve been out of the blog world for a while so maybe I missed this, but do you and your husband live in different cities?ReplyCancel

  • Leonard @ The Wallet Doctor - So long as the roommates get together, its a great choice to live together. Everything becomes more reasonable when its split. Way to go for finding a way that works!ReplyCancel

  • SavvyFinancialLatina - Hey, saving money is nice. And since you’ll be traveling a lot, there’s no point in living alone, especially since your hubby is miles away.ReplyCancel

  • SP - So fun! At my last place, I became good friends with my neighbor, which was kind of the best of both worlds for me. No roommate (aside from my husband), but a friend I could visit any time!

    Good luck!ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - That’s basically my dream scenario – live alone but have all my friends live very close by… kind of recreating the proximity of friends in a college setting, but in a grown-up life.ReplyCancel

      • SP - Yessssss! Completely agree. Like dorms, but way more space and way nicer.ReplyCancel

  • Deia @ Nomad Wallet - Who cares what age is too old to share an apartment? The average person has no savings and no retirement plan. Screw “normal”. ;)

    Seriously jealous, btw. $$650-$750 for a 1-bedroom? Want!ReplyCancel

  • Sally - That sounds like a GREAT way to save a bunch, to be honest, I am jealous! I feel like my housing costs are just way too high. My favorite roommate situation was in DC after college. I moved out from the place I shared with a college classmate after one year because she was moving out of the city. I found a place on craigslist and my roommate was a guy, which felt totally strange at first, but then it ended up being awesome. He wasn’t messy and we both traveled enough that the rare nights we were both in the house we would end up ordering takeout together and watching tv. We were very respectful of each other’s privacy but also would occasionally spend time just talking and having hour-long talks. It was nice that I never felt like I had to hang out with him, but a few times I would join him and his friends at a nearby bar, and they were such a different crowd than I usually hang out with (they were all lawyers and in the non-profit/international aid fields), that it was very interesting. I ended up leaving after about 6 or 8 months because I left DC but I remember it was a very positive experience. Good timing too because our rent was going up about $200 the next month!ReplyCancel

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance - I’ve often thought about renting out our spare room to make some extra money, but I just like the privacy too much, and our house is really small, so it likely wouldn’t work. I have way too many roommate stories from college, likely inappropriate for a blog setting.ReplyCancel

  • Athena - I currently have a roommate and it’s awesome. My friend I knew through work ( she and I both work at different schools and only see each other professionally maybe 3-4x a year) was looking to rent out a room and I was looking into new places to live. She was able to negotiate a reasonably rate for me and I was able to rent a room. At the time, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to live or sign a permanent lease ( I had just gone through a break up) so I’m glad I had the flexibility I did with her.

    It ended up really working out and I love living here. I don’t have too much stuff and I like living with someone. We are both busy people and we enjoy the occasional roomie date when we have a chance. :) ReplyCancel

  • Laura - I travel four days/week for work, and frequently travel for fun on weekends too, so I completely understand what you mean about not wanting to pay for an apartment you don’t use. However, when I recently moved to Colorado, I decided that I was going to finally live solo – and I couldn’t be happier. The nice thing is, apartment prices here are pretty cheap, and I did my research to rent when the market was at a low, so I’m living in a gorgeous two bedroom for only $1350/month! That is so worth it to me to not have a roommate and all this extra space.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I hear you! It is really nice to be able to have your own space. Will you be putting up any decor photos of your place? I’d love to live vicariously through your apartment. :) ReplyCancel

Washington D.C is America’s capital city and home to some of its most historical monuments and buildings. The capital attracts almost 19 million visitors per year who arrive not only for the history but also to enjoy the city’s natural attractions.

No first time sightseeing trip to Washington D.C. would be complete without a visit to the National Mall to view the famous monuments and memorials. However, if you want to escape the hordes of tourists and get back to nature then you’re sure to find a few secret treasures in this city. Washington stretches for nearly 177 square kilometers and has plenty of parks and wildlife centers that visitors often overlook (and consequently, miss out!). Most of these attractions are free to visit, so your stay in the city won’t be more expensive, and most good Washington hotels will be able to provide brochures or details.

The National Arboretum

The U.S. National Arboretum is located around four kilometers from the Capitol building and stretches for some 450 acres. The Arboretum is home to the Grove of State Trees, which features trees from 50 U.S. states. You can relax and wander amidst fauna and flora, sit by the koi pond or spend some time walking through the woods. Admission is free and there’s a 35 minute open-air tram service if you’d like a guided tour through the gardens.

Great Falls Park

You don’t have to travel far from the capital to explore one of the U.S’s famous parks. Great Falls Park lies just 15 minutes from Washington D.C. and comprises more than 800 acres of beauty. Take a hike along the Potomac River and spot chipmunks, coyotes, deer and turtles. The more adventurous traveler can kayak at the Potomac River Gorge, but you should only do so if you’re very experienced. Great Falls is part of the 7,374 acre George Washington Memorial Parkway and makes a great place for picnics while taking in the stunning natural scenery.

dcpix Going Green — Nature’s Beauty Spots in Washington D.C.


Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

This is another city beauty spot and features paths that wind among numerous, giant lily-pad covered ponds. Wildlife is plentiful here and includes turtles, herons, and geese as well as a wealth of aquatic plant life. The park is open all year round and the snow- covered landscape instils the spot with extra beauty in winter. Here you can relax at no extra cost and take in nature while in one of the world’s major cities.

dcpix2 Going Green — Nature’s Beauty Spots in Washington D.C.


Washington D.C… it’s huge, it’s got lots going on it, but some tourists want to get away from all that and see a bit of greenery. They can, as the city provides lots of natural areas from them to relax and soak up some of the tranquility there’s also to be found in this majestic city.

This is a guest post on behalf of Hotel One. Images by bobistraveling and Ron Cogswell, used under Creative Commons license.

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance - I love the Arboretum. DC is one of my favorite cities. So much history to soak in at every turn it seems. And it’s nice when you can enjoy some green scenery along the way.ReplyCancel

Save Spend Splurge alerted us to this gem on Twitter: a 4-figure (you read that right) headband, albeit with hand-painted silk flowers, that has already sold out on a luxury retail site.

1280headband $1,280 Headband

Screen shot of Net-a-Porter. Click on picture for link to add it to your wish list.

I don’t know WHAT I find more surprising: the fact that this headband by Dolce & Gabbana really do cost over $1,280 or that it has already sold out. Everything is relative, and when I see the cost of this headband, I almost think those $300 Hermes flip-flops were a steal! And the $240 Etsy headband that readers talked me out of (thank goodness) looks likes a veritable bargain next to this baby.

I’m usually rankled when people judge other people’s purchases, because one person’s luxury purse is another person’s Greek cruise is another person’s Michelin dinner. But in this case…. I’ll put my judge hat on, at least for a little bit. I suppose shopping, as with all things, really is about different strokes for different folks. But still, $1,280 for a fabric headband.


  • Camille @ Challenge Mantra - Wow! The odd thing is I doubt this headband would have sold out in an Etsy shop, but attach D&G to the label and it becomes a highly desired commodity.ReplyCancel

  • jane savers @ solving the money puzzle - The problem with this head band is that you couldn’t wear it too many times before it would be an over used accessory.

    A good leather jacket can be worn frequently and a bag can go with many items but this head band is a where once then stick it in the drawer kind of thing especially if it is a bride wearing it.

    I could get a new dishwasher, mine is broken, and replace one of my basement windows for what the people paid for this head band.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Wow that is insane! I would never spend that amount on a headband.ReplyCancel

  • anna - I agree that sounds pretty excessive, even for D&G. I’m always curious to know who ended up buying it and what their lifestyle is like. :) ReplyCancel

  • Alicia @ Financial Diffraction - Headbands always hurt my head after wearing them for awhile, so there’s no way I’d drop one and a half months of rent on it :) ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - I could make that for you… for $1k. A STEAL!ReplyCancel

  • Daisy - That’s insane. It’s not even that pretty of a headband! I would expect it to have something incredibly special about it, for that price. I wouldn’t even spend more than $5 for a headband, but maybe I’m just cheap.ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - I was flabbergasted when I saw that. Also, if it was pretty with Swarkovski crystals or something, I could see the value… But honestly? It’s ugly and made of fabric. I just don’t get it.ReplyCancel

If you have an hour free, I highly recommend this HBO documentary of Katrina Gilbert, a 30-year-old single mom of three who is raising her children and working full time as a Certified Nurse Assistant.



retirement kitty Big Milestone: $200,000 in Retirement Funds

We crossed the $100,000 mark in November 2011, then the $150,000 mark in April 2013, and now we’ve crossed the $200,000 mark. I’m glad. For a variety of reasons, I’ve been feeling very discouraged and uncertain for a while now when it came to many areas of our finances – almost like a shadow I can’t shake.  Getting to this point may be the encouragement I need to get my act together and really push for some big retirement saving goals.

In my $100K post, I wrote that:

By the time we reach our 30s, I would like to have $150,000 or even – if we are really disciplined and lucky – $200,000 in retirement. Given that we will be in graduate school for a couple of years, I expect retirement savings will dip a little (no more 401Ks!). But I am determined to continue to at least max out our Roth IRAs even through our graduate school years.

So again, very happy that we’ve reached this retirement milestone before the big 3-0. We haven’t finished our Roth IRA contributions for 2014 yet nor my 401K contributions for 2014, so our Retirement Kitty should hopefully grow by another $20,000 to $25,000 before the year is over. But WHEN is this magical compound interest supposed to kick in for us? I’m waiting for the day when our investment increases overtakes our contributions by leaps and bounds. At the very least, I hope that saving aggressively while we are young(ish) will help us to a mai tai retirement, or… avoid a ramen existence.

To celebrate, I booked an unplanned for trip to see my husband at the end of April. And we are going to go on a date.

  • Cindy @ GrowingHerWorth - I’m a little surprised that you didn’t see large returns in the last year, when your balance was growing from $150,000 to $200,000. My tiny 401k saw an annualized rate of return of 20.7%. But I guess a lot of that depends on what you’re invested in, your costs, and what you consider to be large returns. I’m in the index fund camp myself, and am currently invested in the Vanguard Institutional Index and the T Rowe Price New Horizons. The plan advisers consider this too risky, but I figure I’m young enough, and index funds are usually good about following the market. I saw more growth than a “target date retirement fund” would have for my age.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I did some mental math and I think you are right – our contributions since April 2013 were around $15,000-$18,000, and our total balance went up by $50,000, so obviously there has been capital gains.ReplyCancel

  • Leigh - Congrats! My investments went up about $17,000 last year from the stock market/interest/dividends, which is almost as much as I put into my 401(k). Are you sure yours didn’t go up a decent amount last year? Your retirement investments are valued a bit higher than mine. (I’m only around $140,000.)ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - You are right, there were capital gains. I suppose I was impatient and expecting to reach the crossover point way sooner than it’s likely to happen.ReplyCancel

      • Cindy @ GrowingHerWorth - Feeling impatient and personal finance seem to go hand in hand, don’t they? I always find myself feeling impatient that things aren’t moving along more quickly!ReplyCancel

  • Cassie - I am undeniably jealous of your retirement account! If I hit $35,000 by the time I turn 30 I’ll be stoked. $100,000 isn’t in the realm of possibility, let alone $200,000!

    Have fun on your date :D ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Thank you! I’m only there for a weekend so trying to figure out what to do… maybe a hike + picnic, or maybe I can find an affordable kayak tour. We do have a bread-making date scheduled in May.ReplyCancel

  • Alicia - Nice job – this is an awesome balance. I will absolutely admit I thought it was a post on actual cats though :) ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ evolvingPF - That’s incredible! I can’t believe we’re the same age. :) You are killing it!ReplyCancel

  • Daisy - Wow, that’s pretty impressive! I need to take a page out of your book and increase my retirement savings. Most of my savings are through my work pension, and then a tax free savings account and a retirement savings account. While it’s nowhere near $200,000, it’s an alright amount for somebody my age so I’ll have to continue to save and get up there..ReplyCancel

  • SP - Congratulations! Each milestone is exciting, but it is weird how it never seems like enough, right?ReplyCancel

  • Erin @ My Alternate Life - Wow, congratulations! I won’t have nearly that much when I am your age, but I would like to hit a combined six figures before I hit 30 if possible. That would be amazing!ReplyCancel

  • Athena - Congratulations! This such an accomplishment. I myself am quite lacking in the retirement department and I definitely need to step my game up so I’m not eating cat food in the future. :) ReplyCancel

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance - Holy cow! That is amazing. Major congratulations are in order.ReplyCancel

Inspired by this post from Where My Soul Belongs:

Here are four things I used to think I need… and now I realized I don’t, anymore.

1. Meat to “complete” a meal

Growing up, a meal wasn’t a meal unless it included meat. I love meat and have no intention of ever giving it up, but for health and finance reasons I’ve been going meatless a few days of the week. Today, for example, I made a vegetarian omelet for lunch and an endive and apple dish for dinner. By limiting the quantity of meat I consume, I can increase the quality without spending a fortune.

appetizer no meat I Used To Think I Need...

Endives stuffed with apples, walnuts, almonds, and goat cheese. No meat, still delicious.

2. Expensive hair-straightening / hair-curling procedures

I’ve paid $250+ for strengthening and perming my hair, as my hair is too straight to be curly when I wanted it to be curly and too curly to be straight when I wanted it to be straight. In the past few years, however, I’ve come to terms with my natural hair texture. No more chemical procedures. My hair is healthier now, and my wallet is a little bit happier. I was so emboldened by my departure from outside assistance that I may or may not have even tried to cut my own hair a la this Youtube tutorial.

3. “Nice” brunches/dinners out

I still really enjoy nice dinners out, in places with great ambiance, service, and delicious food. But many of those places cost $30-$50/person, even when we hold off on the wine. Most of the time I’m more than satisfied with meals that are in the $15/person range. If I compare how happy I am with a taco dinner that cost $10 or a cheap-but-delicious Chinese dim sum at $15 a head, vs. a nice champagne brunch that costs $35/person, I realize that most of the time I am not $20 happier with the more expensive option. I like to say to CB (who always complain that I am a picky eater – I prefer the term “selective”) – I may be a snob about how food tastes but I’m not a snob about prices.

4. To live away from home

I’ve turned a complete 180 on this. When I was in college, my only goal was to find a job post-graduation that paid enough for me to not live at home – I did not want to be a boomerang kid. Now, I realized what would make me incredibly happy is to buy two houses (or a duplex) and live next door to my mom (I suggested we live together in one big house, she vetoed that idea), hang out with her on weekends, and enjoy her fried rice every other day. Seriously. As I and my parents get older, I feel like my desire to be close to them is blossoming in a way that I never quite expected. In fact, I made more of an effort to see my parents in grad school (across the country from them) than I did in college (40 minutes from them). At the end of the day, I just want my home to be close to their home. I just want our homes to be all together.

What are your “I used to think I need” items?

  • Daisy - I have never been into meat, but it’s not something we ate a lot of growing up and I didn’t eat it at all. I was a vegetarian at the age of 3 and continued until pretty much now. I too had the goal of living away from home. Now that I am older I dont’ think I’d want to live with my parents again, but living near them wouldn’t be so bad!

    I used to think I needed only $30,000/year income to survive and thrive, which is clearly not the case now, haha!ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I want to live right next door to my parents… but apparently that’s considered quite strange among my peers. Hahha. I think my parents are pleasantly surprised though.ReplyCancel

  • Laura Vanderkam - I’ve been coloring my own hair for years. I’ve no doubt saved thousands of dollars that way. And while I used to think that I was compromising on quality, I’ve done it enough times that I’ve actually gotten pretty good at it (figuring out how to do highlights, etc.) I’ve had multiple people at high end hair salons, and hair/make-up people on TV shows tell me it looks like a pro did it. I won’t cut my hair myself though.ReplyCancel

  • Dear Debt - I used to think that I needed coffee out everyday, I thought all convenient food had to be bad for you (until I learned how to cook), and that I needed a boyfriend. It’s amazing what you can get by without, but you really think you need at the time.ReplyCancel

  • NZ Muse - LOL at your last point. I definitely appreciate my parents a lot more now (family and friends are a big reason why we wouldn’t want to move abroad) so I’m with you on that.ReplyCancel

  • Deia @ Nomad Wallet - It took a long time for me to realize I didn’t need hair curlers. My hair is super-straight, even by Asian standards. I could spend a whole hour curling my hair and have it straighten back on its own in just half the time. I now use only no-heat methods, like tying my hair in a certain way and sleeping with it. It stays curled for longer and it’s better for my hair, too.ReplyCancel

  • E.M. - I used to be the same way with my hair. Air dried, it’s basically a wavy mess, but I think I was just too used to seeing it straight. For the past two years I’ve been embracing it, plus it takes less time to get ready in the morning! I love the idea of getting a duplex and having my parents next to me. Ever since they moved I’ve missed them a lot, and I can’t wait to move closer to them.ReplyCancel

  • Topics We’re Talking About: Defining Your Financial Habits - […] I Used to Think I Need… – Well Heeled Blog A great list of “used to need” stuff that offers great insight into how our spending stance changes over time. I used to think I needed a kombucha everyday… until I tallied up the monthly cost. Just goes to show you, habits you think you need aren’t always as permanent as you might think! […]ReplyCancel

  • Link love (Powered by late nights and new friends) | NZ Muse - […] Well Heeled Blog reflects on the things she used to think she needed  […]ReplyCancel

  • Pauline - I limit meat for health reasons and because I don’t appreciate it that much those days but in my town the best beef is $3 per pound and cheese is $10… so generally I lean toward meat.
    I used to need carbonated drinks almost every day now I can’t go without water.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Mmm cheese… I love a good cheese. Fortunately I’m close to Trader Joe’s which has one of the best and most affordable cheese selection I’ve seen. A nob of goat cheese cost $4 at TJ’s and $7 at another supermarket.ReplyCancel

  • Brittany - This is a great list!! Thanks for sharing your lessons! Cutting back on meat has made a huge difference in my budget as well.ReplyCancel

  • The Asian Pear - I still think I need meat in every meal. ^__^;
    I don’t eat it now with every meal… But it does feel like something is missing. heh.ReplyCancel

  • Erin @ Gen Y Finances - I used to think I needed straight hair for sure! But I’ve embraced the curl and don’t spend a dime on straightening services or products anymore.

    I used to think I needed a bunch of stuff and I needed to hit life milestones (kids, house, etc) when my peers did. These days, I don’t sweat it :) ReplyCancel

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance - I used to think I needed meat as well! Crazy how much I used to spend on it. Now we get meat as a rare treat. But man, I used to think I needed cable, a newer car, new clothes, Starbucks, and so many other stupid things. It’s incredible how perspectives can change so radically in such a short period of time.ReplyCancel

Can we have joint finances without having joint bank accounts? CB and I haven’t set up joint accounts nor do we have plans to do so in the near future (mostly for logistical reasons due to a long distance marriage), but we need a way stay updated on our total financial situation.

So I came up with the idea of a Shared Dropbox folder between the two of us.

couple finance Using Dropbox shared folder to track our joint finances

As you can see by the picture, the idea is that we can input our account/loan balance numbers into the Excel documents and upload our Credit Card statements in Excel format at our leisure. That way we’ll both be aware of what’s going on financially. Some couples have great success with Mint.com, but for a variety of reasons we decided that’s not the route for us. So we had to figure something else out – something quick, secure, and simple.

The Dropbox shared folder system fulfills our needs. We don’t have account numbers in the Dropbox (for example, a retirement account would be listed as Her Vanguard Roth IRA with a balance of $59,000). This way, even if the folder were to be compromised, there’s nothing super sensitive at stake.

I can’t believe it’s taken us so long to do this.

What system do you use to track finances with your partner?

  • amy - we have separate accounts but they’re all merged onto mint.com for easy viewing (although I’m the only one that cares)
    we didn’t do this until we had a mortgage and I was managing the ins and outflows every month though. it’s been great because I know exactly what our combined networth is and that’s really the only number that matters in the end!ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I wanted to try Mint but CB was just really uncomfortable with potential credit fraud liability if someone got into Mint, so I’ve agreed to go another way.ReplyCancel

    • DEBt DEBs - We use mint too, Amy, and sometimes I feel like I’m also the only one who cares LOL… but he does get the alerts when we overspend on a budget item and asks me about it so that’s progress, right?

      I love tracking our net worth that way too. I actually do it on our bank site and in MINT. Look at the nerd I’ve become!ReplyCancel

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance - That seems like a great idea for tracking joint finances when you have to spend time apart like that. We have joint accounts, so basically everything we spend is viewable to the other person. We actually have pretty much joint everything, except for employer sponsored 401(k) accounts, but I track those balances on a spreadsheet on our computer. We’re pretty fortunate in that regard.ReplyCancel

  • No Nonsense Landlord - My GF of 24 years and I have separate bank accounts. We have an investment property together. we own a car together, but all bank accounts separate.

    We have credit cards that have different point values for different things. Whoever has the higher point card for the given purchase, pays.

    And when we get the bill, I send a check…ReplyCancel

  • Marie Zalbe - I didn’t think that Dropbox can be a good track of finances. Me and my hubs have joint bank accounts and we registered it for online banking in that way we can easily track our savings and withdrawals.ReplyCancel

  • Leigh - What about Google Drive? That way, both people can see and edit at the same time and you can also have offline access on your phones. That’s what my boyfriend and I use for splitting various costs.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - That’s a great idea as well. If Dropbox doesn’t work out, we’ll give Google Drive a try.ReplyCancel

      • DEBt DEBs - I was going to suggest Google drive as well. I find it good for sharing spreadsheets although I do use dropbox for sharing photos with family who aren’t on FB (causes me more work, but they’re elderly and I’m not gonna make them join FB. I’m just glad they have a computer! hee hee)ReplyCancel

  • Jon @ Our Fine Adventure - We share a bank account, so that helps to keep track of things, obviously. Further, we try to talk about finances, and our goals, at least monthly. This really makes sure that we are on the same page and are encouraging each other!ReplyCancel

  • SP - This is somewhat similar to how we’ve ended up doing it. I do have access to all of his accounts and I use an aggregator and go through our spending, and do the fun excel stuff. Our file is also on dropbox!

    Prior to this year, it was more of a mess and we basically just… paid our own CC bills, I was generally responsible for the joint, but we often said things like “hey, can you take care of rent this month?” Not ideal at all!ReplyCancel

  • Arundhati - I use Mint to get a snapshot of all our expenses and assets. It has a few bugs but is still pretty good.ReplyCancel

Two of my unofficial goals for our marriage are to (1) add each other on Vanguard so we can check out each others’ retirement balances, and (2) have more fun dates.

I’ll talk about (1) at some point, but I figured (2) is a more interesting topic.

horse back riding date1 Having More Dates (and my thoughts on a long distance marriage)

Here are some of the dates I have planned / are planning to plan (all $ amounts for the both of us):

  1. hiking: free! except for gas to get to/from the site
  2. horse-back riding: $85
  3. beer brewery tour: $10
  4. special exhibits at museums: $15-$30
  5. tour of State Capitol buildings: free!
  6. bread-baking class at a local bakery: $65
  7. stand-up paddle boarding class & tour: $50-$80
  8. archery class for beginners: $10
  9. paint & wine night: $45-$50 + $20 for drinks
  10. observatory tour and drive: free!
  11. guided tour of elephant seal breeding grounds: $14
  12. game (or two) of pool at the local pool hall: $30

Why these dates? Two reasons. One: I read that doing new and exciting things on dates can help long-term couples rediscover that spark (scientifically known as “limerence”) they had during the first few years of a relationship:

Most studies of love and marriage show that the decline of romantic love over time is inevitable. The butterflies of early romance quickly flutter away and are replaced by familiar, predictable feelings of long-term attachment.

But several experiments show that novelty — simply doing new things together as a couple — may help bring the butterflies back, recreating the chemical surges of early courtship.

“We don’t really know what’s going on in the brain, but as you trigger and amp up this reward system in the brain that is associated with romantic love, it’s reasonable to suggest that it’s enabling you to feel more romantic love,” said the anthropologist Helen E. Fisher, of Rutgers, who has published several studies on the neural basis of romantic love. “You’re altering your brain chemistry.”

That article showed me that CB and I have doing the whole “dating” thing kind of wrong – a dinner at home followed by a movie on Netflix is just not going to cut it. We need limerence, people! I try to have some free dates sprinkled in with more expensive dates that I can find for cheaper on Travelzoo, Groupon, or Livingsocial, and I am making a concerted effort to do something active on our dates so that we are not just sitting around all the time.

The second reason is that we are in a long-distance marriage. If I am flying 6-8 hours to see CB during our once-a-month visits, there BETTER be something for us to look forward to (or else it will be all about setting up a joint banking account or filing for taxes or getting a passport application – all very important things, but if there isn’t the fun to balance those tasks out, I die a little inside).

Speaking of long distance marriages – I know quite a few people in those, especially many of my MBA friends who had jobs they just couldn’t turn down that are not in the same locale as their spouses. I never thought I would much care what other people are doing, but I am happier than I expect I would be when I find out about other long distance marriages. Not because I want people to be away from their husbands or wives, of course, but because those stories demonstrate that a long distance marriage isn’t weird or abnormal, it’s just another way of doing things, and it can work and it can work out pretty well. In fact, I’ve been pretty content with the long distance aspect of my marriage – content enough to continue it for at least another year or two. Sometimes it’s a balancing act between how much we connect and how independent we become, but I don’t think the distance causes any problems that we wouldn’t have without the distance.

Anyhow, back to the dates. If we only see each other once a month and we want to keep that spark, we need to make the times we do see each other extra fun and enjoyable. 

Share your date ideas for keeping the limerence strong!

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life - I like a solid mix of the big time experience dates and the cooking dinner and cuddling with netflix dates. One of our favorite, “in between dates”, is to take our citibikes and ride over the bridge to brooklyn to try out a new restaurant for lunch.ReplyCancel

  • Jon @ Our Fine Adventure - I think you have a good strategy! While those low key dates are great most of the time, sometimes it’s important and refreshing to have a unique experience for a date. As you talk about, doing something different together will help you grow closer, and it’s a great memory you’ll always have!ReplyCancel

  • From Shopping to Saving - I should have a date list too! Such a great idea. I know what you mean about long distance marriages. My BF are practically married and the long distance has been tough, but definitely achievable if both people are committed. I’m not sure if I could do it for too long though. I like knowing when I can visit my man next…right now it’s summers and decembers and spring breaks haha.ReplyCancel

  • jane savers @ solving the money puzzle - Be careful with that bread baking class. My dad decided to try baking bread and it led to many arguments with my mother. My dad would bake incredible loaves of bread and we would gobble them up but my mother started to put on weight and demanded that he stop.

    My father told her just not to eat it but have you ever been in a kitchen with fresh baked bread? It is impossible to resist.ReplyCancel

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter - I love these ideas! Good for you :-) I am impressed that you found so many things to do. (Ahem, the un-joys of living in a small town.)
    Funny you should mention the Vanguard thing; the spouse and I were just trying to get our bank to let us see each other’s retirement and investment accounts, too.ReplyCancel

  • Addison @ Cashville Skyline - Great ideas! I’m especially fond of the classes. Learning something new together is always a lot of fun, especially when you can relive the great memory by trying it again on your own.ReplyCancel

  • Daisy - I love these date ideas. I think dating your spouse is so important. It makes you feel more connected, gives you one on one time and helps build memories. I try to always prioritize date nights with my fiance.

    I have been wanting to get my fiance on a horse for years, and I doubt it’s going to happen. He’s just not into horses (I think he’s secretly afraid of them!) but I think I can borrow your paddle boarding idea. I saw a Groupon for that.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I love SUPing. I hope you and your fiance enjoy it!

      The best part about SUP is that there are usually lots of coupons/deals. The cost can work out to $20/person for 2 hours, which while not super cheap, is affordable enough for us to do once a month.ReplyCancel

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance - Awesome sounding date ideas. We like to take little road trips whenever we can squeeze them in, but any activity we can do that is memorable for it’s novelty is something we look forward to. When we were in PR on vacation last May, we did a few of these items and they were incredibly memorable. This might not be something a lot of PF bloggers might say, but every couple of years we get to a Casino and just sit down and play slot machines together. We both have a blast. Winning money (rare) makes it even that much better. Of course, we bet small amounts and don’t consider it gambling as much as spending on entertainment.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I’m going to PR in a couple of months – it’ll be our first time so we are very excited. Do you have recommendations?ReplyCancel

  • Link love (Powered by bowling and butter chicken) | NZ Muse - […] Fun date ideas from Well Heeled (2013 was a year of limerence for us, but even so we still need to shake things up once in a while) […]ReplyCancel

  • cantaloupe - I have also found breaking up with my boyfriend/exboyfriend to be extremely beneficial for our relationship, haha.

    All jokes aside, it is extremely important to mix things up. Our best times were when we just drove out of the city and stayed in a hotel and pretended we were on vacation. Sure it cost us a bit of money, but taking us away from our friends/jobs/city was exactly what we needed to connect to each other without having to spend the huge amount of money of an actual trip abroad. Hell, even when we stayed in the hotel literally next door to our favorite pub, we had the most amazing time. Instead ofgoing to our fav. pub we went to the bar in the hotel and had the band play a song for us and ate crappy Asian food and had the most intense moments of connection. Because it was just us doing us. And it was amazing.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I’m on board with everything you wrote except for bad Asian food. Life’s too short to eat bad Asian food. You gotta find good places! :) ReplyCancel

  • Erin @ My Alternate Life - We definitely need to mix things up. We spend many a night with a bottle of wine and Netflix, but still try to get out of the house together at least once a week. As the weather gets nicer, frugal activities are easier to find — so I’m looking forward to that :) ReplyCancel

  • Deia @ Nomad Wallet - Hmmm…I think we’re doing dates wrong too, then. Lately we’ve just been doing movies, dinners and lazing around at home. It doesn’t help that it’s been too cold to go outside the last few months! Off to Groupon for date ideas…ReplyCancel

  • Chris - Wait a second…. you’re 30 yrs old, you only see your guy once a month and you need “date ideas” to keep a spark?? I would think that each get together would have the intensity of an astronaut returning to earth or a jail time conjugal visit. If being apart at your age isn’t enough to trigger all kinds of fireworks, you better watch out when your mid 40′s hits and you’ve been married for a couple of decades.ReplyCancel