Almost 2 years after our wedding, and one year after I asked you all what I should do with the pictures, I’m finally putting together an album. This endeavor gave me an excuse to go through my wedding photos again and reflect on that really lovely day. Almost everyone who has seen my pictures have commented on how beautiful they are – could be that I have extremely kind friends, but I do think my pictures turned out well. Almost equally as great is the fact that I only paid $900 for 4 hours of coverage and all user’s rights on CD, during a June wedding in an expensive part of Southern California. I was able to get this deal because I found my then-up-and-coming photographer through Craigslist.
Although this is a tip I almost never see on mainstream wedding websites, getting a wedding photographer on Craigslist can work out beautifully. I didn’t spend much at all on photography, especially by mainstream wedding standards, but I really love my photos. And that’s all thanks to finding a great wedding photographer on Craigslist. Let me share my tips on how we did it:
1. Post an ad on Craigslist Gigs with clear, concise description of who you are, where you are getting married, how much you can pay, and what style you are looking for.
Our ad went something like this: “Wedding Photography Wanted for [Seaside Southern California City]. Hi. We are a 20-something couple getting married on [date] at [location]. We are looking for a photographer for 4 hours of wedding coverage and all digital user rights on a CD. We can pay up to $1,000 total, including tax. We really like journalistic style and candid photos, but would like a few more formal shots with family. Please email us if you are interested and send us a link to your portfolio.”
2. Once you get responses – you may want to set up a separate email for all the emails you will get – start grouping them into Yes’s, No’s, and Maybe’s.
We got 60+ emails within 24 hours of the listing going up, so it took a week or so to sort through everything. Then I emailed all the Yes’s and asked them to send me a link with one complete wedding that they have shot before. This step is really important because a photographer’s portfolio is filled with the best shots from all of the wedding’s they have shot before (as it should be), but you need to see one complete wedding so you can get an idea of the best job they can do with a single wedding.
3. Set up a Skype call or an in-person meeting.
It’s important to jive with your photographer, so at the very least, get a Skype call. If you can afford it and you want to get more comfortable with your photographer before the wedding day, get an engagement shoot.
4. Don’t ask them to work for free.
Although I have seen ads that for free wedding coverage in exchange for “portfolio-building”, I would not ask photographers to work for free. For one, the most talented folks, even those new to wedding photography, will probably avoid shoot-for-free weddings. Secondly, I find that having remuneration and contract helps everyone stay on the same page regarding expectations. And thirdly, because there are so many “looking for free photographer” ads on Craigslist, just by willing to pay a reasonable amount will get your more responses.
5. Have a contract!
You need to have a contract. The most important things are: you get the digital user rights, there’s an alternate plan in place if the photographer gets sick, and the photographer has insurance.
6. Be reasonable and have reasonable expectations.
With any luck, you will get a great photographer who can provide you with some lovely images of the big day. We did, and I’m really happy with our photos and our photographer. But part of being reasonable is also understanding that you won’t get the most experienced photographer with the most Style Me Pretty or Wedding Wire accolades, and you won’t get 12-hour photography coverage with 2 or 3 assistant shooters. My photographer has shot about 20 weddings before she shot mine, but at the time that I booked her, I think she only had less than 8 weddings under her belt, although she has done plenty of other event photography. So yes, you are taking a chance because most of the photographers who will respond to Craigslist ads are up-and-coming or are transitioning into weddings, but the rewards can be pretty awesome.
Come July, CB and I will embark on a 3-week, 6-country, multi-city whirlwind tour of Europe (also, what in the world made me think I could resist the allure of international travel?). Our full itinerary winds through England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. I love it when my goals align with what I really love to do!Our budget is $7,000 for the whole trip, or $175/person/day. From my research, it seems that $175/person/day is a quite a budget-conscious number, given the high number of places we are hitting on this trip. That’s why I christened this tour “Whirlwind Europe, on a budget.”
Whirlwind Europe Itinerary
- London, 4 days
- Paris, 2 days. This destination is a long time coming. I first contemplated going to Paris in March 2011. Then I thought I might go on a Paris + Lisbon trip in February 2012. That didn’t work out, and then I toyed with the idea of a visit before graduate school. Then I changed my mind and said no Paris. I didn’t think I could fit it in on this trip, but SP convinced me otherwise.
- Bruges, 2 days
- Amsterdam, with day trips to Delft and Haarlem, 4 days
- Hamburg, with day trip to Lubeck, 2 days
- Berlin, with day trip to Potsdam, 3 days
- Warsaw, 3 days
This will be no slow-and-smell-the-roses travel. Instead, we are going to try to experience as much as we can, without blowing our budget and killing ourselves in the process. I know we can save money with “slow travel” – staying put in once place for longer time and cutting destinations from our list. I’m just not willing to do that right now. I see this trip as a sort of an introduction, and I fully expect to return to these cities/countries. At a $7,000 budget, this trip will cost as much as our wedding. Thus it only makes sense that I am as detailed and organized about this as I was about the wedding budget process. Hence, pie chart!
As you can see, flights make up a large percentage of our budget at almost $2,500 – that’s the cheapest flight I could find within our date range, and even that is a price we will have EARNED with multiple layovers. We had enough miles to get free flights, but just could not get any award seats during the European high season of July/August. It’s a bummer, but we can now save our miles to go on a winter trip, perhaps for the Christmas Markets in Germany and Austria.
We are doing a mix of AirBnB and hotel stays paid for with credit card points. Our accommodations spending is around $75/night, which I consider a great deal. In London, I looked at a few hostels, but like NZMuse found, the private rooms in hostels are just about as expensive as budget hotels. In the end we booked an AirBnB room in centrally-located flat for $116/night. We also did AirBnB for Amsterdam and Paris. We got free hotel stays at the Park Hyatt Hamburg and the Westin Warsaw, and used Hilton Points & Money to get rooms in Hilton Berlin for just $94/night. The most expensive place we are staying in is a bed & breakfast in Bruges, Belgium for $122/night.
We are budgeted to spend $40/person/day for food. This may be blasphemy, but my first stay in London, during which I ate nothing but scones, pre-made sandwiches, and cereal (had one proper sit-down dinner in 6 days of travel), taught me that food on a trip is less important than I thought it would be. I only spent an average of $28-$30 a day during my London trip, so I’m sure with some ingenuity we can keep our spending below $40/person for this European jaunt. I do want good food, but if I can get by with cheap, good, and filling, I’m really happy to save the money for something else… such as the next destination!
In London, I expect we will survive on sandwiches from Pret a Manger and scones and tea from museum shops, plus one dinner from my favorite Pakistani restaurant. In Europe, especially when we are staying in hotels, I envision lots of snacking along the day, buying fruit and yogurt to keep in our hotel rooms, and generally more walking, less eating. I expect to stuff myself with crepes in Paris, Belgian waffles in Bruges, and I’m eager to try fare at the milk bars in Warsaw - I have my eye on Bar Bambino.
Tours & attractions:
Our budget allows us to pay for 1-2 tours/attractions in every city. London is awesome because so many museums and attractions are free. We may splurge on the Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace, or Tower of London. We only have 2 days in Paris, so I’m going to focus on all the free things this city has to offer, being outdoors, and people-watching. Museums can wait til next time! In Bruges, I want to take a bike tour of the Flemish countryside.
Train & local transportation:
I’ve priced out some tickets with the help of seat61.com, and I think $1,000 all in is a reasonable figure for both of us. I hope we can come under this… less riding the Tube, more walking?
Why are we going to Europe?
Because we can. Because we have the time to this now. Because money is only money. We should use the $7,000 for CB’s tuition / save for retirement… but I’m trying not to think about that too much. This will be CB’s first trip to Europe, and my first time to France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Poland. We won’t get to hit Italy or Spain as I had hoped to in my 5-Year Travel Plan post, but I’m excited about the places on our itinerary. I’m really excited to do what I love (travel) with the person I love (my husband). And of course, it’s high time for our passports to get some stamps added!
Yuuuuups, that just happened to me.
My friend sent me a very nice email saying that because I’ve been so busy and am far away, she’d rather I have a great time at the wedding as a guest and not have to worry about bridesmaid obligations.
I’m not angry or upset, but I do worry that I didn’t offer my friend enough time and support during this process. I went with her to one wedding dress appointment, had dinner with her when I went back home, and I try to stay engaged over text. But I’m on the other side of the country from her and my schedule will not allow me to participate in many bridal party activities. So I understand, but that doesn’t mean I feel amazing about it.
Being a bridesmaid can get fairly expensive, so financially, getting fired from bridesmaid duty is great. My friend’s bridesmaids have budgeted $1,000-$1,200 for the bachelorette party in Las Vegas, flights, and bridesmaid dress. That’s money that I technically have, but spending that much would really put a damper on my budget before I have started working.
On the other hand, even the personal finance blogger in me can’t rejoice too much over this firing, as life is more about money. Then this morning, I saw on Facebook her beautiful pictures of the cute little notecards and desserts she made to “officially” ask her remaining bridesmaids to be bridesmaids. And I felt a little worse. Sometimes, Facebook really stink.
I just hope that my friend didn’t feel that I let her down.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
My secret to a stress-free Valentine’s Day celebration? It’s simple. Don’t celebrate it on the day of. And if you have procrastinated til today, forget about cobbling up something last minute. Restaurants will laugh at you when you call. Instead, use my simple 3-step process to save your sanity and your money (or at least, defer spending it). But seriously, don’t go on a rant to your significant other about how this holiday is all manufactured and useless. If both of you feel that way, great, there’s no need to beat a dead horse. And if your significant other doesn’t feel that way, all the “but this is a Hallmark holiday!” won’t save you.
Buy a card (or just take a plain white paper) and write a thoughtful message. FitnPoor has a great post on how to craft heartfelt love letters.
Talk about something romantic and meaningful that you will do: a weekend get-away at a bed & breakfast, a romantic dinner at the neighborhood bistro where you both met, or a kayaking date at the local lagoon. Highlight this. Or you can be super crafty and make a coupon out of it.
Do the above, 1-2 weekends AFTER Valentine’s Day / Valentine’s weekend. (And the best part is, even if you are a procrastinator, you will have a chance to book these events as you won’t be doing them til later).
I have come to realize that I hate hate hate going out on Valentine’s Day or the weekend immediately preceding/following Valentine’s Day. Not because I don’t value the holiday itself, but because going out on Valentine’s Day = mediocre service + expensive prices + crowds. It’s not very romantic at all.
Honestly, unless your significant other is dead-set on celebrating Valentine’s Day ON Valentine’s Day, deferring the celebration just a week later can save your wallet AND your sanity.
And by kid, I don’t mean joke.
It’s a question that I am examining more closely now that I am one year shy of 30. That age is not an arbitrary marker, and I haven’t been hit by any case of “baby fever”, but my rational mind is piping up. If I know I want to have biological children, then I would want to to start trying for kids by the time I am 33, to hopefully have my first and likely only by 35. That gives me 4 years to ponder this question of “to kid or not to kid.” That’s not so far in the future. Back when I was 26, I was very comfortable with “oh baby, maybe, eventually,” but now I feel more of a need to make a carefully-thought-out decision.
Hence the questions that I ask myself almost everything I think about this question whether or not I see children in my future… “do I want to have kids?” Here are the thoughts, almost verbatim, that run through my head.
How many? Why do I want to have kids? How will we be able to afford kids? When should we start trying? Will we regret our decision later? What if we end up with kids that get up seriously hurt or die, or equally worse, what if we end up with kids that seriously harm other people? Can I handle the stress of having kids? Can I handle the stress of having high-maintenance or special needs kids? What if my kid turns out to be a sociopath? Do I want to be so responsible for one person’s life, and do I want to make such an irreversible decision? How will this affect my marriage? How will it affect my career? Will we fall into more traditional gender roles after marriage, as research suggest? What if I hate being pregnant? What if I hate being a parent? What if I spend all this time and energy and money raising a kid, and that kid, for whatever reason, ends up hating me? Do I want to live a life of all joy, no fun? I think we can be pretty happy not having kids, does this mean that we shouldn’t?
How should we spend the pile of cold hard cash that not-having-kids will save us? Should we jet to Paris or London or Thailand for the weekend? I like London, let’s do that! More seriously,what will we be missing out on? Will we regret our decision later? Can we handle aging without children? Will we feel that our life is incomplete because we do not have children? Will we then have to try expensive infertility treatment and/or deal with the roller coaster of emotions on whether or not to adopt? Who will visit me in the nursing home when I’m old? Who will tell the doctors to pull the plug? Who will be our power of medical attorney and make sure CB/I’m getting good care when we can no longer advocate for ourselves? I think CB and I are pretty cool people and we can make a little cool person, no kids means we’ll never meet him/her. Also, can’t I go to London even with a kid!? Wouldn’t that be a great developmental / family-bonding opportunity? When no kids = never having a kid, that never seems pretty permanent.
No maternal instinct… but plenty of ambivalence
Whenever friends ask me if I am planning on babies (not in a mean way, but most of my friends are around my age and this is obviously something that many people in the late 20s/early 30s are thinking about), I reply, “yes, it is statistically likely I will have one kid.” Mostly tongue-in-cheek.
The truth is, I am ambivalent at this stage, although less ambivalent than I was 2 or 3 years ago. CB is also quite ambivalent. Sometimes I think I really do truly want to have a child, but I am afraid to admit it because I know it will change my life. Sometimes I think I really do not want to have a child, or that the only reason I want to have a child is so I have a friend when I am old (if I happen to outlive my spouse and all my friends – and in any case they will have their families to hang out with).
I know that having kids – especially well-adjusted kids who like you and whom you like -distinction from love- and who grow up to be friends with their parents – add immense richness to their parents’ lives. Not to toot my own horn, but I believe that I enrich my mother’s life, in every way BUT financial. On the other hand, my mother sacrificed a lot for me – and continues to worry over me day and night. And this is given the fact that I was basically a “good” or “manageable” child – no serious illnesses, not too much trouble in school, essentially a productive member of society. I also know that not having kids can leave space in my life to nurture other interests or relationships that can also add tremendous meaning and richness. I know many women who seemed really happy (or at least no less happy than folks with kids) and can devote all the time and energy that would have been spent on child-rearing to other things. So children are far from the only path – or even a path – towards a meaningful/purpose-filled life.
Decision criteria unhelpful in making decision
Like any good MBA, I attempted to first figure out what is my decision criteria for making this decision. By most measurable criteria (finances, sleep quality, marital satisfaction, career progression, self-care time, stress, mental health), having children seems to be a neutral or negative. On the other hand, there’s the “love and joy from having a child” that really can’t be measured – though scientists have tried. I do think it’d be cool to help a child grow up, to see how CB would be as a dad, and to do fun things with him/her and eventually be good friends with my adult child. But who knows – there are plenty of dysfunctional parent-child relationships out there. I could very well have one of those with my kid.
The other problem is that while I can do a lot of research into the consequences and impacts of having an “average child,” there is no such thing as an average child. Basically, I will never know what it is like to have a child until I have one, and I have my child (who will be an individual with his/her own personality, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses), and once that happens, well, the die is cast. You can’t very well return a baby, nor do I hope I would want to. On the other hand, if we never start trying, eventually the decision will be made for us… so I/we should make an active decision instead of a passive decision.
So here’s my question – for ladies (and gents) who are in my situation, how are you thinking through the kid/no kid decision? And if you are a parent, have you regretted the decision to have kids? Stay anonymous if it helps you be more honest.
Flying makes my world smaller, and for that, I’m grateful. For this “smaller world,” though, I am also paying big bucks. So far in 2014, I have purchased $3,731.50 worth of flights. This takes care of most of my flying from now until August. I envision another $500-$1,500 more in flying costs before 2014 is over, depending on whether CB and I go somewhere international for Christmas.
To mitigate airfare costs, I save up my credit card points to convert to miles, I redeem frequent flier miles to get award flights, and I gamely sign up for 24 hour / multiple layover itineraries. Partly in support of future travel, I even got a job that will require frequent business trips (I kid… a little). But mostly, I’ve accepted the fact that I will probably spend a significant percentage of my income on flying. And if I make more money in the future, I will just spend more on flying. Fortunately, I have reined in my proclivity for buying everything in sight at airports.
In fact, I have been on a plane at least once every month, sometimes twice or three times a month. Some of it is to visit CB across the country – despite the hit to my pocket book, our marriage is so much better when we see each other at least once a month. A big chunk will be for our summer trips to Japan and Europe. Despite the angst I sometimes feel for not saving this money, I realize that those dollars – the dollars I spend going somewhere not “here” - really makes me happy.
Of course, there is a lot I don’t like about flying. I don’t like the cramped airplane seating of Economy, I don’t like the bland food (or lack of food that is now on all domestic flights), I don’t like the delays and I don’t like the TSA when they throw away my Greek yogurt because “it has a lotion-y consistency”. Sometimes I don’t like my fellow passengers.
But once I peel away all the complaints and emerge from the fog of rage that can descend when one’s 9:40am departure time gets pushed to 1pm because there is a broken light bulb that needs to be fixed on the plane (true story), I realize that flying is, for all its faults, still pretty damn incredible. It’s amazing to be in New York on Monday night and wake up in Iceland on Tuesday morning, and it’s amazing that I can fly across the country to spend a weekend, and it’s amazing to be able to go places, in a way that people in the fast have never been able to do.
I try to keep a little bit of that wonder and excitement with me, whenever I fly.
What is your favorite thing about flying? How much money do you spend on flights in a year?
One of my 2014 goals is to run a 5K race. Last night, I began my first step towards that goal: I ran for a mile without stopping, and then I registered for a local 5K race for $28.25.
My first thought when I saw the amount I’d have to pay? “Race fees are expensive!” Almost $30 seems to me a very high sum for what I imagine will be an hour around a course, but scrolling through different races it seem that number is the going rate. I googled “race fees” and found a blogger Shut Up and Run lamenting the high cost of entry fees – apparently, marathons and 1/2s can cost over $100 to enter! Krystal from Give Me Back My Five Bucks recently explained why running is not a frugal activity – well, now that I’ve had my first taste of a race fee, I can understand why. Talk about sticker shock.
CB and I have talked about running a 5K or maybe even a 10K down the road together. Pedro’s Beer Run in San Francisco looks pretty fun, but it’ll be at $40 for the both of us. Personally, I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather save that money for a tank of gas for a road trip.
Back to this 5K – I registered not so much because I wanted to race, but because I want to be able to run 3 miles on a consistent basis. And that begins with running one 3 mile race, and that begins with having a 5K race on the calendar so that I am motivated to start running. So I paid the fee. Check back with me on February 22 to see how I do.
Do you run races? How much do you typically pay for a race?
For a personal finance perspective, the most interesting part of Obama’s State of the Union speech was his plan to create a new retirement account: the MyRA.
This account, designed for people who do not have employer-sponsored retirement accounts, can only be used to invest in government bonds. This means that you can’t lose your principal, but you would also miss out on the gains that a stock-based account would likely see.
According to CNN Money:
All workers may invest in the accounts, including those who would like to supplement an existing 401(k) plan, as long as their household income falls below $191,000 a year.
What do you think of the MyRA? I’m intrigued (as I always am by ways to save for retirement), but for now I am focusing on contributing as much as I can to Roth IRA and 401Ks. MyRA also needs some time to get the details fleshed out.
It’s really exciting, though, to have a vehicle that is targeted as people who have traditionally been neglected or left out of investing. Hopefully the MyRA will encourage all of us to pay a little more attention to retirement.
I didn’t eat out for the entire week, including the weekend. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but this milestone has taken a very concerted effort and a lot of reflection on my part to achieve.
I usually go out to dinners or brunches or coffees for one of 5 reasons:
(1) I want to hang out with my friends,
(2) I don’t want to cook,
(3) I want something specific at a particular restaurant,
(4) it’s a special occasion such as a friend’s birthday or a celebration, or
(5) I’m bored and can’t think of anything else to do.
Not eating out can be surprisingly delicious
Now I am making a concerted effort to suggest alternatives for (1), have some simple meals on hand for (2), think of other solutions for (5), and reserve my dining out for (3) and (4).
For example, I LOVE hanging out with friends over a meal. But even the cheapest meals start to add up, and eating out every night is far from a healthy habit. In addition, I’ve realized that many times the food really isn’t what I’m looking for when I go to a restaurant. In those cases, I suggest to my friends that we have a potluck or I’ll just host a simple gathering at home. I’ve had 3 potlucks this week, and they’ve been great. I get to cook 1 or 2 dishes, and try many, many different dishes. Here is a sampling of dishes I’ve had this week – all made by myself (or by one of my friends!): chilled carrot-ginger soup, samosas, cheese pastries, braised chicken, salmon, sausage, bacon, omelet, waffles with Nutella, and mimosas. I’ve eaten really well, and I haven’t spent much.
And now that I am cooking more, I am getting better at cooking, and I’m enjoying the process (and more importantly, the results) more than I did before. I’m no master chef, but I’ve realized that I can make many simple meals – especially breakfast/brunch dishes such as the stuffed portobello above- just as well as many of the restaurants with entrees in the $8-$12 range. And with a dishwasher, clean-up is actually fairly quick and painless.
I still love eating out, but I’m trying to reserve those occasions for times when I really want to eat OUT, and not as a default option. I can see that it’ll be more challenging to cook when I start working – as I hate cooking in large batches – but I am hopeful that I’ll figure out something that works for me. It’s fun being creative in the kitchen, and the money saved is big incentive to keep going.
Why do you dine out? Which of my five reasons listed above resonate the most with you?
Hello blog friends, I need some help. I have a friend who is in a relationship with a man who we all thought was nice and charming the first few months that we knew him. It turns out that he has anger issues and has abused my friend physically (she described one instance of pushing and grabbing, leaving bruises) and emotionally (calling her names, criticizing her clothing choices, destroying one of her belongings that he didn’t like).
The other issue is that she is thinking of moving to the country where he lives and thereby leaving all her friends, family, and support network. She will also be financially dependent on him in this new country, as it may take time for her to get a visa, finish school, find a job, etc. The thought of her being financially dependent on and physically isolated by an abusive guy makes my skin crawl.
My friend knows that what he did was wrong, but she says she loves him and does not want to leave. According to her, he is now in therapy to deal with his anger issues and is apologetic about what happened.
I told her she has to walk away from this relationship and cannot turn back.
She listens but does not seem receptive to this message.
What should I do? Are there good books I can send her? How do I get the message across? I am not afraid of being blunt, but I feel very powerless to help/stop her, and I am worried that he will seriously hurt her if she continues with this relationship.
Or am I wrong to say that he cannot change? Shouldn’t people be allowed to change? Will therapy really help him deal with this relationship and is my friend right in giving him (or at least wanting to give him) another chance?
Iceland… what a fascinating place. I’m back from a whirlwind 4.5 day, 3 night trip, and I’m already dreaming of a second visit to Iceland (driving around Iceland on the Ring Road in the summer, maybe with my parents in tow. In fact, National Geographic named Iceland as the best place for a family road trip).
View from top of Hallgrímskirkja church, the highest point in Reykjavik
Good to know about Iceland (from the perspective of a tourist):
- It’s a very easy place to be a tourist. Everyone speaks English and 99.99% of things/services can be purchased with credit card. The city of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, also has free wifi in most public areas.
- Iceland is extremely safe – well, from other people (violent crime is almost unheard of and regular police force doesn’t even carry guns), but respect the land and the quick-to-change weather, especially if you get off the main Ring Road around the island and go into the highlands in the interior of Iceland.
- It’s expensive (but not quite as expensive as you might imagine, looking at Icelandic prices, especially if you are from the U.S.). Also, because of the Icelandic banking collapse of 2008, it’s much less expensive to travel to Iceland now than it would have been any time before 2008.
- The landscape is incredible.
- The fish is delicious.
- You will try to pronounce words in Icelandic. You will fail. Good thing Icelanders speak English.
- Icelandic horses are the most adorable horses in all of horsekind.
Beautiful, friendly Icelandic horses
Back to the personal finance bit – most people have heard that Iceland is an expensive destination. Well, those rumors are true – Iceland IS expensive. For the whole trip, I spent a total of $1,418, including a tour package of flight from New York JFK to Iceland, 3 nights at a Centerhotel shared with a friend, and Blue Lagoon, 3 day tours, 1 boat tour, 2 sit-down dinners, 1 sit-down lunch, etc. The $1,418 averages out to $315 per day over 4.5 days, which is not a cheap trip for 1 person. By comparison, CB and I spent $315 per day for the both of us together during our trip to Mexico.
Iceland, however, is not quite as expensive as you might think looking at Icelandic prices because: 1. you don’t have to tip, and 2. all prices include tax. It’s not customary to tip in restaurants or on tours, and in fact the receipts I’ve gotten don’t even have a tip line. For example, I had a very nice lunch of arctic char at the Fish Company for 2590 kronur (plural of króna). At 115 kronur to 1 USD exchange rate, that works out to $22.50 total. It’s the equivalent of a $17.60 dish in the U.S., however, because in the U.S. I would have to pay an additional 28% for tax (~6%-10%) and tip (~18%-20%). So if you are coming from the U.S. and looking at Icelandic prices, keep the tax/tip issue in mind.
For those who are interested in Iceland by the króna, here are some prices as of January 2014 (at 115 kronur to 1 USD):
*I highly recommend all of these places/services – had great experiences with each! My halibut kabob at Sea Baron was my favorite meal in Iceland, and the hot dogs were REALLY good – they are made with lamb and real meat, unlike perhaps the dogs you get might in the States. The Blue Lagoon was much smaller than I had expected, but it was a very cool experience. The milky blue waters are unlike anything I’ve seen before, and the warmth is just perfect for a dip on a cold day.
the beautiful Blue Lagoon
Strokkur geyser, reliably giving us a show
South Coast of Iceland
Nothing in life is free. And if you don’t believe that, well, then just try booking a flight to Europe in July, in the height of the high season. What you gain in a reasonable price, you pay for it, with well, everything but money.
CB and I just purchased our round-trip tickets for our 3-week summer European adventure. Rest assured that there will be many budgeting / trip-planning posts to come, but what I want to talk about is saving money by giving up time, convenience, and comfort. And oh, are we doing so on our flights.
Getting from the west coast of USA to Europe is expensive in the summer, but it can be made less expensive if you are willing to compromise. After 3 days of playing around with different websites (Kayak, google.com/flights, ITA Matrix, etc.) and adjusting different dates and arrival/departure cities, I found a fare for $1,225 round-trip, per person, from Los Angeles to London, then from Warsaw back to Los Angeles. This, unfortunately, is just about the best fare I’ve found.
The trick is that our flight back has a 6am departure time and 2 long layovers: 5 hours in Frankfurt and 4 hours in Calgary. We would have spent 24 hours traveling (not including time to and from airports) by the time we finally get back home, and that’s if all flights run on time. By selecting this route over one that only has 1 layover, however, saved us $60/person.
(We did a similar thing on our trip back from Mexico: a 6:30am departure, a 2-hour layover in Houston, and a 7-hour layover in San Francisco that turned into an 8-hour layover when our flight was delayed. It was pretty bad, but we tried to convince ourselves that it wasn’t horrible because at least CB and I had each other to keep company / take turns watching our bags).
Here are a few things that helped me decide yes, we value the savings more than our time, our comfort, and possibly our sanity:
- The $120 total saved would pay for 1 night in London.
- With a Kindle loaded with several good (free!) books, I can wait A LOT.
- I’m not working immediately after the trip, and CB’s school doesn’t start for another month, so even if we somehow get pushed one or two days after we are supposed to return, we’ll be OK.
- I’m not working immediately after the trip, and so money is at a premium. In this case, I must sadly conclude that money > time.
Have you taken early flights or multiple layovers to get a cheaper plane ticket? What’s the worst/most inconvenient route you’ve taken and how much did you save?
We stayed in the Yucatan region of Mexico (basing ourselves out of Merida) for a whole week between Christmas and New Year. Our flights cost a shade under $1,100 for round-trip for two, and we spent ~$1,200 on everything in country. We went on a stick canoe tour through a mangrove forest, climbed Mayan pyramids in the middle of jungles, visited churches built from dissembled Mayan pyramids, and powered through 80 degree weather and 100% humidity. It was a great vacation, although a tad less relaxing than I had anticipated.
The Yucatan remains an extremely affordable destination, and represents great value for the dollar/euro/pound, even during the high season of Christmas time. Examples: taxi rides within the city cost less than $5, a great hotel can be had for $80 to $130 a night, and cocktails are less than $3 or $4.
The dollar to peso exchange rate was close to 1 to 13 when we went. If you are planning a trip to the Yucatan, or are simply curious, here are a sampling of prices as of December 2013:
- Hotel: We stayed at an adorable bed and breakfast in Merida for about 1,050 pesos/night or $80/night. I’d be happy to share the name of the B&B via email.
- To/from airport
- Taxi from Merida airport to Merida Centro: 220 pesos
- Taxi from Merida Centro to airport: 120 pesos
- Local transportation (buses, taxis, etc.)
- 2nd class bus tickets (Oriente), one way:
- 25 pesos/person from Merida to Izamal
- 52 pesos/person from Merida to Celestun
- 1st class bus tickets (ADO), one way:
- 162 pesos/person from Merida to Valladolid
- Most destinations within Merida Centro: 50 pesos
- Roundtrip taxi from Valladolid city center to Dzitnup Cenotes, with 2 hours wait at the cenotes: 170 pesos
- Valladolid to Ek Balam, one way, per taxi: 170 pesos
- Admission prices to Dzitnup Cenote (underwater sinkholes):
- Cenote Samula: 56 pesos/person
- Cenote X’keken: 56 pesos/person
- Life jacket rental: 20 pesos/person (you have to rent separate life jackets at each of the cenotes)
- Admission prices to ruins:
- Uxmal: 182 pesos/person
- Kabah: 42 pesos/person
- Kinich Kakmo: free
- Ek Balam: 98 pesos/person
- Celestun Manglares de Dzinitun tour: 600 pesos for 2 (~2 hour tour), including 100 pesos tip <— I highly recommend this, especially if you speak at least a tiny bit of Spanish. When we went there were no English-speaking guides, but I’ve read previous reviews that indicate you can get an English-speaking guide if you really want to / get lucky.
- La Chaya Maya: 52 pesos for panuchos (appetizer / small main dish), 42 pesos for sopa de lima, 98 pesos for cochinita (main), 18 pesos for non-alcoholic drinks, 35 pesos for cocktails
- La Palapa in Celestun: 150 pesos for a main dish
- Rosas y Xocholate: 350-450 pesos for a main dish (we didn’t eat at this place, but did sneak a peek at their menu)
It’s almost time to say “Happy 2014!” This upcoming year will be one of transition for CB and I – he will have started his full-time grad school, and I will be graduating from my program and starting my full-time job later in the year. I want to keep our 2014 goals simple, achievable, and balanced between what we need to do (save $$$) and what we want to do (go on adventures!), and the title of this post captures my sentiments: stay the course on finance, race ahead in travel. Both are important to me and CB, and in 2014 we’ve decided to tilt the balance ever so slightly towards travel, without jeopardizing our long-term financial security.
1. Finances – save $20,000 in retirement funds
- $11,000 in Roth IRA for CB and myself (at least $5,500 by December 31, 2014, with the remaining balance by April 15, 2015)
- $9,000 in 401K for me (assuming I start my full-time position by first of September)
2. Travel – plan and go on several trips this year:
3. Run a 5K race by May
- and run it for at least 80% of the time, 20% I can walk.
Positioned between Europe and Asia, Turkey is incredibly diverse, with some regions having a European flair, while others taking on more of a Middle Eastern influence. This dichotomy, along with a relatively cheap cost of living, has long made Turkey a haven for tourists.
While the cost to visit has begun to rise (Istanbul, for example) there are still plenty of destinations in Turkey that can be seen for very little. Here are a few ideas and tips on how to find the cheapest holidays to Turkey.
Where to Go
Turkey has a long list of things to see both free and with admission. For instance, a trip to Turkey would not be complete without visiting Izmir. The second largest port in Turkey, this city is a mixture of both old and new. With walking paths in and around the center of the city, getting around is both enjoyable and inexpensive.
A short bus ride away leads to Ephesus, one of the most accessible archaeology sites and the largest excavated site in the world. Here you’ll find the Temple of Hadrian, the Celsus Library, and most famously the Terrace houses on the hill, which hold beautiful mosaics and frescos, some dating back to the 1st century BC.
Antalya is another great Turkish destination, although a little more expensive than Izmir. The largest international sea resort in Turkey, this city houses Hadrian’s gate, with the backdrop of the stunning Mediterranean sea as the backdrop. That, along with its rich history and monuments, has made Antalya the third most visited city in the world.
Plan and Plan some more
It’s ironic in that it seems like the most expensive part of traveling is, well, traveling. The best way to save money is to plan in advance. Public transportation in general is quite cheap, however Turkey covers quite a bit of ground. If you know what cities that you want to see and how long you want to stay at them, you can save a lot of money by booking in advance.
For instance, a flight from Izmir to Antalya can be had during the low season (late spring, early fall) for less than $30. This is also the best time to travel to Turkey as well, as hotels are around 30% less expensive, there are fewer crowds, and the weather is still warm enough to enjoy.
If you prefer the scenic route of travelling and would like to see Turkey by train, planning ahead also saves you money. You can buy a 30 day rail pass in advance, for around $90. This allows you to travel anywhere in Turkey for 30 days. Traveling this way is a bit slower, but also more comfortable and scenic than a bus or plane.
Like many places on the other side of the Atlantic, Turkey can cost a bit to get to, but with such richness of culture, history and food, not to mention the welcoming locals, it’s completely worth it. And once there, you’ll find the country has inexpensive living costs and there are plenty more low-cost attractions to plan your trip around, from the spice markets of Istanbul to the beaches of Bodrum.
Images by Frank Kovalchek and Brian Selson, used under Creative Comms license
In the past couple of years, sharing (or person-to-person renting) has become huge in the travel industry. Everything you need on a vacation – accommodations, tours and entertainment, food, and transportation – can be arranged on a sharing basis (or “collaborative consumption“). One plucky writer decides to assemble a vacation in San Francisco by renting from individuals (hat tip to NZMuse and Nomad Wallet), and lives to write about it.
You can rent everything in this picture! (well, almost)
There are so many forms of sharing across the travel user experience:
- Accommodations such as AirBnB, OneFineStay, VRBO, etc.
- Dining options such as HomeDine and EatWith, where you can partake in home-cooked meals for a “suggested donation”
- Transportation options such as Lyft, Sidecar, Ridejoy
- Touring options such as likealocalguide, Vayable
- And if you need someone to watch your four-legged companions while you are jetsetting, you can try out DogVacay (which says it has been described as “the AirBnB of petsitting”).
Out of all of those forms of sharing, I’ve only tried out the first – accommodations. I consider myself a comfortable user of AirBnB, having stayed at more than 8 AirBnB apartments or private rooms across the U.S. I wouldn’t be opposed to signing up for a home-cooked meal or trying out a tour with a local, but my courage (and risk tolerance) runs out at car-sharing. (I hate even borrowing and driving my friends’ cars for fear of getting in an accident).
My favorite part of the new sharing travel economy is the ability to easily rent a house (or an entire apartment) when I travel with my parents. We did this last May, when we went on a family trip to Seattle. I rented a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom bungalow about 4.5 miles north of Pike Place, and we had so much fun in that little house. One night CB and I got take out from the Thai restaurant down the street, and we could sit at home and eat and enjoy, instead of going out for the night.
My parents and I are planning an East Coast US/Canada trip next year, and I will for sure rent houses for us again. Sharing economy, for the win!
Have you tried out any of these collaborative consumption services when you travel?
Many personal finance advice on saving money mentions the merits of living with a roommate. Sharing an apartment or a house can save big bucks, and may be a necessity in high cost of living areas such as San Francisco or New York City (until you make comfortably into the six-figures or luck into a rent-controlled situation).
The friend whom I stayed with in London lives in a beautiful, one bedroom apartment. She admits that living with a roommate – in a comparable home, similarly located - would save her ~$1,000 on rent a month. By living alone, she is paying a 30-35% premium. But she works long hours and wants to come home to a quiet place to relax and recharge, and is willing and able to pay the premium for living by herself.
That made me think about my living situation. I have always lived with roommates (or CB) except for one glorious year in which I inhabited a charm of a large studio, with gleaming dark wood floors and wall full of windows. At $950/month, that was also my most expensive rent yet. While at school, I pay under $600 for a house share in a gorgeous 3-bedroom townhouse, with my own bathroom and in-unit washer and dryer. I enjoy living with friends and I’m very happy that I get to save some money by having roommates.
After graduation, though, I don’t think I’ll up for sharing my space with a stranger anymore. I’m able to pay the premium for living alone, and fortunately the city I’m moving to doesn’t have an expensive rental market so I wouldn’t save that much money by living with someone else.
Are you (or would you) pay the premium for living alone? How much more money are you paying to live alone than you would with roommates / house-shares?
When it comes to saving vs. spending, which activity makes you happier? Ally Bank has published a study that shows folks that saved more tended to say they are happier than folks who didn’t save.
According to Ally’s survey of 1,000+ Americans,
…among those with a savings account, 38 percent report feeling extremely, or very happy, versus 29 percent of those without a savings account.
Ignoring the fact that Ally’s self interest is in encouraging folks to save more, this finding makes sense to me. Having money saved helps people feel secure or successful, and those tend to create feelings of satisfaction. What I like most about saving money is precisely this feeling of adding to my financial security. I do get a lot of enjoyment out of spending money, though, especially on specific things – a vacation, a good book, the really warm jacket with a hood that I got last Christmas, good food, my favorite foundation and lipstick, etc. Still, it’s always a balancing act in figuring out how I can optimize my happiness with saving and spending.
Do you feel happier saving or spending?
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