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!
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!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MUST FEED THE KITTY!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Here are some of the dates I have planned / are planning to plan (all $ amounts for the both of us):
- hiking: free! except for gas to get to/from the site
- horse-back riding: $85
- beer brewery tour: $10
- special exhibits at museums: $15-$30
- tour of State Capitol buildings: free!
- bread-baking class at a local bakery: $65
- stand-up paddle boarding class & tour: $50-$80
- archery class for beginners: $10
- paint & wine night: $45-$50 + $20 for drinks
- observatory tour and drive: free!
- guided tour of elephant seal breeding grounds: $14
- 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!
I’ve always loved summer jobs. There’s something amazing about trying out a new role for the summer, making money, and knowing that after the summer you get to do something else (mostly school for me). I’ve had 5 summer jobs / internships in my life. My first two summer jobs were internships in government offices, my third summer job was a sales position at The Gap, and my fourth and fifth summer jobs were professional internship during college and business school. I made minimum wage or nothing at all at the first three positions; my last two summer jobs worked me a lot but paid enough for me to save enough money to max out Roth IRA and pay part of my tuition.
And now, I am trying to get my sixth summer job. In going through all my experiences, I’ve been thinking a lot about Perfect Summer Jobs.
A Perfect Summer Job, in my opinion, is one that:
- Is in an area that you are interested in or are interested in learning more about
- Will help you develop skills useful in your career / life, and expects substantive work
- Fits with your schedule of non-summer activities (i.e. you don’t have to miss an important wedding or family event because of the job)
- Is either in a part of the country/world that you want to explore, or it’s close to home if you want to be close to home
- Pays competitively.
- Leads to (or not) a full-time position according to your plans and wishes.
This is all to say that I am applying for a summer job that will check ALL of these boxes. The work seems to be a perfect blend of quantitative and coaching/mentoring, aimed a target audience that I am really passionate to work with, the pay is amazing for the program length, and the job fits neatly between all the traveling I’ll be doing. It’s The Perfect Summer Job.
I almost don’t want to blog about it because I’m afraid it will jinx it, but ah well. I am hoping it works out, because this really would be the Perfect Summer Job. I’m having a hard enough time NOT imagining how perfect it would be were I get to get this job and how much I would enjoy it and everything I’d be able to do with my paycheck. I’m asking y’all for good thoughts.
What was/would be your perfect summer job?
I have a credit freeze (also known as a security freeze) on all three major credit bureaus: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. I think the credit freeze is an incredible tool that more people should consider using to protect their identity and their credit.
Why I placed a credit freeze
Some of you might remember that I had a scare with my credit a couple months back – a hiccup with one of my credit cards resulted in a blemish on my credit reports, which resulted in my FICO score dropping by more than 100 points, going from 750+ to 650. I nearly had a heart attack. I called, I disputed, I tried everything I could think of. And thanks be to the credit gods, it worked. My average FICO score is now back to the upper 700s.
Even though this incident wasn’t related to fraud, this experience made me realize how easy it is for your credit to be harmed, and what headache it is to get it resolved. An hour after I checked my updated credit reports and FICO scores (and shed a tear of relief), I place security freezes on my reports at all three bureaus.
What is a credit freeze? How does it reduce fraud?
A credit freeze or a credit security freeze prevents others from accessing your credit file. If lenders cannot check your credit history, they won’t issue credit in your name. This means that identity thieves that seek to open fraudulent accounts in your name (so called “new account origination fraud”) won’t be able to get credit, charge up thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, and ruin your credit.
A credit freeze won’t stop all forms of fraud and won’t prevent all kinds of access to your credit. A thief who steals your credit card information will still be able to charge on an existing account, and businesses with whom you have dealings with can still monitor your credit. But a credit freeze DOES protect against new account origination fraud, a particularly insidious form of fraud that many consumer do not discover until they apply for a loan or mortgage, and discover at that point that identity thieves, in their name, have already defaulted on loan after loan.
What’s the catch?
Credit freezes can be a hassle. You have to keep track of a PIN number that will allow you to unfreeze your accounts (and if you lose said pin, you will have to request a new one by snail mail). You have to issue a thaw for a particular lender or issue a temporary lift when you are applying for new credit cards, new loans, a new apartment, or employment that require a credit check. You have to pay to freeze and unfreeze your credit. It cost me $10 to place a freeze at each of the credit bureaus (the fee is waived if you are a victim of credit fraud and may be reduced if you are above 65). Unfreezing the credit report costs another $10. It’s not exactly cheap, especially if you freeze/unfreeze frequently, but I view a credit freeze as an risk mitigation tool whose cost and inconvenience I am happy to incur.
How to place your credit freeze:
Just click on the links below to place a freeze on each of the credit bureaus.
Do you have a credit freeze? What are your tips for preventing credit fraud?
I’ve had a few of these posts where you, my dear readers, have dissuaded me from purchases that I know I shouldn’t make but I really want to make. (Thanks to everyone who talked me out of the $240 wedding hairband, by the way – talk about a bullet dodged! I’m really happy I did not spend that money).
So this time, my eyes are on this gorgeous Brooks Brothers lizard embossed leather satchel. The color, the frame, even – I dare say – the price is perfect.
But I should not, because:
- the size may be too small to fit a laptop, mouse, folders, wallet, umbrella, etc., and all the other things I need to carry when I travel for work
- I don’t necessary NEED it, and I certainly don’t need it RIGHT NOW
- no job = no money. I should at the very least wait until I start collecting a paycheck before I buy a work purse
- I haven’t purchased a handbag since September 2013, wouldn’t it be nice if I get make it til… September 2014 without buying a handbag?!
Now… go! Tell me I should not.
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.
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