The Average Hustle

Travel – Life – Money

Trip Preparation & Unexpected Costs

We leave for Italy in just a few weeks! We’re really excited to finally go on our honeymoon and have 12 days off work! Since the trip is getting so close though, we’re actively trying to put together the last travel plans as well as make sure we have everything we need. We’ve budgeted some of this into our travel budget (museum tickets, train tickets), but other things we didn’t think of and will have to come out of our fun money.

Wardrobe Wants

  • Luckily, it’s going to be much warmer in Italy when we go than we originally thought! However, this means instead of being able to wear my winter boots like I thought I would, I’ll now have to buy my spring shoes before I go instead of after. Spring shoes, you ask? They’re what I wear when it’s too warm for boots, but still too cold for flip flops. Unfortunately, mine died last year and I haven’t replaced them yet. Since I can’t walk several miles a day in inappropriate footwear without hurting myself, this is a necessity. Winston picked up some new walking shoes last weekend, but we used a gift card from our wedding to pay for them!
  • Another thing I’ve been really wanting is a light jacket. We originally thought we’d need to wear our winter coats, but now a jacket might be required instead. I have jackets already, but I’m not in love with them. The newest one is 6 years old and they look shabby. However, since I have something that will work, I’ll only pick this up if it is a good deal and I love it. I have the room in my fun money, so I won’t be beating myself up for buying it.
  • Also in this category, Winston is in need of some new jeans. He rarely has to buy them because he wears business attire to work, but occasionally, he does need a new pair.

Other Wants

  • Winston’s Kindle was extremely old and not holding a battery anymore. Since we’ll have 10 travel hours in each direction and regular books (which we both prefer, by the way) are too heavy to carry, we use kindles on long trips. He already took care of this by sending in his old kindle. When you do this, they give you money for the kindle, plus a coupon. Luckily, the kindle he wanted was also on sale! After all of the discounts, we only had to pay $10.

Luckily, that’s all that’s on our list! There’s many things we had to think about already due to our wedding and our trip last year to London. Just in case you’re planning an international trip though, here’s a few things to consider:

  • Suitcases. We were both given new sets of suitcases for Christmas this year. This is a good option if you’re planning an international trip in the future! Use holidays and birthdays to ask for things you’ll need.
  • Water Bottle. Maybe this is just us, but we love to go to historical places and wind up walking A LOT. A good – but lightweight – water bottle is essential. We bought ours last year before we went to London. We’re both excited that they have clean and free water fountains all over Rome, so we won’t be spending money on filling the bottle.
  • Sentimental Things. I wasn’t sure what to call this because it’s mostly a non-essential category. We’re going on our honeymoon and I was excited to have a ‘Bride’ shirt to wear. I was given one at my bridal shower, so I don’t need to buy it, but keep this in mind if it is a honeymoon, family reunion, or any other special event that you’re traveling to.
  • TSA Approved Locks if you decide to lock your suitcase.
  • Travel Documents. It’s best to plan ahead in your budget if you need a new passport.

That’s all I have today as we’re off to look at new shoes for me, but I hope you all have a nice weekend!

 

Your Money Is A Vote For What’s Important To You

I’m pretty open about the fact that I work at a small retail business. Small Businesses are the cornerstone of neighborhoods. They’re run by people who live close to you and have family members in the local schools. Plus, they often hire locally and support local charities when they can! However, just because I LOVE small businesses doesn’t mean, I don’t support other companies. I still get sad when some of my favorite bog box stores close (The Limited is the most recent example), and I would be devastated if Starbucks or Target ever closed.

I’ve had this on my mind a lot lately because businesses have been posting their quarterly reports over the last few weeks. Combine this with the tumultuous political landscape and I’ve been really thinking about each dollar and what it means when I spend it somewhere. No matter what, I’m actually voting for the things I find important and I need to focus my money to make sure I’m voting for things that matter to me.

Small Retail – I support small businesses. But do I make a point to spend money there so they don’t close? Do I follow them on social media? Do I tell my friends when I find something I love? I’m working on doing all of these things because I don’t simply want to be sad when another business closes. I want to be sure I did my part to keep my favorite neighborhood stores and restaurants around for many more years. When I am looking for an item, I’ve decided to check local stores first.

Big Retail – In addition to giving my support to Small Businesses, I also want to support my favorite big stores. Last week, my FitBit broke and I’ve been searching out where to buy a new one. First – always the frugalista – I checked prices at 5-6 different places. FitBit probably tells retailers how much they can charge though because all of the prices were within a few dollars of each other. The next step for me was to research which company has the values I would rather donate my money to (in exchange for the FitBit, of course). I usually check two things when I research a big company:

  1. Do they support any political or human rights topics that I agree or disagree with?
  2. Do they donate any profits to charities? If so, which ones and do I also support them?

These questions are usually pretty easy to find the answers to nowadays because the political climate has caused more companies to become engaged than ever before and you get to pick which ones you support!

Charity – I haven’t been big on donating money over the last few years because I’ve been trying to pay off the last of my student loans. However, with my payoff date coming in a few months, I’ve already decided that I need to start donating money. Now I just need to decide who I should donate to and how much. For this, I’m going over two basic questions:

  1. Is this a charity I can support on every level?
  2. How do they use the money? More specifically, how much goes to administrative costs vs. the actual cause.

Will This Make A Difference?

I have to think it will. Right now, I’m a little lost on what I can do in the world, and being more responsible with where and how I spend my money is the aspect that I’m able to control. Will the $130 I spend on a new FitBit or a $100 donation change anything immediately? No. However, over my lifetime, I hope I’m able to look back and say that all the little purchases and donations added up to a lot. Plus, if my friends and family also start to shop at places they agree with and donate to causes they support, the world overall might start to look a little different.

I understand that by doing this, someone who believes in opposing things to me might just buy and donate to opposite causes, but I really think that’s okay. We don’t all need to think exactly the same for our money to be put to better use. It’s the stopping to think about where you’re putting it and following through that will make the difference!

Goal Updates & Books I Read

It’s that time of the month! We all set big goals on January 1, and I’m here to update you on mine! This is how I plan on staying accountable and actually achieve my goals. I didn’t make every goal in January, but I did make plans and set them in motion to achieve some of the financial ones. Here’s my breakdown:

Financial:

  • Pay off my student loans and car. I’m so excited about this one! My car will be paid off next month (!!!) and my student loans are on track to be gone by July!
  • Open a Roth IRA. Still on track to start this in August
  • Invest. We just sat down and figured out our 2017 budget after raises and will be investing $150-300 every month! I’ll update you every month as we continue doing it.
  • Create a ‘Domestic Travel Fund’ savings account. We have saved the money for a wedding we’re going to in Colorado (used an extra paycheck from December), but have not added any extra money.

Personal:

  • Lose 5 lbs in January February. This is very important to me considering some health issues I’ve had over the last 2 months. I did start working out and eating a veggie every night. I have not, however, lost the 5 pounds I wanted to in January. Changed this one to February to continue the goal!
  • Drink 2 big cups of water while I’m at work. Still need to get better at this one.
  • Read 14 books. I read 3 books in January! I’ve included a summary below!
  • Improve and work on this blog. I wrote 5 posts last month, which is a big improvement!

Books Read In January 2017:

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham – I’m a huge Gilmore Girls fan, so this book was one of my favorite Christmas gifts! It was a very entertaining, but short read. I’d suggest it f you’re a big GG fan, but if not, you probably won’t get much out of the book.

The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club by Marlena De Blasi – Easily my favorite book I read this month and might go on my list of favorites ever! It follows 4 rural Italian women and shares their dinner and life stories about love, betrayal, friendship, life, death, and more. I fell in love with the characters and with their lifestyle. I highly suggest this book!

Eating Rome by Elizabeth Minchilli – In case you can’t tell, I’m gearing up for our Roman honeymoon! This book lists some of the best places to eat in Rome along with recipes and anecdotes about the author’s life there. I’d recommend it to anyone planning a trip to Rome or interested in Italian cooking.

How are your goals coming along? Did you read any good books in January?

Weddings On A Budget: 6 Tips

As you may have read, we got married last September! We’ve told you about the benefits of a Las Vegas wedding and about how we saved money on Welcome Bags, but now we wanted to share a few tips on how you can save money on any wedding if you’re just now starting your planning. It can be overwhelming at times (it certainly was for us), but it will hopefully be well worth it!
1) Be Flexible – It’s easy to pick a day and then not move on it, but being flexible can give you so many more affordable option! Being open to getting married the weekend before or after the date you target might save you hundreds of dollars if it is a less popular weekend. It also might save your guests on hotel costs if you’re not getting married the same weekend as other major events in your city. Being flexible on the day of the week is another way to save money.
2) Skip Expensive Items – No matter what you Mom/Aunt/Best Friend/ Planner tell you, there actually isn’t a mandatory list of wedding activities and necessities. If you need to save money, don’t have flowers. It’s actually really easy to do – just don’t book any! If someone asks about flowers before the big day, just say you’re waiting for some things to be surprises! We actually did the same thing with photographs. We talked to our parents and our recently married friends and none of the couples had looked at their photos since they got them in. Our parents didn’t even know where they were, to be honest. Since we didn’t see a lot of value, we opted to just have a photographer at the ceremony and gave a friend a camera for the reception. You want to know who wound up taking the best pictures? My dad. On his cell phone. Plus, we paid 10% of what we would have to hire a photographer the entire day.
3) Skip Bridal Boutiques – As much as TV shows make going to a bridal boutique sound awesome, we just didn’t have that kind of money in our wedding budget. In fact, I only had $250 to spend on my dress. Since I was limited, I decided to go to department stores instead and wound up buying my dress at Macy’s. The combination of their annual sale and tax-free weekend in Virginia, I wound up spending $84.50 on my dress! Well under budget!
4) Don’t Do Anything JUST Because Other People Expect It – If you have your heart set on something, go for it, but try to find a way to pay for it without going into debt. However, if you’re only considering it because someone told you to, just pass! A good example of this is a rehearsal dinner. These can add hundreds of dollars to your budget. Even though people kept asking about it, we didn’t rehearse our wedding and thus, didn’t need a rehearsal dinner. Since we had a destination wedding, we just planned a bar night and invited everyone to that instead. We made it for after dinner hours so no one had to splurge and everyone bought their own drinks or got them for free in the casino. It added $0 to our budget.
5) Consider Having Your Wedding Outside of Your Expensive City – We live in Washington DC and there was just no way we could have a wedding for $5000 here. At least not without compromising our vision. So we just moved the whole thing to Las Vegas. There were many benefits to our Vegas wedding, but you could apply this to any other city!
6) Cut Your Guest List – In order to not go into debt, cut it as much as necessary. We only had 15 people at our wedding. This was extraordinary because both of my parents have 6-8 siblings so my extended family is very large. I just made a rule not to invite anyone outside of my immediate family. This way, no one had their feelings hurt. Plus, cutting our guest list allowed us to afford a nicer reception dinner, and make Welcome Bags, which wound up being one of our favorite things!
Even though it seems hard right now, you can have an affordable wedding! Just make your budget just as much of a priority as some people make their dress!

Short-Term Financial Goals & How We Build Them In Our Budget

We have several long-term money goals that we add to every month. Among them are small additions to our Emergency Fund, paying off my student loans, and our building our retirement savings. We’re also starting to regularly invest. Lately, though, we’ve been discussing our 2017 budget and things that are going to happen this year and only this year. How do we budget for those short-term financial goals?

First, one of Winston’s best friends is getting married in May. We’ve done a budget for the trip and figured out it will cost around $2000. This budget accounts for flights (almost half of the budget), hotels, rental car, gift, and a new suit for Winston (he’s in the wedding and needs a new black suit).

Second, I’m turning 30 this year and I want to do something a little more exciting than normal. I don’t have a budget for this yet because I haven’t decided what I want to do. Eeeekkk! I know I need to get on this even though my birthday isn’t until July.

Third, we need some new furniture. I came to this relationship with 2 $20 Target bookcases and Winston came with everything else. His everything else though is a couch that’s falling apart, 2 Ikea tables we push together for a coffee table, and a TV stand that is too small for our TV. We’re assuming these new items will cost around $2000, but we’d love to come in way under budget!

Fourth, some of my best friends are turning 30 this year, too. We usually exchange small gifts and have normal parties. This year, I’m guessing that there will be more expenses associated with these birthdays.

Now, you’re probably wondering how we’re finding the room in our budget for these new items!

  1. We Looked For Expected and Unexpected Windfalls. We each get paid every other week. That means that twice a year, we get an extra check. The coolest thing is that this just happened for us in December, so we were able to earmark that money directly to our “Get To Friend’s Wedding” Fund. DONE! You could also look for unexpected windfalls. Did you get some cash for Christmas or a birthday? A bonus at work? Put that money to use!
  2. We checked our budget for invisible money. Sometimes, even when you work hard to budget, money falls through the cracks. I am not a salaried employee, so I only get paid for how many hours I work. Since I don’t always (actually, pretty close to never) work exactly 40 hours a week (some are more, some are less), we budgeted for me to bring in less money than I actually do. Since I’m currently bringing in more money every 2 weeks pretty consistently, it would be easy for it to just disappear in our budget. Instead, it is all earmarked for our “Furniture” Fund. Not, DONE, exactly in that we’re still saving money, but we we will have enough pretty soon!
  3. Find a Way to Make Extra Money. For all the 30th birthday expenses this year, I’ve redoubled my efforts on Swagbucks and on a new site called InstaGC. I wrote a post about Swagbucks already (we used our Amazon gift cards to help pay for our Wedding Welcome Bags, too), but I’m focusing harder than usual. This way, I don’t have to look inside my budget for more money. I can just work a little harder outside of it. My goal at the moment is to make $25 a month. If I do that through the end of May, I would have $125. It’s not life-changing at all, but that’s certainly going to help with the extra gifts and the extra drinks I’ll need to buy. Plus, imagine what it would add up to if I keep going for the rest of the year and uses it at Christmas. Not into doing work on the internet? Try picking up a few extra hours at work or selling things on ebay!

Now that we’ve got all of these extra money streams, we’re even more excited about the things we get to do this year! Not worrying about where the money will come from is the most amazing gift! Plus, now that we’ve identified them, we’re excited about what we can do even after these goals are met. Even though this extra check went to our friend’s wedding, we’ll have two more extra checks this year that we can allocate to something equally as fun. Plus, after we buy new furniture, we’ll be able to put that extra money toward something else, too!

The links to Swagbucks and InstaGC are my referral links. However, you will see the benefits of extra money, too, and extra money is always a good thing!

Do You Stock Up At Sales?

Photo from Illume.

Winston and I have a standing date every Sunday! First, we eat at Cava, our favorite fast Mediterranean restaurant, and then we walk around the mall. It gives us a little exercise in the winter, plus it’s excellent people watching! Right after Christmas, we found ourselves going into the stores and picking up a few items. Normally, we just walk through without buying anything.

The thing is: everything was on sale! I work in retail marketing, so I really only buy things I want or need. I know the tricks of the trade and it’s often not worth it to me to spend money. On the other hand, after-Christmas sales seem to be the time when things are deeply enough discounted that I’m willing to bite.

Wondering what we bought?

2 Illume Pumpkin Peppercorn Candles – This is hands down my FAVORITE candle in the world! I know it’s pumpkin, but I burn it year-round. The bummer part is that they’re pretty expensive candles. We used to sell them at work so I could use my discount, but we didn’t get any this year, so I’ve been waiting patiently for them to go on sale. I bought 2 candles for $7 each. Before the sale, they were $24 each.

Cook’s Illustrated Cook’s Science Cookbook – Winston is a scientist and he loves to cook. This cookbook is something he’s been eyeing for a while, and finally found it at a store for a cheap price! Price: $20 instead of $40.

Lush Catastrophe Cosmetic Face Mask – In the interest of full disclosure, this item wasn’t discounted at all, but I do really love it! Lush face masks are made from natural ingredients and need to be refrigerated. Since I’m on a few new prescriptions, my face has been breaking out and I wanted a face mask to try to bring it back to normal. This one is made from blueberries and calamine lotion and feels really good on your face. Price: $8.95.

Our total spent at the mall that day was still under $50, but none of the items exactly constituted a ‘need’. We budget ‘fun money’ for each of us into the budget every month, so these little purchases are okay as long as we don’t exceed our limit. When you’re out shopping, do you stock up at great sales? Or do you continue on your frugal way?

An Ode To Health Insurance

During the last few weeks, this is what my medical care is looking like:

  • The Eye Doctor
  • The Emergency Room
    • Given a shot
  • My Primary Care Doctor
    • Had 2 different tests done
    • Given a prescription
    • Flu Shot
  • Back to My Primary Care Doctor
    • Given a second prescription to take in conjunction with the first one
  • Back to the hospital for another test
  • And in two more weeks, back to my Primary Care Doctor
  • Back to the Eye Doctor

Needless to say, the last month wasn’t my best in terms of health. Without getting into too many personal details, my problem has been related to my blood pressure. We’re doing test after test and medicine after medicine, but we’re confident we’ll get it figured out!

Luckily, I just married into the best health insurance of my life! After all of this, I will need to pay $100 for the ER visit and $35 for the second Eye Doctor copay (the first one was waived personally by my eye doctor because I wound up in the ER). That’s all!

We do pay a lot out of pocket for our health insurance and I know from first-hand experience (for me in the past and for my very blue-collar parents) how taxing it can be on a monthly budget, but I firmly believe that health insurance is a necessity for all people. I would have had to pay $1000 or more for all of that if I didn’t have insurance and that would have been even worse on our budget! Actually, because this year I need glasses and contacts at the eye doctor, that alone would have been over $500.

So today, in this new year, I am extremely thankful that I am doing better, but I am also very thankful for my health insurance.

I hope your 2017 is healthier than mine!

Happy New Year! 2017 Goals & Updates

Happy New Year!

Man, was the end of 2016 a little crazy for you too? I had some less-than-exciting health issues going on and it really affected my December (more about that in my next post which I’m titling: An Ode To Health Insurance). Now that it’s January though, I’m excited to have an awesome 2017!

First, in the name of optimism, here’s a few of my favorite things that happened in 2016:

  • The biggest and most exciting was that we got married in Las Vegas!
  • We started to plan our honeymoon/next International trip to Rome!
  • I celebrated a 5 year Anniversary at our current location at work (which also happens to be my favorite small business).
  • We spent 9 days in London and Edinburgh.
  • We spent time in my favorite US city: Raleigh.8-small

Now, here’s my goals/resolutions/to-dos for 2017.

Financial:

  • Pay off my student loans and car. We’ve been aggressively attacking these since we got married, but I want them done once and for all! Our timeline is looking like this might happen in July (which also happens to be my 30th birthday). In order to do this, we’re paying the car off first since it has the highest interest. The student loan will come next.
  • Open a Roth IRA. Winston already has a Roth and a formal IRA at work. Unfortunately, with my student loans and small business job, I don’t have either of those. I will starting in August though! We won’t max it out this year since we’re starting so late, but the goal will be to max it out every year starting in 2018.
  • Invest. Winston was very good at investing when we first moved in together. He was used to paying rent by himself, so he just used the money I gave him for rent to invest instead of saving it! Once we started planning our wedding and started paying extra on my loans, this went away. I want to get back in the habit after my loans are gone!
  • Create a ‘Domestic Travel Fund’ savings account. We already have money earmarked for International Travel, but I’d like to make it a priority to start saving for our more local trips as well. Both of our parents live hundreds of miles away and several of our friends do, too. We already have a wedding in Colorado planned for May, so we need to get this started right away!

Personal:

  • Lose 5 lbs in January. This one may seem a little weird, but I need a jump-start to get back into the gym and back eating a little healthier. This is just the right goal that will get me back into my habits. My concern, truthfully, isn’t weight at all. It’s my health.
  • Drink 2 big cups of water while I’m at work. I have one of those huge over-sized tumblers and I’m pretty good at making myself drink 1 of them, but I need to increase it to 2. Avoiding dehydration is very important to my health goals.
  • Read 14 books. This seems so little to this former English Major, but the truth is that I just didn’t make it a priority last year. It’s entirely possible I’ll read more than this once I get in the habit, but I like to make attainable goals.
  • Improve and work on this blog. I love writing as much as I love reading, but I just need to make it a habit!

That’s my list as of now! Do you have any resolutions or goals for 2017? Maybe the answer is to hold each other accountable!

 

Small Business Shopping

I know – I’m a few days late from Small Business Saturday, but my point is still the same and that picture is still cute!

I work at a small business, so it only makes sense that I’m a huge advocate for Small Business Saturday. When I woke up in the morning, I went to my favorite small business to work for 8 hours (yep – I work on Saturdays), stopped to buy a gift at a different small business, and then Winston and I ate at a mom n’ pop restaurant that evening. I consider it a successful day on both a personal and professional level, but I also want to stress how important it is to shop at small businesses all year long!

If possible this Christmas and Hanukkah season, try to set aside a certain percentage of your budget to shop only at small businesses. This could mean getting a hard-to-find toy at a local toy store, picking up a beautiful piece of jewelry at the local craft fair, or buying an ornament at the local gift shop. It could also be as small as picking up a coffee from a local place while you’re out shopping.

I can tell you from personal experience that these things matter. They matter to small businesses and the people who work there, but it also matters to your community. Small Businesses owners often give back to the community at higher rates since they live in the communities they work in and feel very connected to them.

Here’s just a few ways you can support local businesses without breaking the bank!

  • Make sure you build it into your budget so you aren’t surprised by your credit card bill the next month.
  • Walk through a few local businesses and see what they have if you haven’t been before. You may be surprised to find that they have exactly what you need.
  • Follow them on social media and sign up for their email lists. Sometimes Small Businesses have deals and sales throughout the holiday season that you might want to know about.
  • If they are only a dollar or two more expensive, think about where that money is going. Often the owner of a local shop could be someone you went to school with or who has kids that go to school with your kids.
  • Make holiday traditions. Do you usually buy a real tree? Get it at a tree farm instead of at the grocery store. This day can be a new holiday tradition for your family! Do you get gifts at Valentine’s Day for your kid’s friends? Buy the supplies at a local store, and make them together!

Our Next International Trip

When we started planning our wedding, one of the most common questions we were asked was:

“Where are you honeymooning?”

Great question! We got married so quickly that we decided to go on our honeymoon a few months after the wedding, so we could only focus on one thing at a time. Now that we’ve been married a month, we’re doubling down on the trip!

HOOORRRRAAAAYYYY!

In professional blogger speak that means “Planning an international trip is so much more fun that planning a wedding!”

We decided that we had 3 main priorities for the trip.

  1. We want somewhere with nice hotels. We’re not very rugged people naturally and our honeymoon is definitely not the place to start.
  2. We want to stuff our faces with delicious foods.
  3. Historical things would be nice.

With all of things things in consideration, we settled on ITALY! Rome to be exact! We’re considering taking a longer trip and seeing another city, but we haven’t decided on that for sure. Actually, we’re just now digging into the gritty details. There’s a lot to consider for us. Luckily, we were gifted some money for our honeymoon, but as naturally frugal people, we’re still trying to make the trip as frugal as possible. We’ve decided to go in the chillier off-season to make the trip more affordable. (Shocker: Italy isn’t the cheapest option we could have chosen!) We’re also trying to find the right combination of airlines, layovers, and points to make the airfare a little easier to swallow, too.

We’re taking Italian lessons on a free app and reading up on Italian customs, but we know we need more information. Do you have any tips on traveling to Italy? What do we need to know?