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Frugal Vacation Tips from Orlando

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As you know, I’ve been saving money every month towards Universal Studio tickets for a mini vacation this week over the Thanksgiving holiday.  I requested and was approved to work remotely for two days this week (Tuesday and Wednesday,) and have hotel points for three nights. These are my frugal vacation tips for making this trip work within our existing budget…for the most part!

Should I Cancel the Trip?

After I found out about my job situation, I did contemplate cancelling the trip, but decided that I really need this break. We left Monday night after work and drove down. It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders already. While I had to work yesterday and today, the feeling of freedom prevails and let’s me breathe a bit after the overwhelming amount of stress I’ve been under. (I also have to work in the wee hours Friday morning and Sunday morning to administer all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday digital content even though technically the corporate office is closed.)

Frugal Vacation

Without further ado, we are ON VACATION and I couldn’t be more happy to be here. Here’s what I have done to minimize the costs and keep this trip from impacting our monthly budget too much:

  • Gas – there will be no impact for the cost of this travel on our budget because the difference between the miles driven to FL versus driving to Gymnast’s training 4 days a week is minimal.
  • Hotel – we split the trip down into 2 days because I was wiped from starting work at 3am on Monday (another midnight web flip.)  I had to pay for one night in the midway hotel. The rest of our trip nights are covered by hotel and credit card points. Cost $98

Our view Monday night from our midway hotel. Got a great deal booking last minute!

  • Food – I went to Dollar General before we left home and bought a ton of snacks and drinks. And we have saved the bulk of our typical $400-600 grocery budget so we can eat out at some fun places. In addition,
    • Our breakfast is free at our hotel;
    • The kids have been told we will be drinking water at every meal out; and
    • Our favorite method of saving money while trying cool places is the Appetizer and Dessert meal.

Our favorite frugal meal out tip – Appetizers and Desserts. Last night, our desserts came out first, they were delicious!

  • Entertainment – I have saved the money for Universal. And we have some movies we would all like to see. The kids all know that any entertainment is on them, out of their allowance.  They can choose to participate or not. Other than that, we are enjoying sleeping in, wandering around City Walk and just goofing off.

 

Chosen Family – Our Old Nannies

On a personal note, the little kids’ nannies (3 sisters from the same family) all now live in Orlando. They have been part of our lives since Princess was born 13 years ago. We are hoping to get to see them while we are here.

The oldest sister began with us after I returned to work after my maternity leave (was still working in the corporate world then.) The next sister took over two years later when the eldest got married (Princess was in her wedding.) Then the third sister took over when the middle sister left for college, and she was with us through the birth of her two kids and even when the twins arrived 6 years ago. (When the twins first arrived, I could not leave them alone with the younger two, so I always had to have a baby sitter for them for those first couple of years if I had to leave.)

Do you have special family or as I call it chosen family you will see this holiday season?  Because I am not really close to my immediate family, my chosen family which is quite abundant plays a big role in our lives. I think it’s made it easier as well being a blended family / foster / adoptive family to see those not related by blood as important members of our family.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Whether you cook, go to someone’s house or go out to eat like we do, enjoy the time you have with your loved ones!


Competition Season is Upon Us

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All the months of training, all the months of driving hours back and forth to practice, all the blog debate on the cost of my kids’ activities (that is supposed to make you smile,) today is the day we have been preparing for! The competition season is upon us! Gymnast and I drove about 3 1/2 hours last night to be ready for his first gymnastics meet of the season today.  Woot, woot. I cannot wait to watch him fly!

Pictures of Gymnast competing a couple of years ago.

Now before you jump on me for the cost of this endeavor, it is built into my budget, Gymnast’s training cost $240 per month during the season (less in the summer when he comes less often.) I have $350 per month in the budget to cover the costs of attending meets and meet fees.  Financially, I have planned for this.

With that being said, and with my goal of getting rid of some debts before the end of the calendar year, I am doing my best to squeeze every single cent out of my budget. I thought I would share some of my tips and tricks I have learned over the last 7 years of having a child in a competitive sport (and now two children in competitive sports.)

Tips for Managing and Controlling the Expense of Competitive Sports

  1. Barter – you know this is my go to trick. I bartered for 4 years of Tae Kwon Do training, culminating with Princess getting a internationally recognized Black Belt. I also bartered for 4 years of gymnastics training. (And I am working on bartering for volleyball right now.) I have provided tech support, website design and general admin work in return for the monthly cost of training.
  2. Used Equipment – all the teams we have participated in have at least yearly “used equipment/uniform sales.” Taking advantage of these can literally save you hundreds of dollars a year. This year Gymnast uniform package cost me $200 dollars! I would have happily bought used if he weren’t the biggest boy on the team, alas, all new for him this year.  But you get my point, right?
  3. Car Pool – when we first started gymnastics, another little boy on our street did as well. We traded off driving every week, it was fantastic! It gave me some of my time back AND saved me some gas money. That is not an option where we are now, but if it were, I would jump at it!  I’m just grateful that now both kids will be in sports within a couple of miles of each other rather than states and counties away.  That will save me some time and money compared to the spring.
  4. Travel – If your sport requires travel with overnights, those hotels can quickly add up, especially with one or more competitions per month during the season. If at all possible, we have driven up and back on the same day, but sometimes, you just can’t do that (especially when there is only one driver who needs to sleep sometimes.) I have found three tricks for saving on hotels outside of the typical bargain hunting as far in advance as you can.
    1. Share a room with another teammate and their family. This is pretty uncomfortable to me, being a single mom, so not one we really do. But I know others who do this regularly.
    2. Use credit card points for hotel stays. Now this one I do ALL the time, and was probably the reason I was no opposed to giving up my credit card use. I have one card I use, that I use like a rolling line of credit, use it and pay it. The points add up quickly that way. That is how I paid for Gymnast and my room last night.
    3. Join hotel points programs, and save them up. I am a member of two Hotel programs, both free to join. Any time we travel, I look for those hotels first. Every dollar spent, we get points. Every night spent, we get points. You get the picture. (Most of them also have credit cards that allow you to earn more points. As tempted as I am at times, I know that is not a wise choice for me.) Those points add up. And we use them for stays.
  5. Food – Nuts, granola bars, jerky. I keep some of each in my car, all the time. It helps quench the “I’m dying of hunger” needs without stopping at the most convenient drive thru or convenient store. This is especially key after practice when we are still an hour away from home.In addition, all our hotel choices when we travel, offer FREE breakfast and most of the time have a free fruit snack for kids i.e. apples. When we travel, we pack the meal for the ride there. Typically sandwiches and chips. This typically leaves us with 1 maybe 2 meals that I must pay for. In all cases, we drink water, depending on how many of us go, this can save me up to $15.

These are just a few of the tips I have learned over the years. There are as natural as breathing to me. My kids are also well versed in our frugal-ness when traveling.

One thing we like to do when we are in a new place, as we will be a lot this year, is try things unique to those places (within reason.) Typically, one child gets on Yelp to find the restaurant.  We LOVE Yelp in that we can find things based on food type, cost and location. If they choose something that is a bit more pricey, not all the way pricey, they know as soon as we sit down and I eyeball the menu, they will get a budget for their meal. It’s fun to watch them barter and share things to try more, get more.


Credit Repair – Help Me Find the Best Methods

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Last year, without consulting the BAD community, I moved forward with a paid credit repair place to the tune of $400….over a year later and nothing has changed. In fact, it has mostly gotten worse.

$400 down the drain!

Now, I am wiser, I hope, and way more cautious. But I desperately need to make progress on my credit score. With that being said, I have been doing quite a bit of research.  That’s where the Self Lender loan idea came from.  I am looking at 609 letters, goodwill letters, paying things off and so on. But I want to make wise decisions and use my time and efforts wisely.

Credit Warriors

One place I have found particularly helpful, and no, I have not spent a dime, is Credit Warriors. I especially like their Facebook group. It’s good to hear about other’s successes in traveling the path I am just now started. My number one goal is get to my credit score up significantly. And in learning more about it, I want to teach my kids more about it.

So BAD Community, here I am asking for your best tried and true guidance for credit repair: links, first hand stories and so on. I am game to hear it all.

 


Relocation Expense vs Signing Bonus

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In my defense I haven’t sought a new “job” in almost 14 years.  I’ve written before about how off my resume was at the beginning of this one and Faye from LeapofFaye.com jumped in and saved the day.  And really, truly it was saving the day…I think to date I’ve had 8 first interviews for what I thought were ideal jobs.  I count myself blessed with every single call I get from an application or recruiter.

But now I think, rather hope, I am coming to the end of several application processes…multiple interviews done, references checked and reviewed,  interviews with CTOs done…etc. etc.  What I haven’t been prepared for were questions regarding “What do you expect?”

I mean I’m good with my salary requirements question…and throwing in the request for a full benefits package, that’s coming pretty naturally.  The thought of a paid day off, a paid vacation, well, that’s what dreams are made of!

But what other requirements do I have…and thus we come to Relocation Expenses vs Signing Bonus.  I’ve pretty much been clear with companies that if I need to relocate…well, they have to pay for it.  And then I was told this…

  1. Relocation Express – A budget is set at the beginning of the process, but I have to cover the costs upfront and then be reimbursed.
  2. Signing Bonus – Paid up front but taxed upfront, possibly at a high tax bracket?

So my question…what are your thoughts, have any words of wisdom for me on this front?

Relocation Expenses vs Signing Bonus – which would you choose? Pros and cons of each?  Any words of wisdom greatly appreciated!


What to do When You Lose Your Job

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I’ve been attending a Job Transition group since I got the news of my impending lay off.  It’s been great to connect with like minded people (faith based group) who are going or who have gone through similar situations.  This morning the talk to turned to me with questions of healthcare now, unemployment benefits and general “what to do when you lose your job” tasks.

It’s been a LONG time since I was here…2006 to be exact.  Then it was pretty cut and dried.  I applied for unemployment benefits that lasted 4-6 months, paid for COBRA medical coverage for up to 18 months to continue our medical benefits and started a job hunt with weekly reporting to the Employment Commission to continue to receive my unemployment payments.

Now I’m not leaving corporate, I’m leaving contract work so no unemployment as far as I know, no COBRA and I had three weeks notice rather than the single day I had last time.  Very different and not so cut and dried.

So I’m hear asking for your collective wisdom…what do you do now when you lose a job?  Here’s what the Job Transition group advised me this morning….

  1. Apply for unemployment…let them tell me if I’m eligible or not.  At least it might result in some temporary income.
  2. With the new Obamacare, I cannot let my medical insurance lapse or I will face penalty, so I have to do something about that.  And without steady income, well that could be problematic.
  3. There  are lots of alternative resources out there, research them now, apply for help now, just in case, so that I don’t get to the point where I’m panicking and reach the point of no return with certain financial matters…suggestions are United Way (strict guidelines for help that I probably wouldn’t meet at this point,) local churches are not governed by strict regulations, grants for single moms, etc.

So here I am asking for your best advice, what would you do in my shoes?  What steps do I take now?


Knee Deep in It – Tax Season

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I’d been so proud of myself for getting posts done ahead of time and here I am already falling off that wagon!  But I do have a good excuse…

So I haven’t filed 2013 or 2014 taxes yet.  Long story short, it all leads back to discussions early on last year with my dad regarding the house, so I am not going to get into that anymore.  But I was comfortable not filing as I had pre-paid my taxes correctly AND because the twins adoption was finalized and they were a special needs adoption, I had a large tax credit coming that can be carried over for up to 5 years.

With that in mind, I have ALWAYS filed my own taxes.  But with the possibility of needing to finance a home in the coming years and the new tax credit which I don’t have any experience with, I decided I might need to hire someone this year to do it for me and make sure I covered those bases properly.  (Since I am self-employed, banks look at my last two-three years tax returns for financing rather than current year pay.)  So I started calling around trying to find someone who was familiar with the Adoption Tax Credit (<=link to IRS site regarding credit if you are interested.)

Almost no one had any experience with the tax credit, and the cheapest I could find was $350 per year…for a total of $700 just to fill out some forms (which I have already compiled all the numbers for) and get the correct form done for the tax credit.  I spent a couple of weeks rolling that number around in my head.  And then started digging into the tax credit.

And yep, I’m back to doing my taxes myself.  I’ve already done all the compiling everything thanks to my organization kick I’ve been on this year.  I figured at $25 per hour, I could essentially give myself 28 hours of research time to figure out the new tax stuff and not have to pay anyone else the $700.  So that’s where I am this week…knee deep in tax code.  And the scary thing is, that I am actually enjoying it.

I did break down and buy TurboTax’s 2013 version to kind of guide me, but from what I can tell, even they don’t handle the tax credit properly.  So I’m doing this by hand…downloading the proper forms from the IRS.gov website and filling them in.  It’s been tedious, but I’ve learned ALOT.  Hopefully, I will wrap this up this week.  And then…I get to help the twins file their taxes.  What a cake walk next to this!


Finding Free Fun

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This past weekend we took a spur of the moment trip to a Sustainable Living Fair at a university about an hour from us. It was free and open to the public and had some cool things for kids to do per the website.  I had no idea what to expect but with my eye on the prize of land and home, I thought that they might have some really cool stuff. Got the kids up and headed out after seeing it on Facebook that same morning. (I love all the stuff I find on Facebook!)

Anyways, it wasn’t quite as big as I had hoped but we did see some cool stuff and I got more fodder for my plan making. But that led the kids to saying…”Mom, we should do more stuff like this on days we have free.” Now lets be honest, during the school year, “free time” is few and far between. We have Sea Cadet drill once a month, gymnastics meets once a month, FTC Robotics competitions once a month and who knows what else on that odd free weekend we might have.

But after having such a good time together AND getting their feedback, I have decided to plan for some of these fun, free, cool things this summer. Putting them on the calendar as I ferry them out so we have some fun things to do if we are free! I’ve found a local website that lists all the activities for our area…all within an hour of us.  I can’t wait to find festivals we can attend, sites we can see, artists off free viewings/shows.

Last summer we traveled ALOT and the kids went to ALOT of camps.  This summer we are doing none of that.  No, I take that back, the kids will go for one week each to a local camp which my dad helps pay for as their Christmas present.  So having these fun things in sight will help take the monotony out of it, not to mention our apartment complex has a pool which we will make good use of, yeah!

Our local website is HamptonRoads.com and they have an event calendar.  Have you checked out what you can do for fun and free this summer?


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