Monday, June 30, 2014

Vacation on a Budget

Taken from 

Nick and I are only four days from the start of our 11 day vacation. As we begin packing our bags for vacation, I began working through the vacation budget numbers.

We have been saving money each month towards a summer getaway and then with our AirBnB reservations we were able to up that budget by a few hundred dollars. Again, thank you to everyone who shared our BnB listing over the past few weeks!!!

Setting a vacation budget, for me, is just as important as setting a monthly budget. Understanding where we are going to spend our money and on what helps me to mitigate my fear of over spending. It also helps me to set an expectation to what we can afford to do, rather then spend money just because we have money.

This will be our first vacation since we let go of the Credit Card safety net. In the past, Nick and I have always gone on vacation enjoyed ourselves, ate and drank ourselves silly, and basically did whatever we wanted or our credit cards allowed. At some point in the trip I would usually say "okay we are spending way too much," but by that time- we had spent too much and usually it was even worse then I had thought. We lived life and payed for it later.

Unfortunently, I can't say that we have totally gotten rid of this "buy now, pay later" mentality.  We've gotten a lot better, but when a need arises and we know we'll have money in a few days or in a week, we've thrown a few things on the card. For example, prepping the house for our AirBnB reservations has taken roughly $200 so far in cleaning supplies, new keys, and other items. We won't receive our first guest payment till next week, but that money is already spent on the cards and will be paid for in a week.

Needless to say, I am a bit nervous that we will slip into our bad money habits andworry about staying in budget while havign a good time. We have made rough estimates for food and gas, and think that we'll be okay with our allotted totals. We also typically find fun ways to save money while we are on the road, but I'll share these tips next week!

So here are a few "precautions" Nick and I plan to take to try to stay in budget:

  • Keep a running total of our gas charges in a notebook in the car. I would say we would use cash for gas, but honestly, who really wants to go into a gas station to pre-pay for gas? So we'll use our debit card and track it as we go. 
  • Cash Money!!! We are going to have a daily allotment for food and beer. Depending on what's planned for the day we will alter the daily allotment, but in looking at our rough schedule we will spread out food/drink money out over the 11 days we are out and about. This will be carried in cash to help us eliminate going over budget. When we can see our money we tend to spend less of it on things we don't really need or want. 
I'm hoping by taking these two precautions Nick and I can keep each other on track and still fully enjoy vacation! Wish us luck as we work through going on vacation with a budget :) 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Goals

Back in April, I decided to write up a post with Spring Goals. Here is a quick breakdown of what I decided to accomplish during those 12 weeks :) 

My three goals for the remainder of spring are:
  • Run a half-marathon, not a race just be able to complete 13.1 miles
  • Pay $5,500 toward our debt, to include our minimum payments
  • To write three blog posts a week, so 33 more by the first day of Summer

Summer began on June 21st and here is where I stand with my Spring goals: 
  • My longest run was 11 miles completed on June 8th, not a full half-marathon so I'll need to keep working up to that 13.1 mile run. This goal really did make me run more then normal to try to get up to the 13.1 mile marker. So cheers to running more! I am actually starting to enjoy running, which I never thought would be possible!
  • We payed over April, May, and June in minimum payments $4,381.39 toward our student loans. In extra payments, we have paid, to date, so not including all of June :) $1,795.26 in additional student loan payments. Giving us a grand total of $6,176.65 in student loan payments since setting my SPRING GOALS! So we knocked this goal out of the park!!
  • Blog posts for the Spring: I was hoping to get in 3 a week, but realized that I still haven't figured out the perfect writing schedule to really make that happen. I was able to get a total of 28 blog post completed before June 21st. Not too shabby :) I hope to keep bringing this blog new and interesting posts. I may need to come up with a better time management plan in order to get all the research done and have time to write up each post. I am still learning how to be a consistent blogger, bare with me folks! 
I was only successful at making 1 out of 3 goals, but still deem this a very successful season. Setting goals really made me focus on the three things I wanted to do over the next 12 weeks, so I figured that setting some Summer Goals might also help me accomplish more over the next season. 

So by September 23rd, roughly 13 weeks (The First day of Fall, which seems sooooo far away right now!) I hope to: 
  • Put $2,500 toward student loans, in addition to our minimum payments. I think AirBnB will help us accomplish this goal :) We have gotten some great reservations! Thank you for sharing our link!
  • Write at least 2 posts a week, but aim for 3- So a total of 39 posts.
  • Repeat Goal: Run a half-marathon- get myself up to the 13.1 mile marker :)   
  • Start and finish a new book, I'm thinking something related to personal finance... 
  • Learn 100 new Russian Vocabulary Words
We have a very exciting Summer planned and it all kicks off this weekend, so here's to a great summer and fun memories! 

What are your Summer Goals? 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Strike a Pose

Nick and I found a Craigslist AD this past week for a modeling job for non-models.  We are going to go on a mini-vacation in a few weeks and have been saving up money, but thought a few extra bucks certainly wouldn't hurt our bank account :)  So, we emailed the company and received confirmation to come in as models this past Sunday.

I received a second email asking if I was available to come in on Saturday in addition to Sunday for a few additional shots. YES!!! to Two days of compensation.

I got very nervous on Saturday that I was going to walk-in and they were going to decide they couldn't use me, or I didn't wear the right outfit- so needless to say it was a little nerve racking! It made me feel better, in an odd way, when Nick had the same exact feeling on Sunday :)

Saturday, I was to be dresses in my suit and ready to be photographed as a congresswomen. The company does political ads, so I was told that though you will be able to see my body, you may not always see my face! I guess photoshop is their friend.

We did some treadmill walking, in heels :/  and then some weight lifting! I started off with a modest weight, since I knew I had to hold a pose and I wasn't trying to get my workout in, but ended up with a 20 lb weight so that we had something "bigger" for the picture. I can't wait to see how that photo turned out but my bicep certainly got a workout.

After our workout photos they had a few healthcare AD's to work on, so out came Dr. Monica :)

Sunday was about families and women's rights. So there were a few "women" shots. Groups of women acting concerned or happy, and then we did couple shots.

Best part of the whole weekend: Nick and I got shot pretending to pay bills :)
We nailed those expressions of frustration and worry!!!

The second "couple" shot was playing with a little kid and doing cute family photos. To all my readers with kids, I'm still not sure how you manage to toss around a child and smile at the same time, but hopefully Nick and I mastered it by the end of the shoot.

All in all we walked out with roughly $200 for 4 hours worth of work, so I would say it was a successful weekend!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Costco Breakdown

Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, but can also be hard mentally when you're try to save money in the short-term. For this post, I've decided to put to the test our recent Costco purchases and figure out if we found some great deals or if buying in bulk actually cost us money.

My key rules for a Costco purchases is that it has to be an item we can store, food items have to be able to last at least 3+ meals and it needs to be an item we were going to buy anyway. 

Here is a laundry list of what we picked up this month at Costco. Then, I went to our normal grocery store and took the price, including sales, of each item and adjusted the quantity of each item to a like unit cost.  Here was my breakdown: 

Quantity per…
33.2 lbs $15.89
12.5 lbs $9.99
1 lb
Chia Seeds
32 oz $13.99
16 oz $14.29
16 oz
50 lbs $9.49
10 lbs $5.69
10 lbs
19.6 Oz $7.29
16 Oz $17.59
1 oz
Quaker Oats
10 lbs $7.89
18 oz $2.00
1 oz
32 oz $8.89
8 oz
8 oz
48 oz $18.99
16 Oz $8.79
1 oz
Granola Bars
48 Ct $12.79
6 Ct
1 Bar
Peeled Tomatoes
6 lbs 6 oz $3.99
28 oz $1.49
1 oz
14 brats $10.89
6 brats $3.99
1 Brat
Ground Beef  (88/12)
5.08 lbs $16.75
1 lb
1 lb
Chicken Sausage
12 at $8.99
4 at
1 link

Safeway won for Bratwurst! They were having a great sale this past week on Brats, but typically they run for a dollar more at $4.99- giving them a unit cost of $0.83/brat. So with a sale Safeway wins, but otherwise Costco for the win.

I have found that our weekly grocery bill has decreased by roughly $40 dollars each week, which would account for the appx $150 we spend at Costco per month, $40 x 4 weeks= $160. We tend to pick up a lot of meat products that can get rolled over into the following month, but so far the overall grocery line item in our budget has not decreased. I guess we have to feel this out for a few more months to see if we start making a dent in our budget, but for now our freezer is still stocked with food and we are halfway through the month, so that is a good sign.

Buying in bulk can provide long-term cost savings, but be careful what you buy! I know we are always tempted to get things we normally wouldn't, but we try to stick to the basics that we know we'll use or can store. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Takoma Park

The DC area is made up of small neighborhoods. Everywhere you turn you're walking into a different community with it's own feel and style. One of my favorite things to do when we first moved to DC was to explore a different neighborhood every weekend. Nick and I haven't done this in a while so when asked what I wanted to do on Saturday I decided it was a good day to explore.

Exploring new neighborhoods can be a great way to get out in your own city and do something different on the cheap. Whenever I explore I also like to taste, so going out into a new neighborhood can sometimes be dangerous for my wallet. But this weekend we were dog sitting, so bringing the dog with us ensured that we wouldn't end up "exploring," aka spending money, in the local coffee shop or cute breakfast places :) I am happy to say that the dog was much more interested in the grass outside and so my dog deterrent worked and we didn't spend a dime.

Many of the neighborhoods link directly up to the metro stops, such as the red line stop Takoma Park. We had driven through this area before but have never stopped to walk around.

Nick had heard about the Takoma Park area from many of his co-workers who live or were moving to the area. It was a residential neighborhood with beautiful Victorian homes. The feel of the neighborhood felt like you were outside of the metro area. I think I recall seeing only 2 large apartment buildings and the downtown area of the community was roughly 10 blocks long. It was lined with a few cute boutiques, a few small restaurants and artwork.

I loved the artwork up and down the main road. It is part of the reCYCLE project: Please sit on the Art. They've used recycled materials to create chairs/benches throughout the neighborhood. I found a map of the chair locations and made Nick walk around with me to find almost all of them. It is a great idea to get people involved in the community and also decorate the place with creativity.

They also have a giant Co-op that was filled with amazing fruits and vegetables. Though I know more must exist, I think this may be the only one I've seen close to our neighborhood in DC.
A very looong shot of the Co-Op. Pictures of this exploration were not the best :( 
Sunday we went back to Catoctin Mountain and took a different loops of trails. The dog took us through every mud puddle possible and it was awesome! Here are a few shots from Sunday :)

The dog is camera shy, but there she is :) 
I hope you all had a good weekend and are just as rested as I feel for the week ahead! 

Friday, June 13, 2014

AirBnB Listing

Hello Readers :)

Over the past three days I have received a few comments from family, friends, and coworkers about my blog posts and I can't tell you how happy I am that you are reading! I appreciate your support, kind words, and at times commiserate around the topic of getting out of debt!

Today, I am reaching out to you to help me in a frugal quest!

Nick and I have saved money over the past few months to take a weeks vacations in early July. Nick came up with the great idea of throwing our apartment up on AirBnB to help supplement our vacation expenses. Perhaps being able to go on vacation and use the money in savings towards our student loans instead!

So we worked on posting pictures of our place and a write-up last night.

Here is our listing! 

We tried to keep the per night asking price low to allow those coming into town a cheaper option then a hotel, plus they get a personal touch to their stay in DC. Our photos are iphone quality, so we know it is not the best looking listing on AirBnB, but we offer a clean and cozy apartment at a good rate!

Nick and I have used AirBnB on our trip last year to Belgium and loved the ease of connecting with folks on AirBnB. We loved having a kitchen to make breakfast or dinner. It really helped us keep costs down during our trip!

We would LOVE your help in getting the word out about our posting. Please re-tweet or re-post the link to our AirBnB on your Facebook page.

There are a lot of housing options in DC, so we would appreciate your help in getting the word out to your friends and family specifically about ours. If someone is on the fence about spending this 4th of July in the Nation's Capitol and watching the fireworks over the Capitol Building on the National Mall let this great deal push them over the edge to get down here! There is also a Baseball game on July 3rd that they could attend!!

Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated! Also, if you haven't seen our digs it is a great insider look to the Frugal Optimist estate :)

Thanks for your help and have an AWESOME FRIDAY!!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Expansion on Income Based Repayment

President Obama announced this week an expansion of the Income Based Repayment (IBR) plan for qualified loans prior to 2011.

This program's expansion will be a great asset to many student's but still doesn't fix the problem of having student loan debt to begin with, but it does make it more manageable for many. Nick and I have some of our loans in the Income-Based Repayment Plan.

The Department of Education, actually does a really good job, at the link above, of describing the process for Income-Based repayment.  The basics of the program include: a monthly payment capped at 10% of your income based on your previous tax return, they are adjusted annually, and after 25 years any outstanding loans are forgiven. Upon re-reading this link today, I was reminded of the blessing this payment option was to us as a newly married and fresh out of college couple.

Each year, Nick and I must turn in our previous years tax return to help determine what our monthly payments will be for the next 12 months. This past year we received an increase of $67/ month, roughly 45 days before our first payment was going to be due. I was happy with this years increase, but the process of receiving an adjusted yearly bill for the next 25 years seems daunting. Nor does it guarantee that you will actually repay your student loans.

When asked as a young adult, "where do you see yourself if 5, 10, 25 years?" I don't think any of us think, I'll (still) be paying off my student loans :) I certainly don't plan on owing Sallie Mae or the Dept. of Education a check in 10 years, let alone 25 years!!!

This week the Senate will be voting on a Bill by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to allow students to refinance their loans at today's interest rates. If this would help you to repay your student loans quicker, email or call your Senator.

You can view a Tumbler conversation at the White House on the expansion program and advice to high school students currently looking at their upcoming college education here.

Fun Take Away from the a tutorial in the NY Times here
This tutorial highlights that students paying back debt are not able to spend money to bolster the economy, creating a domino effect which leads to a lack of employment opportunities and economic growth.

Nick and my participation in the Income Based Repayment plan has allowed us to have additional income to put back into the economy, which we are happy to do! However, by deciding to take this "extra" income and make additional payments toward our student loans we are not, in the short term, funneling money into the economy!

Therefore, by making additional payments to our student loans we are part of the economic problem created by a generation of student loan debt!! I guess this calls for a "splurge" on a expensive 6-pack of craft beer! Drink Local to help boost the economy :)

In the long-term, the collateral effect of 25 year repayment plans will still have a greater impact on the economy. I guess I would rather be part of the economic problem now, rather then still have debt in 20 years and not be able to save for a down payment on a house! 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Discussing the Budget

I think one of the things I dislike most about the end of each month is reconciling last months purchases and adjusting our budget for the following month. Each month, I feel like an auditor sitting down in front of the bank account and our spreadsheet to ensure that all of the purchases made are accounted for in the budget spreadsheet.

Then comes the uncomfortable conversation if we went over budget and how to adjust next month's budget to account for upcoming expenditures.

Finances are like an emotional roller coaster, with both positive and negative emotions that dictate how you react to your partner and your mindset going into the next months budget.

You can be excited about the additional payment toward a student loan, but also unhappy that it wasn't more.

You can be excited about all of your great memories from the previous month, and also frustrated that you didn't plan ahead.

When planning out our monthly budget here are a few lessons I've learned to set the stage for a rational  and productive conversation:

1. Set-up a time to discuss finances, if it takes Nick and I over 30 minutes we lose concentration, so I try to keep these conversations brief and to the point.

2. Money invokes emotion, so I try to remember to be sensitive in how we talk about money. Being sure to approach all decisions as a team and talk through our options. Learning to talk about finances has truly changed how Nick and I communicate as a couple in general.

3. Don't beat yourself up for the decisions you've already made. The money was spent- Move On! What can we do differently to avoid going "over budget" on a line item next month? Being proactive in our conversations rather then regretful helps to keep the mood positive.

4. Don't leave money on the table. Nick and I were trying to have our "extra" money go toward additional student loan payments, rather then setting an exact amount to pay off each month. This lead to month two and three having lower payments. When looking at our income IN versus expenses OUT, we've worked to make them zero out. We plan on putting every dollar somewhere- including extra payments or savings. Giving our money a purpose.

5. Smile and Laugh. It is hard to do a budget each month and discuss ways to cut costs when you feel like you're already living on a tight budget. So find ways to put fun in your budget. Account for extra gas to go on a long hike or an impromptu BBQ with friends.

These 5 tips have worked well for us, but maybe you approach talking about finances differently. As long as you're talking about finances you've already jumped one hurdle :)

What helpful tips can you offer others about discussing financial decisions? 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Month in Review- May 2014

Month three was not as "bad" as month two, but we certainly still did not reach the concentration and dedication that we had in month one. We are still adjusting and readjusting our budget to account for life's ever changing priorities. Here is a snapshot of where we stand after month three:

Unexpected Costs: 

  • Kick off to SUMMER activities... for Nick and I this means a lot more impromptu meet-ups with friends and family, so we need to adjust our budget but also plan ahead for impromptu get together and strategies how best to use our money to account for snacks, a bottle of wine or a 6-pack. 
Unexpected Income:
  • Nothing extra this month, but we did get a grill through the apartment building so I consider that a bonus because now it is something we won't need to buy :) 
May Splurges:
Hmmm.... I guess I would have to say the week of my birthday we had a few unneeded purchases. I ended up buying a new bike light and cleaning supplies so that my bike is ready to go for the summer. We also had some guest in town, so a few happy hours that were not originally in the budget, but I wouldn't have given up a single visit :) May was a pretty fantastic month filled with alot of fun activities.

Funniest Moment: 
Funniest Moments this month become "May Events." We have so many great stories and memories from May that I can't just pin point ONE moment. So here is a list of the key events of May:

  • Close Friends Wedding Weekend, a fabulous weekend filled with alot of laughs, dancing, and bloody marys
  • Women's Build Day with Habitat, tore up a tiled floor and painted
  • Mother's Day 
  • Picking Up a Church Garage Sale, this was a day of hard work and rummaging
  • Getting my bike back on the road for commuting
  • Worked at a Summer Beerfest
  • Visit with Grandma Boulter
  • Brunch at a new bakery 
  • My Birthday :)  and a trip to the top of the Washington Monument  
  • 5K in Herndon, VA 
  • Visit from 2 of Nick's siblings
  •   First summer visit to Jazz in the Garden 
  • Day trip to Harper's Ferry
  • Visit from a good college friend

A fabulous month filled with great memories and zero credit card debt! 

Lessons Learned
We really need to break out purchases in our budget. We don't go out to restaurants because they cost more than we have right now, but we do a lot of pot-luck style get together. I think it is an unwritten rule between our friends that no matter the location, everyone attending helps supply drinks and at least one food item.

I love these get together because I still get to hang out with people without a tab or check. The only problem is that they always seem to be impromptu and the menu is never planned more then an hour in advance. So we will be driving home from a hike and find out we are bringing beer and say a desert to a friends BBQ. Okay no problem! We swing off at a grocery store and pick-up what we need.

These quick grocery store stops add up and unless Nick and I plan extra money weekly for these spur of the moment get together we end up going over budget. So June is all about trying to be realistic with our budget and actually HIT below our target line items.

To address this issue we are breaking up weekly expenses into 3 lines:
  • Groceries
  • Alcohol
  • Friends/Family
My advice to friends this month- Make plans with us at the beginning of the month :) We'll have more money then toward the end :) 

Total Payment to Debt: $92.50, on top of our minimum payments for May 
PLUS we signed a new lease on the apartment and got a month free so June's rent went toward our student loans!!

Current Debt: $170,587.09

We started with a total of 35 Student Loans.
We are currently at 34 Student Loans and we need to pay $2,740.28 more in order to reach 33 :)

We are tackling a large student loan at #34 with a 12.5% interest rate! It is really exciting to see our overall balance go down each month, but also to see our minimum payments keep falling! More money to put toward our student loans!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer Salad

We found a great recipe in this months Cooking Light for a Faro and Sour Cherry Salad. I love to use recipes as a template for what we have or what we can afford, in some cases.So we took the basic idea behind the recipe and then tweaked it:

Base Ingredients: 
Sour Cherries- currently not in season, aka expensive, so we substituted this for Mango's at $1 each
Faro- not at our grocery store and a bit expensive at others, so we subbed it out for Buckwheat

Olive Oil
Lemon Juice

Once you get the mango cut this comes together quickly and is quite filling. If you're look for a fun summer salad give this a try. It is easy to make ahead and have ready to go for a quick meal or a picnic with a few forks! If we aren't eating it like crazy people it can last us at least 2 meals :)

Don't be afraid to look at your recipes and sub out a few higher priced or out of season ingredients. There are plenty of recipes that this will not work for, but there are also plenty of recipes that it does work. So be creative and give it a try, you never know until you try!

I try to stick to common textures when subbing out ingredients. In this case, the fruit substitute for the cherry needs to be hard enough to withstand it's shape in the salad and also provide a bit of juice and a sweet taste, so mango seemed to be able to support the purpose of the cherries where a raspberry would have fallen apart when mixed with the Buckwheat!

Check back on Friday for May's Month in Review. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Harpers Ferry

What a great weekend filled with friends and family. Here is just a snapshot of one of the many activities that filled our weekend of good food, drinks, and laughs!

We headed up to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on Saturday afternoon with Nick's brother and sister.

From DC, it takes roughly an hour and 15 minutes to get out to Harpers Ferry, in good traffic. Harpers Ferry is at the intersection of West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. It has been involved in various historic conflicts, such as the civil war and John Brown's raid because of its strategic position.

We began our afternoon at the flea market. I considered this trip a success because we didn't buy anything, but walked away with plenty of great ideas for our next trip up.

We then headed into the historic downtown area and had a picnic lunch. For us, the only way for this day trip to be frugal is to plan ahead and pack a good lunch. We are sure to pack both sweet and salty because chances are we will want both by the end of the day!

We walked around the downtown area which is a mixture of a living museum, cute boutiques and inns, as well as an Appalachian trail stop off point. The Appalachian Trail sits right on Harpers Ferry so they get a lot of hikers swinging by for a break, or starting/ending their trip in Harpers Ferry.

We ended up taking one of their many hiking trails up to Maryland Heights. This trail, which Nick and I have now climbed at least 10 times, is a quick one. 30-40 minutes up and 20 minutes down, but it is steep at times. It definitely makes you breath a little heavier, but it is well worth the view.

I hope you can make it out to Harpers Ferry soon!