Europe or Bust

Europe or Bust

We are one week from takeoff.  

I almost don’t even believe it.  A year and a half of dreaming, planning, organizing, and planning some more makes this trip almost seem like a surreal, perpetual idea and not something that’s actually happening.  

People keep asking me if I’m excited and truthfully, I might be a little, but overall I still feel pretty numb.  I still can’t believe we actually followed through with this whole crazy thing.  Never in a million years did I think we would up and decide to take a three week trip to Europe smack in the throes of life in our thirties and parenthood, but, here we are.  Anxious, excited, and already tired, but we’re here.  And I’m proud of us.  

My husband and I both decided early on that we didn’t want to wait until retirement to live life the way we wanted.  We knew it would take a lot of hard work and committed to that, but agreed if we were gonna work hard we were gonna play hard, too.  

So now, we play. 

I feel like I should be doing more right now.  I keep poking at the pile of stuff to pack, shifting things around and organizing them into different categories, but shoving all of that into a suitcase – yes, that’s right, three people, three weeks, ONE suitcase – will take ten minutes tops.  The hard part was gathering everything into the pile.  Now I just get to stare at it for a while.

Everything else I can possibly think of is finalized.  The house sitter, the dog walker, the grass cutter, the mail hold, the currency exchange.  We still can’t figure out how to use the newfangled car harness we bought for my daughter, but I’m hoping at some point two adults can learn how to read and follow instructions properly. 

Most of my anxiety right now comes from not knowing the unknown, surprise surprise.  The number of variables involved in this trip are overwhelming and I’m trying to stay focused on everything that could go right instead of everything that could go wrong.  I find both exhilaration and terror in having absolutely no idea how this trip will go.  When we’re at home, my husband and I are familiar with our surroundings, our routines, our norms.  We’re safe in our comfort zones and as parents, this is where we feel most confident in protecting our daughter.  Both of us are uncomfortable at the thought of protecting her in territory that’s unfamiliar to us too.  This will definitely be a learning experience for us all.  

Speaking of my little girl, I have no clue how she is going to handle this trip.  She’s never even been on an airplane before.  There are times her high maintenance arrives right on cue and there are times her adaptability and flexibility surprise us.  I think both my husband and I are ready for battle.  We know there’s going to be some rough spots because there are rough spots for even adults on a trip of this magnitude, let alone a confused jet-lagged toddler who can’t even comprehend that there are actually other parts of the world, let alone that she’s suddenly in one of them.  I think our expectations are right where they need to be.  

Once we’re on the road (or in the sky) I’ll update as I’m able, but I really want to take some time and space away from as many responsibilities and commitments as I possibly can this trip.  I’m not sure if/when I’ll ever have such a long stretch of time off work to be with my family, so I want to be present and extra intentional with my time away.  

I can’t wait for this adventure.  Every place I go changes me, and I’m looking forward to the new woman waiting for me when I’m home.

Bon voyage, mamas! 

2019 Travel Update

2019 Travel Update

2019 is ON, my friends.

We leave for Europe in almost three months.  THREE MONTHS.  I remember well over a year ago when this trip was just a baby idea, a dream, something I never actually thought would happen.  And here we are.

Planning this trip has at times felt like a full time job in and of itself.  A wonderful, grateful problem I’m certainly not complaining about, but one that’s resulted in hours and HOURS spent pouring over the flight grids, analyzing every pattern, every connection, every combination, every layover.  Hours spent planning every transfer, how to get from point A to point B, then from point B to C at what time and by what means and everything else in between.  We won’t be able to avoid the unexpected this trip, so I’ve tried to control and arrange as much as I can in advance to (hopefully) eliminate any added stress once we’re overseas.

Three weeks of airplanes, trains, cars, subways, ferries, taxis…it’s going to be quite the adventure indeed.

Planning for this trip has been much different than any other trip I’ve planned before.  This is our first trip overseas with my daughter (who I call Birdie).  She’ll be just a few weeks short of her fourth birthday when we hop the pond.  I’ve put much more thought and intention into our travel arrangements to make sure we don’t spend three weeks in meltdown misery.

The last time my husband and I traveled abroad we were childless and went 48 hours without sleep, delirious from adrenaline and loving every minute.  Kids can’t hang with that and I wouldn’t even expect them to.  For some reason I thought three weeks sounded like a nice, short amount of time to be away from home with a toddler but the toddler was actually the reason for extending the trip.  Grown ups can take red-eye flights and tough through jet lag the next morning to hit the city.  Toddlers cannot.  Grown ups can hop from one place to the next, catching a short power nap on the train to refuel for the rest of the day.  Toddlers. Cannot.  Not gracefully, at least.      

My husband and I both agreed if we were going to do this with Birdie, we were going to do it longer to build in time for us to adjust and rest.  I don’t think we’ll survive any other way.  I’ve done my best to pick flight times that aren’t totally brutal and I’ve tried to follow the heavy travel days with lots of down time and rest.  I’m leaving our itinerary as open as possible so we’re not forced to constantly watch the clock, since we all know how well that works with children.

I don’t want to feel pressured to hustle all around the city to cram in as much as we possibly can just because we paid to come all this way and have a limited amount of time so darn it WE WILL SEE EVERYTHING.  That’s not a vacation, that’s an obligation.  I’ll gladly adjust the budget to add on a few extra nights at the Airbnb for the luxury of going slower and salvaging what little sanity I’ll have left on this trip.        

Now for the fun part.

We’ll be in London for just short of a week and a half.  My main goal for our time here is to either a) see one of the Spice Girls or b) see one of the royals.  We have a cute little Airbnb just across the Thames River from Big Ben and a block away from the Waterloo underground station (subway).  We paid a little more in London to stay within walking distance to as much as possible.  Our itinerary will stay mostly flexible to account for the weather, but at some point will include the London Zoo, lots of time at Hyde Park, a river cruise on the Thames, and a puppet show barge.  For mom and dad, THE Abbey Road Studios and THE Sherlock Holmes Museum on THE one and only Baker Street.  Toddler will just have to deal.

Toddler will also have to deal with the day trip to Paris, another brainchild of mine.  We can’t be thisclose and not come back to Paris.  This is the ONE thing I planned knowing full well it’s going to be a long day and probably miserable at the end, but PARIS.  The Eurostar gets us from London to Paris in just under two hours and then we have to come two hours all the way back that night, but PARIS.  Toddler will melt down and probably so will husband, but the train serves wine and meltdown in PARIS > meltdown at home any day, any time.  Bonjour to me.

After our time in London is up we head to Greece for the next week and a half.  I’m most excited about this leg of the trip because this is when we’ll connect with the rest of my family traveling to Greece and the rest of my family already living in Greece.  My cousin is getting married on an absolutely gorgeous Greek island named Sifnos, so my family is traveling from all over to be there.  We’ll get to spend time with my mom, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family in Greece I haven’t seen in five years.  And most importantly to me, Birdie will get to see and feel firsthand the love shared in a family that can’t be broken no matter how far apart we are.

She’ll also get to party pretty hard.  I’m not sure it gets any better than having a big fat Greek wedding…in Greece.   

We split the week and a half in Greece between Athens and Sifnos.  I’m still unsure of our itinerary in Athens.  I’m a little more anxious about this leg of the trip since there will be a more significant language barrier than in London, but we’ll be traveling with family members who speak Greek so I think we’ll manage.  I know we’ll definitely go to the Acropolis and Parthenon and spend time visiting with family.  In Sifnos our Airbnb is right on the beach, and so that’s where we’ll be.  The whole time.  I can’t wait for Birdie to feel the Mediterranean for the first time and I can’t wait to spend time exploring the island with her.

Then, we head HOME.  As amazing as I know this trip will be, we’ll definitely be ready to come home.

My excitement has been building as the trip nears and starts to feel more real.  I’ve been dreaming of going overseas again since the day we landed back in the states five years ago.  I think of my life back then and how much has changed and I feel tingly all over knowing I get to go back with my own baby girl.  I can’t wait to see more of this big, beautiful world outside of my comfort zone and I can’t wait to take Birdie outside of her comfort zone, too.  She’s as excited as a three-year-old can be, but I don’t think she has any idea what’s really about to hit her or the sheer terror I know awaits her when the plane accelerates to take off.  She’s gonna scream for Jesus.

On the flip side, as my excitement increases so does my anxiety.    

I’ve started having weird dreams/nightmares and my mind races at night.  What will my picky toddler eat?  WILL she eat?  Can I buy applesauce pouches and goldfish crackers overseas?  IS THERE A CHIK-FIL-A? Will there be enough for her to do?  Will our Airbnb’s be noisy?  Dear God…WILL WE SLEEP?  Will we be safe?  What will go wrong?  Many times I’ve asked my husband why he agreed to this because this is by far the worst idea I’ve ever had.  But then he lovingly reminds me that people do, indeed, raise children in other parts of the world, and those children eat and have plenty to do.  God love that man.

This whole thing is SO outside of every single norm, routine, and comfort we have here at home, but my anxiety pushes me to do this even more.  Life outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens.  I try to maintain perspective in everything I do so at the end of the day, I’m eternally grateful and flat out lucky that these questions and “worries” are the most stressful things in my life right now.  I’ll keep calm and carry on. 

I’ve been prepping little by little.  We found a travel stroller that’s lightweight and built for larger toddlers.  We’ve got voltage adapters, an airplane sleep hammock for Birdie, and a safety harness for the car since we won’t be traveling with a standard car seat.  The packing situation will be interesting.  I’ll be pushing Birdie in the stroller through airports and train stations so my husband will basically be the only one able to pull luggage around.  We have to pack very, very light…for a three week trip…with a mama who notoriously over packs even for an overnighter.  Lawd help us.

Needless to say, Europe is our focus in 2019.  And I’m quite happy with that.

The timing of this trip is bittersweet, as it’ll be our last longer trip with a flexible schedule.  Starting in July, Birdie switches schools and her new Pre-K will be on the standard school year calendar.  Once that happens, our longer adventures will be restricted to breaks from school.  I’m not quite ready to wrap my mind around Birdie starting school.  Let me get past the packing thing first.

We’ll take some time to rest after we get home from Europe but we’ll get antsy after a while.  I’m sure 2019 will also bring a few weekend trips, lots of time with family, and a mommy daddy trip too.  Husband and I haven’t decided exactly where we’re going yet but we’re considering renting a hotel room here in town and sleeping for a week.  

2019 will be one for the books.  

But you know me.  My wheels are already spinning for 2020 and beyond.  Once a WanderMama, always a Wondermama.

California Dreaming

California Dreaming

Greetings from 35,000 feet in the air!  

Right now I’m cruising in the clouds somewhere high above Nevada, three hours away from landing back home in Indy.  I don’t know if this makes sense but I’m always ready to come home, even though I’m never ready to come home.  I miss my husband and my doggie and I miss my baby girl.  I miss her gorgeous eyes, her snuggly morning hugs and the sweet smell of her head. 

Maybe it’s a mama thing but nothing quite compares to the smell of your baby’s head, even when they’re not babies anymore.

This weekend I had the chance to fly out to California for a few days to visit my sister and her fiancé.  They moved to Sacramento in October and I found a killer deal on nonstop flights in and out of Oakland (thank you, Southwest).  My husband agreed to hold down the fort back home while I hopped on a plane to head out West for a few days with my mama, my other travel buddy.  My husband is always so supportive of my wanderlust.  I’m so grateful to be with someone who just gets me. 

I was really looking forward to this trip to of course to see my family, but also to travel somewhere I’ve never been before, the Pacific Coast.  It did not disappoint.

We left Indy just as a big winter storm was moving in.  I got the winter storm warning alert on my phone right before takeoff and smiled smugly to myself, dreaming of the California sunshine and quite pleased at the timing of this whole thing.  Sorry to ya’ll back home but I’m up outta here.  Two minutes later the pilot came on and instructed us to stay buckled in at all times because he anticipated turbulence as we flew over the winter storm.  Well played, universe.  Well played.

I think my payback came in the bathroom on the plane.  I hate using restrooms on board so I tried to hold it as long as humanly possible, but it was a five hour flight and the caffeine moved right through me.  The flight was surprisingly smooth sailing but definitely had some bumps that gave me the willies, one of which occurred while I was doing my duty in a bathroom the size of a phone booth, and that’s being generous.  Pants around ankles, I knocked my head on the side of the lavatory, not hard enough to seriously hurt but hard enough to not know whether or not I was going up or coming down.  It was like being on a rollercoaster…on the toilet.  It was a mess. 

My mom smirked at me when I got back to my seat, but we spoke nothing else of the incident, thank you very much.        

I’m the window seat queen.  I love looking at the world below and trying to track where I am.  Once we flew past the winter storm, the flight was stunning.  Over about Colorado the clouds broke enough to give us some breathtaking views of the Rockies.  The desert and rock formation views above Utah and Nevada were pretty awesome, too.  Once we reached the Cali border, the clouds picked up again until we began the descent to land in Oakland.

As we approached the airport, the clouds opened up to the most lush, emerald green rolling hills and mountains I’d ever seen.  If I didn’t know any better I’d have thought we were landing in Ireland.  Apparently some pretty gnarly storms moved through the California coast and Bay Area (San Francisco) the previous week and dropped 2-3 inches of rain, causing the green to be greener than usual.  It took my breath away.  Toto, we’re not in Indy anymore.    

It was a whirlwind of a few days and I loved every minute.

We spent the afternoon of our arrival exploring Midtown Sacramento, where my sister lives.  Midtown is a relaxed, quaint area with an eclectic mix of boutiques, cafes, parks, and some of the best food I’ve ever had.  My sister and her fiancé live right across the street from no less than fifteen different restaurants and shops.  I’m super jelly of their apartment locale and the ability to walk anywhere you want at any time, a luxury I definitely don’t have living in the suburbs.    

Day two was our day in San Francisco.  SAN FRANCISCO, YOU GUYS.  I saw my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean at Lands End, and what a glimpse it was.  Land End Lookout provided the most beautiful, panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and rocky shoreline.  It was the quintessential snapshot of the Pacific coast. 

Next up was a jaunt by the Painted Ladies (aka the Full House houses) and a trip down Lombard Street as we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf, a seaside village of shops, fresh seafood, street performers, and expansive views of the Bay and Alcatraz Island (yikes). 

Oh, Alcatraz.  The history and mystery of that island has an uncontrollable magnetism.  I think it’s the idea that a blip of such deep, dark cruelty and horror somehow happened smack in the middle of such a beautiful paradise.  That feeling of “if the outsiders looking in only knew” made my stomach turn a little bit.  But nonetheless, it sucked me right in.  That night we went home and watched Escape from Alcatraz, the 1979 movie with Clint Eastwood that explains the real-life prison break that happened on the island in 1962.  Insanity.  We googled and pondered the evidence and came up with some conspiracy theories of our own.  Alcatraz gets you every time.

We finished up in downtown San Fran and headed to a gorgeous lookout across from the city.  I’m such a sucker for a good view.  The Golden Gate Bridge is so iconic I felt like I dreamed it was right in front of me.  It’s gorgeous.  It’s majestic.  It’s surreal.  It’s everything you see in the pictures.  Everyone should see it in their lifetime.   

Last but definitely not least was a stop in saucy Sausalito, a picturesque town tucked in the hills that reminded me of a cliffside village in the Mediterranean.  We had dinner right on the water across the Bay from San Francisco and watched the sun set over the city as the lights from the houses in the hills flickered on.  It was gorgeous.  Sausalito had my name written all over it.  I’ll definitely be back here to stay.    

We had a pretty full day exploring San Francisco so we spent the next day leisurely shopping the boutiques in Sacramento, napping, eating, shopping, eating some more, and having fresh, warm cookies delivered to our door.  Yes, my friends, there is a cookie delivery service out here.  Get with it, Indiana. 

There are so many differences between Sacramento and back home, and they’re all part of the beauty of living in such a diverse world.  Aside from dessert delivery services, here are some other unique things I noticed about Sacramento and San Francisco: 

*The outdoor lifestyle.  It’s no secret that the weather and climate in Sacramento and *most* parts of California are typically warmer and less temperamental than the Midwest.  Because of this, outdoor living is emphasized just as much, if not more, than indoor living.  Almost every restaurant has an outdoor patio equipped with heaters for use when the temperatures are chillier.  Most apartments have large outdoor patios.  Local parks, state parks, national parks, hiking trails, wildlife areas, bike rentals, boat rentals…it’s clear Californians are outside whenever humanly possible.

*Cities are built for pedestrians.  There are pedestrian crosswalk signals at larger intersections in Sacramento, but at most other intersections the signals are absent because it’s assumed that pedestrians have the right of way, every time.  Drivers have become accustomed to this.  Cities are built for walking and spending time outdoors, and it shows.  I saw very few overweight people out here.        

*Weed is legal.  That is all.

*You have to pay extra for shopping bags.  California is a green state, so to encourage eco-friendly shopping practices each store charges anywhere from ten to twenty-five cents extra for shopping or plastic grocery bags.  It works.  I only paid for one bag the entire trip.

*Motorcycles don’t have to stay in lanes.  They can weave in and out of traffic and drive smack on the dotted line in between lanes.  It seemed like madness to me at first but car drivers here are used to it and are more defensive when they commute.   

*The traffic is intense.  I’ll never complain about Indy rush hour again.

*The animals!  Sea lions are all over the place, in their natural habitat and not at the zoo.  I was way too tickled pink by this!

*The mountains.  I was also way too tickled by the mountains.  Real, live mountains, everywhere you looked!  This was a big change for a Midwestern gal like me whose biggest geographical thrill comes from the sledding hill in her backyard.

*There is seriously so much to see.  And it’s all so close together.  Within no more than a two hour drive in any direction from Sacramento, you will run in to something awesome: Lake Tahoe.  Yosemite.  San Francisco.  Alcatraz.  Silicon Valley.  Napa.  Sonoma.  San Mateo.  Redwoods.  Oakland.  Palo Alto.  I could go on.  You could spend months exploring this area.  Maybe someday I will…   

*The air is just different.  I don’t know how to explain it.  Maybe it comes from the Pacific breeze or the mountain air or both, but the air is so pure and refreshing.  It’s cool without being cold and breezy without being windy.  I think I’ll miss the air the most.

It’s always hard for me to leave my daughter at home but looking back, it was definitely for the best.  It was a short, fast-paced trip and we all would have struggled fitting so much in to such a short period with jet-lag and a toddler.  Everybody was exactly where they needed to be this weekend.

I’m so grateful for the chance to explore this beautiful, vibrant part of the country.  I leave a little piece of my heart wherever I go and California will be no different.  As sad as I am that my baby sister moved 2,000 miles away, I’m so happy she calls this land her home.

Until next time, California!

TRAVEL TIP:  You’ve got four airports all within a relatively short distance from the action: San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, and San Jose.  Be flexible with your flights arrangements and be sure to check all four airports for the best deals!  

How to Travel: Money & Saving part 2

The Money Tree - Part Two

Working smarter, not harder  

So you’ve established this solid financial plan to get the heck outta Dodge and the wheels are in motion.  Rome wasn’t built in a day so it’s taking some time for the money to start trickling down into measurable results, and you’ve exhausted every sensible option you can think of to fatten your bank account and get this show on the road.  

Or have you?     

Nobody has time for an extra job on the side.  But what if I told you there’s already hundreds of dollars lying around right in front of you, waiting to be claimed by someone who’s thought far enough outside the box to see the potential?  And that all of it’s legal? GAME. ON.

Here are 10 ways to make more money that don’t require traditional employment:  

Sell your crap.  

And your kids’ crap, too.  Clean out your closets and offload all the stuff that never gets used anymore, if it was ever used in the first place.  Resale stores like Once Upon a Child (click here) and local consignment shops and sales are always looking to buy gently used children’s stuff.  If you’re really feeling sassy you could host your own garage or yard sale. Though time consuming to prepare, advertising there’s kid or baby stuff at a garage sale is like watching moths to a flame, every time.  That stuff SELLS. For a little less commitment take advantage of selling on social media and online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark (click here) and good ol’ Ebay (you know where it is! Here!).  Of course you’re not going to make back what you paid for all of it, but a cleaner house and healthier trip account is a win-win.  

Use your two extra paychecks.  

If someone in your household is employed outside of the home, they likely get paid on a weekly, biweekly, or semimonthly basis.  Biweekly payees get paid every other week with 26 total paychecks a year. Semimonthly payees get paid strictly twice a month with 24 total paychecks a year.  If you or your person gets paid biweekly, this means there are two months every year when you’ll receive an extra paycheck in addition to the two regulars. That’s right, THREE paychecks in a month.  The exact month will differ depending on when normal payday is but typically the third check will fall in a longer month with 31 days. Time to bust out the calendar and get to planning!

Use cash back apps.  

Free apps like Ibotta (click here) and Ebates (found here) allow you to earn cash back on select products by either performing easy tasks, providing a proof of purchase, or purchasing the product directly through the app.  Then you can transfer your earnings straight into Paypal and on to your bank account.

Go grocery shopping.

Technically this might count as an extra job but at least one where you can set your own availability and hours.  Shipt (here) is an online grocery delivery service that allows you to order groceries online from stores partnered with Shipt, then have them delivered to your doorstep by a Shipt shopper.  The only requirements are that you have reliable transportation, car insurance, driver’s license, an insulated cooler bag (for the frozen groceries), a newer smartphone, and the ability to lift 40+ pounds.  Shoppers get paid a base amount for every completed delivery in addition to a percentage of the sales and tip. You can do as few or as little deliveries as you want but the more you do and the quicker they are the more money you’ll make.  Not bad for a side hustle!

Make sure the government doesn’t owe you money.  

This is for real.  Seriously, it happens.  Any official money owed to you that somehow didn’t make its way to you is eventually turned over to the Attorney General’s office, where it’s then listed in a database for you to find someday.  Unpaid wages, tax refunds, settlements you didn’t even know about, insurance refunds, utility overpayment, or the tons of other random refunds could all be sitting there unclaimed, waiting for their rightful owner.  You wouldn’t have any idea this money is here unless you search for it. The Usa.gov website (find it here) allows you to search by state for unclaimed property.  It’s definitely worth a quick look!

Piggy bank

Round up.  

When you sneak money out of your bank account little by little you probably won’t even notice it’s gone.  This is an excellent way to save! Free apps and online programs like Chime (here) and Qapital (here) will round up every purchase you make to the nearest dollar and deposit the difference into a savings account.  Spend $3.75 at Starbucks? You’ll pay the $3.75 to Starbucks then you’ll “pay” an extra .25 into your savings account.  Those extra cents can definitely add up. There’s nothing wrong with slow and steady!

Build up credit card points…with conditions.  

Be very, very careful here.  I do NOT recommend accumulating credit card debt of any kind, no matter the points you receive.  Accumulating credit card points can be a dangerous financial trap unless you’re disciplined enough to work the system.  To do this successfully, charge ONLY what you have the cash to back up at the time of purchase. Immediately after the charge posts to your account, PAY IT OFF in full.  Letting the charge linger will not only garner additional interest charges but will also set a precedent for living above your means. If you don’t trust yourself to behave then DON’T TRUST YOURSELF TO BEHAVE because otherwise thanks to Target and Amazon Prime you’ll somehow end up with a $2k bill without batting an eye.

Adjust your tax deductions.  

We all love getting those whopping huge tax return checks in the spring, amirite?  I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but if you’re consistently receiving huge refunds, there are reasons why.  One of those reasons could be because you’re actually paying too much in taxes every paycheck, then are refunded that money in one huge lump sum.  I know the big refund is a nice surprise but it’s money better spent received throughout the year and rolled into your monthly budget.  And also, your tax overpayment is actually giving the government an interest-free loan. Stick it to the man and speak to your HR representative, accountant, or financial expert to make sure your tax deductions don’t need to be adjusted. I am in no way a financial expert and there could be other reasons for your large refund, like child tax credits, property credits, and other deductions.  Before adjusting anything be sure to talk to someone who specializes in this area for guidance.

Time to renegotiate.  

Has your car insurance or homeowner/renter insurance company been hiking up your rates every year, little by little?  So little that you let it go and just paid it without realizing that over the course of a few years you’re now paying over $100 a month more than what you were paying in the beginning?  It may be time to renegotiate your rates or shop around for more affordable policies. Also, don’t be afraid to put your cable company on blast because we all know how they love to hike up rates behind your back.  We spent 15 months paying for DVR that we never even had and didn’t know until we took a closer look at the bill. Shady!

Take advantage of your hobbies.  

This one requires some ongoing time and energy but if it’s something you love to do you might as well make a buck doing it.  Social media and online marketplaces like Etsy (so many cute things!) now make it possible to profit from handcrafted goods or personalized services from the co

mfort of your own home.  Think about something you’re already doing and ask yourself if there’s money to be made. If it’s something you enjoy, you’ll be much more motivated to commit to the process.  

Last but not least, and perhaps most important…

GO WITH THE FLOW.  

Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down.  WAAAAAY down. The financial ebbs and flows as a parent are hard, and sometimes it’s okay to aim for just keeping your head above water.  Weather the storm as best you can and better days will come.

If you’re in a financial dry spell and feeling cooped up, use your surrounding community to your advantage.  Look around for free events, fun day or weekend trips, or find adventure in your own backyard. These opportunities will be just as entertaining and memorable for your family!  Facebook offers an awesome Events feature that allows you to search any area and dates for events going on in your community. Be sure to follow the tips from The Money Tree – Part One (LINK back) to get back on track and hang on until better days come.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a season of prosperity, enjoy it and use it to protect your family’s future livelihood.  Not to be a Debbie Downer but it’s likely that at some point you’ll be a dry speller too, so use this time to pay off debt, save, invest, and create healthy financial habits to better handle the dry spells with a strong, stable foundation.

You guys, money is HARD.  Budgeting, living below your means, communicating with your partner, paying off debt…it’s hard work and sometimes it’s no fun.  But if you do the work it will pay off tenfold. What’s most important is that you TRY and give yourself plenty of grace along the way.  Whether you’re up or whether you’re down, every small step in the right direction matters. Who knows, there might just be a money tree growing in your own backyard!

How to Travel: Money & Saving

The Money Tree - Part One

Where do I even Begin?

Life requires money.  Too dang much of it. I wish there were a way around that.   

Life also has a funny way of keeping us in check at the exact moment we finally feel comfortable with our finances.  Like when you haul arse to get your credit cards paid off, then the ENT says tubes…for the second time. Or when literally the day after you finally pay off your car, your HVAC dies.  Then when you finish paying the medical bills from the tubes you get the license plate renewals, heartworm medicine for the dog, three birthday parties, and a leak in the ceiling. It. Never.  Ends.

That’s not even counting pesky survival expenses, like rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, insurance, gas, savings, car payments, daycare, clothing, food…oh, the FOOD.  Keeping up is hard enough, let alone getting ahead. The financial responsibility of having and maintaining a family can be overwhelming and sometimes just flat out discouraging.   

Le sigh.  

So how on earth are you supposed to find the money for recreation or travel when you’re already feeling tapped out just from living?  Aside from winning the lottery or finding a money tree, creating some extra cash flow is more reachable and less painful than you think.  

I’m a BIG believer in working smarter, not harder, whenever humanly possible.  We are busy BUSY people and ain’t nobody got time to do anything over the millions of things we’re already doing.  But if you want to travel, you need a plan. Here is a realistic, straightforward outline that will help guide your family down the road to financial freedom, and down the road to your next adventure:  

Determine your monthly expenses vs. income.  

Before you’re able to set a budget or determine what you can and can’t afford, first you’ve got to figure out what you’re working with.  This is an easy exercise. Total up the cost of everything that sucks the money out of you each month: childcare, utilities, housing, gas, groceries, credit cards, loans, car payments, medical bills.  Subtract that number from your total monthly income, post tax. The difference is what you’re working with. That’s your extra. If you don’t end up with extra, we’ll need to figure out how to get you there.  You need extra. Kids are expensive.

Think long and hard about your family values.  

At the end of the day, how important is traveling to you and your family?  How much time and energy are you willing to put into making it happen, and what are you willing to give up?  These are important questions you’ll need to ask yourself and answer honestly. If traveling sounds lovely but you’re kind of indifferent about it, there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with that.  Own it.

Teamwork makes the dream work.  

If there’s a partner involved in your life and you share any financial responsibility with each other, it just won’t work if you’re not on the same page.  You’ll both need to communicate openly and honestly to establish your shared values and create a joint plan for financial success that you’re both invested in and committed to.      

Establish a family budget.  

This is a biggie.  I don’t think you can achieve any financial goal without some type of budget.  Budgets come in a billion shapes and sizes; some are detailed, some are basic, some are weekly, some are monthly, some are loose and some are color coded.  The good news and the bad news is that you can choose. It’s nice to have the freedom to find what works best for you and your family but the trial and error process can be challenging.   

A good start is to use your monthly expenses from the beginning to create a list of the cost and due date for each bill.  Then, work on dividing up your extra. What do you want to do with it, and what do you NEED to do with it? Emergency account?  Savings? Debt? College accounts? Travel? Eating out? Entertainment? Appliances? Use your family values to guide your decisions.  Try to think ahead to the pesky expenses that seem to pop up out of nowhere. License plate renewals? Vaccines for the dog? Christmas savings?  Besides ALWAYS, when will the kids need new clothes and shoes, or when will YOU need new clothes and shoes? Plug those expenses into the appropriate month or paycheck.  The more you can eliminate the financial unknown, the better.

If you value travel, wiggle even a small amount into your monthly extra somehow.  Whether it’s large or small, the fact you’ve created a habit of saving is just as valuable as the amount.  

If budgeting seems daunting, that’s because it IS, especially in the beginning as you’re establishing different habits and finding your groove.  It can help to find a financial role model for guidance. Dave Ramsay (click here) and Suze Orman (click here) both offer some really valuable tools to help you develop a solid system of financial management (IMO – they’re a little hardcore).  What worked best for me and my family was a hybrid of Pete the Planner (click here) and Tony Robbins (click here), who I think are a little more relatable to the everyday family.  

Just like no single parenting book is going to apply to your exact child, no single system is going to apply to your exact family.  However…what almost every financial expert and commoner who’s made it through the other side agree upon is one thing: YOU CAN’T IGNORE THE BIG D.  Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about DEBT.

Pay down your debt as aggressively as possible.  

Similar to the stomach flu, debt makes me want to vomit.  Upon closer inspection most people find their biggest financial issue isn’t the amount of their income, it’s the amount of their outcome, or the ungodly amount of money that’s sucked out of each check to pay off all the crap they owe, and interest on top.  Work additional debt payments into your monthly extra, even if it’s small. Dave Ramsay’s debt snowball system (click here) is extremely effective in elimining debt.  Medical bills, credit cards, student loans, car payments…get them paid off ASAP so you can actually KEEP the money you make.  That’s true freedom, my friend.

Treat it like an expense.  

Looking at your extra, decide on an amount to set aside each month for leisure/travel and and treat it like a non-negotiable expense.  Even a small amount is an excellent start. It’s much less painful to pay for travel arrangements when you’ve been saving gradually instead of having to come up with a huge chunk of cash all at once.  When you’re always building up money in the background your biggest stressor will be deciding where to go and when!

Throw it into a savings account.  

You need to do something with the money you set aside each month.  Open a savings account, throw it under the mattress, whatever you please…just get it OUT of your checking account and out of harm’s way.  If you don’t want to spend it, don’t tempt yourself in the first place. Time for a trip account!

Live below your means.  

This concept is often ignored just because it’s so simple.  Figure out what you can afford. Spend less than that whenever you can.  You can afford a $1200 mortgage. Does a $900 mortgage offer everything you need?  You can afford brand new clothes for the littles. Do second hand stores offer you the same choices?  Because we both know that $40 boutique outfit lasted all of two days before it became too dirty, too small, or too stained with someone’s bodily fluid.  You don’t have to deprive yourself, but living AT your means leaves you with little to no extra and living ABOVE your means leaves you with debt. No good.  The less money you spend, the more money you save, and the more money you can funnel back into your pot of monthly extra…and your trip account.

Lower bills wherever you can.  

Switch to a cheaper cell phone plan.  Cut or reduce your cable package and just hang with Netflix and good ol’ DVD’s.  Renegotiate your car or homeowners insurance premiums. Remind your littles for the millionth time that lights, in fact, can be turned off.

Make some sacrifices.  

This is a classic needs vs. wants scenario.  Do you NEED a bigger, more expensive car? Or is your smaller, paid-off car doing the job just fine for now?  Your washer broke so you need a new one, but do you NEED the $800 magical rocketship front load washer, or can you settle with the $400 one that does everything you need if it means more money goes into your trip account?  Can you eat out one less time a week? Again, this goes back to your values. What’s most important to you?

Plan ahead whenever possible.  

I know the struggle is real and all you want to do at the end of the day is die of tired.  It’s enough to think ahead to tomorrow let alone next month or next year. If you’re able to muster up the mental energy, plan ahead.  This will allow you plenty of time to research destinations and figure out how much you’re going to need to make it happen. This will also allow you time to look at your budget and adjust the monthly extra going into your trip account accordingly.  Some things can’t be planned and last-minute adventures are fun too, but for the most part the further in advance you plan, the more money you’ll save and the easier saving will be.

Get creative to make extra money.  

Do you have the time laying around to pick up an extra job on the side?  Didn’t think so. All is not lost; an extra job may not even be necessary.  With a little thinking outside the box, there are other ways to increase your cash flow…

Which I’ll talk more about in The Money Tree: Part Two. (click here to read it now!)