It turned out to be an expensive few days, some of which was anticipated and some that wasn't.
Wednesday night we attended a whiskey tasting at a local liquor store that we go to regularly. In addition to the tasting, they held a raffle for the right to purchase 1 of 11 different hard to find bottles. My wife won one and I won one so we came home with 2 bottles at $100 and $150. Not something we were expecting but we'll get to enjoy them for months to come.
Yesterday and today we were in NYC. That was a planned trip for my wife's birthday which is next week. We had bought show tickets a few months ago. Of course, there were also travel costs (though the hotel was free on reward points), meals, and some incidental spending. We also ended up at a piano bar last night after the show which ran us another $107 in addition to the $130 for dinner, plus lunch yesterday and today, parking, etc. Worth every penny though as we had a great time.
Fortunately, it's all stuff we can comfortably afford to do while still meeting all of our investing goals and remaining debt-free.
Viewing the 'Travel' Category
It turned out to be an expensive few days, some of which was anticipated and some that wasn't.
Not much new going on. Everything is cruising along nicely which is good.
I've sold a couple of items on Facebook Marketplace recently. It definitely has advantages over Ebay and I've used it to get rid of some things that have been sitting around or a while, including things that I tried unsuccessfully to sell on Ebay. The fact that there's no shipping cost helps a lot. That's what makes it hard to sell lower priced items online.
I maxed out my 401k a month or so ago so for the last couple of paychecks, I took the money that would have gone to that and put it into our Vanguard account instead. I did the full amount even though I was doing it with after-tax dollars. We have one more paycheck in December and then the 401k funding will resume, plus they upped the limit $1,000 for 2020 so it'll take a bit longer to max it.
We took advantage of the Target gift card sale today and bought $600 worth at 10% off. Last week we bought gift cards for one of our favorite restaurants. If you bought $75 they gave you an extra $20. We go there about once a month so that'll save us a bit. And yesterday I paid our auto insurance bill through PayPal with our Chase Freedom Visa which has 5% cashback on PayPal purchases this quarter. That saved me $63. $60 from Target, $20 from the restaurant, and $63 from the insurance. All of those things can really add up over time. Oh, and we bought $300 of the Target cards with our Discover card that has 5% back at Target this quarter though we're not sure if that includes gift card purchases. I'll have to wait and see.
My wife and I are going to NYC this week overnight and seeing a show. It's for her birthday. I booked the hotel on reward points so that's free. Of course the parking, dinner, and show aren't. Unfortunately, it looks like it will be very cold so we probably won't do much in the city. That's okay because I like wandering in the city much more than she does anyway.
I guess that's all the main stuff for now.
A few weeks back, someone on the forums mentioned looking at new credit cards. I suggested the one we have and they ended up signing up for it with my referral link so we got 20,000 bonus points. It's a Marriott card so that's at least 1 free night and maybe more depending on the hotel.
We scored a ton of Marriott points last month between travel, spending, a promotion they were having, and that bonus. All together in one month we earned just over 64,000 points. A typical hotel stay for us is 15,000 points so we earned more than 4 free nights last month alone. We are using points for one night in NYC in a couple of weeks but we really need to plan some other times to use points as we now have over 500,000 on our account.
My wife and I spent Friday-Monday out of town in National Harbor, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. We had a nice time just relaxing and spending time together. I had booked a hotel package that included a full buffet breakfast every day (not like a Holiday Inn Express buffet but a full buffet). It also included a $50/day resort credit toward food and drinks.
First night we had dinner at a great Mexican restaurant there. We've eaten there numerous times and it remains one of favorite restaurants anywhere.
Saturday we did some shopping at the outlets in town. I picked up a new belt and several shirts. We had dinner at the hotel sports bar (with our credit) and then went over to the nearby casino. We both lost but it was fun. Went back to the sports bar for dessert and drinks.
Sunday we went across the river to Old Town Alexandria and strolled around the shops and waterfront area. There's a large art studio there and it's always interesting to check out what all of the artists are working on. Had lunch at a rustic Italian place. Went back to the hotel and hit the gym for our workout. Had dinner at a Western-themed spot just across the way from the hotel. And ended the night back at the hotel for drinks to use our credit for the day.
Yesterday, we had breakfast and then got packed up. Our daughter was actually at a convention in Arlington, VA, about 25 minutes away. She had taken Amtrak down on Thursday. We checked out and headed over there, picked her up, and we all drove home together.
All in all, a very nice getaway. Not cheap but I had planned it a couple of months ago as a little treat for paying off the mortgage. It was definitely well worth it.
I said I'd try to blog more regularly so figured I actually need to post every couple of weeks.
I made our latest mortgage payment which brought our principal under the $10,000 mark. The end is near. I expect to pay it off in August most likely so that's exciting.
I haven't picked up any extra shifts at work the past week or two. I need to take a look at the schedule and pick up something in the coming weeks.
My wife and I are doing an overnight getaway this weekend. We're just going across the river into the city. There's a whiskey bar we've been wanting to try (we are big bourbon and whiskey fans). We didn't really care for their dinner menu so we're eating at a different place in the next block and planning to then go to the bar for drinks and dessert. The only problem with that is that we couldn't reserve a table just for that so we'll have to wait for space at the bar on a Saturday night. Hopefully around 6:30-7:00 it won't be too crazy yet. We're using a free hotel voucher for our stay. Just have to pay for parking.
Haven't done any decluttering lately. I'm hoping spring brings a nice weekend soon when I'm off and can start attacking the garage.
Need to start working on plans for our June trip to Dallas. The hotel was booked months ago but I haven't bought airfare yet. DW has been browsing the tourist sites looking for things to see and do when we're there.
I can't think of anything else of significance from the past couple of weeks so I'll stop there.
As I've been doing the year-end financial stuff, one thing I looked at was how much we ended up spending on travel. It was way too much, definitely something we need to rein in a bit going forward.
We had a great time and had some wonderful trips: a Caribbean cruise, three trips to Disney World, Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, Kentucky, and a few smaller trips.
Part of the problem is that on a couple of those trips, we stayed at much nicer hotels than we usually do when we travel. We have always been the type to stay on the outskirts of our destination where prices are lower and then drive or take public transit into the main part of town. With Phoenix, Grand Canyon, and Kentucky, we stayed right in the heart of everything. While it's great to be able to step out of your hotel and walk to shops and restaurants and attractions, you also pay a big premium for that convenience. Time to go back to the old way of doing things.
I was shocked to add it all up and realize that we spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 on travel between December 2016 and January 2018, so a little more than a year. Time to go back to choosing the hotels off the beaten track.
One good thing at least for 2018 is that we have a ton of Marriott Reward points. We easily have enough for 15 free nights. My goal for the year is to focus on using those whenever we can to help keep costs down. We did one free night just last weekend when we were driving home from Florida and stopped for the night so that probably saved us about $110.
Another thing is that my new job gives me a pretty generous continuing education allowance. So we will combine a vacation or two with conference time. That way the hotel and transportation costs will be covered by work. It means I'm tied up in classes for a lot of the time but I'll still have plenty of free time with my wife (and daughter if she is with us) to enjoy the local stuff.
We just got back from a week visiting a few colleges for our daughter who is a rising high school senior. Someone asked about it in another post on an unrelated topic but I thought I'd talk about it here in case others are interested.
Our daughter is interested in studying mechanical engineering. Prior to this week, we had attended an engineering open house at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in November and a general open house at Univ. of Virginia in April. She fell in love with RIT and it went right to #1 on her list. She didn't care for U. of VA and that got crossed off. It's just as important to know where you don't want to go so we were good with that.
This past week had us checking out 2 new schools and a return visit to RIT. We started in Troy, NY at Rensselaer Polytech. Great school, nice campus, but we just didn't feel it was a good fit. Kind of stuffy. Next was Univ. of Rochester. I knew nothing about the school and I was really blown away. Beautiful campus, great program, staff and students we interacted with were all very down to earth, friendly, had great senses of humor, and were clearly passionate about the school. DD didn't go into that visit expecting much and came away really liking it so it is staying on the list for sure.
Finally, it was back to RIT. Thursday and Friday was for a Woman in Engineering program and the Friday and Saturday was a College and Careers program (which also included an overnight stay in the dorms). There were parts of the programs that she found somewhat boring but overall, the 3 days there just cemented her love of the school and desire to go there.
There are still other schools on her list: Rutgers, Rowan, Lehigh, and more, but I doubt any will displace RIT from the top spot. Now we just have to hope she gets accepted - and figure out how to pay for it.
Our daughter is a junior in high school and in the process of exploring her college options. She is looking to go for mechanical engineering. Our first college visit was in November at Rochester Institute of Technology. That was and is her first choice. She loved the campus, the people, and the program. That's a good thing but it also makes subsequent visits tough as everything gets compared to RIT.
Anyway, we just got back from a trip to Univ. of Virginia. Nice campus, very impressive engineering program, well-equipped labs doing high end work, but the overall feel and experience just didn't do it for her (or us for that matter). We all agreed that it wouldn't be the right fit. In fact, we didn't even bother staying for a campus tour. Went and hiked a bit on the Appalachian Trail instead while we were in the neighborhood. By no means a wasted trip as she got to see another school, got some great advice on the whole college application process, and it is just as important to learn what you don't want as it is to learn what you do want.
We don't have anything else set up yet but Rensselaer Polytech, Univ. of MD, and Rutgers are among other schools on her list.
My wife and I have always been theater fans. We both did theater work in college and beyond. In fact, it is because of theater that we got back together in 1989 and ultimately got married. I was working as a lighting designer and invited her to come be on my lighting crew.
Despite our love of theater, a love we have also passed on to our daughter, we don't often go to see live shows. The cost is a definite factor.
My daughter recently heard about a new show on Broadway called "Seminar" starring Alan Rickman (Professor Snape from Harry Potter). We decided we'd go up and see it. I ordered tickets today for next Saturday for the low, low price of $404.75 for 3 tickets. Of course, that doesn't include transportation to and from NYC, parking, meals, subway passes, etc. We are also planning to spend the night. Fortunately, we're using Marriott reward points for the hotel so no out of pocket cost but they still have monetary value. So by the time we're done, we'll probably spend at least $800 for an overnight stay and the show.
I'm happy to do it, and my daughter is thrilled, but it is a lot of money. Yes, we could see a touring company production of a show in Philadelphia which wouldn't be quite as pricey and wouldn't have the travel costs, but it isn't the same and if you want to see a new production, like this, NYC is your only choice. My wife and I did see "Rain" 2 weeks ago in Philly and it was great but still wasn't cheap. I think we paid over $90/person for that.
Any other Broadway/theater fans here?
We went to the travel agent this morning and booked a family cruise for July. My mom is turning 80 in August and told us recently that she'd like us all to go on a cruise to celebrate. The date that worked best for all of us was actually early July. It will be DW, DD, me, my mom, my cousin and my MIL. We're doing a 7-night trip from New York to Bermuda. We've cruised 3 times before, most recently in 2005. My cousin is the only one of the 6 of us who has been to Bermuda before but it was about 20 years ago so he is looking forward to going back. I've always heard great things about Bermuda like how clean it is and how friendly everyone is so I'm excited about finally getting there.
My mom actually wants to treat us to the cruise but we're definitely paying part of the cost. Of course, we'll also have plenty of incidentals to pay for, like excursions, tips, souvenirs, meals off the ship, etc. We won't have airfare but we will need a limo service to take us to and from NYC.
Those of us on the east coast have been buried under record snowfall this year. We've officially broken the all-time snow record by over 6 inches as of last night (and it is only early February). This week alone, we've had two major storms totaling over 40 inches which is unheard of in this area (hence the record).
Anyway, while most people have been snowed in, we actually got snowed OUT. Last night while I was washing the dinner dishes, I saw a bright flash out the back window. My wife happened to be looking out the front window at the time and saw the transformer blow on the electric pole and out went the power. Considering it was still snowing heavily and the number of homes without power was in the tens of thousands, we figured it could be quite a while before a crew got out there to fix the problem and restore power. So we decided to escape and spend the night at a hotel.
I called the local Fairfield Inn and booked a room, then went out and cleaned off the car and shoveled enough of the driveway so I'd be able to get out. My wife and daughter packed overnight bags while I was doing that and we hit the road. It was kind of eerie as roads that are usually heavily traveled interstates were deserted. Between home and the hotel, I doubt that we saw more than a dozen cars. We made it there safely and checked into a nicely lit and heated room, two things that were lacking at home.
This morning, I called the house and the answering machine picked up so I knew the power was back on. We had breakfast (included with the room) and packed up and came back to the house. Other than one large tree branch coming down (no damage done), everything was in order. So ended our little snow adventure. And only a tiny ding to the savings for an unplanned hotel stay.