It's been almost a month since my last post so I thought I'd update.
We got back from a week in Dallas the other night. First time in Texas for my wife and I. Our daughter had been there once before for a youth group convention in high school. We had a great time and did some fun and interesting things like visiting the 6th Floor Museum from which Oswald shot JFK, the Dallas World Aquarium, the Reunion Tower observation deck, the National Video Game Museum, and more.
Next up is our Disney World trip in less than 5 weeks.
Need to get my wife's van in for routine service. There was also a recall for the airbag. I have to get that done soon as that's the car we drive to Florida.
I had originally thought we'd pay off our mortgage with the August payment but the past couple of months were particularly expensive due mostly to travel-related expenses so I didn't pay as much extra as I had thought I would. I'm pretty sure now we can make the final payment in September. That will drop our monthly expenses by about $700 going forward which will be very nice. It will mostly go to pad the retirement savings but I'm sure we'll spend some too.
Nothing else major going on that I can think of at the moment.
Viewing the 'Travel' Category
It's been almost a month since my last post so I thought I'd update.
We are very close to paying off our mortgage. I was actually thinking about splitting the remainder into two and paying half as the June payment and half as the July payment.
However, I thought about it more and realized that we are going on vacation for a week in June. Airfare is already paid for but the hotel, rental car, and all spending money is not. We are also going on vacation for two weeks in August. We're renting a house in Florida and have paid a deposit but the balance will be due in July. We also have to buy theme park tickets, meals, travel expenses, and such.
So I probably will ease back on the mortgage and pay it off over 3 months instead of 2. That was the original plan.
Ultimately, we actually have the money to pay it off today and still do all the other stuff but I hate taking money out of savings. I prefer to pay everything out of current income. We're paying very little interest on the mortgage at this point so accelerating the last couple of payments doesn't really save us much.
We are going to Texas this summer. My daughter wanted to attend a convention there so we decided to make a family trip out of it. My wife and I have never been to Texas and DD was in Dallas once for a youth group convention but didn't really get to see much there.
I booked the hotel months ago when DD registered for the convention but hadn't booked airfare. Also, I decided today (based on how much PTO I have left to use) to extend my vacation. So we're now going 1 day earlier and leaving 2 days later.
I booked the airfare which was not a problem (other than the usual hassle of booking airfare).
Then I tried to extend the hotel stay. That's where the trouble started. The website said the dates weren't available, so I called the Rewards club customer service line (I'm an upper level member). She also said the dates were sold out. Then I checked the website. The previous day was sold out but the later dates were available. So I called the hotel directly, but he was showing no availability. I went ahead and booked the last 2 nights online. He said we would be able to stay in the same room since I was booking the same room type.
I then found a nearby hotel just for our first night. Moving will be a minor inconvenience but we'll make sure to pack our suitcases so everything we need for the first night is easy to get to and we won't have to totally unpack. Oh, and I used reward points for that first night so no out of pocket cost.
End result is we're going to Dallas for 8 nights, paying for 7 nights plus airfare plus rental car (which I haven't done yet). DD is paying her convention expenses and I might ask her to contribute to travel costs.
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.
In the past month or so, I've really taken notice of the fact that we do not take advantage of many things that are in our own backyard particularly as far as inexpensive entertainment is concerned.
When I was off from work over winter break, my daughter and I rode the train into the city to do some sightseeing, lunch and shopping. We try to do that every year but for some reason, this year really opened my eyes to what is out there. We walked through the downtown area and passed endless shops and restaurants that would appeal to all of us, even if just for window shopping. Of course, there are also a ton of historic sites, museums and other places of interest within walking distance of the train stations.
Then yesterday, a school friend of my daughter's was performing in a play at a nearby college. This time, we drove into the city (not near a train station). For $10/person, we saw a very good show. We did pay another $13 to park plus the $4 bridge toll, but that's still less money than if we had gone to NYC to see even an off-Broadway show. The colleges in the area offer all kinds of entertainment - concerts, live shows, art exhibits, film festivals, etc. We never go to any of that stuff and we really should. It is usually inexpensive and sometimes even free. It is close to home. And it is not mainstream stuff so there is an educational/cultural/expand your mind aspect to it, too.
I'm going to start looking around online to see where they list upcoming events and make an effort to do stuff like that occasionally throughout the year.