Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

Uber Virgin No More - How Rideshare Works

 
So last night we tried out Uber. I had a promo code for a free first ride (you can get a free first ride too by using my promo code uberFPLS when you sign up at uber.com) so we wanted to try it out to see how it works. Its really simple, I signed up on the internet and provided my name, address, mobile phone # and a payment method and the promo code so my first ride would be free. I verified my email and phone number. Then on my cell phone I downloaded the free Uber app and signed in.

We decided to go out for chicken wings at BWW in Ybor City, a fairly close ride about ten miles from our home. When we had touched base with our friends I opened the Uber app and a map of my area showed with a marker for pickup area. I entered our exact home address and then down on the bottom part of the app I clicked UberX. There are three types of fares for Uber; UberX is regular 0.95/mile, and UberXL is for larger groups so you'll get a van or SUV to answer your request for a ride and this costs $1.35/mile. There is also UberSelect which is fancy cars like BMWs and this costs + $2/mile (not exactly sure of price). But for most people UberX will work just fine.

When I clicked the UberX I could see on the app that my request was picked up by a car less than a mile away from my home and it would be a Camry. It linked my pickup spot to the car and I could see it move on my map as it got closer. Within 4 minutes the dude was in our driveway. He was really nice and when we started our ride and he clicked his app on his phone to start the ride it showed our destination and gave him verbal and visual directions to Ybor City. We asked the driver a ton of questions being that we had never done a Uber ride before. We had an equally nice experience on the way home with another Uber driver.

It was an easy way to get around, and we'll definitely do it for the airport when we travel. The thing in Tampa is that Uber is not licensed to provide services at the airport so drivers take care to make sure a passenger is in the front seat to appear less like a taxi service; and to ask the passenger to not answer any questions from people who may question them upon disembarking from a vehicle about whether they just utilized Uber for their ride.

So, if you ever need a ride around town, I'd recommend you try Uber. And use my promo code uberFPLS to sign up for your free first time ride only. I am not being compensated for this blog post from Uber, I just like the service and think its a great alternative choice. The only benefit I get for sharing is if you use my promo code uberFPLS, I also get a free ride on Uber just like you do.

10 Frugal Travel Tips

Deep Fried Cheese Curds
 
We just got back from our annual travel odessey Up North to visit our families and friends. We drove our rental car over 800 miles in ten days and maximized the trip. Between the family get togethers, concerts, State Fair, racing events and time with grandchildren and friends, it was a whirlwind tour. Of course we tried to do it in the most frugal way possible, so here a few tips I would like to share from our travel experience.

1. In the airport and airplane - we packed some granola bars, beef jerky, Diamond almonds and some candy for snacking on the plane and throughout the trip. We also brought along some Starbucks gift cards so we could enjoy a free coffee drink at the airport. Our home airport has free wi-fi so we could have internet while we waited for our plane.

2. Wi-fi - rather than be without Internet on our trip, I opted to pay Sprint a $1 a day to make my smartphone a wifi hotspot for the ten days of our trip. Our relatives who hosted us don't have internet so it was necessary. I also switched domain name registrars this month from Blogger to Godaddy and the switch happened to occur during our trip so I had to have internet to change nameservers. My site was down for a couple days, but I'm glad to say Google doesn't have control over my domain anymore.

3. Pack your favorite foods from your stockpile - Whenever we visit family we have to do our grocery shopping in different stores with different coupon policies. To avoid the frustration of having to pay full price for coffee or peanut butter, we pack it from our stockpile at home. I like to pack a few of the higher priced items that we know we want like coffee, peanut butter, beef jerky, and unique recipe ingredients.

4. Bring hostess gifts from your stockpile - I like to provide personal care items like razors, cleansing wipes, and cosmetics; gift cards, chocolates and candy as hostess gifts for our hosts where we stay. It's always nice to leave a thank you card too with some cash to show your appreciation.

5. Research your rental car discounts - Since we are state employees we can use the Avis rental car state code and get a great deal on rental cars. We paid $19 a day for a new 2014 Toyota Camry, plus taxes. If you don't have a corporate code from your employer, you can find these codes on Slickdeals.net by searching the forums for "rental car discounts".

6. Rent the cheapest car  - This has never failed us. We rent the subcompact car and when we get to the rental car counter, undoubtedly there are no subcompact cars available so they upgrade the car at no additional charge. Or if they give you a crappy car like a Kia, just say you can't safely see over the hood and want a different car. This works consistently at smaller airports like the ones Southwest Air flys to.

7. Pack Smart - This means pack light. If you can fit your clothes into a carry on bag, you can avoid airline baggage fees. Or you could just fly Southwest where up to 2 bags fly free. But it still makes sense to pack less and just do laundry once on your vacation. Bring your own detergent too. Plan your wardrobe colors to match so each item can be worn more than once. Borrow heavy sweaters and cold weather jackets from your host if the weather turns cold a couple times.

8. Use Local Coupons - Ask your friends and family to buy advance tickets to events if they are significantly cheaper, like the State Fair. Tell them to watch out for coupons for amusement parks and other activities you might be doing with them. Check the internet to find out the deals before hand and if you direct your friends to the deals they might even join you.

9. Bring or Borrow a Cooler - We always pack a small cooler for our trips Up North. It's nice to have water and soda available in your travels, plus if you have food that needs to refrigerated like party dip, beer or restaurant leftovers you can safely carry it around between events.  Use your hosts icemaker ice if you can, but don't be too cheap to buy a bag of ice if you need it. Stay hydrated.

10. Keep Couponing - Ask your hosts for their coupon inserts if you know they don't use them. If you're in a hotel on a Sunday morning, go through the free newspapers in the lobby to get inserts, or if you're stopping at Starbucks theres probably a newspaper there too with inserts.

It's important to remember that you are on vacation, and to take that splurge if you really want. These trips are to make memories and you don't want to have regrets that you were too frugal to spend some money for a wonderful experience.

30 Day Weight Loss Results

A month ago we stepped off a cruise ship after a long holiday weekend of lazing around and eating lots of yummy, fattening food. We each gained several pounds that needed to come off so our clothes would fit better and we would feel healthier. Here's a picture of us at St Johns USVI where we went on a nice catamaran and snorkling excursion. This is the "before" picture.

This is us each five pounds heavier, the "before" photo UGH
At first we kept up our regular meal plan of a carbohydrate rich breakfast of raisin bran with a banana, or homemade apple cinnamon oatmeal. But the problem was we were hungry for a morning snack about an hour later. Recently, the past couple weeks we've made turkey bacon for breakfast, alon with zuchinni patties (shredded zuchinni, parm cheese, egg beaters fried in a pan) Snacks in the morning are protein snack bars, cereal bars, almonds, beef jerky, fresh cut up melon or berries. Then lunch is a lettuce salad with chicken and veggie toppings, along with a nonfat yogurt for dessert. After work, we have a small snack of hummus or corn salsa on chips, then dinner is usually something from the stockpile like fish, pasta, rice or pork and of course frozen veggies steamers. Oh, and a couple beers. But no night time snacks, no eating after dinner for me.

our lunch salad, and a yogurt
I track my food and exercise using the MyFitnessPal app on my smart phone, If I am trying out a new exercise I track it live with the CardioTrainer app which uses a GPS to calculate steps, miles, calories, time etc so I know what it's all worth (It's a 2 mile trip around Busch Gardens). I try to eat about 1200-1400 calories a day, and burn up 400 to 600 calories with exercise (biking, walking. treading water in pool) each day. On Fridays and Saturdays, I may go out to eat (love those buffalo chicken wings!) so my calories can jump to 2000 per day. But my activity is up too so I think it evens out.

 I also read a diet book I checked out from the library (an ebook) The Adaptation Diet by Charles A Moss, which outlined a basically low carb diet with other ideas too. I've implemented some of the ideas, like eliminating anti inflammatory pills like Aleve or Advil because they cause a "leaky gut". I've pretty much cut out bread, and corn products and potatoes. I've cut back on drinking beer and we've never been sugar lovers, so sweets are easy to ignore.

Well, I'm pleased to report we have each lost five pounds in a month with this plan. DH doesn't bike like I do, so his plan includes less exercising, but men lose weight easier anyway. And the wonderful thing is, this lifestyle is frugal. There are no special foods, or pills, or drinks needed to lose weight. It's good old fashioned healthy diet and exercise. It's a lifestyle that can endure and be long lasting, with occasional treats that will not sideline your efforts because overall a healthy lifestyle can sustain the bumps in the road.

When we lose 5 more pounds, I'll post an "after" photo. Stay posted.

Easing of Rules: Electronics On Airplanes

 
I just got back from a conference this weekend in Cincinnati, OH and wasted a whole bunch of hours of my life on an airplane. As usual when traveling, I packed a lot of electronic gadgets to entertain me, connect me and enable me to keep up with the web. I also packed a good old fashioned hardback book, (Ironhorse by the estate of Robert B. Parker). I also was excited to use my mobile app on my Android phone to access my boarding pass, therefore avoiding the stupid security TSA rep, scribbling meaningless doodle on my boarding pass while giving me the evil eye and exasperated sigh for using my phone app.
 
Anyway, as you know, we earthlings are prohibited from operating electronic gadgets below 10,000 feet cruising altitude in an airplane. This means the time from backing away from the gangway all the way up to cruising altitude, we must shut off our electronics. For many flights, this is at least a half hour of sitting there with nothing to listen to, no pictures to be taken out the window, and no reading to be done.
 
But not me, I break the rules when they are simply there to annoy me. When breaking the rule does not hurt or offend anyone, I'll do what I want. So, I listened to the music on my ipod. I did have my book to read legally - I don't break all the rules. Nice picture landing in Cincinnati, huh? I only put my phone on airplane mode rather than powering off all the way. OMG you rule breaker! But, really. Wait - its actually quite harmless these days with weaker cell signals and more insulation on planes. Just today, it was announced that efforts are underway in the FAA to lesson restrictions on electronic devices on airplanes.
 
Expect the rules to allow expanded electronic activity as early as this fall 2013.

How To Apply For A Passport

We just got back from two trips requiring our passports and mine is about to expire in less than 2 weeks. Both times the immigration officer made me aware of that, and I let them know I'm on it and have my new picture at home ready to renew upon return.
It's actually pretty easy these days to get your passport, if you're a US citizen that is. You might think that obtaining, renewing or updating a passport would be a hassle as most dealings with the government are, but they've made it simple. Everything you need to know can be found online at the  U.S. Dept of State website.
To get your first passport
To get your first passport, you'll have to show up in person. Make an appointment at an acceptance facility or passport agency; search for the one closest to you here. You likely live near a facility where you can get a passport. Many post offices and even some public libraries can accept passport applications. Arrive at your passport agency with:
• Your filled-in DS-11 application form.
• Evidence of U.S. citizenship. Find a list of acceptable documents here.
• Valid identification. Find a list of acceptable ID here.
• A photocopy of the front and back of the identification you're bringing on clean, white 8½" x 11" paper.
• Your application fee. For a first-time adult passport, the total fee is $135.
• Passport photos. You can read more about the specifications for passport photos here. But most major drug stores, such as Walgreens or CVS, will sell appropriately sized passport photos that comply with government standards; this makes things a little easier.
Or you can go online to ePassportPhoto and submit your own digital print and they will size it - all for free (this is what we did). It will size 6 2x2 identical face shots on one print. But Walgreens and CVS will not print passport photos because they offer the service, so you need to delete 5 of these and just print one 2x2 per print and they won't notice it and it pass the muster. Just wait for a sale where they offer free prints and submit your digital picture online for free to pick up later that day.
Renewing a passport
You have two options here: Either you have your old passport or you don't. If the former's true, you can apply through the mail as long as your most recent passport is undamaged, was issued when you were at least 16 years old, and isn't more than 15 years old. If you are nodding "yes" to all of that, simply mail in your old passport with the required documents and photos, and you'll receive a new one in the mail in roughly four to six weeks. (Don't worry. You'll get your old passport back.) Here's what you need: Form DS-82, your renewal fee ($110 for an adult), passport photos, and your old passport. Get more information about renewing a passport through the mail here.
Keep in mind that if you've changed your name since your last passport was issued, include an original certificate or court order that documents this; those without such papers must apply for a renewal in person.
Don't have your old passport? Then you can't get a passport renewed by mail. Head to a passport agency in person.
You can check the status of a pending passport application here.
Passports for kids
For children ages 15 and younger, the fees and requirements for getting a passport are a little different than those for adults. Essentially, parents need to provide identification in addition to proof that they are legal guardians for child applicants. Guardians in two-parent households must appear together with the young applicants or provide a notarized statement of consent from the absentee adult. Single parents must appear in person as well. And all parents must show proof of legal guardianship; this would include a birth certificate or a court order.
A passport for a minor costs $105. And the usual—Form DS-11, a standard passport photo, and the appropriate identification for parent(s) and child—must be brought to your local passport office. Read more about getting a passport for a child here.

How We Spent Our Money in 2012


One of my favorite websites, Mint.com makes evaluating your expenses much simpler at the end of the year. They actually have a pretty good app for smartphones too which I check everyday to make sure no one stole my identity, or money. One of my other favorite websites, Mr Money Mustache has posted his yearly spending so I feel compelled to also drop our drawers and lay it all out there.
 
I thought it would be interesting to see where all our money went last year and what opportunities there are for improvement this coming year. You might not really care what we spend, but you're probably nosy and will continue to read and see how you compare to us, a couple of cheap asses who recycle plastic baggies (not really). I think this may be a useful exercise to see where our money goes and to try to manage it so that when we retire we'll be able to fully enjoy ourselves on a limited budget. We learned a long time ago how fun it is to not have a car payment. And we learned a few years ago how fun it is to not have a house payment. And we learned last year how fun it is to not have to pay for food, gas or household products. So, just there we have three categories of expenses that have just went poooffff! up the air, gone to heaven and hopefully, never be seen again.
 
As you recall, we did a pretty extensive remodel of our home including all three bedrooms, dining room, living room and office. This ended up being our largest expense of the year and its worth every dime. Now our home is totally renovated and modern, and we're on our way to a clean, uncluttered existence as we sort through the outcast stuff we still have in our "green" room or the stockpile room.
 
Anyway, listed here are our largest expense categories of the year.
 
1. Home (Insurance, taxes, remodel, furnishings, appliances) $13,291
This was by far our biggest expense even though we have no mortgage or loans. The taxes $1000 and insurance $2500 are pretty much out of our control so that is a fixed expense. The remodel and new furnishings were a one time expense we  don't anticipate this again, although there are other projects on the horizon in years to come such as a new roof, fenced yard and we expect a new A/C unit will be needed someday since ours is over fifteen years old. However, we paid for everything and expect next years home expenses to be less than a third of what they were. There are opportunities to repair rather than replace, and preserve what we have so it lasts longer. My goal for 2013 is to spend less than $5000 for the year on this category.
 
2. Utilities (mobile phones, internet, TV, electric, water, garbage) $6,056
We are generally frugal in our use of utilities such as water, electricity and try to recycle to minimize garbage. I've unplugged one dorm size refrigerator and hope to empty our small freezer so we can unplug that as well. That leaves two full size refrigerators and a kegerator sucking down electricity at a high rate. In the warm weather, I unplug and drain the hot tub since we use the pool. Likewise in the cool weather I run the pool filter pump less hours per day since we don't swim in it for half the year (although the dog does - every day!) I was hoping to decrease our TV/Internet expense when our contract was up, but that didn't turn out and I feel fortunate to pay the same rate for another two years. Maybe by then DH can be weaned off cable and we can subsist on online streaming of sports events and TV programs. I'm looking to cutting our cell phone costs in half this year as I combine my smartphone with DH's account at only $40 a line unlimited everything. We are both eligible to upgrade our phones, but the frugal thing is to just keep them both as is. So there is definitely opportunity to cut expenses in this category, so my goal this year is to spend less than $5000 in this category as well.
 
3. Allowances $6000
DH and I each get an allowance monthly to pay for stuff that is not a household expense.This category would also include going out to restaurants which we only do a couple times a year - except for the Firehouse where we go regularly for wings and beer. These optional expenses like beer, cigarettes, going out to eat, massages, extravagent unnecessary expenses (Ipad, extra computers, music) are paid for with cash from our allowance. We both save a significant portion of our allowance being the frugal spenders we are. DH used to spend a good portion of his allowance on driving a race car and I purchased computers and photography equipment. If we decide to do something extravagent that the house "can't afford" we both chip in from our allowance. This category will stay the same next year.
 
4. Auto & Motorcycle (insurance, maintenance, gasoline) $4,126
Our two old cars and two newer motorcycles are very expensive to insure in this state of Florida where almost half the drivers do not carry insurance, and I'm sure a good portion of them are driving on suspended licenses as well. It is dangerous and therefore we have probably excessive insurance compared to most people. But after DH was struck by an uninsured driver in 2010 and we received a nice settlement from our own insurance, we feel safer on the roads having sufficient insurance. But this is one area we can still cut back on insurance with the red truck since it sits in the driveway the majority of its life, and its the biggest boxiest safest vehicle we have. Of our auto expenses, over half is insurance $2470, $1657 was maintenance on all four vehicles. I've made a note to mention $1722 for gasoline even though this was paid for with gift cards we got at Publix from overage, and yard sale proceeds. So the opportunity here is to cut insurance a little and to ride my bike more this year, so this year we can spend less than $4000 in this category.
 
5. Travel $3,384
This category has suffered since we have been remodeling. Now that our home is updated, we plan to resume frequent travel. We already have booked a nice seven day cruise to the Virgin Islands this spring, and plan to book another for Fall 2013, in addition to our annual trip up North to visit our families. We have let all our season tickets to NASCAR races go unrenewed and we may attend these types of events at most once a year. I actually desire to travel to places I haven't been to before, or places I traveled to as a child. I would love to visit San Francisco, Hawaii, Yellowstone National Park, Colorado and Canada. We're actually in a holding pattern for extended long trips as long as we have our old dog. When she passes in a few years, we'll be able to take longer trips overseas without having to worry about finding a caretaker for her. So this year, I would expect this category to at least double, if not approach $10,000.
 
6. Shopping $2,793
Amazon is the death of me. It is way to easy to shop online and it shows up here in this category. We have way to many clothes and shoes and could easily go years without purchasing anything to wear. I see this category as an opportunity to cut in half to about $1400.
 
7. Health (Rx, copays, insurance) $1,722
This category just increased this year because of our Governor, for the first time in ten years we were required to pay health insurance premiums. I hope to just maintain the cost of this category in the future, not much hope of decreasing it until I hit menopause or quit having sex, and can quit going to the doctor for those little pills.
 
8. Entertainment (Busch Gardens, Concerts) $1,656
This category is actually not very much of our budget and I hope to be able to maintain that amount this year. We do go to a lot of free festivals and inexpensive concerts to keep this cost down. Actually, since we used to work concert events we have seen almost every performer we care to see and the cost is often not worth it if we've seen it. We did splurge and buy good tickets for an upcoming Lady Gaga concert this spring.
 
9. Pet $695
The love, companionship and protection we receive in exchange for vet bills and medications is worth the cost for our dog. Dog food and treats are paid for with overage at Publix so this is actually less than most pay for a pet. If we keep this expense under $1000, that would be good. In the future this expense will go away when the dog dies.
 
10. Personal Care $249
This category is probably low since DH pays for his haircuts with cash and takes out the money when he gets his allowance. So it really should be double, closed to $500 for hair cuts and perms. It helps being low maintenance people - no manicures, hair color, no pedicures or expensive massages. All that individual stuff comes out of allowance anyway, it is not considered a household expense.
 
The missing category -  Food & Beer
This category is one where we have eliminated the expense by using coupons and shopping the sales. We buy stuff we don't need, to use the overage to get what we need. We actually made $803 last year, spending $2951 in cash and gift cards to purchase $32,729 worth of products (including $3755 in gift cards and gas cards). The cash used in shops was proceeds from yard sales selling our stockpile from couponing. We also use the cash to pay for our beer kegs, and extra spending money when we travel.
 
So, in summary our goal for the upcoming year is to cut our spending by 10% overall.
 
How did you do?

 

How To Pack For A Trip

Yesterday, I read this post on Wisebread about packing for a trip. A friend of mine always says, when you're traveling put your suitcase on the bed, take out half of what you've packed, and put twice as much money in your wallet - and you're ready to go. I always am reminded of this piece of advice when I get home from a trip and I'm unpacking all the clothes I never touched on the trip - but hauled them across the nation.
 
Well, since we're thinking about planning our trip to Minnesota to see our families and attend the Minnesota State Fair, the blog post was definitely an eye opener and confirmation that I was going to bring too much crap with me. So, I took the 10 tips seriously and declared my intents to DH last night. No I would not be bringing a suitcase, instead I'm packing a backpack. And yes I'm only bringing one of anything - one pair of shorts, one pair of jeans, one pair of capris, one swimsuit, one T shirt, one long sleeve shirt, one short sleeve Columbia shirt, one polo, one tank top, one sweater and one pair of shoes, but I would bring 2 pairs of socks and underwear. So I packed and it all fit in half of the backpack.
 
Another tip is not to bring toiletries, but here I'm minimizing and bringing only what I know I will use - deodorant, floss, toothpaste, qtips, and shampoo. I also am not bringing a gps, or books, (these are on my smartphone) or my big clunky Nikon DSLR camera. I have to break the rules and bring my Dell Duo. The only reason I'm bringing my tablet PC is because I can't be sure of reliable wireless internet everywhere we're staying and I need to update my blogs and print coupons, neither of which I can do with my smart phone. I will spring for the extra "Hotspot" service from Sprint for the trip at a cost of $1 per day to make my smartphone into a wireless hotspot which I can connect my PC through if I'm anywhere there is cell service. So into the backpack go the laptop and a pocket camera. I'm skipping the neck pillow even though I do have an inflatable one and I do really enjoy the comfort.
 
So far everything still fits in the backpack and I have extra room. We don't need a guidebook so skip that. And we don't really have a solid itinerary so we have flexible plans which are a lot less stressful. I'm not really into drama and I'm going to avoid any drama while we're there. A few get togethers are planned and a ride-a-long for DH with the MPLS Police, plus two days at the Fair to eat all that yummy food like Deep Fried Cheese Curds. And a day at Valleyfair amusement park with the grand kids if mom decides its okay. Whatever the weather we're not letting it keep us indoors, we also packed a poncho. And we can handle the heat if it's below 100F, since we've never had 100F in Tampa, I'm not sure what it feels like to be that hot and clammy. LOL
 

7 of The Cheapest Cities In Europe

Now that the summer season is slowly approaching, it's time to start thinking about that dream summer vacation you have been planning over the long, cold, wintery months.
If you're worried about draining all of your savings for a short getaway this summer, then fret no more. It may surprise you to learn that many cities in Europe, even the touristy ones, can be incredibly cheap if you do the proper research and calculations beforehand.
If you're struggling to think of where you can go in Europe this summer, here are seven cities in Europe that are not only easy on the eyes, but easy on your money as well:
1.       Bucharest (Romania)
If you have a fascination with Vlad the Impaler AKA Dracula then be sure to check out Romania's capital city, Bucharest. Hostels cost as little as $10 USD a night even during the peak tourist season, however, be forewarned that Eastern Europe may not be the best area to travel alone, especially if you are a backpacking female.
2.       Sofia (Bulgaria)
Again, this is another area in the world that is probably not the wisest area to travel alone in, but it's still dirt cheap nonetheless. The majority of hostels are in the $10 to 15 USD range, which is a fraction of the cost of a hostel in cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam or Paris.
3.       Istanbul (Turkey)
Travellers have nothing but great things to say about travelling to Turkey, not only because the culture is extremely unique but because the cost of travelling in Istanbul is fairly cheap as well. Some hostels cost as little as $7 USD per night, but the majority of top-rated hostels cost $10 per night, making Istanbul well worth the time if you're running out of funds during your trip.
4.       Budapest (Hungary)
Sure it's a little out of the way but hostel costs in Budapest range between $5 to $10 USD a night, and most of which are considered to be some of the best in Central Europe.
5.       Prague (Czech Republic)
As long as you avoid the touristy areas of this popular Central European city and you know where to find cheap hostels, you may end up paying as little as $7 USD a night just to stay in this "city of fairy tales."
6.       Krakow (Poland)
If you're hoping to check out Auschwitz during your travels, or even if you have a fascination with Polish culture and architecture, hostels in Krakow can cost as little as $5 USD, even for a private room!
7.       Edinburgh (Scotland)
Sure the United Kingdom can be extremely expensive, especially if you're visiting cities like London, Brighton or Bath. But after an eight hour drive up north you will start to see prices drop down to as little as $7 to $10 USD a night to stay in Scotland's capital city; (and the costs are relatively the same in Glasgow as well).
Author Bio: Aside from school and working part-time as an Assistant Chef, Bridget Sandorford is the resident Culinary Schools blogger where recently she's been researching Las Vegas culinary colleges as well as Pittsburgh culinary colleges. Her passion for food has followed her research into many different areas, such as nutrition, fitness, organic foods, gardening, and cooking on a budget. She lives outside of Charleston, South Carolina.
photo via

Living Frugally While Studying Abroad

 
Some little girls dream of their weddings from age three. I on the other hand, dreamt of living in Istanbul (and many other international cities) from age 5. Every time I would go on an international vacation with my family, whether it was Turkey, Spain, France, Argentina, or even Zambia, I imagined what it would be like to live in the apartments overlooking the main squares of various metropolises. These vacations were lots of fun, especially because my dad was footing the bill for a week or more of travel. However, when I decided to study abroad, I was under a much more stringent budget. My overall stay couldn't exceed more than the tuition, room, and board of my home university. Although my home university was private, with expensive tuition, this ended up being VERY difficult endeavor. If you plan to study abroad in Europe or even Asia, things can get pretty expensive. Here are some tips to help you save money during your exciting abroad experience.

Before You Go: Choosing your Destination

If money is a big issue for you, you should choose your location wisely. If you barely have $300 to spend a month, Moscow (one of the most expensive cities in the world) probably won't be the best choice. You should find a place where the currency exchange rate works in your favor. Try going to South America or Central America if you are an American! Countries in this region are likely to give you bang for your buck. Also, just because the exchange rate works to your advantage doesn't mean a city will be cheaper. Ask your program director or study abroad office for some financial advice! 

Live with a Host Family

If you have the option to live with a host family during your study abroad semester/year, you should definitely consider it. Most programs, such as the Center for International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and International Studies Abroad (ISA), provide home stay options. Home stay options usually guarantee and incorporate at least one or two meals a day for students. This saves you from finding and funding your own (often expensive) meals. Usually the home stay option is not significantly more expensive (it's often cheaper) than living in a university dormitory. Plus, by living with a family, you will get a better acquainted with the cultures and traditions of a country or region!

Evaluate Costs of Living in an Apartment Versus a Dormitory

If you are unable to find a cheaper home stay option, make sure you check out local apartment costs. Many times, monthly rent can be much cheaper than the boarding costs of a dormitory. Programs usually allow you a grace period to leave a dormitory when you arrive. Living in an apartment can give you the independence and experience to truly get to know a city! 
  
Don't Buy Souvenirs until Your Last Week

My greatest expenses during my studies abroad: my unnecessary shopping expenditures! I traveled within Turkey almost every weekend. I wanted to buy an item from every place I visited. After all, you want to remember a place long after you visit it. The reality, those souvenirs mean NOTHING to me now. If you really want to remember a place, take great pictures. If you just NEED to buy something, buy a postcard from the various cities you visit. Tell yourself you won't buy anything until your last week of your study abroad experience.  You will be less likely to buy everything in sight, as the novelty will have probably worn off!
Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online college. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.

Frugal Travel

Travelling across the country is always an expense, but how you travel can save lots of money.  By planning wisely and saving where you can, this affords us the opportunity to travel more often. People who spend grandly and impulsively may need to travel less because they can't afford to travel as often.
 
We're planning to go to the NASCAR race this weekend in Bristol, TN, about 700 miles away. Here's how we're being frugal about our travel-
  • Hotel - Make hotel reservations a year ahead of time using the government rate ($70/night), even if we aren't sure at the time that we'll be going. A reservation is free and easy to cancel if we decided not to go. While we're there, we'll book a room for next year too at a low govt rate.
  • Drive or Fly - Investigate options for both modes of travel, surprisingly sometimes its cheaper to fly. We would have needed a car there to drive back and forth to the track and around town, so for us the cheapest method is to drive. Our 2004 Camry is reliable and has low miles so we don't need to do any maintenance prior to travelling.
  • Stockpile drinks - Since we're driving, we can bring almost anything we think we'll consume while we're out of town. That means bringing plenty of water, powerade, sobe water, and of course beer. All these beverages were free or very cheap at Publix using coupons while we shop. The wonderful thing about NASCAR events is that you can bring a cooler of food and drinks into the track, so you are not forced to spend any money inside the event.
  • Eating - we plan to bring and make snacks while we're on the road, also picking up a couple free Papa Johns pizzas from the Rays Strikeout contest. We have lots of Fusion Nut snacks and peanuts for the races. While we're in town, we may eat at some restaurants like Chili's, Outback and Olive Garden using our free gift cards that we earned on our credit card.
  • Gas - believe it or not, we still have BP gas cards left from the Publix deals back in March. We'll use about $100 in GC that is already a sunk cost, so gas won't seem like that big of an expense.
  • Tickets - we hope to score out tickets at the races, by paying someone on the road side cash. The event is not sold out and due to the tough economy, we expect to be able to get tickets easily for less than or equal to face value. The tickets are $57 for Friday night, and $142 for Saturday night. This is really our only big expense.
  • Souvenirs - we probably won't get any Tshirts, Hats or trinkets unless they are free. NASCAR fan fest events are notorious for product giveaways so we always end up with a bunch of junk. We also always go to the Sprint booth and play PLINKO to win passes to special events, like pre race concerts, driver introductions, driver meeting or victory lane celebrations. We've been lucky to always win special events from Sprint.
  • House sitting - our neighbor is nice enough to watch our house, come over and feed our dog, collect our mail and newspapers while we're gone so we give her a couple Publix gift cards in appreciation. These cards are free for us since we got them with our coupon overages while shopping.
So here are our expenses; $210 hotel, $100 gas (but use the BP GC), $400 tickets, and miscellaneous $100, for a grand total of $810 for the 4 day weekend.

A Frugal Game On The Go

Sometimes when you're out and about with children around, there's a lull in the action and the children get antsy and rambunctious. It happened recently at a birthday party we attended for our neighbors 5 yr old grand child. The kid was going crazy waiting for everyone to finish eating before he could have his cake and open presents. He would repeat to anyone, "we're opening presents when we're done eating, Are you done yet"? It wasn't really that annoying, in fact I thought it was cute. I felt sorry for the kid because it was basically an adults Memorial Day weekend BBQ, and he was the only kid there. At his grandparents house there were only minimal toys, and the one fun thing he liked was the Wii, but he wasn't allowed to play alone.
 
Anyway, I was done eating and we played a game to keep him occupied while everyone else finished eating. It's a simple concept and actually has some educational value, and it didn't require any props or anything other than our minds. It's just the alphabet game. We played the Animal Alphabet game, where I asked him to name an animal that started with A. He said ANT. Well, an ant is not an animal but we went with it. Anything that was alive and not a person, counted as an animal. Next he said BEAR, then for C he said snake. But we know that snake is S, so this was an opportunity to help him with sounding out C words and we went with CAT. Then DOG. He was having a tough time thinking of an E word, so a couple hints and he figured out ELEPHANT. F was FROG. G was GIRAFFE.
 
All the time during the game I asked him to tell me what the next letter was in the alphabet, so he had to start at the beginning and recite it to figure out what was next. This was a good exercise for the kid and he enjoyed showing off that he knew it. The toughest one to come up with something was the letter N, and we finally thought of NURSE SHARK after soliciting input from the others. I suppose we could have said NORTH AMERICAN SLOTH or something like that too. He totally lost interest around letter P, but after checking every ones progress with eating, he came back and we picked up there and finished. We went back to the beginning and named all the animals that he had picked and by then it was time for cake and presents.
 
So, if you ever need to occupy a young child, the Alphabet game is a great frugal game to play on the fly.

Frugal Racing Road Trip

This past weekend we drove 1200 miles on a road up to Darlington, SC to attend the NASCAR races. Its a trip we do every year because we are race fans, plus its close enough to drive to. The problem with attending out of town NASCAR races is that its possible for the race to rain out and be postponed until the next day. The Darlington Southern 500 is run on Friday night and then Saturday night, so Sunday is free to drive/travel home, or be the makeup date for a postponed race.
 
This year the weather was sunny, hot and breezy - so no delays. Anyway, back to the road trip.  We attend this race every year so we actually renewed our tickets last year so that expense was already taken care of. But they were not particularly cheap, the Busch race was $35 each and the cup race was $94 each. We have premium seats right on the start finish line, twenty rows up so we can see the entire track and we have the end seats so we can run up and down the stairs to get food and use the restroom. Plus when the big fat sweaty smelly guy sitting next to you stands up (and your nose is in his butt space), you can squish over into the aisle to get away from it. So the tickets put us back $264.
 
For frugal hotel expenses, we used our government id to get the cheap rate of $70 for each of three nights at the Marriott Residence Inn. This was a great deal to stay at a nice hotel with free newspapers, free hot breakfast and a full kitchen. The race weekend is an event weekend and all hotels within 100 miles are booked at full rate. We are lucky that this hotel was less than 10 miles to the track, and we know the back way to get there so we didn't experience the hours of frustration sitting in traffic that most race fans go through. The trick to getting the government rate at the hotel, is to book it online as soon as allowed for the next year, before the venue realizes that its race weekend. Unfortunately, most of the racing travel packages, and race teams and media all like to stay at the nice hotels too, and the Marriott actually called me last year to try to get me to cancel my reservation because they needed it for a team. I refused and they actually honored the reservation.  That's exactly why I always book our stay at least two hotels, in case one cancels us to get a full price paying customers. So the hotel cost us $235.
 
We drove so we could bring all our beverages and the kitchen sink too. The wonderful thing is I've been using my overage from shopping at Publix to get free or cheap beer. We also had free bottled water from coupons, and really cheap Powerade from recent sales and coupons. So we consumed 36 bottles of water, 60 beers (5 12 pks), a 12 pk of Diet Mt Dew soda, and a 6 pk of Powerade. Total cost $0.
 
Since this is a regular road trip for us, we know where we want to eat. We get a $50 gift card from the charge card and eat at Outback the first night for free. Then for lunch we get Zaxbys wings, and dinner is a Schlotzky's sandwich we bring to the track. The other wonderful thing about going to NASCAR events is that you can bring in soft coolers of beer and beverages, plus a bag for your scanner radio, peanuts and food. We brought everything in and didn't spend a penny at the track. Parking is even free on site. But we opt to pay the local dude $20 to park in his yard for a shady spot, and a quick getaway at the end. So in the end parking cost $40, and meals were $48. We also bought a pizza on the drive up there so we could eat in the car, for $10. Our Einsteins bagels were free with the facebook coupon, and I had a birthday card for free Starbucks we got free too.
 
Our gasoline for the trip was all paid using BP gas cards we got at Publix, so they were already paid for in March. Our average mileage was 31 mpg for a cost of $112 worth of gas, but I'm not going include that in this trips expense.
 
So our entire trip expenses totalled $600 for a 4 day weekend out of town. If we had had paid the regular hotel rate, had to pay for our beverages, food and gas the cost of the trip would have been $1517. So I'm proud of our frugal trip. The great thing is that I don't feel like we were being frugal, we got everything we wanted, and never hesitated on an activity due to expense.
 
Now thats the way to travel.
 

Friday

Well this weekend I'm in Darlington, SC at the NASCAR races so I'm surfing via unsecured internet and via my Sprint cell phone as a modem. Y'all who travel and try to stay connected know the difficulty of trying to upload 2MB photos over a 115 kbps cell phone connnection. It doesn't really work. I know I need to upgrade my cell phone - its the same one I've had since 2006. I'm just so darn afraid of them switching me off my wonderful SERO plan for $30/month for unlimited everything. So, I hang on to the old phone.

Anyway, all you new Friday Followers, I'm trying to check out your blogs and follow and stuff but have to admit my laptop is even older (2005 Inspiron 700m), and maybe is contributing to my troubles. I doubt it though because this little baby is AWESOME (I hear so many people say that these days - like AHHH summmmmm).

What I'm trying to say is, don't give up on me - I'll be back in the saddle on Monday.

UGH.

The Accompanied Minor

Many years ago we moved out of state, across the country from our families, and my husbands child from a previous marriage. When we moved, his child was 9 years old and had never been on a airplane. The first experience was for visitation at Easter break and the child was boarded on a direct flight from Minnesota to Florida. Back then, the whole unaccompanied minor situation was not so common, but it was common enough that the airlines accomodated worrying parents by escorting children from the gate into the airplane, and then from the airplane to the gate for pickup by the other parent. Remember, back in the day when you could actually sit and wait with someone until their plane came in? Anyway, there were no extra charges or fees for this service, or even any forms to sign.
 
We did this for many years for spring, summer and winter break without any troubles. But times have changed and they will never go back to the good old days. These days to send a child across the country on an airplane unaccompanied costs a few bucks. I'm not sure how much, since I don't do it anymore.
 
Today a woman at work was there earlier than usual (which is early!) and she mentioned it was because she had to take her husband to the airport. I inquired where this retired gentleman was off to now, and she said he was flying with their grandson (who is 10) back to Newark, and then flying back. Tonight. Yes, he is flying to escort their grandson up North, and then immediately turning around and flying back to Florida. I couldn't believe it. What a way to not be frugal. Granted its not the same as it was fifteen or twenty years ago, but airlines do offer escort services for children for a fee and I'm thinking its pretty safe. The lady at work wouldn't even hear of doing that, what if her grandson ran into some turbulence and got scared? I asked if he's like that, scared of things. She said no, but she just wants the peace of mind. Apparently, her husband agrees with her too, since he's the one spending ALL DAY in an airplane, even transfering in Baltimore for a layover. I didn't ask how much his plane ticket was, but it was regular price she said.
 
Just another example of how hard it is to be frugal when you're a worry wart.