Date Night on a Dime

 

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I LOVE date night! We are foodies, and enjoy trying new restaurants and seasonal specials. However, with three kids, a mortgage, and other expenses, Chad and I have to be careful balancing this in our budget. So here are a few frugal ideas that have helped us continue our tradition of a regular couple’s outing:

  • Go out for breakfast or lunch instead. The overall cost will be less, and many upscale restaurants offer meals at this time of day, so couples can visit new restaurants without breaking the budget.
  • When going out for dinner, skip or limit alcoholic drinks. Adding a few drinks greatly increases the bill by the end of the night.
  • Instead of a meal, try going out for a few drinks and appetizers. This is a fun alternative and usually combines well with other outings.
  • Look for opportunities and adventure in your area! A few years ago, we found a cocktail hour at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. We received free admission, bought a few glasses of wine, sampled the complimentary hors d’oeuvre (Thank goodness for spell check!), and spent an hour or so enjoying the art work while listening to a talented classical pianist.
  • Try a stay at home date! Sometimes we purchase some of our favorite meat, cheese, and wine, and just enjoy hanging out together at home.

What are some of your fun, yet affordable outings?

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Dollars and Sense

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How many of you are dreading that one piece of mail due to arrive soon? The credit card statement! At some point in our lives, we lean too heavily on easy credit, and it comes back to bite us. This is the first of a few money organization posts to help avoid unnecessary debt.

Many of us are skilled at developing and maintaining a budget; however, what about those expenses that do not fit neatly in a monthly plan? This is where the use of virtual envelopes can streamline a family’s finances. Virtual envelopes are small savings accounts where money can be added and saved throughout the year. I use my local credit union. (Note: Their technical term is just a sub-savings account. I named them virtual envelopes, each labeled for specific use.)

Gifts: How many of you despise the monthly credit card bill that arrives after Christmas? Or the birthday present you figured to pay later? I have a “Gift Fund” virtual envelope set up through my credit union. Every paycheck, a certain amount goes in and when birthdays arrive or Christmas, we have a budget to work from (or at least an amount to start with and add from our monthly budget).

Vacations: How many of you take vacations with only the current paycheck, then the following month dread the credit card bill with all the unexpected purchases? Yes, even vacations require a budget. Setting aside a virtual envelope for the year’s weekend adventures, day trips, or spring break is a useful tool for staying on track or even planning for that once in a lifetime trip (see how we saved over a seven year period for our family trip to Ireland!).

Any other envelopes needed? Do you heat with propane and need to save for winter fill ups? Do you need funds for specific teen activities, camps, driver’s education, etc.? A little planning and organization now will prevent future credit card anxiety. Do you have more needed “envelopes” than money? Pick the two or three that interfere with your budget the most. Even in my own hyper planning, I still have neglected to start an envelope for future vehicles…baby steps. Those of you who usually receive tax refunds in a few weeks, consider starting your family’s fiscal year on a positive note by paying off credit cards and setting up a few virtual envelopes.

Happy Budgeting!

Are you Married to the World’s Cheapest Man?

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I used to think my husband, Chad, was the cheapest man on earth.  The first summer after our wedding, we were renting a run-down apartment while saving a down payment to purchase our first home.  This was an upstairs apartment in late July, and summer’s heat had arrived!  We had an old window air conditioner unit for our bedroom, but Chad refused to run it…too expensive.  I had just returned from my job, packing religious supplies (in another home with no air conditioning).  I had reached the point that happens every summer where I just couldn’t cool down.  I wouldn’t be able to sleep without the air conditioning, so I finally demanded that we chill the room.  His reply was priceless, “OK, we’ll run it for ten minutes.”

Gifts were another area where we have laughed and grown as a couple.  I’ll admit that I have poor judgement for purchasing gifts and have since learned that I should stick to items available at Cabela’s, Gander Mountain, or our local outdoor supply stores.  My favorite gift faux pas was what we now refer to as the “Pirates of the Caribbean on Broadway” stage prop (as pictured below).  I thought it would make a nice conversation piece for our wine cellar.  Hubby just thought it was weird!   Chad’s frugal nature, of course, extended into gift giving, clothing in this case.  I love to wear sweat pants.  I would consider wearing them every day if I could get away with it.  Our first Christmas, I was thrilled to receive a new pair, in hunter green, a color I didn’t have.  I held them up to take a look, and the first thing I noticed was that one pant leg was six inches longer than the other.  I stared at the discrepancy and looked over at my husband.  He just shook his head and said, “Oh, they were on sale.”

While we have laughs at Chad’s expense, I know I married a keeper.  While sometimes his high level of frugality causes frustration and disagreements, I see how far sacrifice has taken us.  I still debate and argue for things I feel strongly about purchasing or doing (date night is important to me), and most of the time, we find compromise.  I married a man who puts the financial care of his family above all else.  He considers paying the bills, putting food on the table, and giving to charity a matter of honor.  He’s also disciplined enough to pay himself first because he refuses to be a burden in retirement.  Finally, I see those financial lessons passed on to my kids, a lesson that will take them far as adults.

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Don’t Leave all your Green on the Emerald Isle!

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Last spring, after saving for seven years, Chad and I took our children on the trip of a lifetime. We travelled to western Ireland for 16 days. Anyone who can set aside $25 per check and has the ability to stay on a budget can take this family journey. Here’s how we reached our goal:

 
Savings-First, we made sure we had an adequate emergency fund because without one, we would be forced to use the money earmarked for the trip on those “life moments” that interfere with a monthly budget. Then I set up an “Ireland Fund,” which pulled $25 per check. About two years before the trip, we increased the amount to $50 per check.

 
We also started a savings jar at home with EIRE painted on it. The whole family added their spare change. The kids were part of the process from the start and loved to add their pennies to the pot. When it was full, I made a deposit in the “Ireland Fund.” (On a side note: We had to protect the fund over the seven years, avoiding the temptation of spending the money on something else.)

 
In addition, we tried to pay for a few trip expenses out of our regular monthly budget. For example, the summer before, we paid for passports. We also paid household expenses like kenneling the dog and someone to keep an eye on the house.
One year before, we held a family meeting. The kids learned that we were paying for the trip, but any extras were their responsibility (souvenirs, their later love of MARS bars, fishing, horseback riding, etc). We told them how much certain activities would cost and explained the exchange rate and had our proud Mom and Dad moment that summer before when the kids went out and looked for side jobs and saved their money. Ireland was also our birthday and Christmas present for the year (Well, we did exchange a few small things). The money budgeted for gifts was added to the “Ireland Fund.”

 

 

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The actual trip-We saved a lot of money by traveling in the off-season. Spring Break is a lovely time to visit Ireland. Yes, we had a few chilly days, but that’s what Irish sweaters are for. We also chose this time because the kids missed less school.
Airfare was the largest expense, 30-40% of our budget. We spent many months researching the best cities, days of the week, and time of day to travel. Traveling to Ireland over spring break did not have the same price increases as travel in the US.
For lodging we started in Bed and Breakfasts, but at 100 Euros per night for the five of us, it added up. We opted to rent a cottage. This saved us money and provided two important facilities: A full kitchen and laundry.

 
Meals were quite expensive in Ireland. We saved money by eating two of our meals per day at the cottage or opting for a picnic on the road. There was always a fabulous supply of cold smoked salmon, Irish cheese, and soda bread at the local market. We also saved money by stopping at the grocery stores in the larger cities. The food and supplies were significantly less compared to the smaller villages.

 
Entertainment-We were content exploring the beautiful countryside of western Ireland, so we didn’t have many entertainment expenses. While the men took a one day fishing charter in Cong, and the ladies went horseback riding in Cleegan, much of our time was spent exploring locations with reasonable entrance fees or no fees at all (places like the Dingle Penninsula, the Cliffs of Moher, St. Brigid’s Well, Kylemore Abbey, Bunratty Castle, Ballyconelly Beach, Croagh Patric, Cong Abbey, and Ross Errilly Friary).

 
A no spending day-Our last day at the cottage, we had a “no spending day.” We tried to eat all the food in the cupboards, wash all our clothes for the last leg of the trip, attempt some strategic packing of any purchases, and in addition to keeping us on budget, after all the running around, a day of relaxation was appreciated by the adults.

 
Added expenses-While no budget is perfect, we tried to anticipate every possible expense. About a year before, we researched the extra costs. (They add up… so this helped us reach a reasonable estimate.)
Admission fees
Airport parking
Gas prices
Car rental
Lodging
Exchange rates
Kenneling the dog
Fishing charter
Horseback riding
Gratuity
Baggage fees
Gifts
MARS bars
Guinness 🙂

Four girls riding in Ireland

Saving over a longer length of time didn’t affect our budget much until we increased the amount over the last two years. Travel to Ireland is truly possible for any family who makes the long term commitment to save. Our Irish adventure was worth it! Slainte!