Vacation Planning

Last week was mayhem! With work and Relay for Life the Arnold’s were here, there and everywhere! During busy times I like to be able to look forward to something even if it’s just a dinner out after work. Lately though I have been focusing on something more substantial to get me through the long days…we’re going to Mexico for our first anniversary! I know right, it’s going to be amazing. How did we make this decision/afford this trip? Well we had originally planned to visit our nations capital, going so far as to price everything down to public transportation and asking advice from friends who lived there. It was pretty much set that we would be going to DC until I came home on a Friday and said that I thought we should go to Mexico…you can imagine Mike promptly exclaimed “what?” This was not the first time I brought up Mexico though as when we were planning our Christmas vacation we looked into MX first before deciding to go with Vegas as it is more expensive to visit the Caribbean in the winter than in the spring/summer. 
So I started with the hard sell on a vacay to Mexico, it went like this… we need a relaxing trip and not a pounding the pavement type of vacation, we can see Mayan ruins, you can scuba dive, all you can drink. It didn’t take Mike long to go along with it and I actually sold him on it before I could decide to actually pull the trigger. Of course I needed to research EVERYTHING that I could in a short period of time as flights had already increased in price from that very morning when I began looking. Of course I started on TripAdvisor.com and from there we made the decision to book the resort as it had stellar reviews and so did the area we are visiting. We also needed to decide on a budget and I had a plan to use money that I saved up while working part time as a Pilates instructor which paid for about 35% of the trip, which was nice since it did not take that money out of our pocket. We decided to charge the trip on our credit card(but pay it off immediately) so we could get the points and just like that the Arnold’s were booked for Akumal, Mexico! Akumal is located in Riviera Maya in between the towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Akumal means ‘place of the turtles’ so we are hoping to see some while there. 

While there we plan to be a bit more active than we were on our honeymoon and visit Playa del Carmen and the ruins of Tulum while Mike plans to scuba dive in a cenote. We are so looking forward to all of it and cannot wait to report back and review all of the activities so future travelers can make educated decisions about what to do while visiting!

Our Resort
Cenote Diving

Tulum Ruins
We will have tons of pictures and advice to share upon our return! Happy vacation planning!
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Thirty-One Day No Spending Challenge Finale

This is a couple of days late…I blame having a real job 😉 Anyway, I just wanted to recap and state that March was a long month. There were FIVE weekends which made this challenge even more difficult. We played a bit of tennis, took walks and read books. It was a very rewarding, albeit boring, month. We saved an additional $659 over what we already put into savings each month! So I would call March a success! We are happy to be able to go out with friends again though! We would like to say thanks to everyone who put up with us through this as it was a bit aggravating at times! The thing we realized most about all of the cooking and staying at home is how much we ran the dishwasher! We usually run it about 2x per week. During March we ran it every other day which is a bit much with two people!

Would I ever do it again?….probably not! Not eating out for a month is pretty restrictive. After a busy day at work sometimes cooking is the last thing I want to do, so it is nice to have the option to go out to eat or to pick something up! I will still cook the majority of the meals we eat but convenience is key sometimes! Giving up shopping was easier(although I still missed it) because we live in such a small town that doesn’t really have any shopping temptation anyway! 
We’re already enjoying April and cannot wait to get back to some fun and frugal activities!

TripAdvisor

Being that us Arnold’s are lovers of travel and being responsible with our money TripAdvisor is our most utilized website when we begin to plan for any kind of trip to a city we’re unfamiliar with. Heck, sometimes we check it out to cities we’ve been to several times just to see if we missed anything before or if there is something new we should do/see. The basis of TA is that it allows travelers/consumers to submit written reviews of their experiences. Reviewers can also submit pictures which is the MOST important thing to browse along with the actual reviews. People from all over the world are writing and submitting reviews to TA everyday. The best thing about TripAdvisor is that it is a FREE tool that we have found to be invaluable when we are planning vacations. 
Usually when planning a vacation we first set a budget(crucial) and then look at the deals available on all of the major travel websites. If anything sticks out we’ll quickly look up the TripAdvisor rating to determine if it’s even worth our time. If it is we’ll begin reading the reviews that have been submitted most recently. We usually glance through a ton of the customer submitted pics as well. We like to see what it’s really like rather than just trusting the website of the resort/park or wherever it is that you’re going. By that time if we’ve talked about everything and I have looked for every coupon code available(dig people, dig) then we’ll book. You may think YAY we’re going on vacation, everything is planned….hold up, the fun has just begun! From then I(Jen) will read HUNDREDS(truly) of reviews about the resort, activities and transportation options before settling on what we want to do and how we want to get around. You may be asking yourself if we’re crazy… on the contrary, we are educating ourselves about where we are going and how best to spend our time and money while we’re there! While rehashing the resort reviews we usually can decide what restaurants we would like to make reservations at or what room we would like to stay in. While looking up activities we may decide that something we thought we wanted to do is not in fact for us and so we’ll pick something different. Just keep in mind that not all reviewers have the same expectations(or they may not have been rational while writing it, some people are natural critics and do not know how to compliment while critiquing) so take the reviews with a grain of salt and look at the big picture and do not focus on one bad review.
Since I am such a heavy user of TA I have decided that I am going to stop being just a user and start being a contributor! Instead of just reading the reviews I pledge to start writing them as well. I want people to be able to use my experiences to help them make good financial decisions about traveling which is not a necessary expense but a luxury and should be treated as such. Even though we are quite frugal we usually set aside money for traveling as we both enjoy it immensely! We have found that traveling to new places and experiencing new things together is good for our relationship and for our stress level so we make sure to plan small trips throughout the year. In 2013 alone we traveled to the Dominican Republic, Walt Disney World and Las Vegas/The Grand Canyon. None of these trips were booked without consulting TripAdvisor first!  You work too hard for your money to be surprised by details that you could have known before hand that would be a deal breaker for you! So if you’re like us and think that your money is important enough to check even the smallest of details then add TA to your life planning arsenal!
**This post is NOT sponsored(I wish someone would pay me, just kidding)I just wanted to give my opinion on one of my favorite websites.

March No Spending Challenge Update

So here we are…day 19 of the challenge. We are holding strong and have not cheated! I have observed though that as soon as I enacted the spending ban that the sales have been out in full force! Such temptation but I will not falter! This has been quite easier than I thought and Mike and I are enjoying finding free things to do like talking long walks and playing tennis.

Since March 1st I have been recording what I have made for dinner so I can recall later everything that we did eat this month and that we did not ‘suffer.’ Here are some examples… we have grilled on several occasions including: brats, ribs(that we had purchased at a very affordable price prior to March), chicken breasts, carnitas and ranch turkey burgers. I have also made crock-pot pulled pork, pot roast, gumbo, French onion pork tenderloin, panko ranch chicken fingers, fish packets and breakfast(for dinner)! As you can see I have tried to make a variety of foods that we enjoy to allow us to not feel like we are missing anything by not eating out. At this point I will say that we are rationing our alcohol supply. We purchased an 18 pk of beer before this began and we have 9 left so I’d say we’re going to be okay since we’re mainly reserving it for weekend meals rather than several times per week. I still have several bottles of wine that I have not touched, mainly because I like the labels 🙂

So far I have learned the difference between instant gratification and waiting for something you really want. I will say though that I am not really an instant gratification person. I prefer to research something fully before I purchase and to make sure that I am getting it at the BEST possible price. It is important to me that I spend my money as wisely as possible even though some of the things I purchase are completely unnecessary. My advice for living frugally is to stop with the instant gratification syndrome when it comes to spending and instead find something free that makes you happy! Before you purchase something, make sure you’re mindful of what’s out there…just because someone thinks an item is the best doesn’t mean you will! Spend your money wisely!

Junk in the Trunk

This is day five of our March No Spending Challenge where we are loosely following the 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero from the Living Well Spending Less blog. I wanted to share some updates with you along the way! Other than Chick-Fil-A taunting me every time I pass it(twice per day) I am holding up pretty well! I have not craved eating out one bit and I am enjoying preparing meals for dinner each night. During this time I am recording what I cook and what we do so I can look back at all of the things we did without spending excess money after the challenge is over! I want to see what we liked and what we did not so we can possibly implement those things into our lives in a more permanent way. 

As we go along I wanted to share some of the things I am experiencing and learning during this time of purging if you will. The very first thing that struck me was the amount of retail emails I receive daily! How did I not notice all of these before? Yesterday alone I unsubscribed from 22 different mailing lists and I have done 11 more this morning! Now granted I knew I got these emails and usually I would just scan the subjects and delete most of them but if one caught my eye I most certainly opened it to check out the fabulous deal/product/promotion that a particular company is hocking. Of course these emails are designed to have the receiver open them because if they didn’t work then mailing lists would not exist. So in the celebration of purging I am getting rid of all of the junk in my trunk by unsubscribing to all of these emails that flood my inbox daily. All they are doing is screaming “Hey, Look At Me” which I do not need. If I need something/want to buy something in the future I can just research the deals like I do anyway(as those emails are not always the best deal you can find) and I can free up my inbox from all of the clutter. Truthfully, I am really enjoying giving these emails the boot! This is an easy way to stop feeling like you must always be purchasing something. If I have to physically look up the items I want/need then it means that I am invested in that item rather than falling victim to advertising. So this week I am taking back my inbox and it feels good! 


I plan on writing more posts about frugal living with a new series I am going to call Affordably Awesome! I want to share some of my tips on how to live comfortably on a budget, which contrary to popular belief can be done and actually can be quite fun! Mike has some insight as well as sometimes he can be even thriftier than me! I am no Suze Orman by any means but I am very often approached by friends and family asking for tips on how to save a lot of money while still having really nice things. Life is not about nice things at all but who doesn’t enjoy living comfortably? We are learning more each day navigating marriage and our finances but there are certain things we’ve come to discover that have made both easier!


March No Spending Challenge

Tomorrow is the last day of the month! March is upon us and I wanted to share with you that the Arnold’s are going to be spending our time knee deep in a savings challenge that we are bringing upon ourselves. Last year was a crazy expensive year with our wedding, honeymoon to the Dominican Republic, Disney trip and Vegas trip. Do I regret one dime from any of it? NO! But I do wish we had the chance to save more in 2013. However, we are rectifying that in 2014 and have already made strides to put away a lot in the last two months, but in March I want to really reach and see what we can do.

In all, for a young married couple, we are pretty frugal when it comes to purchases and our spending but the eating out has gotten out of control. It’s so easy after a long day to just go out or pick something up on the way home but as much as I love to cook I have no excuse not to whip up something easy even when I get home after work. I also love using the crock-pot so that would be an easy set it and forget it, no excuse way to cook. Last month I set an eating out budget and we more than doubled it. That’s when I first knew something had to give. Around that same time while chatting with a friend she had informed me that she and her husband had done the 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero Challenge which I had never heard of before. She revealed that they had saved quite a bit and her husband even lost 10 lbs just from not eating out! Now I am not expecting to lose 10 lbs but it is true for me that when I eat at home I tend to eat much healthier.

As for Mike and I, we will be participating in the challenge with a little modifications such as having a small budget set aside for a movie night(tickets only) as Divergent comes out in theaters and I am not willing to wait to see it. I know this goes against the plan but you cannot deprive yourself of everything or you will binge later and I plan to spend the money out of my personal fun money so that nothing leaves out joint account. So here is an outline of what we are considering as Essential and Non-Essential for us. Those things may mean different things to you but for us they mean exactly how ‘bare-bones’ can we live for the month. Also, by doing that we will appreciate all of the blessings we have and learn how to fully love what we already possess.

Would you ever take on a no spending/saving challenge? The hardest thing for me will be when I see a good deal and have to pass it up but I know the reward will be far greater if I just say NO! Also this will force us to get out there and see what our community has to offer at no cost. We can head out to the wildlife refuge for a hike or take a long walk around campus. There are always things we can find that cost nothing at all we just have to be open minded about it!