How to save on travel to the USA

We have travelled to the USA a couple times.  On our most recent trip we made some considerable savings while booking our holiday.  Today I am going to share with you how to save on travel to the USA!

HOW TO SAVE MONEY TRAVELLING TO THE USA…

 

Research is the key to saving money when travelling. While these tips below relate to our holiday in the USA, the tips relate to any holiday and to any location!

 

If you are willing to put in the effort in the lead up to your holiday you can save a significant amount of money.

 

Spreadsheet – I love a good spreadsheet! Prior to the holiday I developed a spreadsheet outlining each day, location, accommodation, proposed activity and total spend for the day. What I have seen is that once on holidays it is very easy to get carried away with spending and then you pay for it (literally!) when you arrive back home. This is not too say that you cannot enjoy and splurge (we certainly did!) but this was all tracked and budgeted for prior to us leaving. This is a great way for you to understand how much money you need for the total holiday but also with some prior planning as per the below tips you can save money along the way. You can then keep refining the spreadsheet closer to your holiday as you either pay off certain activities or find cheaper prices.

 

Flights – Check websites such as skyscanner. which allows you to check flight prices across a number of companies. You can set proposed flight details and be given alerts when the price changes. Our first trip to the USA our flights were just under $2,000 two years later we managed to secure flights for $1,000 at the same time of year and with the same company (Virgin Australia). You can usually find and book flights up to 12 months in advance so the key for us was to set up the alerts and pay for the flights as soon as you see the price that you like! We had booked many months in advance (booked in March for a December / January holiday) to secure the best deal. Another tip is that we found that our travel agent would complete all of the booking details. So once we found these flights, we sent the details through to the travel agent who did all of the booking process, we also saved money as we did not have to pay the booking fee and credit card fees that the airlines charge through the website!

 

Accommodation – The key here is to identify locations and the amount of money you are willing to spend per night. We provided this information to our travel agent who provided recommendations but we would then search websites such as Hotels Combined and look at the various accommodation options, reviews and any extras that may be included. If we then happened to find accommodation we were interested in we would continue to check back to see if the price had dropped. If we found a good deal we would send through the details to our travel agent who would price match and again do all of the booking for us! We also found that a number of hotels included breakfast or had a little kitchenette so that you could prepare food. These little things save money!

 

Food and Beverage – On our trip we hired a car and decided to drive across the USA from LA to Miami. As mentioned above, we found accommodation that included extras such as breakfast included. We also bought (from Walmart!) a cheap esky (chilly bin, cooler, depending on where you are from!) and bought some water, fruit and other cheap snacks to have in the car while we were driving. Each night we could fill the esky up with ice from the accommodation to keep the drinks or anything else that needed to be kept cold. If we did choose to find restaurants or eat out, we would have checked some reviews and have found places that had good food but at reasonable prices!

 

Activities / Things to do – In the USA we found it easy to do and see some amazing attractions for little or no money. In New York for example the New York Pass is only $109 and enables you to see all of the key tourist attractions such as Top of the Rock, Empire State Building and MOMA, this is much cheaper than paying individually and in a lot of instances allows you to skip waiting lines. These are also available in a number of other locations and offer similar savings. We were also able to spend a number of other days of our holiday seeing free attractions. We spent a day walking the high line and looking at the shops surrounding areas, we spent a day in central park and enjoying all of the different scenery on offer. We walked the Brooklyn bridge and surrounds, the financial district, times square the list goes on. In Washington DC for example many days can be spent seeing all of the Smithsonian Institutes and monuments and memorials.

 

Money – Another area where you can significantly save is watching exchange rates . This is especially true if you know about your holiday well in advance, if the exchange rate goes up, you can go and purchase some of that currency at that time. We found a good travel card, but also found that it was a good idea to take some cash as well.

I hope you got some great ideas in making some of the big plans for your trip to the USA!

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pantry staples you should always have!

Pantry Staples that every frugal home needs.

Your pantry should be there to help you especially if you stock it with pantry staples that every frugal home needs. It shouldn’t be there to make you feel overwhelmed or uninspired. It should serve you and your family as a bank of nutritious food. By always having it stocked with these pantry staples you should be able to whip up some easy meal at a drop of a hat!

items to have in you pantry all the time to be organised and frugal
Pantry item every frugal house needs!
Pantry items

Tinned tomatoes – I always have at least 6 tins of tomatoes in my pantry. Easy pasta sauce base and versatile for nearly all stews and casseroles.

Tin beans – (kidney, 4 bean mix, black beans etc). Beans can be used alone as a mince and meat substitute or vegetarian option and a filler to add to mince.

Mushrooms (Tin) – An extra vegetable to add to any pasta or rice dish.

Corn  (Tin) – tin vegetables are great fillers when fresh options are limited.

Tuna (Tin) – a cheap and easy to store protein. Can be served as a dish or alone for a simple lunch with crackers.

Tomato Paste/Passata – while they are not a true substitute for each other they work for each other in a variety of ways and help you make a simple sauce or meal base.

Rice – Rice served as a side with almost any meals can help bulk it up, it is also great to go into soups to add extra bulk.

Pasta – pasta served as a side with almost any meals can help bulk it up, it is also great to go into soups to add extra bulk.

Minced Garlic – minced garlic is a long-time friend of mine, while I still use fresh garlic time to time, the easy and cost of minced garlic is hard to go past. It easily adds an extra flavour.

Jar of pesto – easy meal served with pasta or one crackers.

Flour – easy option to thicken a sauce, a staple for pizza dough and flat breads.

Olive oil – Super versatile use it as a dressing or to cook with.

Basic spices – Easy way to add extra flavour into a basic meal.

Meals

Meals you can make with these pantry staples with none or a small amount of fresh ingredient could be –

Pesto pasta, tuna pasta, tomato risotto, Mexican rice, corn fritters, tuna patties, garlic pizza, basic bolognese, tuna and corn pasta.

I always have these in my pantry, and while I try to make from scratch where possible, certain things I find are perfect to have on hand.  For me, pasta and pesto with a sprinkle of cheese is simple comfort food.  Perfect when you don’t feel like cooking or don’t have any time.  Did I miss anything?  I would love to hear what you think is have to have in your pantry!

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Bank accounts you need!

The 7 bank accounts you need to have! I get asked what bank accounts I need to have A LOT! How many bank accounts do you have? And what do you use them for? So today I am going to tell you exactly how many accounts we have and what they are for.

Bank accounts you need

1. General – this is our life account. Both our wages go into it and this is where I withdraw our cash budget from each week. Our direct debits come out of this account and transfers into our other accounts like extra mortgage repayments and savings accounts. At the end of the week there isn’t anything left and that’s the point it pays for our life.

2. Bills Account. We have totalled each bill for the whole year and divided by 52 weeks. We then save that amount + a $50 p/w buffer for inflation. All our bills are then paid in to this account. If you have a bill heavy month (doesn’t everyone!) your first year you may need to add more to account for that. But subsequent years its smooth sailing. These bills include – compulsory mortgage repayments, rates, water, electricity, car, house and life insurance. We don’t have a EFTPOS card for this account because all bills are either BPay or direct debit.

3. Savings Account. Where we save for our big goals. We don’t have an EFTPOS card because we don’t spend from this account. If we need the money we transfer it to our general account.

4. Wife Spending Account. Where our week allowance or ‘fun money’ goes. These accounts are separate because we have different spending habits. I spend a little each week while my husband saves and lavishes his wife with gifts – totally jokes. He saves up and buys stuff for his gym or camera.

5. Husband Spending Account. He gets the same amount of allowance each week to do with as he pleases. (It is also worth noting that these are the first categories to get cut if we need to save extra money)

6. House Sinking Fund – as a home owner there is always something to do around the house. Gardening, painting etc. This is an account for that. We transfer some money each week specifically for the house. This gives us some leeway if something needs repairing, but mainly we like to do home improvements (Our house is far from new). Some months it is all saved for a large project other times there are smaller projects that need to be completed.

7. Emergency Fund – $1000 in a separate account without a EFTPOS card for true emergencies. This could be for a car, house or medical emergency.

The only other account we have is a savings account for our son. This is a regular savings account, that is linked to our accounts without an EFTPOS card. He is only young and so doesn’t even know this exists. He will not be getting access to this account until he is at least 18 years old.

 

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Cash Envelope System

How to create your own cash envelope system.  Using a cash envelope system works well, even if you think you are already good with money.  It is a great idea if you go over each week, even if it is just by a little.  Only having cash can eliminate that, helping you save big in the longer term.

How to make a cash envelope system

If you are interested in why I went with the cash envelope system (and you should too) you can read about that here.  But the biggest reason I went cash is because I have a massive savings goal and so even though some of my ‘leaks’ were tiny I wanted to stop them quickly!

So first of all you need to decide you categories.  You can have as many as you like but I think more than 5 may make it a little tricky.  I use a mini folder from Kmart for my cash, but you can use envelopes, or clips to keep your money together.  I also have a coin purse for my coins.  You could use separate coin purses for each category if you want.  Whatever suits you.

My categories are – Groceries, petrol, entertainment, incidentals. Any leftover money goes towards savings. The goal is to keep your budget tight so you don’t have a heap left over so you can keep it in the bank and resist the temptation of spending!

Categories

Groceries this is pretty self explanatory.  All meat, groceries, fruit and vegetables plus cleaning products.

Petrol this category is fortnightly and obviously for me to put petrol in my car.  I put $50 a fortnight into my folder.

Entertainment is any for form entertainment or takeaway for the week. This is the only category that I carry over week to week if I don’t spend it all. At $50 it’s not enough to go out for a family dinner to a restaurant (we rarely do) so if we knew we had something coming up we would try and save previous weeks to help us out.

Incidentals this is our extra category.  It’s $50 a week.  Our incidentals are for expenses that come up with day to day life that don’t really have a category.  For us it could be another sippy cup, or contributing to a work colleagues gift.  I also put it towards ‘extras’ in the shopping if I find a great bargain that I can’t go past like reduced meat.  You could also have an incidentals category for lots of little sub categories like tuck shop money or parking money etc.

I also have a ‘medical’ category that is in the budget however I don’t take cash out for that.  Personally we are trying to have another baby so, the cost of going to the fertility doctor each month changes. Plus general doctors and sickness so while it is in budget, the amount can fluctuate wildly so I keep that in the bank and it is easier for the Medicare rebate as well.

On top of all these categories my husband and I are given an allowance. This goes directly into our separate accounts each week.  This is fun money! It is what ever we feel like, saving it for a new outfit or hair cuts etc.  It is also worth knowing this is also the first category that gets cut if we need to cut costs.

The rules

Once you have your categories and amounts sorted you then ready start you cash envelope system. The only rule is once you’re out of money – there is no more money until next week.  Don’t borrow money from the following week otherwise you will be always borrowing or chasing your tail.  If you must borrow money then you can borrow from another category – this is why having an incidental category is great.  It provides a buffer for expenses that can not be budgeted for.

It is up to you what you should do with your left over money.  You can leave it for the following money and still withdraw the full amount.  Or you can withdraw a reduced amount.  Or you can put it towards your saving goal – this is what we do.  I save the cash for a specific reason at the moment it is spending money for an upcoming mini holiday we are going on.

So far it has been great, on average I have been saving an extra $30 -50 per week.  Because I now second think every purchase.  Items like takeaway or incidentals, even though they are in my budget my spending has decreased.  I would love you to give cash envelopes a go and tell me if they make a difference in your spending and savings!

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Why we went cash!

Why we went cash?

Going cash wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I thought that we handled our money fairly well. And since I was the person who handled most of the money – I didn’t want to admit defeat. But there are many reasons why we went cash – some reasons why you should consider going cash too!

why went to a cash budget
Why went cash and you should to!

 

At the beginning of the year I set a lofty saving goal. A goal I would no longer be meeting, unless I really stopped spending.  So I tried a number of things, our budget was good.  And I didn’t over spend by a ton each week but I did over spend.  As the saying goes – small leaks sink big ships.  I was keen to stop the leaks and try to reach my saving goal.

Working with cash means that I have no safety guard. If I am doing the groceries and it goes over then I have two options – I can borrow money from my ‘incidentals’ or I can put back some items. That’s it. I only put one week’s money in at a time, so I cannot borrow from the following week.

The cash also forces me to examine every cent I spend. Do I really need that? Because if I spend that $8 on a BBQ chicken for dinner, (because I’m too lazy to cook) then later in the week I will not have that $8 when I do the groceries.

Cash also helps me understand my budget categories better. Things that may have been blurred before have become very clear. Take away as a family on a Friday night is an entertainment expense. However a quick donut alone for a treat at work on a Wednesday is NOT an entertainment expense and I really should be paying for that out of my allowance. As painful as that is for me.

Knowing what is an ‘incidental’ expense and what should be in another category means that I can easily work out if my budget needs to be altered. Or if it is my spending. It makes my budget flow a lot easier knowing that there is enough money. As long as I spend it in the right categories.

Cash has forced me to identify my spending in a way I haven’t had to before.  I now have an understanding of my ‘leaks.’  I also know where every cent is going.  But best of all I am saving more than ever.  The extra spending no longer can happen – if I want something I understand it is at the expense of something else.   If you are thinking about changing to cash, if any of these points sound like you.  I urge you to give it a go.  It’s not easy and it takes a little getting use to.  But when I see the extra money I am saving weekly – I am happy to go through the hassle of getting cash out every Wednesday morning.

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What to do when you get a pay rise!

Getting a pay rise can be an exciting time, a great reward for your hard work! I recently got a pay rise with the change of financial year. The problem is deciding what to do when you get a pay rise!

W
What to do when you get a pay rise

Many people don’t do anything with their pay rise.  Just let it sit unallocated in their budget and frit it away.  This is the worse thing you could do!  In the words of Dave Ramsey you should have a purpose for every cent.

If you receive a pay rise you need to allocate to your debt or savings straight away.  It isn’t a opportunity to spend more.

If you are in debt it should be made into a direct debit onto that debt every pay cycle.  If you are not in debt then your pay rise should be put towards your saving goals.

My payrise (its only $46) will be going as an extra payment onto my mortgage every fortnight.  It’s not a great deal extra but like with all debts, any extra payment makes a bigger difference long term.

Previously I have not done anything consciously with my pay rises.  And my spending has unconsciously gone up, the more money you have (un-budgeted) the higher your expenses go up – I have found.  So my suggestion is to get every dollar working for you.  This means making sure every payrise – no matter how big or small – is consciously put on your debt or savings.

What will you put your next pay rise towards?

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How to get your Partner on board with a budget

Getting your partner on board with your budget or financial goals may seem impossible or unimportant but in reality the opposite is true.  I was the partner that wasn’t on board.  I regularly spent until I had nothing left.  How to get your partner on board with a budget or financial plan is actually a lot easier then you probably think.  I should know – I am now the driver of our budget.

How to persuade your partner to get on board with a financial plan and budget
How to persuade your partner that you need a budget
Identify why your partner is against a budget.

They may not think they will be able to do anything fun.  Or perhaps it’s they don’t want to be told what they should do with their money.  By knowing why your partner is hesitant to have a budget is the easiest way to break down the barrier and get them on board with having a budget.  Have the conversation and make them involved in building the budget so they can have their say!  You may also want to use treats.  After paying off the 3 credit cards, if you save up you can buy whatever car you want.  That in itself is a massive goal, but if that means they get a reward that might be all they need.  The rewards system  doesn’t need to be that big to work, a mini break paid in cash or an extra $50 spending money once the first 3 things are paid off etc.  All works wonder once you get the ball rolling, if your partner is like me then they will be so happy paying off their debt that they no longer want the ‘extras.’

Be prepared.

Have your statistics.  Using a graph projecting your current debt pay off date and how much sooner you could pay it off by adding extra money to your repayments.  You could use a site like like here. To make it easy and quick to show the benefits of paying off your loans or mortgage sooner.  Or how much a house repayment could be if you are saving for a house.  If you also come prepared with how much you could save if you no longer had a credit card/ car/furniture repayment.  Often those figures are impressive enough to put something else that truly matters – a family holiday, wedding etc.

I was personally shown a graph that my now husband had prepared of our debts (mainly my debt before we met).  That graph set me in motion to get another job and pay off A LOT of my debt within the following year.  You can read about that here.

Set Goals.

By setting your goals together you know exactly what you are working towards and what you want to achieve.  If it is something you both want – then it will keep you inspired and on track.  If one of you stray the other can put you back on track.  But only if its something you both want to achieve.

Review.

Set a review date – say 8 or 12 weeks.  If the budget isn’t working its an opportunity to adjust and make changes – not a time to give up.  The aim is that it is working.  This is enough time for you to show your partner how far you have come and the benefits of staying on track with your budget and plan.

Good luck! I hope that this works for you and inspired your partner to start looking after your financial future.  Please let me know how you go with getting your partner on board with a budget!

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Our day out with Thomas at the Workshops rail museum

We have a Thomas obsessed son, by obsessed I mean OBSESSED.  He was gifted a Thomas rail way by his cousins recently and that has fuelled his obsession.  If I got a dollar every time “toot toot” was said at our house then I wouldn’t need to work! So when we heard that Thomas was coming to the Workshops Rail Museum we decided to go and check it out.  So yesterday we had a day out with Thomas at the Workshops Rail Museum  in Ipswich.

is going to the rail museum worth it
A day out with Thomas at the Workshops Rail Museum Ipswich

If you live in South East Queensland and were considering going I would highly recommend it.  Our son is 21 months old and loved it.  However if you had older children then I think they would love it as well.  There is something for everyone.  Is going to see Thomas the tank engine worth it

There were a ton of hands on areas where you could build your own tracks, an area for under 3’s, drive a train, a chill room with lounges, Thomas books and a dvd being shown.

Frugal family fun with Thomas the train

Is the Thomas the tank engine worth it

The fat controller even had a show!  While we were there, there was an animal room as well, so plenty to see and do.


There is a cafe but you can easily bring your own lunch and sit on the lawn and enjoy the sun, we did this and it was beautiful under the trees. The carpark is nearby and free – I left our lunch in the car and went out to get it when we were hungry.

The beautiful grounds of the Workshops Rail Museum Ipswich

It cost us $14.50 for each adult and our son was free because he is under 3 years. Everything was included except there is a train ride which was $3 each or $10 a carriage.

The grounds where T

Overall we would go again.  I can not wait for our son to be older so we can spend longer there but even a his age I believe that it was for the hour drive to Ipswich.  We spent roughly 2 1/2 hours and we didn’t watch the Fat Controllers show because our son couldn’t sit still long enough!

How we keep consistent with our finances.

Consistency is the key to making big financial improvements whether it is getting out of debt, saving for a car or buying a house – consistency is always key. Small leaks can sink big ships. So have a look at how we stay consistent and motivated to keep on track with our finances.

how to keep your finances on track
How we stay consistent with our finances.

Financial meetings – deciding on your goals should be a group activity. If you are in a couple or a family then the key contributors need to be present in your decision and goal making. Holding regular financial meetings ensures you are updating your goals and everyone involved knows what the aim is. It is also a great time to do financial analysis of your situation to keep you and your family on track.

Budget updates – having a budget that is consistently updates makes you financial life so much easier than guessing. Projecting saving and expenses is easily done if you have the past information. This shows you where you may have been overspending or where you can save extra money. It also helps when negotiating with insurance companies etc – you can see previous bills and ask why it has increased.

Motivation – by following the above steps and making your finances a priority it makes it easier for you to stay on track. We keep ourselves motivated by having posters of our goals. I have it on my desk at work so I know what I am working towards. You can read about other ways to motivate here.

Discussing your goals with family and friends – instead of saying I’m broke when a close friend invites you out – try telling them what you are working towards. You will find a lot more people supportive than judgemental and will want to help you work towards your goals faster. Maybe not financially but with tips and hints or by inviting you over for dinner instead of out to dinner. By sharing your goals with your children it helps them understand money and help towards reaching the family goal as well.

How do you stay consistent in your finances? I would love to know!

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Great ways to start frugal living

If you are new to saving money, budgeting and all round becoming more frugal it can seem over whelming.  It shouldn’t be.  Becoming frugal is easy – you can take your time and see what works for you.  Here are 5 tips to start the frugal living journey and help you save money and save the environment too.

living the frugal living lifestyle
how to start the frugal living lifestyle
Meal Plan

Meal planning is a great way to become frugal.  It eliminates waste, and makes you organised so much less likely to grab take away after a hectic day.  Organise each meal and shop accordingly.  If you know what is ahead for the week, there is no need for ‘just in case’ items to drop into the trolley.  It also makes preparation to make the meals easier.  Thinking about it for 15 mins once a week is a lot easier than every night at 5 pm scrambling to make something or dashing to the shops.

Every last drop

By implementing the ‘every last drop’ mantra you will easily start saving.  Cutting containers open to get out the last drop may seem extreme but once you do it a couple of times you will see how much is left behind and thrown away.

Avoid the shops

Shopping should not be a hobby.  Once it becomes that it is a hard act to break.  But avoiding the shops is a great way to kick start your frugal journey. I’m not against shopping and I understand why so many people go to the shops to ‘look around.’ But by not going you are not noticing whats new and what is on special.  It cuts out any temptation. Not spending money is the best special around.

Reduce, reuse and recycle

By actively seeking out ways to follow the 3 R’s you will stop spending money.  At first you probably won’t even notice but the better you get at reusing items the more money you save.  It is a great habit to exercise and become more creative with the ways you can reduce, reuse and recycle.

Less is more

By adopting a minimalist lifestyle you’re not only saving money by buying less.  You become more organised because you spend less time organising and tidying the excess stuff that never fit into your home.  But you will also make money when you realise how much excess stuff you have and that you can sell for money.  LESS STUFF = MORE MONEY + MORE TIME

 

 

hints and tips to embrace frugal living journey
start frugal living journey

Not all things are going to work for you.  When starting your frugal living journey remember it will last (hopefully) a lifetime.  Some things will be easy to embrace, others you would prefer to eat worms! But keep trying.  It’s like exercise the more you do it the easier it becomes.  The most important thing is NOT to give up!  Keep trying see what works for your family.  Frugal living does NOT mean you have to give up what you and your family enjoys.  If fact it’s the opposite you are saving money on other areas so you know you can continue doing the things that are important.

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