Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Compare Your Income to the Average Global Income: Global Wealth and Gratitude

At my day job, we often refer to the concept of 'perspective shift' in pointing to that moment when someone gets it. It's the moment the light bulb comes on, and they are able to see the problem or concern from a new angle. Troubled coworkers, are often referenced as needing a 'perspective shift' in order to come on board with the team. It has become so ubiquitous, I heard the phrase used the other day as its own verb. One of the reasons that I think it's such a powerful visual tool, is it isn't indicating that there is anything wrong with the person or the team. Each individual has everything they need already- the knowledge, the passion, etc., it's just how they view the world around them, that needs to shift ever so slightly.

If you think hard enough, you may be able to find a way that your perspective has shifted on a belief or value of yours over the past few months. Maybe it has been reconsidering a political perspective or how you view a relationship with a family member. So what does a perspective shift have to do with frugal finances? Quite a lot, actually.

If you have really taken the road to frugality- it's taken a perspective shift. If you are committed to living large while spending small you likely needed to make some changes. It may mean driving your car less, and using your bike or walking to get you to and from. It may mean opening that retirement account and starting a budget. You may have made financial goals for 2016. Or perhaps a combination of several of these.

A few days ago, I was in the need of a perspective shift. Working in social work, I am often reminded to be grateful for what I have. On this particular day though, I was feeling a bit down regarding some of the recent high ticket expenses that have come our way, like needing a new roof. Ouch- talk about a big ticket purchase. These items have caused us to readjust our some of our plans to do further projects around the house. Needless to say, I had lost some perspective and was disappointed.

That's when Mr. FR heard a podcast talking about global income levels and asked me about it.  Something he said shocked and stuck with me. The average US household, is in the highest percentage of the global income. Not being a person to take this at face value- I did some research, and found this wonderful calculator by the Pew Research Center on global income levels, which indicated that many of us in the developed world are in the top 7% of global income.



The calculator takes your household income and it compares it to levels of income- not just in the Western, developed world, but globally. The study looks at homes in poverty, low income, middle income and high income. In looking at global income, the Pew Research Center indicates
"...people who are middle income, globally speaking, live on $10.01-20 a day, which translates to an annual income of $14,600 to $29,200 for a family of four."

Let that sink in for a minute. Globally, any income levels over $30,000 a year is considered high income, compared with the rest of the population. The Pew research study breaks down the other categories here: "The poor live on $2 or less daily, low income on $2.01-10, upper-middle income on $20.01-50, and high income on more than $50." What that means is that for most of us, earning over $30,000 a year, puts us globally in the high income category- and in the top 7%.

It is all too easy in our society to adjust to the world as we see it. A world where we take for granted the many luxuries we have. Where living in a safe community, with electricity, and being able to easily afford the food and clothing we need puts us in the upper income levels internationally. It can be easy to view other people around you and think about the items that they have, or the concentration of wealth for other people. It is easier to forget how privileged you are to have been born with, what may look to the rest of the world, as that silver spoon in your own mouth. It may be time for a perspective shift, not to feel guilty for what you have, but to have a new appreciation for the life you lead.

Give the calculator a try for yourself by clicking here. Leave a comment about what you think of the calculator or if you have had any shifts in your thinking about finances recently.
Thanks for stopping by!




Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Frugal Rock Travel: Be a Tourist in Your Own City

If the web traffic from the photo heavy post on Frugal Backpacking was any indication- you folks like to hear about frugal travel. I'm back with what may be the most frugal traveling of all- staying in your own city! Or is it?


Having some back-to-back out of town guests this summer inspired me to be the frugal traveler in my own city. The 'staycation' has been a phenomenon through the recession brought on by individuals who didn't have the money they were used to due to wage freezes, unemployment (or underemployment), etc. As a result of the tightening financial times, more people didn't have the cash to spend on fancy vacation- or even relatively cheap ones. Since you are on a frugal finance site, I also probably don't need to tell you why you should NOT put your vacation on credit cards (unless you are doing it to just earn points and can pay it off right away).

In researching average vacation costs, most often, the calculated expenses were done by credit card companies, who have more then a vested interest on what you spend for vacations. These companies weighed in with average amounts that seemed very high to me. American Express recently estimated just under $5,000 for a vacation. So if you don't have the money for a vacation or just don't like to travel, having an 'at-home' vacation and being a tourist in your own city may be the way to go.

There are some big pitfalls to avoid so keep reading for a) frugal ideas for a great staycation, and b) secrets to making it a success. Note- every city is so different that instead of giving you exact sites or places to check out, I've collected several vacation activities to look for when planning a staycation.

1. Do something that locals typically don't do in your city.

In our city, the lakefront is always teeming with locals- jogging, walking, roller blading and biking. It's always a popular spot. But there are also some 'touristy' things, like renting a paddleboat in a nearby lagoon. The lakefront also boasts a kite store, which hosts an annual kite festival each year. I haven't flown kites since I was a child, let alone at the lake front. It was a fun way to spend the day and try something in my city I hadn't done in years and made me appreciate the same views and parks, but in a different way. Think about the common spaces in your city- what are some areas or activities that you haven't tried (or haven't in a while). What can you do to make those spaces part of your 'staycation'?


Let's go, fly a kite!

2. Take a tour.

Is there anything more touristy, then taking a city tour? Always one of my favorite parts about discovering a new city, there are plenty of options. Many historic districts will have architecture tours, walking tours, or food tours. Food tours seem to have become very popular lately, with stops at many area eating (and drinking) spots. Some cities even boast more offbeat tours. In the last few years, Mr. FR and I have done two different ghost tours in various cities, where you visit sites of 'intrigue' in the community or areas where scenes from horror movies were filmed. This past summer, we also did two tours that were new to us in our own city. While we come from the land of beer- I discovered our city also boasted a soda (and beer factory) and a distillery. Both of these made our list of tours to try when we had company. Slightly less frugal options for tours may include a bike or bus tour- or even more ritzy, many cities will offer views of the city by boat or by Segway.


3. Go out for a nice meal in a new area of town...linger.

One thing I do when I travel is look up Yelp or travel reviews to find the places where locals eat...so what do you do when you are a local? Make a reservation at a place you wouldn't typically frequent- maybe a type of food that's out of your comfort zone or explore a different area of town then you normally would. If you are anything like me, you develop favorite places, and frequent them mostly. This is your chance to try something completely new.

While at dinner- don't rush! While we don't eat out nearly as much as we used to, it can be a stop on the way somewhere or doesn't feel special if you are in a hurry out of there. When traveling, I normally find I take my time, linger over a appetizer or a coffee at the end of a great meal. Maybe have a cocktail. Try to channel that when you are local and slow the heck down.

4. Get Outside!

The best free activity out there is exploring local parks, trails and rivers. Now is your chance to go further and devote a whole day to spending time in the woods. Maybe this is the chance that if normally you hike, you try doing some canoeing or kayaking around that favorite spot. I recently learned that many of the county parks in my area have Mountain Biking trails, you better believe that the next long weekend I have, I will try and conquer some of these!

Shadow Selfie

5. Take Advantage of Free/Cheap Local Events or Festivals

Want to plan a great staycation? Try planning your vacation around a free or reasonably priced festival in your area. Many cities have live music for cheap to check out. Not a live music person?  How about a sporting event? No need to go expensive- it's often the experience that makes the event good. Think baseball, basketball, or maybe something more exotic like cricket or futsal.



Baseball by Moonlight

Secrets to a Great Staycation


1. Set good boundaries.

So the hard thing about vacationing at home (can you tell that I kind of hate the word staycation??) is that the world can - and probably will try to interrupt at anytime. I recently attended a meeting at work where someone who was on a 'staycation' came in because they felt the meeting was important. While it was important, if she had been across the country traveling, she would have felt guilt-free about skipping the meeting. If you are vacationing at home, make sure that you don't get your work email, answer calls or heaven forbid, attend work meetings.

The boundaries aren't just about work though. Think family and friends- if your goal of the staycation is to spend quality time with your spouse, how will you respond to requests to make plans (since you will be in town) without offending people. How will you let people know if they stop by that they are not exactly welcome? This would be infinitely harder to do if you have children who may be requesting sleep overs, friend dates, etc. during your family staycation.

The secret may be clear communication. Ensure that everyone in your household knows the plan for the staycation and what the boundaries are. Be clear with individuals requesting your time, whether that be work, personal or other obligations that you are not able to assist. Know that it's okay to take that break, even from people you care about.

2. Give yourself a budget.

I had a long weekend about a year ago, where I decided to forgo the weekend trip away to visit a friend and save money. I decided to spend that weekend at home doing a mini-vacation. The problem was that I didn't give myself a budget or an amount that was okay to spend. As a result, I found myself feeling guilty for every spending item, or conversely, forgoing fun things that I love doing, in order to not spend. If your vacation is being replaced by staying in your city- it's okay to splurge a little, but give yourself some parameters.

You may have the opposite problem-  what all tourist hotspots know is that people will spend money on vacation on things they never would have considered otherwise, like knick-knacks or a ridiculously overpriced drink- because you are on vacation! You deserve it! I still have a seashell frame somewhere in my house that says 'Cozumel' on it. Can't remember why I thought I would want to display that- so I am clearly guilty of that as well.

In researching this post- I came across a great article that included some really interesting research out of the UK, in surveying over 1000 people, they actually found that travelers spent MORE dough on their staycations then when away. I would hazard an educated guess about why this may be. When I feel like I have been good, and ate healthy for a few days, I'm much more likely to eat a whole giant pizza by myself- because I have earned it. In the same way, if you feel like you are forgoing something, like a big international trip, you may be more likely to 'spend away' when you are at home.

3. Get off Social Media- but Take Photos!

I didn't say get rid of your phone for the whole time, that would be just about plain impossible, BUT, many of us when on vacations are too busy 'doing'  to post or cruise other's social  media feeds. In some countries our internet or cell service may be spotty when we are vacationing and it turns into a blessing in disguise to keep those other distractions at bay. Give it a try during your staycation- maybe start small and turn off your push notifications. Maybe leave your phone at home (if you are with others, I'm sure someone else will have their phone to navigate or take photos if needed), or for the strong willed- stay off Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and all the others for your whole staycation. That being said, while you aren't instantly posting photos of your staycation, don't forgo taking pics altogether. Vacation photos are often fun to look back on for years- just because you are staying local, doesn't mean those aren't important and great memories that you may want to capture.

On last parting note:

For those of you reading State Side, we should take a note from our international brothers and sisters out there and use our vacation time. Americans are the WORST at taking vacation and many leave vacation time on the table. This leaves us more over-worked and more stressed then are European friends. Get with the program folks- and use that vacation time.

Have you ever done a staycatation? Did you love it, or hate it? What were the things you did to ensure it was still a 'frugal' option?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Haters gonna Hate



Have you ever experienced this? You decide to go on a diet or start a new exercise regime, and immediately there's that one friend who comes out of the woodwork to tell you about all the times they tried (or someone they know tried) and failed at it. While hopefully not malicious, the story is told to you to point out how hard it is. Is it motivating?? Absolutely not! Is it aimed at encouraging you or inspiring you to be your better self? Nope. So why do people do this??

It's a mystery to me, but lately this has been happening when I've been chatting with people about our long-term goals (yup, I've turned into that person- but only when people ask about the blog!) of paying off our house early or trying to re-think the two 40-hour-a-week jobs. I do appreciate that a few years from now we may have a major shift or change in our perspective of how we want our lives to look. The things is- I don't see being debt free and financially independent as goals I want to grow out of or toss out the window. I think it's here to stay.

So what's the most asked question that get's thrown my way these days? Here it is:

 I know a lot of wealthy people out there that can't retire early-
if they can't do it, why do you think that you can?

This is such a common one, and is built on misconceptions! Saving and retirement is not just about income. Don't get me wrong- if you don't have an income, you can't save money- but don't let your income define who you are. You do not need to be making 6 figures, working 60 hour weeks in order to save for retirement. Truly, it's about expenses and how you choose to live your life. An example: basic retirement advice is that in order to retire in your 60's you need 8x your annual salary. This assumes a few things about you and your lifestyle, the most major of which is that it assumes that you will need 80% of your annual income in retirement. This is a common assumption, based on the fact that most people spend about all of their income on their expenses. If that's the case the 8x your annual salary is a good way to ball park your retirement number (or what you would need to have saved before you retire).

BUT...what if your spending rate is lower than 80% of your income? Spoiler: you don't need to save as much for retirement. Another way to think about it is how much your yearly spending is. By determining your retirement 'number' off of that figure your number may be lower then traditional wisdom would suggest. This would likely be much more accurate- as it takes into consideration what your actual lifestyle needs are.

The math is actually very simple when it comes to saving- it's the saving that's the hard part! I recently have been loving this blog- Go Curry Cracker. The author simplifies things even more, 'if you save 10% your income for 9 years, you can not work for 1 year and still support your lifestyle. If you save 90% of your income for 1 year, you could not work for 9 years'. I'd take a 9 year sabbatical- would you?

So if the math is that simple why are there so many wealthy people who can't retire early or even seem to save? It goes back to lifestyle habits. I know people who live in our neighborhood, in reasonable sized homes, with used vehicles that probably have portfolios to put mine to shame- and I know others with large houses, generous incomes who barely pay their bills on time. I bet if you thought about it- you know people like that too.

With reasonable expectations, good habits, and some good luck in finding jobs that meet our needs, the Frugal Rock home is trying hard to stay on track with our spending/saving goals! And if you were wondering- there are A LOT of success stories out there from individuals who worked hard to become financially independent and chase their dreams. Here are a few of my favorite blogs on them:

mrmoneymustache.com
Budgetsaresexy.com
gocurrycracker.com



Frugal Rock OUT.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What to Consider When Looking for a New Job


BIG NEWS in the Frugal Rock Household on the Employment Front, there is a new job for Mr. Frugal and this lady couldn't be prouder of him!


Mr. Frugal is in programming/manufacturing and has put his time in working in factories and machine shops. While good experiences, breathing in coolant and manufacturing fumes probably isn't great for his long-term health, so it's great that he has found a job that will bring new challenges, but also a lot of great rewards. Mr. Frugal already started at his new place, but the decision to take the job had to be weighed with a lot of other factors and it got me thinking a lot about how to make career choices and what to consider. So what are the factors to weigh when you are determining whether to take a new job?

1. First and foremost- salary. Be realistic upfront about how much you need to (and want to) make. A lot of people put low amounts on their initial application only to have a higher salary in mind later. If it will take an extra $10,000 or maybe $20,000 to get you to move jobs, it's okay to be open about it. It's also okay to ask about the salary range early in the process. While not a question that is always easy to broach in an interview, when approached by Human Resources for an interview, asking about the salary range can save you (and them) a lot of time if you know up front that it's not going to meet your needs!

2. Don't forget about the 'bennies'- benefits that is! Ask questions about the benefits. Remember that these are a big part of your salary package. A lower salary may be a good trade off for you, with lower health costs, more vacation days, better 401k matches, or other perks.  A great example of this is with Mr. FR's new position. Additional vacation time was big, the 401k match is great, but the health insurance was a huge selling point. While we have always taken my insurance, which is a good policy, my company offers incentives to take your partner's insurance. By not being able to do so, we have left 'free' money on the table the last several years. In addition, Mr. Frugal's new health insurance policy offers a lot of 'healthy' living deductions. For example, employees qualify for a drastically-reduced price fit-bit which if employees and their spouses meet 'healthy living' goals also reduces the price of the health insurance. Score!

3. Consider goodness of fit. So it's not all about the money, right? Even though this is a blog about frugal living, it is also about having a fulfilled lifestyle. Part of a well-rounded happy life, is feeling success and satisfaction. While some people never find it in their work, it's something to strive for. Why spend 40 hours a week doing something you hate or that causes more stress then satisfaction? When interviewing with a company, it's important that you ask questions about things that are important to you. Is it about what type of boss your new supervisor will be? How much you will work independently or in tandem with others? Is it about opportunities for growth or long-term advancement? What's the company climate? Whatever your goal, don't forget that interviewing the company is also part of the job search process. Consider also, it may be worth it to take a salary deduction to switch from a company with no opportunities for growth, to one, that while initially you may take a pay cut, has several positions that you may be able to advance to in future years.

4. Distance. How far is the new job from your old place of employment or your home? This was something that generated some good discussion in our household- especially since we have been trying to decrease our carbon footprint. When Mr. FR was approached about this position, the recruiter mistakenly gave him the wrong location for the company. Initially when applying, he thought it was closer. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Mr. FR loved the company- Goodness of Fit was pretty high and even now several weeks into the job switch- he couldn't be happier.  In looking at factors 1-3 above, it was more then enough to sweeten the deal to make the longer commute more worth while. Mr. FR has also been taking his motorcycle more, saving on fuel costs.

Of course there are additional items to consider after accepting a job offer- like rolling over your 401K, enrolling in a new health insurance program, and making the most of your company retirement match, but that's a whole other post! Is it weird that I can't wait?  Nothing gets me more pumped then open enrollment and 401k matches. :)

What are some factors you consider when thinking about a job change? Are one of these four things more important to you then others?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Frugal Rock Travel- Backpacking Style

Hi Folks! It's been a while- summer is getting away from me. Been really busy enjoying life, getting outside and enjoying out of town company. Hoping to get a more regular schedule in place again for the fall; but thanks for visiting!

I'm back with a Frugal Rock Travel Segment- and want to share about the best mini-getaway I've ever taken. That's right- THE best. And it was the best for a few reasons: getting away for a long weekend, spending time with Mr. FR, having no phone, email or technology...ohhh, and the fact that it all cost less than 200 bucks. Get ready for a photo-heavy post!

Having been lucky to travel quite a bit nationally and internationally, I never would have thought to find such a cool getaway a few hours away. IF you are willing to rough it and enjoy the experience of the great outdoors, camping and backpacking are a wonderful and frugal way to go. In Wisconsin, backpacking and non-electric site (meaning no outlets nearby) costs $20 a night so a long weekend stay can be done for $40 a weekend- $50 with all taxes and fees. This would still be much below the hotel costs or even a night out for dinner and drinks.

The GEAR

Now one quick aside about gear.

Of course, the initial costs of camping gear can be expensive. Tents, backpacks, cook stoves, etc. can add up quickly. I am not advocating for the cheapest purchases all the way around ( after all, who wants to spend any money on a tent that leaks?), but neither do you need to go to REI and let them 'outfit' you with a special cook pot that costs over $100 and supposedly works better over the fire. I call hogwash. Other then our tent and backpacks, we tend to go cheaper/simpler options as best. Here is a quick rundown of our backpacking gear:                   

Only people for miles, right along Lake Michigan.
                          

1 Quechua Tent- for sure the best purchase we have made. Tight fit for two people, but with room at the foot for bags. We have been out in some heavy rain and have never had a leak. Also while a tight fit, because of the small footprint, we tend to stay warmer. The big selling point for me on this one is it springs open and other then staking it into the ground requires no assembly.

A little chilly but nothing a hat won't fix. My
bag is a GoLite.
2 Backpacks- probably out most expensive gear. To haul all of our items comfortably, it's important that the bag be the right size for you and is able to help you easily haul everything you need. In this case, we needed to hike in and out about 2 miles, carrying all of our items. While not a huge distance you would struggle without the proper bag. We have used these not only for camping, but also for train trips or other getaways. Last year the Frugal Rock household took the train to DC, and then walked to the AirBNB, about 2 miles with all of our stuff on our backs. We bought these online (thanks Amazon prime!) but I would highly recommend walking over to a outfitting/camping store and trying on some bags before buying so you know the style that works best for you.

Mr. FR loving the outdoors and outfitted to hike out after a fun weekend!


1 Foldable burner and cook fuel. We had looked at more expensive options multiple times. JetBoil is the most popular one out there, but simple and light won the day on this. We use a simple fold out burner and a small fuel cell that we light. The pot for the stove- that we use for everything, making coffee, meals etc., was an old cook pot of ours that's gotten a little warped over time. When we replaced the pot in our home kitchen, it got repurposed for our outdoor needs.

1 Water Filtration. This is the first trip where we did not have easy access to drinking water.  Due to this we did have to make some purchases, including a foldable water jug, tablets to clean the drinking water (so we could pull it right from Lake Michigan!) and water filtration straws to help filter any left over bits from our lake or stream water. This totaled just under $30 and will be items that we plan on using in the future.

Other items:
Sleeping Bags
Ax- cutting up downed wood, instead of purchasing or hauling wood in (cuts down on invasives too- so double win)
Rain Gear
Clothes/Personal Items

Every so often we need to replace some of the small items, such as flashlights, but over the last 6 years, we have slowly purchased the big items so the expenses were spread out over a long period of time.

While we spend a lot of time hiking and sitting around the fire when camping, we also bring at least one travel game. A pack of cards will do, but lately we have been bringing Travel Chess or Battleship. A book or two generally gets shoved into one of the bags as well. We bring one of our phones for emergencies, but don't use it for distraction- ie. internet surfing during downtimes, though a podcast does come in handy for rainy nights!




The FOOD

The way backpacking differs from most camping, is the lack of refrigeration or coolers. Most foods will either need to be packaged and/or dehydrated to prevent spoiling.

There are several store bought varietis you can purchase if you want to go the easiest route. Here is one variety that came recommended that you can buy on Amazon. If you are worried about the sodium content in some of these package meals (Mr. FR) or just want something a little more gourmet for camping (me) you can also very easily and cheaply make your own food packs. The key idea behind this is something that will taste delicious, is nutritious- in these cases also packed with protein, and can be made with just boiling water and adding the food packet. I got a lot of inspiration from this blogger who made a variety of packaged meals. I also did some comparing to this site and played around with my own variations as well. I will admit that some of these were so good that I could see making and stacking them in the pantry for nights when you may just need an instant meal and don't want to do the same old pasta or rice-a-roni.

To make the recipes above I did go on Amazon (we have a prime membership so it's often cheaper to purchase in bulk from Amazon then run to the store!) and order a few things- freezer Ziploc bags, freeze dried veggies, fruit and chicken. With the help of the link above I made the following meals for our dinners/lunches:

Sundried Tomato Pasta w/ Salmon
Fiesta Rice w/ Chicken and Veggies
Thai Peanut Sauce and Noodle Dish **my personal favorite**
Vegetable Curry

Each bag I wrote the instructions as to how much water and cook time was needed to make things really simple each night. You will notice that these are carbohydrate heavy. One reason for that is that carbs are great in making you full without tons of food. Carbs stick with you throughout the day. When you are hiking 5-8 miles a day something lighter is not going to get you through! Finally, carbs work great in these meals since they come dried, they are uniquely good at being the base in instant meals.

For breakfasts, I did something similar and made homemade instant oatmeal packets. Again for ease and speed, you could bring Quaker Oats instant packs, but if you really want to be horrified- check the sugar content in just one of those packs. In addition, Mr. FR and I combined would eat about 5 packs in a morning so over 3-4 days we would generate a bunch of garbage to pack out. Instead, I made 5 serving breakfast packs again with dried fruit and added cinnamon or one decadent morning cocoa powder. Each morning we boiled water and then threw in the one breakfast pack and a few minutes later had a meal ready.

For snacks, there was applesauce and summer sausage (some varieties don't need refrigeration until opening so we bought small ones and ate in one sitting). And of course, plenty of instant coffee.

The COST Breakdown (rounded for calculating ease)

Site Fees/Reservations- $60 for 3 night at $20 a night
Food Costs- $50- including left over freeze dried items for future meals. I gave myself a budget of $50 and stayed to it pretty exactly.
Gas-$40 - I put $20 in my tank on the way there and the way back, but never was fully empty so the actual gas price is approximate
Restaurant- $35- We did a very un-frugal thing on the way back and stopped for lunch. Being frugal is also about knowing when to splurge, and we couldn't resist the lunch spot with goats on the roof.

Total: $185

The NATURE

So in case you are asking yourself- why all this work? Was it worth it? Absolutely! These below images of the beautiful scenery we got to enjoy. Not only that, but we were completely relaxed most of the weekend, and were truly away from it all. We did not have any other campers nearby and were miles from other people. We were able to wake up each morning with a view of the lake from our tent and songbirds overhead.  Not only that, but I had a huge sense of satisfaction during the trip of being pushed out of my comfort zone, and at times, pushing our endurance. It reminded me that the best vacations are not necessarily the most expensive ones, but the ones that nourish your soul. Needless to say, we already booked our site for next summer!

After several days of rain the forest was a bright green, as only seen in spring- with wildflowers blooming in the underbrush.
Little garden snake. After Mr.FR painstakingly got close to this little guy, I almost immediately stepped on another one.
They were everywhere!




A tree with personality...


Friday, June 10, 2016

Resolution Re-cap- 6 Months In

It's time for a RESOLUTION RECAP.

Sorry to shout- but it's officially well into the 'new' year. That makes it time to find out how well those well-intentioned New Year's Resolutions are holding up. According to Psychology Today most New Year's Resolutions fall to the wayside pretty quickly. Specifically over time, 22% fail after one week, 40% after one month, 50% after three months, 60% after six months, and 81% after twenty-four months. Ouch! So if you made a resolution to exercise more or eat less, chances are you (and the rest of America) stuck with that for maybe a few weeks!

Don't let that bring you down though because the same research on why resolutions fail gives us good insight in how to be successful. The research shows that people who had solid concrete goals- with measurable and trackable outcomes were more likely to be successful. When personal motivation is lacking, the use of a support system for personal accountability also comes into play!

So how'd Ms. Frugal Rock do on those resolutions? Here's a status report:

1. Do something with that old 401K account.

I'm embarrassed to start with this one, because until I started this post- I had completely forgotten about this resolution. Whoops. Probably the easiest out of the 5 resolution goals there is nothing sexy about exploring your 401k roll-over options. That being said, it should be a pretty simple way to condense my portfolio and get all of my accounts in the same place. I'm adding it to my list for this next week and will report back!

2. Find a way to reduce my commute by biking 1 day a week.

Sweet, sweet progress. I had initially mentioned my hope of purchasing an electric bike, but super-savy, Mr. Frugal Rock managed to find a pretty reasonable kit online to outfit my current bike into an electric. As of about two monhs ago, I can be found zooming along the bike trails knocking over pedestrians with my speed...well not quite, but I'm able to cruise at about 13mph without pedaling, and with pedaling am able to make a pretty nice clip. I have been buzzing back and forth to work now 10+ times and have stuck with my goal of biking at least once a week. Now that it's truly summer (with less damp weather going around hopefully!) I'll be able to bike in more often.  Finger's crossed!

As someone who has never been a confident street biker- being able to bike downtown fairly confidently feels like a huge milestone for me, as I could not have imagined myself biking to work even a year ago! Life is funny sometimes!

3. Aggressively save to pay off our mortgage early

I posted in January on our goals for our mortgage, and am proud to announce that we have knocked our mortgage down to 5 figures, instead of 6. It's satisfying to see one less digit at the end of our loan amount. In addition, there is a super-saving-scheme (alliteration makes saving more fun, I promise) in the works that if followed will keep us on track to knock even more off this year. One potential set-back in our saving is a new roof, which is needed for the Frugal Rock home this year. While an expected expense, anytime you have to spend thousands of dollars on a home improvement project it hurts a bit!

4. Continue to explore side jobs or 'side hustles'


No new updates on this for Ms. Frugal Rock yet to share. BUT, I hope to have news to share soon about a potential side hustle. Mr. Frugal Rock has been leaving me in the dust and has developed his own Etsy Store to sell Nintendo Themed Wood Block Sets- no joke, they are the best!

5. Embrace budget travel.

This one has been thoroughly embraced. As I shared in a previous Frugal Road Trip post, I loved going on a cross-country road trip, and the fact that also didn't deplete our bank accounts was another huge bonus. Last month brought on a last minute road trip to the corn-loving state of Iowa, to see a friend in on business. While no means the most exciting vacation destination I've ever been to- it was a great time anyway! Frugal trips have been planned for this summer including some camping and backpacking, so stay tuned for posts on those, as well as other Frugal Travel features.

How have your resolutions been going? Any frugal resolution you have made and stuck with?


Friday, April 29, 2016

Investment Basics: 'Bear'ly Making Sense of a Bull Market


As a beginning investor, sometimes you can listen to the news or hear market re-caps, and be utterly confused by the lingo. You may have heard reference in the past to the concept of a 'bear' or a 'bull' market. Even outside the New York Stock Exchange, they have a statue of this lovely beauty:
 


Looks friendly.

So what is the difference between a bull market and a bear market and how did they get those names?

Interestingly, the difference between the two boils down to their method of aggression or attack. A bear when poised to attack takes it's paw and swipes downward. For bulls, it's exactly the opposite. Think Pamplona and the running of the bulls for a minute. Bulls will move their heads low and thrust quickly upwards, hoping to skewer unsuspecting runners with their horns. So what does this have to do with the market? Both animals' attacks are supposed to symbolize the movement of the market and investor confidence (more about that in a moment). In a bear market, you would expect to see market prices decline, while in a bull market, the opposite would be seen. Some investment experts cite a 20% decrease in value from the peak of the bull stock market as the sign of the bear market. 

The animal choices are also not completely random. Some of the first commodity traders were bear skin sellers. After selling orders of bear skins, the traders would hope that the price would go down on the skins before they purchased them. They would still charge their customers the same cost, thus making a larger profit. They would actually hope for a 'bear' market and would use that to turn a profit.

Investor Confidence
 
As seasoned stock market watchers know, much of the stock market movement is tied to what is referred to as Investor Confidence. Investor Confidence can make or break a stock. The stock market often has normal shifts up and down, as individual stocks also move up and down. Certain stock groupings, such as the NASDAQ or the S&P500 are groupings of stock that are than measured in their market increases and decreases. These indices are generally thought to be good representations of tracking the market as whole. If overall, investors are less hopeful about the future of the US economy the stock market tends to take a hit. If a company projects positive earnings or makes a change in leadership, this may increase investor confidence and cause a rise in pricing.
 
Larger impacts, like consumer spending, reports from the Federal Reserve or the unemployment rate are all items closely watched by investment firms and factor into decisions to buy or sell. CNN Money has a different way of talking about Investor Confidence. They have a model related to Fear V. Greed. On the Greed side, investors are purchasing rapidly and the overall stock market sees a rise (bull market). The Fear side, is when many investors question the values of their stocks and sell rapidly (bear market). For many of us, the sell-offs of the Great Recession are not yet distant memories, where many portfolios lost tens of thousands of dollars in short periods of time- a reminder that fear and lack of confidence has large repercussions. 
 
  What a load of bull...
  
Does the idea of investor confidence and the rise and fall of the market seem arbitrary to you?? I'm with you! You can go crazy watching the major indices, like the NASDAQ or the S&P. Most agree that the US Stock market has been in a long-stretch of bull market, without a 20% decline that has been seen in the global markets. While global stock markets have entered the bear market- US markets seem to still be in bull territory. Watch any Market Watch though and there are predictions of doom and gloom on the horizon. But would a bear market be so bad?
 
Think of a weak stock market as a 'sale' rack - with deals to be found for the savvy investor. I am always thrilled when I purchase something half-off or on clearance so why shouldn't I also be stoked by the idea of paying less for a stock that one year ago was twice the price? This is where that weak stock market- or a bear market, can be good for you! You have the chance to build your portfolio without spending as much, if you are making good investment decisions. For me- we have a monthly amount that we put into a ROTH investment account- we put the same amount in each month, but our money stretches farther in a bear market, than a bull market. When eventually the market turns from Fear to Greed again, the hope is that those investments will increase dramatically!
 
How Confident are YOU in the Market? Do You Think A Bear or Bull Market is in the Future?


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Gardening Update 1: Need for Seeds


First gardening update: the seeds are bought and in the ground!

And by ground, I mean in individual garden soil pellets, positioned under heat lamps in my warm house cuz it's too freaking cold outside still to actually plant them in the ground!

As some of you may remember from this recent post- I am asking the question this summer "Can veggie gardening save you money??". As part of that, I decided to start seeds indoors prior to planting outside. There are a few good money saving reasons for this:

1. It saves me from having to purchase plants later at the garden store, which can get expensive. Seed packets are generally about $1-$2 and can grow 10+ plants while garden stores often charge $5-$10 for starter veggie plants.

2. It allows you to grow different varieties than are commonly sold. Last year I grew these fantastic mini-watermelons, that I grew from seeds. They took off in my yard, but I never would have found them at a Home Depot!

So far my grand total of costs has been $33, which includes seed purchases. I did have the grow lights left over from previous years so I repurposed those. Search on Amazon and you can find some reasonable set up for less than $50 depending on the size of the light that you are looking for. While it will have some cost for you at first if you use them year by year, it can be worth it. If you have a lot of windows, you may not need them, but the window placement in our house doesn't lend itself to good seedling growing so plants lights were the best solution.

So about a week or two after planting, here is how my seedlings are doing:






This tray is primarily tomato varieties- beefsteak, and vine tomatoes, but also has a little okra and cantaloupe thrown in. YUM.

Hope it's beginning to feel like spring wherever you are!!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Your TV Watching is Breaking Your Wallet

About a month ago, Mr. Frugal Rock and I had a glorious weekend. It was one of the first nice, warm weekends after the cold stretch of winter, and we spent a lot of time outside, hanging around with friends and working on our projects. In talking about our weekend Sunday night while lying around our living room, we had a revelation. We hadn't watched any television.

While never having been excessive (I think) in our television viewing, I will admit to a heavy binge-watching streak, especially on weeknights after a tough day. With the endless ability to continue watching shows, thanks to streaming services like Netflix uploading whole seasons at once, it can become easy to overdo it. You may not be a House of Cards fanatic (like your's truly) but for all you March Madness fans out there, don't pretend like you haven't been watching endless amounts of basketball games in the past few weeks and pouring over the highlights each night after the day of play is over. Plus for the Frugal Rock home, we both have our own shows- (HOC for me/Tom Goes to the Mayor for Mr. FR) so this is also time where we are spending time apart doing our own thing. I'm not a believer that couples need to spend ALL their time together but ignoring your partner can get a bit excessive when you are trying to cram through 13 episodes in a short amount of time.

So how much Television is 'normal'? The way to find out is the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Time Study. This fancy tool takes a look at how Americans spend their time. Yup, all of it. Seriously, they quantify the amount of hours Americans work, cook, clean up the house, do leisure time, etc. And most interesting they break it down by gender, age, employment and other factors. Feel free to us the time study next time you want to talk with your partner about gender inequality over household chores. :)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Time Study (take a peak if you've never looked at it) on the average night, employed childless adults (that's me!) watch just under 2.5 hours of television. Employed adults with children watch about 2 hours. Those numbers increase on weekends and holidays. According to the 2014 time study- Americans spend about half their leisure time watching television. That means that about 1/2 your free time that isn't designated towards work, commuting or household tasks is associated with your television screen. This does not include all the time you spend on your computer or phone so 2.5 hours is just strictly television, not including other screen time you may also have.


But Isn't Watching Television a Frugal Pastime?

But wait, can watching Television instead of going out actually cost you MORE money? Turns out that this is a real phenomena.

This is very similar to research that's been done correlating television and obesity by Harvard's Department of Public Health (check it). The study found that sitting and unhealthy snacking that is common during television viewing may also be influenced by the amount of unhealthy food adds, that are targeted to you during the commercials. Not surprisingly one finding was that ads on television influence our habits- which is what they are meant to do! According to the above mentioned link, 'children who watched cartoons with food commercials ate 45 percent more snack food while viewing than children who watched cartoons with non-food advertising'. Don't think that as an adult that you are that much more immune to the influence of advertising and product placement- increased television watching in adults is also linked to obesity. So it can wreck your waistline, but can it impact your wallet?

Television watching can also wreck havoc on your personal finances- and not only if you are watching the shopping channel. Advertisements are there to make you realize all the things that you can't live without- the more you expose yourself to media content, the more likely it is to influence you. Even product placement has gotten a bit extreme lately with more shows featuring tech gadgets or cars purposefully put there to make you want to buy.

I found these numbers really interesting but honestly wasn't going to do anything about it until Mr. Frugal Rock threw down this gauntlet: no television on weekdays. I'll admit to initially being skeptical about his seriousness, but he persisted. And like the middle schooler I am at heart, I thought if HE can do it, I can do it. Nothing like a bit of good relationship one-up-man-ship to keep things fresh! Now I don't want our 'no-TV' time on weekdays to lead to more eating out, going shopping or any other non-frugal pastimes, which prompted this question:


But what do you do with all that extra time?

Now my first reaction when we stopped watching television on weekdays was that we will have so much more time for all of our favorite things. Cooking elaborate meals on a weeknight? Decadent! I also naively thought- I will exercise so much more! I bet you all know how that's working out...

I found the reality at first a bit more challenging. After a long day of work, it can be hard to think about what you want to do. It can seem like expending energy that you just don't have to even come up with an alternative.

Sometimes I find myself making excuses and saying, "I don't have time to..." and realize that it's just something I say to get out of an activity I don't want to do. There are plenty of things though that I enjoy doing or things I have always wanted to do and have been putting off. Sooooo, I made a list. It's been one month of no TV on weeknights and we are going strong!

Think of the things you've been putting off...what could you accomplish with 2.5 extra hours every night?

Fear of missing out?

What will we talk about with our friends/coworkers?! This was actually a pretty big concern that I initially joked about but had some real life thrown in. Your favorite shows, and what you enjoy watching on your own time, can often be an easy social bonding tool- think about how you can talk the next day with co-workers you hardly know about the big game the night before, the Oscars, or even that knew episode everyone has been waiting for. This was a phenomenon that we encountered when we stopped going out to the movie theater ($18 for tickets to the movies??!). While we still talk about movies or shows we enjoy- we no longer have the bragging rights for what the newest/coolest show or story is...and that's okay. If anything it helps us curate what we do want to spend time watching since by the time we get around to it, the reviews are long in!

Can you see yourself chucking the TV?
 
So how about it? Do you think that your TV watching habits are excessive or about the norm? Do you think about getting rid of your television screens altogether or this a pipe dream? 


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Your Next Cell Phone- Contract Versus Buying Outright

So unfortunately, the Frugal Rock Household just encountered the first unexpected large expense of 2016. My cell phone has been on it's last leg for a bit now. It's battery life has been waning for a while and would unexpectedly shut down when the charge was lower than 30%. Being a frugal lady, I just kept a charger on hand so that it was never low. In November, it fell out of an open pocket while biking and cracked the screen- but still worked! So I soldiered on- than recently I dropped it AGAIN (I know I'm still kicking myself) and this time the screen is truly done for.

I was not looking forward to this new phone purchase- I clearly have been putting it off for a while. I thought long and hard about going without a smart phone as I like the idea of being less attached to my electronics and the time-waster internet sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Buzzfeed, etc. There are days that between work and home, all I feel that I have done has been stare at screens. While I seriously considered going back to 1995 and living without my smart phone; traveling for work and the need to check emails pretty consistently between meetings during my day led me to realize that my dream of being smart phone free was likely unrealistic. (Sigh)

I am a fan of the iPhone and so if I needed a new smart phone, wanted to keep all of my apps and contacts easily transferable. The big question for me was whether to a do contract of purchase the phone outright. Now we often don't think about this- but when you purchase a phone through a carrier it is often highly subsidized by the carrier. Most cell phones are expensive- which in a way makes sense when you think about all the things we now expect our phone to do. Our mini pocket computers make calls, but they do much more than that now. Cell phone companies and producers, like Apple, market the next big change in phones in a way that leaves many consumers rushing out to get the next phone.

To make the purchase more palatable to consumers, they will charge you an upgrade cost and tack on an additional monthly payment to your bill. This makes it much easier to manage for monthly payments- and helps consumers avoid noticing how much their phone actually costs. This is a time tested marketing trick used by car dealerships, furniture stores and the shopping network. $30 a month doesn't seem bad, but really it's a payment plan for your phone. To give you some perspective, the current base IPhone model, the 5s, with the smallest amount of memory, retails for $450, other phone varieties can sell for between $600-800 to purchase outright.

 Now does buying it outright save you money in the long run? Short answer is: it might. The answer varies depending on your carrier. As an AT&T user, they no longer do contracts, so I didn't have to worry about the need to avoid signing another contract. If I was with another carrier, I would have been even more likely to buy outright to avoid having to get locked into another round of contracts for services I may not need. By buying outright I did avoid a phone upgrade charge, but this amount, while saved money, was pretty small- I believe our sales person said $20.

Being aware of how much you are actually spending is one of the first steps towards being a good consumer. It also gave me a different perspective on taking care of my phone. I probably shouldn't feel this way- but I will likely take care of my phone differently thinking of spending hundreds for it, as opposed to just a few bucks a month.

Introducing: A Frugal Household Rule of Frugality:

If you can't buy it outright- you can't afford it. Yup- if you can't see spending $600 outright for a cell phone, due to draining a bank account, I would hold off on that new phone. Now there may be reasons to re-sign a contract or do a payment plan depending on your plan and your phone company's current specials. You may get a deal that way depending on the carrier/time of year, BUT if buying it outright would create a hardship for your monthly finances, it's time to reprioritize, possibly buy a cheaper phone or wait to upgrade.

 Have you ever bought a phone outright or found a good deal on a cell phone? Would you ever consider purchasing your next phone outright?
 


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Get Your Green's- Can Veggie Gardening Save You Cash?

                                       

Me: It's March 1st- that means it's time to think gardening!
Mr. Frugal Rock: Wait, what?! In the snow?

Last summer, I had my first raised vegetable garden...with some mistakes. One thing I learned that broccoli isn't easy to grow well. From one avid gardener, I was told that I watered them too much- from another I heard that I planted too soon. Seems like every gardener has an opinion. Either way, I'm hoping for a rematch this summer: Mrs. Frugal Rock versus broccoli. I did learn that zucchini, and beans do well- not to mention beets and radishes. Even two watermelon grew...much to my surprise..


So why start thinking about summer gardens now? First of all, spring is coming fast. To help reduce costs, I grow seedlings indoors starting 30-60 days before they need to be planted outdoors. Buying seed packets only costs less than 2 bucks for a lot of seeds. It's also easier to find greater variety of what type of plants or vegetables you want to grow. In the summer months, if you go to a big box store, they may have 1-2 varieties of cucumbers, but online there are TONS of different seed varieties to choose from. Don't want to grow indoors? You can always purchase plants from any garden store in May or June, but prepare for a higher price.

Here in the Midwest, where the Frugal Rock calls it home, May 15 is the general rule of thumb (green thumb hopefully) for outside planting. That means March 15 is my first day of indoor planting for anything that needs a long germination time. Last year, while I grew a lot of veggies, I didn't pay any attention to the actual quantity grown or how much was saved on groceries during the summer months. Anecdotally, I believe that we saved funds during the summer months, based on what felt like lower grocery bills but alas, scientific it was not! At the very least, it was nice to grow food for ourselves confident that they were free of pesticides, but this year I'll have my spreadsheets ready to go to see how much it cost versus saved. I love me some spreadsheets!

On a side note, for anyone out there with gardening interest, I use the square foot gardening method to maximize my growing space. This technique is where you plant each vegetable in it's own square foot of space (some veggies like carrots you plant 10-15 in a square, where others take up the whole square, or even multiples). I had an eight by eight space last year, and this year, I'm hoping to drastically expand that. It didn't take too much convincing of Mr. Frugal Rock to get rid of more of our grass for garden space. We have been slowly decreasing our grass space since moving into our home by adding a patio/pergola, some bushes and a raspberry patch, but I love of the idea of eliminating mowing, and using our yard space for our very own garden.

Here's the list of veggies I want to grow this year:

Tomato's (hope to make salsa this year)
Jalapenos
Onions
Beans
Radishes
Beets
Zucchini
Lettuce (a few varieties)
Carrots
Peppers ( a few other varieties)
Eggplant
Yellow/butternut squash

I plan to keep track of my spending all the way through, from the seeds I germinate, to the plants I buy. What I'm hoping to learn is whether the amount of vegetables I grow offsets my costs. Basically, if I grow enough that it saves me enough to justify the costs. Now of course there are other reasons that I began to enjoy gardening other than just trying to save money. I love spending time outdoors in the summer months and have always felt most content when working outside. The physical exercise is a bonus too, but I'm curious if an argument can also be made to garden for food to save money. Get ready for some veggie gardening- Frugal Rock style- as I try and answer the question, can a veggie garden save you money??

PS. I literally jut saw this garden bean tunnel online, and I'm in love!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Ways I Cheap Out and Blame It on My Parents


Recently, I was doing some reminiscing with Mr. Frugal Rock and was waxing romantic (rambling) about my childhood when I mentioned something that my family did that I thought was totally (or mostly) a funny quirk about 80's and 90's families- like everyone wearing the same clothes in family pictures, or the desire for beanie babies. Some weird items must have been in the water that made us all go collectively crazy about these things... BUT it turns out it was just a funny, frugal quirk about MY family. Frugality was a household norm when I was a kid, and it's not a surprise that this imprinted on me (Thanks mom and dad!!). 


What happened to all the
beanie babies? Does everyone have
a hidden stash in their attic? Is there
a beanie graveyard somewhere?
I love me some research and I have been noticing more studies lately about kids and how they learn about money- both the good and the bad, and how it impacts behavior. Research has begun, unsurprisingly, to demonstrate that high debt loads of parents shows a correlation with poor child development and behavioral concerns. A recent paper, documented that this appears to be the case with what the study called 'unsecured' debt, or credit card debts (as opposed to home/student loans). Families who had a lot of credit card related debt, presumably have higher stress levels, which can result in impact on their children. This could be due to a lot of reasons- maybe parents with higher debt loads, are also working multiple jobs resulting in more time away from their families- but either way, the important take away is that money habits, even debt load, impacts children more than we think!

From looking online, it appears that more research can be done on the positive role of parental behavior on teaching kids about $$. While there are a lot of 'curriculum' ideas of activities to do with your kids around money, my gut is that it's the day-to-day interactions and behaviors that will help the most in teaching kids to be frugal adults!

While the Frugal Rock household, doesn't have any Frugal Pebbles (kiddos), I did round up my favorite financial lessons from my childhood of ways I learned about money- without knowing I was learning about money.

1. Avoiding Entitlement Traps

My parents would take us to the budget night at the theater ($2 Tuesdays, ya'll), but my siblings and I learned early that we would have to smuggle in cans of soda/candy if you wanted a snack. I learned fast that a sweat shirt held more soda cans, and that you should always wait until the movie started to pop the top (of the soda can that is). I still have been known to bring snacks to the theatre on the rare occasion Mr. Frugal and I go to the movies, much to his embarrassment probably. #noshame
#raisenetsorbust

Now I'm not advocating that you teach your kids to smuggle contraband or that you begin too, however there is value in teaching kids that just because something is available, doesn't mean they have to have it. This is true, even if you can afford it. Delaying gratification is a great life skill, no matter the age! We learned early to shop for deals, go on nights when events are more affordable, and that buying in bulk was cheaper than buying individually. A lot of lessons in one evening of family fun.

2. Saving is NOT optional

Birthday money? Graduation gifts? Christmas money from the grandparents? All great things, but there was a rule for as long as I can remember that 1/2 of the money was mine to do what I saw fit. I could spend all of it at the dollar store or candy store if my little heart desired but the other half went to my savings account. Non-negotiable- from birth through my teenage years. Even if it was $20, $10 went into the bank. Until I started doing the research for this post- I never realized how much of my personal finance skills was learned behavior! While the Frugal Rock Household is not at a 50% savings rate (see this post on our retirement savings habits if you're curious) but it's still a goal that I have. A common trend among early retirement folks is the high savings rates of 50%+ so I hope to move more in that direction.

3. Re-use: The Art of Hand Me Downs

My parents were into re-using before it was a trend. They really sold us on the fact that hand-me downs were cool and that they could save you money. I'm not sure how they convinced us of this- maybe it was the idea that all three of my sisters and I would pool all of our clothes in the same closet or that we got to 'shop' each others dresses for different events. Shoes and accessories could be purchased, but my parents would give us a deal- we could re-wear an already bought dress (often originally bought for over a $100) and they would pass along part of the savings of not needing to buy a new dress to us often about $40. If we declined, they were willing to take us out and purchase a new one, but no extra spending money for you! I distinctly remember wearing the hand-me down or thrift-ed dress and pocketing the cash.
 
In hindsight, this was a perfect strategy not only to keep the clothing costs of three teenage females in check, but it also taught a great lesson in the value of re-using what you already have. By passing along some of the savings, it made the benefit more real to us. To this day, I am much more likely to shop my closet when I have a big event coming up. I find myself looking forward to the challenge of whether I can pair something I already own in a new way, rather than purchasing something new.

So how do you teach your own family about finances? Looking back are there any money skills you learned without even realizing it?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Frugal Rock Travel- Road Trippin' on the Cheap!

I am excited to announce a new series here on Frugal Rock: The Frugal Rock Travel Segment! The first post of this series is on the frugal road trip. I hope to post on other travel ideas throughout the year, like frugal destinations, backpacking/camping and other travel tips.  

As I mentioned in this recent post, Mr. Frugal Rock and I spent the beginning of the year on the road for a week, hoofing it (not literally) to destinations in Georgia and Florida. With gas prices being so low, and our love of road trips- it made perfect sense for us to drive and avoid the hassle of flying. 2 people, one car, 22 hours of driving (one way), and roughly 1,200 miles. What could possibly go wrong? Surprisingly little, as it turned out!

A 'sherbet sunrise, during an early start'
While I've always loved the classic American road trip- I wasn't sure how it would really measure up price wise, compared to the cost of airfare. I was particularly worried about racking up additional costs along the way. Since we were traveling for a long period of time over two days, I figured that we could end up spending more on meals and possible hotel costs.

Road trips can be a good alternative for family travel, especially when your family starts growing in number and you have to look at purchasing 3-4 plane tickets. My family is just the two of us, so while ticket prices wouldn't be THAT outrageous, my hypothesis was that we could road trip it for cheaper, while also enjoying the time together for fun and hilarity. To be fair the only thing that probably would talk me out of road trips is if it ever became more expensive than flying, so I clearly already have a 'slant'- but don't worry, I will breakdown our spending for you so you can see for yourself how it compares, and can judge for yourselves.

Cost Break Down:

$200 in gas- this came out almost exact so I rounded it up to $200 for the way there and back. Note: We had ridiculously low gas prices this January, combined with a pretty fuel efficient car, kept gas costs lower than anticipated.

$0 for meals on the road. Our goal was to not spend any money on gas station food (you can keep your dried out and stale hot dogs Citgo!) or other fast food/chain joints (what the hell is the deal with all the Cracker Barrels between here and Florida anyway??! We counted- no joke- 23. Gross.)

$46 for meal prep. So we did eat during our road trip- don't let our no fast food costs fool you! As an incurable snack-er I made sure that there were plenty of go-to munchies for the trip, as well as healthy and frugal lunch ideas.

$86 for hotel costs, 1 night on the drive. This one I'm a bit ashamed of- Mr. Frugal Rock was advocating for us sleeping in the car for a few hours and than continuing on our way. But I'll admit, it was unexpectedly cool on our drive south and I wanted a shower. Luxury won over frugality this time!

Total Cost for the Road Trip: $332
*Note, I'm not taking into account our expenses for the remainder of the trip, as in theory they would be about the same, whether we flew or drove, mainly comparing the cost of driving versus flying here!*

Flight Cost Estimator: Using Kayak (a great way to travel cheap), I was able to look for flights on a variety of airlines to try and find the best deals. The flights that matched the dates we wanted to travel ended up being about $300 a person= $600 for us total. There are ways to get cheaper flights, leave on 'off days' avoiding weekends, Mondays or Fridays, and being willing to have multiple stops en route but in viewing this, I am ready to declare the road trip, the frugal winner this time!

Traveling by car can expose you to some great views!

3 MUSTS for a Frugal Road Trip
Ready to try a road trip? Here are the three things, that can make or break your trip (or your wallet).

1. Bring your own food-  the cooler is a must...

One of the things about traveling and vacation is trying new restaurants, so you are probably already eating out more than normal. Why waste your dollars on the fast food/chain places en route? I guarantee that avoiding these places will make you feel better in the long-run as well. For our frugal road trip I stocked our cooler and snack bag with:

-Fresh fruit, grapes, apples and oranges for snacking
-trail mix and granola bars
-peanut butter/jelly and a lot of bread
-fresh veggies and hummus, for wraps
-mozzarella balls, tomatoes and basil for caprese wraps on the go
-made ahead spicy curry chicken salad

2. Avoid hotels when possible...

Obviously, didn't follow my own advice on this one! Ways you can avoid hotels, may be planning your route so that you can stop at a truck stop or camp ground to park the car and get some sleep. You can also check out vacation rental sites or couch crashing options to keep your costs lower. If you have to stop, make sure you call around. When we stopped for the night, we saw 4 hotels on the off ramp, and in calling each found a high variance in pricing between equally nice looking places. It pays to call in advance, even if it's only two minutes in advance.

3. Plan activities for your car ride!


Local library for the win!
I can honestly say that I love road trips. But, if you are going to spend 20+ hours in the car, even with your most favorite person, you better be prepared! Mr. Frugal and I went online and picked our 4 books on cd- we made it through two of them. I would highly recommend Mary Roach if you haven't read her books. She is a fascinating science author, that often focuses on the unique people behind the interesting facts she shares. We also came stocked with plenty of music (road trip playlist anyone?!) and podcasts. Since Serial just came out with their second season, we saved up the episodes we hadn't heard yet and binged listened all at once!



Are you a fan of the road trip? What's the farthest you have traveled by car? Any secrets to a good, frugal road trip?