Category Archives: Good Deals

How we travel so much (and how we got round trip tickets to Europe for $400)

We’re asked fairly frequently how it is that we’re able to travel so much. And there are several factors. But first, let me say this: unless you are looking for inexpensive ways to travel, this post (and especially the parts about credit cards) will likely be rather boring. So feel free to skim this post or just skip it entirely. I don’t blame you. 😉 But for those of you who have been asking about this, here are a few of the factors that play in to how we travel so much:

Vacation:

First of all, we both have jobs that are really great as far as taking time off goes. Christopher had four weeks of vacation this year and since I work for myself I was kind enough to allow myself the time off. 😉 And the family that I nanny for a few hours a week has plenty of family and friends in town to help out when I’m gone. We recognize that this isn’t normal for most people to be able to take off so much time so we are very grateful. We also take lots of weekend trips that only require 1 vacation day (a Friday or Monday) for a fun 3 day trip.

No debt other than our house: 

Second, we paid off all of our student loans a few years ago. So other than our house (which we’re working on), we have no debt. We’ve always paid cash for our vehicles and we’ve never had credit card debt. It took a lot of hard work and sacrifices for a few years, but we are so glad we paid it all off because we now have more freedom with our income. We can give more when we hear of someone in need, save more, and yes… even spend more.

Prioritizing how we spend money: 

Which leads us directly into the third thing: even though we have more money available to spend, it doesn’t mean that we spend it on everything that catches our eye. Some people spend their money on designer clothes or nice cars or going out to see a movie every weekend. And there is nothing wrong with spending money on those things. We would just rather spend our money on travel so we prioritize our finances a little differently.

Using Credit Cards (domestically): 

And finally, a big way we’ve been able to travel has been by utilizing credit cards. When we travel in the States we use our Companion Pass through Southwest (so for each plane ticket we purchase or redeem with points, we get one for free). Remember in 2015 when we flew to Las Vegas/Grand Canyon, the Dominican Republic, New York City, and Orlando/Bahamas? Those flights were all free. Well, free with an asterisk. Because you still have to pay taxes and fees on the flights. So each flight cost us about $12 for both of us to fly. Each time we wanted to travel we would redeem miles to pay for Christopher’s ticket and then I flew free as his companion. For this next year I have the credit card in my name so I’ll redeem miles to buy a ticket for me and then Christopher will fly as my companion.

We also have a Hyatt credit card which gave us 2 free nights when we signed up. We also had a ton of points built up on a Chase credit card from previous years that Hyatt allowed us to transfer to our Hyatt account. So that gave us free stays all over the States last year.

Using Credit Cards (internationally):

For this year’s trip to Europe we used American Airlines MileSaver points because their flight award chart showed that it was 30,000 points for a ticket from the US to anywhere in the EU. So 30,000 each way is 60,000 for each round trip ticket. Meaning that for both of us we would need 120,000 points in total to get two round trip tickets to Europe.

So in order to get our 120,000 points we signed up for two credit cards that each gave 60,000 points as an introductory offer after $2,000 in spending within 3 months. Right now the cards listed at that link don’t show that offer, but as with most credit card offers, they come and go with their offerings. Just keep your eye out and there will once again be an offer for 60k points when you sign up. We got the Citi Platinum Select Mastercard as well as another one that isn’t offered anymore (boo!). If you are only needing one round trip ticket then you can just get that one credit card. But if you need two tickets then both people will need to sign up separately for the card to build up the points. Or if that’s too much of a hassle or one of you isn’t approved then you can always at least get one ticket for free and only have to pay for the other one. Still a big savings over purchasing two tickets outright!

Keep in mind that you will still have to pay fees and taxes. For us this amounted to $200/person. So not cheap, but $400 for two round trip tickets to Europe – definitely worth it! So if you start planning your trip about a year in advance, you will have plenty of time to watch the credit cards until they offer the deals you are looking for and then you can apply and begin spending on them immediately (we put all spending on them for that time: mortgage, bills, food, etc). Doing this in advance also gives you better flight options and seats since you aren’t booking last minute.

Important notes about using Credit Cards: 

We are very careful to avoid credit card debt. Yes, we do have credit cards and yes we do put all of our spending on it for x-number of months until we hit the minimum spend needed to get the rewards we want. However, we always pay them off in full every single month. And we always call to cancel them before the 1 year mark (when they charge you the service fee). Usually the person we talk to offers us another year free because they don’t want us to close our account with them, but sometimes we have to go ahead and cancel the card. Canceling cards isn’t bad, but it’s not the best thing ever for your credit score so you do have to be mindful of that when signing up for a bunch of different reward cards.

how-we-flew-to-europe-for-400

Hopefully all of this makes sense. If I didn’t explain something well, please let me know! I’m happy to fill in the gaps. 🙂

For those of you who have used Credit Cards to travel before: did I leave anything out? Or any other tips for me?

For those of you who have never used Credit Cards to travel: does this sound just super convoluted and crazy? When Christopher first proposed it to me a few years ago I thought it was crazy, but I’ve definitely come around!

Love Rach

My favorite planner!

It’s the first week of November so you know what that means!

If you guessed that I decorated for Christmas then that’s a solid guess knowing me, but so far it’s back in the 70s here so I’m waiting on that. But I’m thinking soon! Anyway, the first week of November means that Sugar Paper finally released their planners for 2016!

{I feel like I’m saying this a lot lately, but this is not a sponsored post. I just really like sharing stuff with you guys that I love! However, if Sugar Paper wants to send me adorable freebies, I’ll totally take them. 😉 }

If you use planners and shop at Target then you’ve probably actually seen the ones that Sugar Paper designs because they tend to feature them on the end caps. They are the super cute ones. 😉 Anyway, Christopher and I juggle so many different things that there is no way we’d manage to remember everything without some sort of organization. And for some reason I am like an 80-year-old woman stuck in my ways about needing to write everything down. 😉

So any planner that I purchase for the year needs to meet a couple of criteria:

sugar paper monthly spread

{source}

(1) There needs to be a very clear month calendar at the beginning of each month. I’ve noticed a lot of planners don’t have this. Probably because normal people don’t like having to write things down twice (both on the month and on the week). But I love it. I like to be able to see my whole month at a time to be able to take note of how much we’re traveling, how much house work we’re getting done, which friends we haven’t seen in a while, etc etc.

sugar paper weekly spread{source}

(2) There also needs to be a two page spread that covers each week. With lots of space to write and no pre-printed times on the side of the page or days broken into morning/afternoon/night. Sometimes I need to use three lines to describe something that is happening at 3pm, but then I also need to put something in the 5pm slot and then my hourly planner is messed up. Or I have a ton going on all morning, but nothing happening in the afternoon so my “morning” box fills up and overflows into the afternoon one. And Sugar Paper meets all my nit picking.

gold dot planner

{source}

(3) It is a huge perk if I can find one I love that is affordable. Sugar Paper’s monthly and weekly designs actually look a lot like Erin Condren’s LifePlanner (the horizontal version). I’d say it’s the “cheap version” because Sugar Paper’s planners are so inexpensive (currently between $7.99 and $12.99 at Target depending on which one you purchase), but nothing about the Sugar Paper planners look cheap. The paper is good quality, they are super durable (I have well tested this theory out, ha!), and they are crazy adorable.

sugar paper planner

(4) Continuing off the last point… it needs to be cute. If I’m going to be using it every single day multiple times a day for a year then I need to love the way it looks. The Sugar Paper planner I’ve been using for 2015 is blue & white striped with gold accents and I have loved it! For 2016 I’m trying to decide between a black & white striped OR gold dot planner. True story, when I went to Target on Monday I couldn’t decide between them so I bought both thinking I’d make a decision once I got home and return the other. But here I am two days later and I’m still unsure which one I want to keep, ha!

sugar paper planner2The two I’m trying to decide between hanging out on my coffee table. I love both designs so mostly I’m trying to decide which size I want. Opinions?

I shared a picture of my 2015 Sugar Paper planner on Instagram back in January and since then I’ve had interest in more details about what planner I use. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I could write a whole blog post about my favorite planner, but apparently I had more to say about it than I thought, ha! So thanks for sticking with me through this! And if you like paper planners and aren’t super loyal to a specific brand – check out the Sugar Paper ones! I love them! 🙂

Do you use a pen & paper planner? If so, do you have a favorite brand?

Love Rach

Because I’m happy…

I am so that person who gets super excited for other people when good things happen in their lives. Do we all remember the video of me with my mouth wide open in glee when my mom received her KitchenAid mixer for mother’s day? If not, please see exhibit A. 😉 But really, anything that my friends and family are excited over, gets me excited too. Every success at work, every engagement, every wedding day, every baby announcement – brings such a smile to my face. And lately I’ve been seeing this with my friends in the blog world. So many sweet friends of mine in the blog world are celebrating pregnancies or new babies in their lives and I just love reading about their joy! But there are three things in particular that have stood out to me recently that I want to share with you guys.

Nicole, who blogs over at Just Live It, has been following her dream to be a piano teacher. Just recently she hosted her first recital and it brought tears (of joy!) to my eyes as I read about her emotions surrounding the day. I love to hear stories of people pursuing their dreams!

Amy, who blogs over at A Desert Girl, is probably going to be embarrassed that I’m sharing this, but recently she was in a commercial. And she is an impressive actress! I feel like there’s no way I could’ve kept such a straight, determined face for that!

Tia, who blogs over at Tialla’s Tellings, just released her second book! She graduated high school only two years ago! I am always so impressed when I see young people doing something super productive. It’s like when I watch the Olympics and I see a 15-year-old win the gold medal and I think about what I was busy doing at 15. It definitely wasn’t being in the Olympics, ha! Anyway, you can read all about Tia’s most recent book “Where Shadow’s Lie” right here!

I have such a hard time picking just a couple of things out to share because I want to share everyone’s stories! Each new birth, each surprise pregnancy (hello, finding out you are halfway through your pregnancy at your first doctor’s appointment), each beautifully worded blog post, all the big and small success… I want to share them all with you! But then this post would go on forever, ha! So instead I’ll leave you with these. 🙂 Happy Monday, friends!

Love Rach

All the cute things

Yesterday my sister, Abby, and I went out to run some errands to pick up home renovation things (paint for a new room, knobs for the nightstand, etc). We hit up Home Depot, Hobby Lobby, Tuesday Morning, and Target. I found not only the things I needed for our current projects, but several things that had been on the back burner for a while. Win, win, win. And because I know you guys want to see all the adorable things we found, I’m sharing! 🙂

rae and absAbby and me!

mirror

We are redecorating one of our guest rooms right now and I’ve been looking for a mirror to go above a vanity in that room. We found this mirror on clearance at Tuesday Morning for $12!! It’s huge and sparkly and gorgeous. It’s exactly what I was looking for! 🙂

globe

I’ve wanted a globe for our office for a couple of months. I nearly bought one off Amazon, but I was afraid that while it looked good in pictures that it might look cheap in person. So I decided to wait. And I’m so glad I did! I found this gem at Target! At 18″ tall it’s the perfect size for the office! And it’s HEAVY! That’s actual metal not plastic. I just love it! 🙂

tie

I found this kid’s clip on seer sucker tie at Target. I always have a couple of items I keep on hand as photo props (especially with kids stuff) and this was a perfect addition to my collection! I’m so excited to photograph a little boy wearing this!

hello spring

Also in the Spot section at Target was this adorable little spring decoration. I’m trying to be better about decorating our house for more than just Christmas. I’m definitely ready to go ahead and display this in the house… maybe it’ll help spur the arrival of spring? #wishfulthinking 😉

journals

I found these two journals at Tuesday morning. I loooove them! Can you see what the one on the left says? “Life is a great adventure” 🙂 I haven’t decided if it will just be my next journal or if I’ll save it for our  next overseas trip (which might tentatively be next year… *squeal!*). When we went to Italy Christopher and I kept a journal together of everything we saw and ate and experienced. I’m SO glad we did that! There are so many little things that we would have forgotten otherwise. 🙂 So we might use that journal as our next travel journal. We shall see!

travel suitcase

Speaking of travel… I found this decorative travel suitcase at Tuesday Morning as well.  We have a ton of papers and tickets and random little things leftover from our Italy trip that normal people would probably just throw away. But I hate to throw them away so they’ve just been in a big Ziplock bag in the office until I found a good place for them to go. Ha! Well this little suitcase is PERFECT to store them in. 🙂

vase filler

When we got married 6 years ago we were given a set of vases. And we thought to ourselves, we should buy something to put in those. And we just never did. Then a couple of years later one of them got knocked over one day and broke. And we thought to ourselves, we really should put something in that other vase because it looks kind of weird just sitting there. And a few more years passed to present day. And finally yesterday, I bought something to go in the vase, ha! So thanks to Abby’s helpful advice and Hobby Lobby’s selection… I finally have something in my vase! 😉

Have you bought anything adorable lately? 

Have you been inside Tuesday Morning? Abby suggested we go there to find some of the things on my list and I’m so glad she did! I am officially a huge fan of that store! 🙂

Have you found yourself putting off a small house project for a long time?

Love Rach

 

We bought a new car!

About two years ago we realized that Apollo (our Scion XA) was not exactly an ideal family car (it doesn’t fit a rear facing car seat if there’s someone in the front seat and there’s no space for a stroller in the trunk). However Apollo is AWESOME for all the travel we do. We’ve put nearly 100,000 miles on dear Apollo in the past four years and he has held up great. But at the rate we were putting miles on Apollo, we knew eventually we’d need a new car. So after we paid off the last of our student loans, we started setting money aside for a car and we began the hunt.

reindeer car(Apollo only looks like a reindeer for the month of December, but this is my most recent photo of him)

For nearly a year now we have searched Craigslist ads and local car dealers looking for the perfect deal. We haven’t been in a rush which is awesome because it has given us plenty of time to look for the best of the best when it comes to good deals. We didn’t care how old the car was as long as it was well maintained, but it needed to have less than 50k miles on it. We wanted a car with cruise control because while Apollo is awesome… he came without cruise control and we never ended up adding it like we originally planned to. We also needed a car that could transition into a family car someday so it needed to be big enough to fit a rear facing carseat as well as a stroller in the trunk. However, I don’t like huge cars so we were looking for something that was just big enough to meet our needs and no larger. We also needed something with good gas mileage. Apollo gets 30-40 mpg (awesome travel car, I’m tellin’ ya) so we didn’t want to switch to something that gets 15mpg. We decided to look for 20+mpg. And since we were paying cash, we wanted to spend $10k or under. We had dealers laugh at us for this and tell us there was no way we’d find the car we want for the price point we were at, but we knew that if we looked long enough, we’d find what we were looking for.

athena

So meet Athena. 🙂 Just like every time we travel somewhere, Christopher checked the local Craigslist ads to see if there was a car we might be interested in. And there was. A 2007 Ford Fusion with LESS than 41k miles on it (it was a town car that belonged to a little old lady who couldn’t drive it anymore). We looked up the stats on it and saw that it got 23-30mpg and that it was indeed big enough to fit a rear facing carseat. We took it to a local mechanic that my brother-in-law knows and trusts and he gave it an “all clear”. We Kelly Blue Booked it and found out that the price they were asking was fair (though Christopher did haggle with him a little – we ended up getting it for around $8k which was WELL below the $10k we were prepared to spend on a car). And next thing you know… we were driving away in a new (to us) car.

athena2

So now we have Athena. And we love her. We’re still keeping Apollo. He may have a lot of miles on him, but he is reliable and I love him. He is tiny and wonderful. Currently I’m still driving him because I drive more miles during the day than Christopher does. Which means at the moment we have three cars at our house with only two drivers. So it won’t be long before we are putting Christopher’s ’96 Chevy Cavalier (aka “Black Bird”, “Desperaux”, “Soul Searcher”, or “The Black Pearl” depending on what Christopher is calling it that day) up for sale. That poor car is just hardly holding it together. No heat or a/c, hardly any varnish left on the front of the car, questionable brakes, and the whole thing shakes when it goes over 40mph. So, any takers? 😉

black bird

So yes, Athena is a huge step up for Christopher. He came home yesterday and he amazed at how different his drive home from work was with heat in the car! Eventually when we have kiddos Athena will transition into my car and Apollo will become Christopher’s work car, but for now (while I’m putting so many miles on the car every day) I still get to drive my sweet Apollo to whom I am so attached.

new car!

Welcome Athena! We love you already!

When you buy a new car, do you look for a long time or just decide you need one and then go purchase it? 

Do you name your vehicles?
Love Rach

Hobby Lobby Summer Clearance

Just another little video for you guys! If you want a little laugh, be sure to watch the mini blooper at the end. 😉

Have you ever shopped Hobby Lobby’s clearance section?
Would you ever own a bust?
Love Rach

Martha vs. Ree

In searching for the best meatball recipe, I pitted Martha Stewart and Ree Drummond against each other. I have friends who claim Martha has the best meatball recipe, but I love the Pioneer Woman and just knew her recipe had to be delicious as well. So I made them both to find out for myself! 🙂

martha stewart meatballs

martha stewart's meatballs{The original recipe can be found here}

pioneer woman's meatballs

pioneer woman's comfort meatballs{the original recipe can be found here}

So what was my conclusion? Without question, I liked Ree’s recipe better. Martha’s were delicious and easy to make, but the Pioneer Woman just knows what’s up when it comes to comfort food. I took the PW’s meatballs to a dinner with friends and they were gone in a heartbeat. They are just that good. 🙂

Totally unrelated to this post about delicious food…

20131102_101338On Saturday we got back from running errands and I noticed that my flower bed was in desperate need of weeding. Instead of changing into yard work clothes like a normal person, I just walked over and started pulling weeds while wearing my cute boots and scarf. Christopher thought that was pretty hilarious so he snapped this shot of me on his cellphone which I am now naturally sharing with you guys. 🙂 By the way, it’s November and I still have three gerbera daisies blooming! I love it! 😀

As another aside, Christopher just told me that there is a $5 Groupon for a $10 Starbucks card!

starbucksThis is like gold for us. 😀 Unfortunately there is a limit to only 1 per person, but still! So click here and type “Starbucks” and for the next two days it should show up. Buy yourself that giftcard (or you can buy it for me, that’s fine too 😉 ) and think fondly of me as you enjoy your Starbucks! 🙂

Love Rach