Working Again: Yes or No?

A couple of weeks ago, when I was checking out at our local Trader Joe’s, I was asked if I might be interested in filling out an application – the young crew member scanning my items said she thought I might be a good fit. Employees at our TJ’s run the gamut from young to old, and all work part time. For example, one employee I met this past summer lives in California, but comes to Tennessee every summer to visit family, and works a few days a week at TJ’s while he’s here. The woman I chatted with said I could pretty much set my own schedule; that is, how many days per week I wanted to work and she asked me to think about it. I thanked her and said I would, thinking in fact though I would walk out of the store and never consider it for another moment.

The funny thing is that over the past couple of weeks I have found myself actually weighing the pros and cons of working there.

Neither Brett nor I have ever needed to work or supplement our income since we retired – careful budgeting, saving, and living within our means has seen us through even when our daughters were still at home or going to college. We will be able to put all of next year’s Social Security and Brett’s military retirement pension increases into savings. I enjoy our current relaxed lifestyle; it’s what I always hoped for when I thought about retirement. However, the idea of having something to fill a couple of days a week while we’re in Tennessee has got me thinking, maybe it might be a good idea to work for a couple of days of week? Trader Joe’s treats their employees well and many consider it a great place to work and fun as well. There’s no dress code other than wearing a store t-shirt. I am a big fan of their products and would have no trouble promoting them. I have retail experience and mostly enjoyed it.

Plus, our Family Big Event in early 2024 is going to cost a bit, and some extra income would be a nice way to cover those costs so we don’t have to dip into other savings. I’d also be able to save extra for potential relocation costs when our time in Tennessee is over.

But, I also wonder whether I want to be on my feet for eight hours, even if it’s only twice a week? Do I still have the energy to put in a full day’s work (and it would be actual physical work)? I already dislike appointments – do I want to have to be somewhere on someone else’s schedule twice a week? Do we really want to pay any more federal tax than we already do (Tennessee fortunately has no state income tax)? Those are some of the negatives that constantly come to mind. And, is Trader Joe’s really be interested in hiring an older person like me, especially after all the current holiday hubbub dies off?

The idea of working a couple of days a week at Trader Joe’s is tempting, if they want me. I have no desire in starting until after the new year because of our holiday plans, but I can see advantages in waiting until the first of the year anyway. I can also clearly see the negatives, especially getting hired and discovering I can’t cut it after only a few days or weeks.

I don’t have to work, but part-time at Trader Joe’s might be fun as well as rewarding beyond earning a small amount. It could also be a non-starter or pure misery. I am fortunate to have a choice, and the time to think about whether the choice would be a good one or not.

What do you think?

Menu Planning In Retirement

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In the past, everything in our freezer, fridge, and pantry would have had a specific purpose. These days it will all get used, but there’s no rigid plan for much of the food we buy.

I have been a menu planner for a long, long time. I was never a natural at menu planning and it was was a task I got better at over a long period of time. Menu planning has saved us a lot of money over the years, but my way of doing it has changed and adapted to my/our needs through the years.

Prior to joining the navy and meeting Brett, I worked as a waitress (food and then cocktail). I made good money for the times, and my menu planning during those days consisted of deciding what I wanted to eat that day and then stopping by the store to pick it up using some of my tips from the day. If I felt like having a steak, I bought steak. If I felt like having a sandwich, I bought a sandwich or all the fixings, and so forth. I was young and had few financial responsibilities, and the idea of planning a daily menu and stocking a pantry never crossed my mind.

When Brett and I got together, we were both in the navy and had very little money left over for food once our monthly obligations were met (military pay was pitifully low then). Our dates consisted of long walks, occasionally stopping at the bowling alley on base to share a 90-cent grilled cheese sandwich and seeing a movie once a month at the base theater for $1 each. We otherwise dined together at the chow hall for free. After I left the navy and our son was born, we had $36 every two weeks in our budget for food, and I menu planned using the pantry method out of necessity. After buying formula, the rest of our groceries routinely consisted of a big box of Bisquik, a couple of smoked ham hocks, a package of chicken breasts, dried beans, pasta, a few produce items, a quart of milk, a dozen eggs, a pound of cheese, flour, and yeast. I baked bread, made soups and quiches and everything else from scratch, and we ate a lot of pancakes. Menu planning consisted of rotating through the meals we could make with what we had on hand.

As our income eased up over the years I segued into planning a more structured and varied menu. We still shopped every two weeks (based on military paydays), but I learned to go with a shopping list based on two weeks of planned (affordable) meals that offered variety. I enjoyed creating a meal plan and fitting in new recipes as well as fixing favorite dishes. I used this style of planning for the next 40 years, whether we had one child or three at home. Menus were made for two week periods, although for a while I tried making a monthly plan and shopping just once a month. I thought I would spend less that way, but eventually realized that instead of saving I was actually spending more, and stopping at the store more frequently for odds and ends I had forgotten. The two-week planning worked best for us.

Before we began traveling I told Brett I was tired of and done with planning and cooking, and I wanted to use more prepared foods, and eat more soup and sandwiches and Brett said it was fine with him. This turned out to be a great solution for life on the road because there were so many new and interesting foods to try in the countries we visited, and many prepared foods were in a different league all together than what’s available in the U.S. and were more affordable too. We often never knew what we’d find when we walked into a supermarket, and were grateful we could add items that looked delicious and were affordable. We kept to a budget, but we shopped with a very short list and chose items more randomly. The smaller refrigerators in Europe proved to be a bit of a challenge at times, but we somehow made it work.

The new normal in menu planning these days somewhat combines our initial “pantry planning” method with the more structured “menu planning” method. I create our meals these days out of what we have on hand along with adding in more prepared foods we know we will enjoy, but it’s far more random than before. I continue to do the shopping, but Brett and I work together ahead of time to make sure I purchase things he needs or would like to have or try. This new way still keeps our budget in line, but we’re buying and eating less meat than we thought we would and our meals are frankly more interesting and fun. Best of all, I’m no longer worn out, frustrated, or bored when it comes to meal planning and preparation. I have an idea at the beginning of each week of what I can and would like to fix for us based on what we have on hand, and then decide each day what that will be depending on how I feel.

Our current retirement menu planning would never have worked for us back in the day when we were raising our kids, but it’s a great fit for our lifestyle now. However, old skills are being put back into use again as I start to think about meals for when the whole family will be here for the holidays. Three are lactose intolerant, one is glucose intolerant, and one is vegan, so meals will have to be planned around those needs but not break the bank as well. It’s definitely a challenge but sort of fun too. However, I remain thankful this will only be a temporary assignment and afterwards Brett and I can return to our new normal.

Big Shopping in Tennessee

Brett and I did part of our monthly food shopping yesterday, or I should say he took me to do the shopping. I go into the store while Brett stays outside with Kai and walks him around. We’ve tried leaving him at home a couple of times but there have been less than ideal results, even when he’s left in his crate (he tears his beds to shreds). Anyway, yesterday we did our monthly stop at Costco and a bi-monthly one at Trader Joe’s.

Food shopping is once again a pleasure compared to the struggle it became in Hawaii to not go over our budget. Our current monthly food allotment is $500, $100 less per month than we budgeted in Hawaii, although so far we have been spending less. We do one Big Shop in the middle of the month, and another at the end.

I was a bit concerned about the Costco trip yesterday because we were out of several things that I knew would drive the total up, including two cans of coffee (regular and decaf), a case of oat milk, and three bottles of wine. We were also out of a couple of snack items we keep on hand: peanut butter filled pretzels that Brett enjoys, and fig bars that we all like (K loves them). I also wanted to buy a Halloween House kit for K to decorate when she’s with us today or Friday.

Our Costco swag, and . . .
. . . a case of lemon green tea. We each have one a day (and recycle the bottles).

I found four items not on my list: Pacific Foods organic roasted red pepper and tomato soup (our favorite), two bags Cretor’s Chicago mix popcorn (which I adore), almond thins with papaya and passionfruit, and box of beer batter cod for fish & chips. This is the absolute maximum of bulk shopping we can do now because we don’t have room to store any more.

The total for everything at Costco was $206.51, including tax. The same items would have cost us somewhere closer to $300 at the Kaua’i Costco, maybe more. I didn’t buy meat (we buy that at Trader Joe’s or ALDI now), bread items, desserts, pre-made casseroles, nor any giant bags of produce, all things we pretty much had to purchase at Costco on Kaua’i. The only produce we buy at Costco now are organic apples and bananas, and an occasional bag of frozen blueberries. It’s very nice to have other options these days.

Everything from Trader Joe’s.

After Costco it was on to Trader Joe’s. I accidentally left my list at home so I knew I had to be on my best behavior there. I picked up the apple cider doughnuts and pumpkin ravioli Brett had asked for, and a couple more boxes of the pumpkin pancake mix to get us through the winter. Otherwise I couldn’t remember much of anything else on the list and did my best to not go crazy. TJ’s has so many pumpkin items out right now, but I was able to pass most of them except for one box of the pumpkin sticky toffee cakes – Meiling told us they were very good. The only splurge item was a chicken pot pie. I didn’t buy much produce because we still have plenty on hand.

Total spent at Trader Joe’s was $75.89, There’s no way to compare that with costs in Hawaii because there are no Trader Joe’s there! I know though we would have paid a whole lot more for the same or similar items versus what we pay here.

Total spent for this October Big Shop trip was $282.40, which means we have $217.60 left to spend at the end of the month. I plan to go to ALDI and may visit TJ’s again, but if all goes well we’ll probably end up with somewhere around $100 left over we can put into savings. For now though our cupboards are full.

Yes, Airfares Are Expensive but Bargains Still Exist

Japan opened back to foreign visitors in September, so out of curiosity I decided to see what it would cost for us to visit Japan. Back in the day, combining careful timing and a little bit of luck, we could usually find nonstop, round-trip flights in extra comfort seating for around $750 – $850. These days Brett and I wonder if we’ll ever be able to afford a visit to Japan again, and what that could cost us because the best price right now for a premium economy seat is $2,391. Ouch. A seat in economy is $1,319, still horribly expensive.

It doesn’t matter these days where anyone is going, but airfares are higher across the board, currently at their highest point in five years. Between March and April of this year, ticket costs increased 16.8% in one month! Prices are predicted to increase even more as the holiday season approaches.

The airline industry was one of the hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic and travel, when both domestic and international travel slowed to a near halt. That period and the slow climb back has obviously affected today’s prices, but there are other things going on as well:

  • Supply and demand is the biggest force affecting ticket prices today. There are fewer flights and more demand for seats than prior to the pandemic. Anyone who has flown this year has most likely suffered through cancellations, schedule changes, and so forth. Airlines are trying to do better by restricting the number of tickets sold in order to reduce the number of delays that plagued travelers earlier in the year. Fewer tickets mean higher prices.
  • Staff shortages caused by the pandemic contributed to delays and cancellations. Many airlines are still understaffed, which mean fewer flights, more delays, and higher prices.
  • Rising fuel costs have also meant an increase in the price of tickets. Airlines typically purchase fuel months to years in advance, and if they’ve had to buy fuel recently, ticket prices have to go up to cover those costs. An airline that bought fuel when prices were low can continue to offer lower prices. Southwest is an airline that consistently does very well buying large amounts of fuel at low prices, which is a big reason they’re able to keep ticket prices low.
  • Lack of competition has meant that many major airlines no longer have to compete with low cost airlines. Prior to the pandemic, airlines like Wow, Norwegian Air, and others offered bare-bones services at prices that major airlines were forced to compete with, creating lower fares overall. Many discount carriers went out of business during the pandemic, or had to cut itineraries way back. For example, we used Norwegian Air twice to return to the U.S. from Europe because their fares and itineraries could not be beat. Norwegian Air no longer flies to any U.S. airports, and operates only regionally within Europe, offering no price competition to U.S. carriers for cross-Atlantic flights.
  • Because of current situations occurring in the world, air routes have had to change. Route changes hike costs for airlines. Current changes don’t affect domestic flights within the U.S., but they can affect the cost of international journeys.

The news isn’t all bad, and there are still ways to save if you want or need to fly somewhere.

  • Think domestic travel versus international. It’s always going to be cheaper to go someplace in your own country.
  • Fly economy. Yes, the seats are narrower and closer together, but the price for that seat is going to be considerably less than first class or premium economy. Our rule of thumb is five hours: anything over that and we will pay the extra for more comfortable seating. Below that, we are fine with economy.
  • Choose a flight with stopovers versus nonstop. The more stops along the way, the lower the price (usually). Travelers can also sometimes work layovers to their advantage. At some airports it’s possible to leave and tour the city you’re in, or go for a meal outside the airport. We sometimes opt for flights that have a long overnight layover, and book a hotel room and get some sleep before the next leg of our journey. The cost of the room has always been less than the increased price for a nonstop flight.
  • Look for an alternative airport that’s nearby. Costs can sometimes be significantly lowered by flying out of a regional airport or one in a nearby city versus using only bigger airports in major cities. For example, we’ve saved by flying into and out of Love Field in Dallas versus choosing a flight that arrives at Dallas-Fort Worth International.
  • Consider budget airlines. These airlines usually have a low ticket price but charge for things like seat choice, luggage (even a carryon), food . . . just about everything. But, add up the cost of what add ons are really necessary and the price can still be much lower than a full-service airline. Almost all major airlines now offer “basic economy” seats these days, with no frills or seat choice, but with a lower cost than regular economy. Southwest Airlines has found its niche somewhere in the middle between a true budget airline and a major one and offer good value. Currently, a RT, non-stop ticket to Japan on a budget airline is only $689 (before any extras are added).
  • Find a ticket first, then the destination. Search for ticket prices that fit your budget and then choose a destination that fits that price. There are some amazingly low-priced tickets out there to wonderful places.
  • Use search tools to find the best prices. Skyscanner; Scott’s Cheap Air, Google Flights, and similar sites can help find the lowest prices around for tickets.
  • Use credit cards strategically. Travel credit cards can be used to earn points toward free tickets or upgrades. Opening a card usually brings a huge bonus along with it when a set amount is spent within a specific time period, and using the card for other purchases, like groceries, gas, or dining out, can offer double or triple points to quickly increase the point balance. **Only use a travel card if you can afford to pay it off every month.**

Airline fares are expected to remain high for the time being, but there are ways to work around those high prices. It requires some genuine effort these days to find the good deals, or a workable itinerary at an affordable price, but it can be done. Traveling is different these days, and higher airfares are just one part that will probably be around for a while.

Little Things = A Bigger Savings Balance

(Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash)

Brett and I are going to be mostly homebodies for the next couple of years with only local travel and trips planned. There’s one exception coming up though: a big family travel event is in the works for December 2023. We’ve already began to save for that.

While Brett and I have always maintained a separate travel account that we feed each month, we’re more inclined to save more when we have a specific goal and know how much we need to save to achieve that goal. We have a general idea right now of what next year’s Big Event will cost, and we have 15 months to pull together the funds to cover our expenses.

This time around we won’t have the option of selling any of our things to help plump up our savings. Instead, we will need to be steadfast in adding as much as possible, whenever possible, to our account each month in order to reach our goal, as well as look for new and different ways to save, even if they’re tiny. Just like small expenses here and there can quickly deplete the cash in your wallet, or the funds in your checkbook, small amounts of savings continually added to a balance can increase it rather quickly.

None of the little things we already do may seem like much, but they add up surprisingly quickly and have always helped us reach our travel goals:

  • We create a budget each month and stick to it! Many of our monthly spending amounts are set but with others we try whenever we can to spend less than what we budget, and put what’s left over into our travel savings. If we find a sustainable extra amount of leftover income in our budget over a few months we use it to increase the travel savings allotment. Brett and I practice zero balance budgeting; that is, every penny of our monthly income is “spent” each month which includes paying our savings. If we notice there’s money “left over” for a few months, we increase the regular allotment. Because the cost of living in Tennessee has been so much lower than it was in Hawaii, we’ve been able to increase our travel savings allotment by $100/month.
  • It’s almost like a game to us to find ways to spend less on groceries and less on our utilities. We food shop with a list and pay cash when we shop because the cash left over is always more than a credit card reward. We are near fanatical about saving energy and water. We do laundry only once a week (three loads), in cold water and using the precise fill level in the washer. We take five-minute showers. We cook with the air fryer or slow cooker whenever possible versus using the full oven or stovetop. We only use our A/C when absolutely necessary, and this winter our thermostat will be set at 60 degrees, like we did back in Portland, and we’ll bundle up.
  • We never spend any $1 bills or change we receive. Readers are probably sick of hearing about this by now, but we’ve been doing this for years and it really does add up. We’ve saved $53.67 in change and $1 bills just since we left Massachusetts on August 6, and hope to reach at least $100 by the end of the year. Next year we plan to start saving $5 bills as well to kick things up a bit. Any windfalls we receive, such as refunds or gifts, also go into our travel account. Annual cost-of-living increases, or at least most of them, go toward bumping up our travel savings allotment as well. The tiny income I receive from the blog goes directly to savings.
  • We aim for at least one no-drive day per week. This small effort provides at least 52 days in a year, more than seven weeks, that we’re not burning gasoline or putting wear and tear on our car. If regular gasoline expenses fall under what we budget each month, the difference goes into our travel savings.
  • We find ways not to spend. While we have budgeted a weekly treat for our granddaughter, Brett and I don’t stop for coffee; we make it at home. We eat out infrequently, and only if planned in advance. We buy clothing or shoes when necessary, the same for household goods. We don’t pay for streaming services – we share accounts with members of our family. We don’t buy books; we use the library. None of these things put money directly into our savings, but they do make a difference in our bottom line every month and what does go into our account. The items we do spend on are always included in our monthly budget.

Since we left Hawaii in early May, these little savings we’ve made have added and additional $890 to our travel account on top of the regular allotment (we were actually able to save while we were in Mexico, a change from our usual travel destinations). We’re ready to kick things up next year though, and know we can do better and save more. We’re already very motivated, especially whenever we think of the fabulous family travel event we’ll get to experience, financed in part by all these little ways we save.

Food Shopping In San Miguel de Allende

Feeding ourselves in San Miguel de Allende is costing us a lot less than we imagined. Today, along with going out to brunch, Brett and I did our food shopping for the coming week. We stopped at three places today: the fruteria (produce store) down the hill from us; Panio, a French bakery located a short distance away; and La Comer, the big supermarket that reminds us of a cross between Target and Costco. As this was a somewhat normal week of purchases for us, I thought I’d share what we spent (in US$) and what we got.

We actually stopped at the fruteria on our way to brunch, and purchased a large honeydew melon, a bunch of five bananas, four mangoes, and two limes. Total for everything: $4.09USD.

After finishing our brunch we headed down the street a short distance to Panio, happy that our stomachs were full so that we would hopefully not be too tempted by their wares (it didn’t work). Panio is owned and run by a French-trained pasty chef, and walking into the bakery we both felt like we were back in Paris. Even though we were not hungry in the least, we left with a big bag of meringues, a big bag of butter cookies, two pain aux raisins, two pain au chocolat, and one large brownie for us to share. The total cost for all this goodness: $23.04USD (actually more than we had just spent on brunch). The pastries are for breakfast tomorrow morning and the day after, and the brownie or a few cookies will be for dessert this week. The pastries are, to put it mildly, exquisite, and we promised ourselves we will make an effort to stop at Panio every week going forward.

Then it was on to La Comer. We had a short list, but it contained two non-food items we hoped to find, a potato masher and an inexpensive pitcher. Our front balcony gets sun almost all day and I’ve been wanting to make some sun tea out there, but had nothing to brew it in. We easily found both items – a plastic Rubbermaid pitcher and a hefty masher, for approximately $5 each. Otherwise we bought a large package of sliced manchego cheese, a can of tuna, a small jar of mayonnaise, a loaf of whole grain bread, a box of herbal tea bags with lemon, two big bell peppers and two carrots (I want to make sweet & sour tofu this week), and two large boxes of Kleenex tissues. Our purchases at La Comer came to $29.79USD. The potato masher will go with us when we leave (along with our olla frijolera) but we’ll leave the pitcher behind for future guests.

A total of $56.92 bought us a whole lot of goodness today, both high quality food and two useful non-food items. We typically make a second trip for groceries on Tuesdays or Wednesdays to fill in, but have yet to spend more than $30 on any of those trips. I can’t remember the last time I spent less than $100/week on groceries, certainly never while we lived in Hawaii. Spending so little and getting so much for our money has turned into another wonderful thing about staying in San Miguel de Allende!

Traveling Full Time: Financial Matters

(photo credit: Jeremy Dorrough/Unsplash)

This will not be a post about how much money is required to travel full time. People of all different income levels travel full time, and create their own way of doing it that works for them. You definitely don’t have to be rich to become full-time nomads, but there are things you need to account for financially to travel full-time successfully.

The main thing to be figured out before starting is how will you support yourself while you travel. Do you have a steady income? Will you or can you work while you travel? Can you live off of savings, and if so, for how long and how much should you give yourself every month? How big an emergency fund do you need? What expenses will you have? All of these questions require research and deep thought. But, once you know the numbers you can create a travel budget that fits your needs.

Regular recurring expenses (in our case: my student loan payment, our phone plan, and some insurance for automobile non-owners, so we are covered if we rent) are taken care of first, and are automatically withdrawn each month. After those, the big three items that need to be accounted four out of our net income are lodging; transportation (between locations); and an emergency fund. Once those are subtracted, how the rest of your net income is divided is up to you. We came up with a limit for how much we’re willing to spend each month on lodging, future transportation, and for our emergency fund, and then divided the rest of our net income into four sections that work no matter where we are: 1) food (i.e. local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous expenses.

Because everyone’s income sources and amounts, along with their needs and wants, will be different, no two budgets are ever going to look the same. Our budget works for us, but it’s just one way of doing things. In many ways though our travel budget is similar to our non-travel budget, but with some slight differences.

Because we stay in Airbnbs, and will be staying for at least two months in each place we visit, the first thing we have to decide is the maximum amount we are willing to spend each month on lodging. For us, this is 50% of our net income. Do we actually spend that much each month? NO WAY!! We made this amount quite large because the first month’s payment for any Airbnb rental always includes a service fee (which has increased) and a cleaning fee. These two extras can make the initial reservation payment unexpectedly large. Later payments are typically much, much less than the initial payment, but we put the difference between that 50% we’ve budgeted and what we actually pay each month into a separate lodgings savings account. These savings are then available for making future Airbnb reservation payments (if staying more than a month in a rental, Airbnb divides the total amount owed into monthly payments minus the fees). As I’ve noted before, Brett and I try to reserve a rental around six months ahead if possible because there are usually more available rentals in our price range to choose from, but others wait to reserve six week in advance or less. Basically, we are swapping out our current rental payment for lodging during our travels, and by saving and paying upfront for the first month of our first three rentals we have given ourselves some wiggle room to settle into the new payment schedule. By the way, one of the benefits of staying for longer than a month is many Airbnb hosts offer significant discounts for long-term stays, sometimes in the thousands of dollars (weekly discounts are also often given). There are also no utility payments or Internet fees with an Airbnb rental.

The second budget item set up is an amount to go into another separate savings account each month to cover transportation costs from location to location. This money is only used when buying airline or train tickets to a new location – sometimes that’s a lot, other times thankfully not so much. Once again, using some of our pre-departure savings to purchase tickets will allow us to ease into paying for other transportation later.

We also put a set amount into an emergency fund each month. Part of what we have been saving pre-departure has been used to create this fund but we will continue to add to it every month.

The rest of our net monthly income covers the costs of daily living no matter where we are in the world. After some trial and error on our last adventure, we figured out that an envelope system works best for us. That is, at the beginning of each month we withdraw our total monthly allotment in cash, and then divide that into four envelopes: 1) food (local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous (admission tickets, clothing if necessary, souvenirs, and other miscellaneous shopping). If there is money left over in any of the envelopes at the end of each month, we withdraw less the following month to bring things up to the same starting point. We found that the envelope system made a huge difference in our spending versus using debit and credit cards; that is, we spent less. We always had money left over at the end of each month in each envelope versus being over or right at our budget limit.

I cannot stress the importance of tracking every expense every day when you’re traveling. We get a receipt for absolutely everything we purchase, and Brett meticulously tracks our spending in a journal (along with notes about what we did that day, how far we walked, how many steps, etc.). At the beginning of each month he divides our income after lodging and transportation are removed by the number of days in the month to give us a daily spending average to maintain, and then figures out each day whether we’re below or above it (a weekly grocery shop usually puts us over our spending average for a few days, for example, but it drops again in a couple of days). Between what’s in the envelopes and our daily average, we know every day how we’re doing for the month or whether we need to slow down our spending for a while.

Budgeting for full time travel is about figuring out how to get the biggest bang for your bucks. You may choose to spend your income on better lodging or great experiences or first class transportation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the end though it’s about living well, albeit carefully and realistically, on what you earn, with what you have, and in a way that suits you and allows you to make the most of what you have wherever you go.

Traveling Frugally: Travel Hacking

The best definition I’ve found of travel hacking comes from a post I found on Mom and Dad Money:

Travel hacking is essentially the process of signing up for a new credit card, spending enough to earn the sign-up bonus, using the points you earn to book free travel, and basically repeating that process over and over again.

Using credit cards benefits to earn free flights, free hotel stays, and other travel benefits is a popular way to save big on travel expenses. Travel hacking has been around for a while, but these days it typically involves using multiple cards at the same time to reap the most benefits. Most major airlines offer big rewards when you sign up for one of their credit cards and reach a certain spending goal during a specific period (usually within three months of signing up). Bank cards also offer similar big travel rewards: every iteration of the Chase Sapphire card, Capital One’s Venture, and American Express Gold Card, among others, all offer substantial travel rewards after signing up and charging a certain amount within a set period of time. Hotel chain credit cards rewards include free stays, discounts, and other perks for signing up and charging a pre-set amount within time limits.

These deals are especially easy to acquire when signing up for the first time. We know of people who set out on their travels with over 500,000 airline miles banked, all acquired from sign-up bonuses they received. Of course, they had to spend quite a bit to get those bonuses, and they also risked damaging their credit score because of all the new card sign-ups (multiple hard credit inquiries in a short period of time, and greater credit risk because of multiple credit lines). If they use the cards responsibly though, neither of those should be a problem. Experienced travel hackers however recommend signing up for different cards over a long period of time versus all at once or within a few months.

There is no “perfect” travel card – each one offers something different and the goal in getting started should be to find ones that work best to achieve whatever travel goals have been set. There are some important things to look for though when applying for a travel card:

  • No fee or low annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • A large (i.e. huge) initial bonus
  • Low required spending minimum
  • Special perks for travel-related items
  • Added points for special spending categories (i.e. groceries, gas, restaurants)
  • The bonus is something that can actually be attained.

Travel hacking is a great way to acquire some significant travel benefits but only if you already use credit cards responsibly and pay off your balances every month. If you don’t, they’re an easy way to quickly descend deeply into debt. Tracking all open cards and their accompanying expiration dates and spending limits also requires real effort, although a newer app, Award Wallet, helps track all awards in one place, including deadlines, and notifies the user when deadlines are approaching.

Besides free travel benefits, the big pro of travel hacking is that it’s easy to get started and find good deals; lots of points to cover flights and other travel costs can be acquired quickly.

A big reason against travel hacking however is that after acquiring the good upfront deals, finding new ones gets harder and harder. Points earned can become more difficult to use and the money spent to acquire all the upfront points may be more than expected or afforded. If too many sign-ups are done too quickly, one’s credit rating can be damaged, and credit card companies have been known to cancel accounts for those using too many cards of the same brand.

Our primary credit card when we travel is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We took advantage of its sign-up bonus years ago, but we still use it to rack up generous reward points (which we usually redeem for a cash deposit to our bank account). It also provides some serious benefits that match those that come with travel insurance (car rental insurance, missed or cancelled flights, lost luggage, and a few others). Every month since we’ve been back on Kaua’i we’ve received a sign up offer for the Delta American Express card, with a bonus of 75,000 miles if we spend $2000 within three months after receiving the card. Delta is our preferred airline but we haven’t bitten. All Delta flights only go to and from the U.S.; we can’t use them to fly between international destinations. Also, we’ve had American Express cards in the past, but rarely used them, and honestly don’t think we need another card to track while we travel. Still, we think from time to time that it would be nice to have those miles banked if we need them.

Let’s Travel Frugally

There’s something for everyone when it comes to traveling. There’s luxury travel, cheap travel, nomadic travel, cruises, travel tours, RV travel, family travel and on and on. Almost everyone can find something to fit their needs and budget when it comes to traveling, and it’s not difficult to find ways to save both before and during one’s journey.

Brett and I consider ourselves to be experienced frugal travelers; that is, we are out to get the biggest bang for our bucks all while staying within a budget that works for us and doesn’t send us spiraling into debt. Being frugal while on the road not only means being thrifty, but avoiding waste and managing our funds with care. Being thrifty while we travel is not always about finding the lowest price but searching out the best value and getting the most for our money. For example, when we were in Rome in 2018 we signed up for a small group tour and visited the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum. The cost per person was above our usual price point, but after reading through what the tour offered compared to other lower-priced tours we decided the one we selected would give us a lot more for our money, or in other words, a better value. We ended up with a more in-depth look at these historic places (the tour guide was a local historian) and a group limited to 12 people, small enough that everyone could hear the guide and ask questions easily – no one was left “standing at the back” of a crowd . What we saw, learned, and discovered about the places we visited on the tour provided far more value than what we would have saved by booking a cheaper tour or trying to do it on our own.

To keep our travels affordable, we stayed in Airbnb rentals, shopped locally for food and cooked our own meals almost every day. We rode trains, buses, and took cheap flights, and we walked or used public transportation to get around in each location. Brett faithfully recorded our spending every day so we knew whether we over, under, or right on budget. We balanced stays in more expensive lodgings with less expensive ones in other places, and ended up just $38 over budget overall for our lodging.

In the next few months I want to explore what we’ve learned about traveling frugally, about different ways to save before and during travel, and how to get more for less while you’re on the road or visiting any location. I’ve already posted a bit about saving ahead of time for travel (located in the Saving category), but I want to learn more and better ways to travel while spending less and getting more, and I hope you’ll follow along.

The 2021 Highlight Reel

The past year was not the most exciting year we’ve ever spent for a variety of reasons. Brett and I practically turned into full-time hermits and stuck close to home, only heading out of our apartment for walks at the park or a few other hikes, a few trips to the beach, or shopping trips and a very occasional meal out. Our daughters’ visit was the first and only time we had others in our apartment all year, and we didn’t visit anyone else either.

I really didn’t realized how tightened down we’d become and how little we did until I went through this past year’s blog posts. I am so grateful we moved up our travel plans because I don’t think we could have survived another year of pretty much standing still.

Lots of important things did get accomplished however:

  • Health: Brett and continued to lose weight; segued to a vegetarian/vegan diet; and walked/hiked over 1,000 miles. We got our COVID vaccines and boosters; Brett finally got his wonky parathyroid gland removed, and I had an endoscopy and confirmation of a small hiatal hernia. Regular skin checks were done and we are up to date with our dental visits.
  • Travel: Plans for future travel went through several permutations, starting with walking tours in the UK and then Japan followed by short visits to some other places if possible. We then got caught up in the idea of permanent moves to first Portugal and then France, and finally ended up with a decision return to full-time travel. An itinerary was made, our Kaua’i departure date moved forward from 2023 to 2022, and Airbnb reservations were made in Strasbourg, Oxford, and Edinburgh. We have tickets to get us over to Paris in May of next year following YaYu’s graduation from college and are getting ready now to hit the road again.
  • Downsizing: We decided to once again sell almost everything before departing Hawaii, and started the downsizing process with the sale of my KitchenAid mixer in June. We sold something (or more than one thing) at least once a month, and the Etsy shop I opened to sell my hashioki collection and a few other Japanese vintage goods proved to be more successful than I imagined. All of our son’s and daughters’ things we’d been keeping were sorted and sent back to the mainland or Japan, either with them or through the mail, and Brett and I began the process of packing up the few things we will be keeping to be mailed to our daughter WenYu’s home for storage.
  • Savings: We made our last deposit into YaYu’s college savings this month. Through regular deposits, downsizing sales, the Etsy shop, the change/$1 bill bag, and other savings hustles we put away over $11,000 into our travel savings, more than enough to make our initial reservations and purchase our flight to Paris.
  • Family & friends: We had a lovely reunion with our niece and her family when they visited Kaua’i in June, and also were able to get together with another friend visiting the island the same month. While we greatly missed being able to see our grandkids, son, and daughter-in-law this past year, they sent loads of photos and we kept up through messaging and calls. The highlight of the year was having our three daughters together with us for 10 days for the Christmas holiday, and we made the most of our time together. I remain grateful for all the friends I’ve met and made through the blog, and your comments and interaction.

Although we stuck close to home this past year we still accomplished quite a bit and moved a great deal closer to reaching our goals for next year. As busy as we’ve been recently, things will be picking up after the new year, and we know our remaining time on the island will be moving along at a quicker-than-expected pace.

So, it’s goodbye to 2021 with fondness and gratitude, and it’s on to the new year with hope for all it promises to bring.