Five Frugal Things 1/20/2017

Pouring Water Into Glass On Blue BackgroundHere are some frugal wins that happened this past week at Casa Aloha:

  1. We had to go to Costco again to buy bread for this week’s swim team spaghetti dinner (we volunteered to provide the garlic bread every week), and only bought the bread and some eggs rather than tap into next months food budget. That’s two times we’ve managed this!
  2. We ate at home all week, and shopped our pantry, fridge and freezer – all meals and desserts were made from what we already had on hand, including YaYu’s birthday dinner and cake.
  3. WenYu wanted a new bikini for her birthday, but wasn’t happy about having to pay the “paradise tax” (i.e. higher cost) of buying one here. So, we decided to give her cash and she will buy herself a suit when she gets back to Massachusetts. She’ll be able to get that and another piece of clothing for less than the price of a suit here.
  4. Other than coffee, free, filtered tap water was the main beverage choice for all of us. We refilled our 10-cup Brita pitcher at least five times a day all week.
  5. I earned another $15 in Amazon Credit from Swagbucks this week. I’ve earned $40 total so far this year.

How did you do this week?


The Year of Buying Nothing

keep-calm-and-buy-nothing-32Last year turned into the Year of Buying Everything here at Casa Aloha: new tires, new washer and dryer, new computer, new phone, new clothes for school, dorm room needs, new kitchen worktable, new living room chair, and so forth. Along with all the traveling we did, it was an expensive year. We saved nothing extra.

Brett and I have decided that 2017 will be The Year of Buying Nothing. We have a goal to save as much as possible this year, so that other than buying food, toiletries, paper goods and cleaning supplies we’re putting ourselves on a spending fast for the year, with a few exceptions:

  • Necessary items for YaYu. She will require uniforms and team shirts for sports, new running shoes and socks for cross country in the fall, and a prom dress this year, although she’s thinking of renting one from Rent the Runway instead of buying.
  • Christmas and birthday gifts. Meiling’s and YaYu’s January birthday gifts were purchased before the end of last year, so WenYu is the only one of the girls to buy for this year (we have a $50 limit per girl). We’ll purchase our grandson’s birthday gift when we are in Japan, and will bring along and leave birthday gifts for our granddaughter’s first birthday next fall because the postage from here to Japan is just too outrageous now. We have a monthly allotment already set up for Christmas shopping next year, so those expenses will be covered. Brett and I don’t exchange birthday or Christmas gifts.
  • Baby gifts to take to Japan. Used items are not appreciated in Japanese culture, so we will be buying some new things for our granddaughter to take with us in March.

    Omamori for sale at a shrine in Japan
    Omamori for sale at a shrine in Japan
  • Souvenirs. Brett and I have decided that purchases in Japan will be limited to food items (KitKats!) and some omamori (amulets) for good luck and fortune from the shrines we visit.

There are thrift stores here on the island, but we’ve decided that rather than even buying used, it’s better to buy nothing at all. Looking around, we definitely don’t need anything so hopefully this will be a fairly easy challenge to stick with this year.

The more we don’t buy, the more we can save. Let the Year of Buying Nothing begin!

Living on Less in Hawai’i

My favorite Kaua’i activity is less than five minutes from our house and it’s free!

It’s great when a 20 something says ya, move to the islands its a great place to live, but when your talking kids, spouses and a mid-level standard of living, it becomes a different kettle of fish. Yes, if you refuse to buy new clothes, quit eating meat, forgo medical/dental care or insurance, walk instead of drive, sit in the dark instead of using electricity, no worries. But really, do you want to live like that? Your kids will NEVER need braces? Never break an arm? Never want a car? College? I think the islands are a great place to live. But I would never have relocated with children in school unless I had the means to place them in private school. (Which we did not). Better to delay that gratification than to subborn your childrens future.

The cost of living is high in Hawai’i – there’s no denying it. But, you don’t have to be wealthy to live the good life here. The above is the “advice” I received from an anonymous poster when I wrote to a Hawai’i forum in 2013, a full year before we moved to Hawai’i, asking whether our proposed budget for living on Kaua’i was realistic or not.

Most of the answers I received to my question on the forum were thoughtful, full of good advice and encouraging. For most budget items I was told I had actually estimated too high, which was a good place to be. But, even with our budget outlined, and with the explanation that we were retired military with healthcare provided, and with a low tax burden because of our income sources, this person predicted nothing but gloom and doom for us. She was backed up by another frequent contributor to the forum. According to them, with an income of less than $100,000 (after taxes) we were sure to find ourselves in dire straits sooner rather than later.

None of her predictions have come true, nor are they likely to happen either. And, our income is nowhere near $100,000 per year.

We primarily use a “solar dryer” on laundry day

There are three reasons I believe that we have been able to live well here on a smaller income. And, not only live well but have money left over to save for travel and other activities:

  1. We have no consumer debt.
  2. We live within our means, which in our case means renting right now instead of buying, owning only one car, and sticking to our monthly budget.
  3. We practice everyday frugality – we didn’t change our frugal habits just because we moved to Hawai’i.

Without any one of these three things in place there would be more of a possibility that our income might not be sufficient, and we might be living closer to the life predicted by the poster. Many people move to Hawaii’i convinced their income will be enough, but make no adjustments to their lifestyle to accommodate the higher cost of living, and end up leaving in a year or less, poorer but hopefully wiser.

No food waste around here: Brett had the last of some guacamole, hummus, feta cheese and rice for lunch one day

We are not minimalists by any stretch, and live a very rich, full life in my opinion. But, we live a simple life. We take advantage of the benefits we have earned. We are thoughtful about our purchases and the choices we make, but we don’t deny ourselves anything. Kaua’i offers abundant recreation for free (beaches, hiking, etc.) and there are discounts offered to residents. Our children stay very busy thanks to school clubs and sports, and work hard to earn scholarships to pay for college. The amounts I budgeted back in 2013 did turn out to be much higher than we actually spend, meaning more has been available to put away for travel and other extras. Less has really meant more here.

I may just write back to the forum one of these days to let them know that we are still here, that we’re living the good life in paradise and not sitting in the dark wondering where we went wrong. We eat what we want including occasionally going out to eat, and we don’t worry about turning on the lights. We’ve got college covered so far.

I wonder if that “helpful” poster is still reading?

The Mystery Vacation: Changes Have Been Made

No, we're not going to New York
No, we’re not going to New York City

We are still going on the Mystery Vacation™ – that hasn’t changed. It’s still all paid for, non-refundable airline tickets purchased, etc.

But, a little over a week ago WenYu was awarded free airfare to attend one of the open houses for admitted students at Colorado College. She very much wants to go and check out the college before making a final decision, but she also doesn’t want to make such a big journey to an unknown place on her own. However, a trip for two to Colorado Springs, even a short one and with one airline ticket paid for, was not in this year’s family travel budget.

I could have taken money out of our savings to cover the cost of the trip, or used a credit card, but that’s not how I like or want to fund our travels. Trips are paid for out of funds saved from our regular income, after all bills and household expenses are covered. And, with a trip to Oahu planned for June and another trip to accompany WenYu to college coming up in the fall, this year’s travel budget was already maxed out.

All was not lost though. I realized there was some wiggle room in the Mystery Vacation™ budget because when I made hotel reservations, I booked two rooms for our stay so that Brett and I, and the girls, could each have our own rooms. I had also budgeted a generous daily amount to cover meals and other expenditures.

After crunching some numbers I found that if we all stayed in one room, and cut back our daily expenses by $50, we would have enough to cover costs for an extra trip to Colorado Springs. So, I asked the girls if they would mind sharing a room with their dad and me, and their answer was “No problem. How much time do we ever spend in the room anyway?” And, even with our daily budget cut by $50, we still will have more than enough to eat well, buy a few souvenirs if we want, and cover other miscellaneous expenses. All planned activities have already been paid for.

I made a quick phone call last Friday and changes were made to our reservation. We now have a large refund coming our way, and several hundred dollars have also been freed up in our travel savings. We may be a little more squeezed space-wise on the Mystery Vacation™, but it’s still all going to be very top quality, and a good time will be had by all.

Best of all (in my book, anyway), the destination remains a mystery – Brett and the girls still don’t know where we’re going!

I’ll be making reservations today for an April trip to Colorado Springs!

Small Economies

coinsI received many responses to last week’s post about whether we should try to kick up our savings, and the consensus seemed to be that we are in a good place and that we should enjoy it.

I agree – I am enjoying not having to worry about paying bills or going without or pinching pennies these days in order to enjoy our simple, but comfortable life. Other than dropping cable (because we really don’t need it), we don’t want to cut back on anything else, although there’s not much of anything to cut back on. We’ve pared things down about as far as we can for now.

However, I’ve still been thinking a bit about saving for the past few days and realized that without giving up or going without anything, we can still increase our savings a bit by making small changes in some of the things we already are buying. For example, we’ve been getting our toilet paper at Costco at a good price, but we recently discovered that ordering it by the case through Amazon Prime’s subscription service will cut what we currently spend in half. It’s not a huge amount of savings every month, but as we’ve learned, the little things can add up pretty quickly.

I typically eat a bowl of shredded wheat every morning, but after I finish up what I have on hand I’m going to switch to oatmeal. I like oatmeal, and it’s w-a-y cheaper than cold cereal. Brett already eats oatmeal almost every morning, so it’s something we already buy, and we won’t be compromising on quality. Again, we’re not talking major savings here, probably just a few dollars every month. But, that little bit, combined with other savings, will add up.

I’m sure there are plenty of other small economies that we can and will discover along the way. They won’t be anything earth-shattering on their own, but when combined with other savings will add up to a bit more than we can tuck away each month.



It’s All Fun and Games Until You Have To Save Some Money

SaveDreaming about travel, thinking of places you want to travel, making plans, and making the actual trip are fun. But, actually getting someplace takes money, often lots of money. And, unless you are independently wealthy, travel requires some saving. And saving is work. It’s fun work for some, but it’s still work, and takes determination and persistence.

Brett and I are not independently wealthy, to say the least.

We live on a not-very-big fixed income in one of the most expensive places in the country. We have children who either are or will be setting off to college soon.

But, travel is a priority for us and always has been, and we’ve always been able to find (sometimes creative) ways to save for travel without compromising other areas of our lives.

And that’s the secret really: We make saving for travel a priority.

This time around though we need to save a lot. Like $33,000 a lot in order to upfront fund at least three years of travel. We have the luxury of three years to put this much away, but to say it’s not going to be easy would be an understatement. There’s no inheritance coming, no extra property to sell, no extra stuff to sell (we did all of that before we moved here!). Brett and I could work, except any extra income we earn will potentially mess with the girls’ financial aid awards, so we would rather not get jobs if we don’t have to.

But, we have a plan:

  • Keep up with the not buying stuff. I can’t began to say how much we save by not spending. We used to be able to talk ourselves into buying just about anything. These days we’re even more skilled at talking ourselves out of buying just about anything. It’s actually fairly easy because we don’t seem to need much these days.
  • Keep saving our change and $1 bills. We had been saving change and $1 bills for our mystery trip next spring, but it looks like we won’t need to use those funds after all. So, we’ll keep saving toward our first trip in the fall of 2018. Our goal is to have a minimum of $2500 saved this way. We already have over $800, so we’re off to a good start.
  • Continue to save credit card rewards. The reward $$$ could be used toward plane ticket purchases, but for now we’re thinking more about getting a nice check from our credit card company one day and depositing it into our savings. Our goal for these savings is a minimum of $500 (obviously we don’t use our credit card very much). I know there are those who use their credit cards for everything in order to earn more rewards; we found we actually get more each month by using cash and putting away the change and $1 bills. We use the card for a couple of regular monthly bills, and put all big purchases on it (like airline tickets).
  • Keep earning Swagbucks. Earnings from Swagbucks this year will completely fund our Christmas presents for the girls and our grandson, and I should be able to earn enough Amazon credit by the time we travel next year to get myself a new camera. Although Swagbucks don’t provide direct cash, they free up money in our budget that can go directly into savings.
  • Dedicate my retirement savings account to travel. My retirement plan from Oregon includes, along with a monthly pension, a small individual savings account. It never accumulated very much while I was working, certainly not enough to retire on (it might last a whole couple of months if we had to live on it), so it will be rolled over into an IRA, collect interest for a few years, and then be withdrawn as needed for our travel. Thankfully we have enough in other retirement accounts to not have to worry about the loss of this small amount for retirement.
  • Other savings. The balance will be saved from our regular retirement income as well as all refunds, gifts and any other unexpected funds. Because we have no debt (other than my student loan), we have enough left over in the budget every month to save toward travel and costs, like the girls’ future travel to and from college. We are still setting aside funds right now for next spring’s trip, but after we reach that goal the savings will go for our future travel.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” – William Hutchinson Murray

Nearly five years ago, Brett and I faced nearly $66,000 worth of debt. With dedication and a lot of hard work we paid that off in four years, saved like mad, and were able to make our dream of retiring and moving to Hawai’i a reality. We are facing this next saving challenge with the same determination. We can do this!

The Next Three Years I know I keep writing about what we’re dreaming about for the future, but what about the three intervening years between now and 2018?

Here’s what we’ll be focusing on for the next three years:

  1. Get WenYu and YaYu through high school and launched off to college. This is our top priority. Meiling is already on her way, and this next year WenYu will be applying to colleges and for scholarships. YaYu has just three more years of high school to go before she leaves our nest, but she is already thinking about where she wants to go to college and what she needs to do to get there.
  2. Save. I will outline this more in the future, but we have a heap o’ saving to do in the next three years to turn our dreams into realities.
  3. Enjoy Kaua’i. I still sometimes can’t believe we live in this beautiful place. I thought we would like it, but living here is so much more and so much better than we imagined. Every day here is a gift.
  4. Officially retire. While Brett is retired, I’m not, officially that is. But, beginning in November I will start receiving a (very small) monthly pension as well as receive a (very small) lump sump disbursement from Oregon. I have loads of paperwork to get started on this month to make that happen.
  5. Stay healthy. Both Brett and I currently enjoy excellent health and we plan to keep it that way. We both feel that our health has improved since we moved to Kaua’i: we’re eating healthier, eating less, and getting more exercise. We both are sleeping better as well. A concern for both of us here is skin health, but we’re obsessive about using sunscreen (SPF 70 or higher), and I don’t move from under the umbrella when we go to the beach.
  6. Save some more.
  7. Learn Japanese. With the acquisition of Rosetta Stone for now, we’ve already gotten this started. Coming up soon will be textbooks. We have no expectations of becoming fluent, but we will know a whole lot more than we do now when it’s time for us to go in 2019.
  8. Make plans. We have three years to firm things up about where and what we will be doing, but once decisions are made then we can start the official planning, including reading every guidebook we can find, researching lodgings, airfares, etc. The goal of planning is to set up a solid foundation for a trip so we can be more flexible and spontaneous when we’re at our destination.
  9. Continue saving. Can’t do this enough!

Will there be bumps in the road along the way? Of course. But, we have our priorities in order, and know what we have to do to reach our goals, and so will roll with the punches, pick ourselves up if we get knocked down, and keep going.

And, if the next three years are anything like the past three, the time is going to fly by.

Fourth Time’s a Charm

188220757187dae32adb3af278d41724So here I am with my fourth blog. My fourth!

What can I say? Blogging the past few years has helped me keep track of life and stay on track with our dreams, plans and goals, but as the focus of our lives keeps evolving and changing so have the blogs. We’ve paid off our debt (I’m Losing It Here), downsized and moved ourselves to Kaua’i (Noho’Ana Hau’ole), and settled in to our new life on the Garden Island (The View From the Treehouse). Along the way I’ve learned more than I imagined, not just about other people and places, but most especially about myself, about what makes me happy, and about what I want to do in the future.

If you have followed any of my other blogs you know that I am a finisher. I don’t just dream. I set goals. I plan. And then I execute the plan and go for the finish line.

It wasn’t always that way though. I grew up internalizing a message from my family that I was unserious, scatterbrained, silly, unable to finish anything. Because I was supposedly incapable of making a decision my parents and others made decisions and plans for me, but more to accomplish their own dreams and preconceptions, not mine. What I wanted to do carried little validity because what did I know?  And of course others’ opinion of me was always validated because for some reason I never seemed to finish anything I started.

Then, in 1977 I did something totally crazy. Without telling anyone I enlisted in the navy in order to take advantage of the then-existing GI Bill benefits. Bets were made that I wouldn’t even finish boot camp let alone make my way in the armed forces. However, as difficult as boot camp was (and it was awful), I was determined to not only finish on time but do well, and I did. Most importantly I also learned, beyond anything my time in the navy taught me, that when I set my own goals, follow my own dreams and make my own plans I follow through and accomplish what I set out to do. I am not a quitter, and I can accomplish any goal I set for myself (although the jury is still out on maintaining a weight loss).

Whether it was adopting our three daughters, paying off our debt or moving our family to Hawai’i, Brett and I have not only dreamed, but made concrete plans for reaching our goals, and then worked those plans. The path to accomplishing our goals hasn’t always been a straight line, or without its issues and setbacks, but we have always kept going and adjusted as necessary. And here we are, parents of four wonderful children, retired and living our dream on Kaua’i!

Our move to Kaua’i is not the end but the beginning of a new stage for us. We’re still dreaming, setting goals, and making plans. We’re in the beginning phases of thinking about how we will accomplish all we want to do and what we will need to accomplish in this next phase of our lives. In just three years our youngest daughter will graduate from high school and head off to college. And after she flies away, so will we. Beautiful Kaua’i will remain our home base, but we are looking forward to becoming Occasional Nomads, spending time in Japan every year near our son and his family and also visiting other parts of the world.

Until then we will be figuring out not only what we want to do, but where we want to go, how we want to do it, what we need to get there and how we will afford to not only travel but get three girls through college. Our income will be fluctuating for the next couple of years as the girls move on and my retirement benefits are added in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride for a while, but we have been there, done that and will adjust as necessary and keep going.

The Occasional Nomads will continue with updates from Kaua’i, and both the Sunday Afternoon and Feel Good Friday posts will continue as well. Brett will also be joining me here this time around, contributing posts about his hikes around Kaua’i, and his upcoming trip back to the mainland. His voice will be a valuable addition to our ongoing retirement story, and I’m thrilled he’s agreed to join me this time.

Many thanks to all of you for coming along – I hope you’ll enjoy this latest ride!