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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Keeping Track Of Every Penny

"Keep track of every penny."  When I first heard this many, many years ago, I thought “How can I possibly keep track of every penny?   If I happen to get change back from my dollar, it just gets stuffed into my wallet or gets thrown into the bottom of my purse.  I have no clue how many pennies I have in the bottom of my 10 purses!"  But I realized I was taking those words too literally. This little piece of advice was really what got us started on developing a very good budget for our family. We eventually had money for everything we needed which included the annual camping trip we took with our family and friends.

Our budget may not work for everyone but we wanted to share it in case you just don’t know where to start when it comes to budgeting.  Maybe there’s some idea we have that you haven’t thought of and it helps you in some way.

Over the years our budget has changed. Life changes. The kids finally got part-time jobs and bought their own clothes. That left more money that could be spent on vacations!  We retired, bought two homes and started living on a fixed income. Our budget really had to change then. But basically it is the same budget we have had all these years with only the allotment of money for each expense changing.

We start with our net income. We never added in overtime or any other income that was not guaranteed every week. (This additional income, if any, went into our retirement fund).  So first we figure out how much needs to go into our checking account each month.  Anything that needs to be paid on a regular monthly basis (or quarterly or annually), and are very high priority, gets paid with money that goes into our checking account. Our taxes are annual so we divide that expense by 12 months, our Florida HOA needs to be paid quarterly so we divide that expense by 12 also, etc.  So the funds we need to pay taxes, HOAs, electric, phone, internet, water and  home, life and car insurance gets taken from our net income first and goes into our checking account. That leaves us to decide how to divide the remaining income.

The remaining income goes into our savings account and the following expenses are paid with funds from savings.  We decide how much we want or need to allocate to each expense.  We start with the obvious, food and gas for the car and end with an allowance for ourselves for bingo and casino fun! Inevitably, cost of living will rise and our income won’t so our allowance will get smaller as the cost of food and gas gets larger.  If we saved on food for the month (Look for a future post about ways we save on groceries!)  we will take the surplus and add it to the vacation fund.  Also, if we see that our entertainment funds are dwindling, we will eat out less and eat in more.  So basically, these are expenses that have more wiggle room.  Going from high priority to low, our list looks like this.   Food, gas, gifts, church (donations), dentist/glasses (had to add this when we lost dental and optical insurance after retirement), car repairs, household items, Christmas, misc., (entertainment, etc) clothes, vacation, cruise (We have been saving for a European cruise for years. We are finally going to take that cruise next September. We will post about our budgeting and planning for it soon.) car payment*, allowance, savings (any funds that haven't made their way into any other category goes into "savings").  We have now taken all of our pennies and put them where they belong. We know where all our pennies are!

*Right now we don't have a car payment so it's low priority but we still have a car loan fund.  When we finished paying off our old car loan, we found that the money we allotted every month for paying the loan was not needed somewhere else in our budget.  We kept the "car payment" funds going and saved this money and were able to buy a new car.  We used the money we saved and money we got from the trade-in on the old car and wound up not having to get a car loan!  So we will keep car payment in our budget as long as we don't need it anywhere else.

We keep track of what is going on in our savings account with a chart we came up with that we keep in a binder. If we were computer savvy we would have this in an Excel spreadsheet, but we are not!

Basically this is what our budget plan is right now.  Hopefully social security will still be in existence when we are ready to take it and we will revise our budget for sure then, but usually we just take a look at it once a year to see if we need to make any changes.

What are your budgeting strategies?  We would love for you to share them with us.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Washington, DC - A road trip and mini-vacation (Day 2)

This is Day 2 of our Washington, DC trip.  For Day 1 check out this link.

We met our son, Joe and daughter-in-law, Nicole in the lobby of  our hotel, Kimpton Hotel Palomar, to grab a cup of coffee before we started Day 2 of our mini-vacation in Washington, DC.  It was a gorgeous spring morning so we decided to walk to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to check it out before heading to Nationals Park for a baseball game. We enjoyed the sights and sounds of the bustling city on our 40 minute walk.  At one point we bumped into a mob of people all holding signs about global warming. One that I liked was "Global Warming So Uncool". Someone made a globe that was almost 3 foot in diameter and actually rotated on top of a long stick. I was pretty impressed with that one!  We found out later that they were taking part in the People's Climate March.  There were thousands of people involved and one of them was Leonardo DiCaprio. We might have walked passed him but didn't realize it!  You never know what or who you might run into on the streets of DC.  

When we got to the museum we were happy to find a very short line.  It only took us about 5 minutes to get in.  The museum is free to get into, as are all the Smithsonian museums, making DC a very good choice for frugal vacationers.  We saw everything from mummies to dinosaur bones and, not to be missed, the Hope Diamond.  The 45 carat blue diamond was breathtaking.

We were also fascinated with the 21st Annual Nature's Best Photography Awards Smithsonian Exhibition that runs through September 2017.  How do the photographers get those shots?  It's really amazing that someone could capture a mama polar bear cuddling her two cubs on film.  How did photographer Daisy Gilardini happen to be there at that moment?  I'm sure she had to have a lot of patience and days of waiting to get that Grand Prize winning photo,  

After spending a couple of hours at the museum, it was time to head to Nationals Park to watch the Mets play the Washington Nationals.  The stadium was not within walking distance so we headed to the train station.  We found that once we got the hang of how to use the Metrorail it was a much more convenient way to get around DC than driving.  The first thing we had to get was the SmarTrip card which you can buy at the vending machines at every train station. The cost is $2.00 per card but has no monetary value until you load value onto it.  Also, as long as we take care of them and not lose them we can use these card the next time we visit to DC.

After purchasing our cards, we checked the map above the vending machine to find the stop for the stadium. Once we found it we saw that it would cost us $2.15 to get there.  We put $8.00 on each of our cards so that we had enough to get us back to the hotel and we thought we might use the Metro to get to our dinner reservation.  The magnetic back of the card activates the turnstile at the entrance to the subway station.

You are eligible for a discounted Smartrip card and fares if  you are a senior (65 or older) or if you have a disability.  You can't buy these cards at the regular vending machines though.  You can find a list of stations where you can purchase them by going to wmata.com.

We made it to Nationals Park early enough to take a look around the stadium.  It happened to be Pups in the Park day so there were a lot of cute puppies roaming around with their owners. And to our surprise, we also saw a lot of Mets fans!  The 7 Line Army also happened to be there and we were very lucky to be sitting in the same section as them!  We always have a great time going to see the Mets at their opponent's stadiums but we have to quietly cheer them on so that we don't draw negative attention to ourselves but not this time.  We had a great time cheering the Mets on with the 7 Line Army and many other Mets fans.  I really started to feel bad for the handful of National's fans who were stuck in our section.  I saw lots of eye rolling and heard the guy in back of us say to his friend "I wish they would all shut the... ".  You can guess how that sentenced ended.

We really had great seats too.  We were in the first row right above the Mets bull pen.  This was our view.

And who is that right in front of us just hanging out sitting backwards on that bench?

                  Noah Syndergaard           Jacob deGrom                                          

Just two of the most talented, and cutest, pitchers the Mets have right now!  

The Mets made our day by winning the game 5 - 3, adding to the great memories we'll have of our trip to DC.

After the game, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up (and join the other hotel guests for wine hour!) before going to Chaplin's for dinner.  We decided to do the 25 minute walk to the restaurant rather than taking the Metro.  Joe made 6:30 reservations for us.  Thank goodness he did because there were so many people waiting to get a table when we got there.  

If you enjoy a good bowl of ramen, this is definitely the place to find it.  Chaplin's is a 1930's themed Japanese Restaurant and Cocktail Bar.  Their decor is old Tokyo, Japan and they offer some 1930's classic cocktails.  We tried their cocktails and also had the Japanese beer they served there.  Then we ordered the gyoza appetizer, fried.  They were so good!

The entrees we chose were miso ramen for me, Soko got the Chaplins ramen, Joe got tori karaage, (Japanese fried chicken) and Nicole got the yakisoba (pan-fried noodles).  No one had any complaints about their choices for sure.  I would definitely go back if we were in the area again.

We were stuffed after the great meal we just had so no dessert for us but I wanted coffee and Nicole wanted tea so we decided we would stop at the Starbucks down the block from our hotel. Joe and Nicole thought that we had walked enough for one day so called a Lyft to take us back. (I am just discovering the convenience and thriftiness of using Lyft as opposed to taxis and car services.  I will get back to this in an upcoming post!)  We brought the coffee up to our room and relaxed until it was time to call it a night.

We had an amazing time, enjoyed great company and ate delicious food on our mini-vacation.  I'm sure we will be back for more good times and to make more great memories in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Washington, DC - A road trip and mini-vacation

Day 1 - The only hard part of our retirement adventure, so far, was leaving our family and friends in New York to live in North Carolina and Florida.  New York is a very expensive place to live when you are on a retirement budget and the winters are very hard on old bones.  (But that's another post for another day)!  It was especially hard to move so far away from our older son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Nicole, and our younger son, Mike, and (soon to be) daughter-in-law, Chrissy.  We have managed to get together with them a few times a year though and now have discovered a very convenient place for us to meet, Washington, DC.

The main reason we had for taking this road trip, besides for getting a chance to spend time with Joe and Nicole, was to see the New York Mets take on the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Since we had to travel 5 l/2 hours to get there and Joe and Nicole had a 4 1/2 hour drive, we decided to make a mini-vacation of it.  The kids used a vacation day so we could meet at the Smithsonian's National Zoo on a beautiful Friday afternoon.  The zoo is always free to get in which made our frugal ears perk -- but the parking is not.  The cost is $22 to park but parking is extremely limited and they fill up very early.  Since we knew we couldn't get there early enough to get a spot, we were happy to find out that we could reserve parking.  Of course conveniences always come with a price.  In our case it was $31.  Sometimes you have to be practical instead of frugal though.  So glad we did this because the parking lots were packed!  The zoo was worth the money.  We enjoyed it very much.  We loved seeing the pandas and the orangutan chewing on his blankie was adorable!

If you need a wheelchair to get around, we saw numerous people getting around in them pretty easily.  I did see someone struggling as she walked with her cane but she was was on an uneven terrain which she might have been able to avoid,

After the zoo, we checked into our hotel, Kimpton Hotel Palomar.  If you know the Kimpton Hotels, you know that frugal people on a tight budget like us would not be staying at one.  It was a present from Joe and Nicole for our birthdays.  (There's no gift more special to us than a gift of a time spent with people we love to spend time with.  A gift of a wonderful memory is a gift that will last forever)!  Our daughter, Lisa, surprised us by calling the hotel to let them know that we were celebrating our birthdays and the hotel had something extra special waiting in the room for us.

Well, the room was luxurious to say the least.  The bathroom was huge with a soaking tub and separate shower.  We had a combination sitting area, complete with a sofa, two comfy chairs and coffee table, and bedroom that was tremendous.  There were robes, a yoga mat and umbrella at our disposal in the walk-in closet.  I used the robe, it was very comfy, but didn't use the yoga mat (I have to admit that we take a break from exercising when we're on vacation) and thankfully we didn't need the umbrella.  The only thing that we missed having in the room was a coffeemaker but there was coffee in the lobby of the hotel every morning that we enjoyed.  But what we really enjoyed was the nightly wine hour!

After enjoying the wine hour, it was time for dinner, Joe suggested Pizzeria Paradiso which was within walking distance of our hotel. We were staying in the middle of the very busy city of DC and, believe me, you don't want to drive if you don't really have to.  So, we did a lot of walking (which saved us a couple of dollars for sure) and used other modes of transportation to avoid using the car.  (I'll share some tips about transportation in a later post).

We were at Pizzeria Paradiso in no time and we were seated almost immediately.  We must have gotten there before the big rush because it soon became packed with people but we were very comfortable at the table we had which was outside on their covered patio.  The four of us chose our own personal pizzas but ended up with each of us trying a slice of all four. They were all delicious and priced from $12 - $14 each so not bad.

We ended a terrific Day 1 with snacks, beers and watching the Mets on TV in our hotel room.

Make sure to read Day 2 with tips for getting around DC!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Welcome To A Brand New Blog

So glad you found us!  The goal of Life Of 2 Snowbirds is to show anyone living on a tight budget, especially retirees like ourselves, how we manage to enjoy life’s pleasures on a retirement income.  Our hope is that some of our ideas will help you to add travel experiences to your bucket list, find great deals, manage your budget and just enjoy life!

We want to tell you all about our vacations, whether we traveled by plane, train or automobile.  And because we live in two vacation areas, North Carolina and Florida, we are fortunate to be able to enjoy staycations.  Would the staycation we found in our neck of the woods work for you in your town?  Did we find an amazing restaurant on our travels?  Did we have something so wonderful to eat there that we tried to replicate the meal?  Did we visit family and friends and begged them to share the recipe of the delicious dinner they prepared for us?  We would love to share those recipes with you.  We’ll share the deals we found along the way and let you know how we tried to be frugal but still have a great experience.  And if and when we have  spare time, I love crafting.  I’ve made things that come in handy when we are on one of our road trips.  I will share all my crafting ideas also.

We hope that you will join us on our journey and we would love it if you would share your ideas and experiences with us along the way!