Monday, July 29, 2013

Finishing Up Summer....

School starts in three days, and I have to admit, I am ready.  I have soooooooooooo enjoyed this summer with my kids, but I am ready.  We ended up finishing 92 items on our bucket list, and while I would have loved to finish all 100, I am in the middle of a major house remodel, and this momma can only do so much!  

Some thoughts on the list: It was one of my best parenting moves ever.  It helped to make one of the best summer experiences for all of us!  So much so, that I think we might make a fall (my favorite season to live in Indiana) bucket list!  Next summer, bucket list 2.0 will definitely be on the docket!

Here our some final wrap up pics...

Visit the Ornithology Center

Hit a state park and swim with cousins

Go to a 3-D movie (Turbo)

Make a new lego model

Visit an inflatable park

Jump on a trampoline and swim in a lake

Summer 2013... you have been so unbelievably amazing! 

Friday, July 19, 2013

House Stuff

For those of you who have been in our shambles of a house, you will understand the gravity of what I am about to say:  I JUST ORDERED NEW FLOORS!!!!!!!!!!!!!  We have been walking around on the nastiest subfloor and the nastiest carpet EVER for two years!

And, next Saturday, I am BUYING KITCHEN CABINETS!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And new appliances!!!

It has been a long two years, but we might just have our house done before Christmas!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

My $1000 Orlando/Disney Vacation

Bret and I live on a really tight budget.  We know where every single penny goes.  Every.  Single. Penny.

But, just like any family, we have our priorities.  We have super cheap cell phones and go to the beauty college for $5 hair cuts.  We don't have cable tv, and we don't buy each other Christmas, birthday or anniversary gifts.  But, we love to travel.  We believe that exposing our kids to as much of the world as we can is a true education and gives them a heart for people and places that are far removed from our little pocket of the world.  Plus, it is a real investment in our family... time together is priceless.

As much as we love to travel, we have a pretty tight travel budget.  And, so, that's where this momma makes the most of what we've got.  Mommas are good at that!

So, this October, we have decided to go to Orlando again.  It's driveable.  It's warm.  There's stuff to do and people to see.  It's super touristy, and not quite the "expose them to the world" mantra we envision, but last fall break, we stayed in a tipi, so we needed an upgrade.

I've been planning for weeks now, and I think we're going to be able to swing this ten day, nine night vacation for $1000.  I mentioned this to a friend, who told me I was lying, and so I thought I'd outline the plan, if only for her sake.  Instead of typing this all up in an email to her, I thought I'd share it here in case it helped someone else in cyberspace.  I hate to add these types of posts here, amid cute pics of the kids and Bret's pithy commentary on life, but alas, this is the only space I have...

Disney on a Budget

1. Drive
It might not be fun, but it's cheap.  The total for the trip (gas only) is right around $300.  We happen to be cashing in all of Bret's travel rewards to rent a smaller car, so we'll even be getting better gas mileage to boot.  You can check out fuel costs here.  We have a surplus of funds in our gas budget for the year, so all of the $300  will easily be absorbed into that budget, as opposed to our "travel" budget.  Am I kidding about knowing how much we've spent on gas and how much we'll have remaining: nope.  I told you: every. single. penny.

2. Cash in every reward you have
We love our credit cards, but credit cards are super dangerous.  Since we avoid all types of consumer debt at all costs, we never carry a balance.  Ever.  But, we still use them to rack up all kinds of rewards.  I have done my research.  A lot.  I read finance blogs.  I read budgeting blogs.  I've scoured the internet for the best credit card reviews.  And, we've settled on two--and one just happens to be for hotels and travel.  So, on the way down and the way back, we'll be staying in Atlanta for free, breaking our drive into two days each way.

3. Rent a great condo
I have stayed on Disney property twice.  I have rented a big home near Disney.  And, I have stayed at large condo complexes around the corner from the theme parks. Hands down (and a hearty hands down at that), the condo is the way to go.  Period.  First off, there is way more space than at most Disney properties.  Since most Disney-goers are not Disney Vacation Owners, they are relegated to a hotel type room.  Painful for a week with three kids--painful.  And... expensive.  In our large condo, we have a full kitchen, two or three bedrooms, a full living room and dining room, and a washer and dryer.  We can bring less, eat in, and here's the kicker: do stuff around the condo.  My kids LOVE the condo activities: junk food bingo, pool games, a load of craft classes, tie-dye days, mini golf onsite, wii tournaments.  It's amazing.  Plus most of the condos have GREAT pools.  Check out my favorite: several water slides, a huge pirate ship water thingy with slides, and a huge splash park.  Our cost for a sparkly clean, amazing, two bedroom condo (for 7 nights): $375.

This resort: Marriott Harbour Lake

4. Pick your poison 
So, for this trip, we will go to the Magic Kingdom for one day.  That's it for theme parks.  We have two left over (no expiration) tickets from a previous trip (so a little bit of a cheat), and the baby is free.  Disney lets you bring food and drinks into the park, so we have no need to buy a lot of food.  We'll each buy a few special things (Dole Whip or Mickey Ice Cream bar), but real food  and drinks will be packed in a cooler that we'll tote around under Trent's stroller.  Throw in a couple of dollar store glow sticks, and we have ourselves a day!  

5. Other Disney activities
We don't want to go to the parks every single day.  For us, that isn't relaxing... at all (not to mention: leads to absolute child meltdown).  So, we look for alternative, HALF DAY experiences to fill out the rest of our time.  For example, Downtown Disney: my kids think that it is a "real" attraction.  They race their cars at the lego store, dig for dino bones at the T-Rex restaurant, and we even ride the water taxi all the way to the Port Orleans resort (and back). Top it off with an Earthquake from Ghirardelli and some pin trading, and we have a whole afternoon of Disney fun for the cost of ice cream. 

Earthquake: Family Favorite 8 scoops of ice cream, eight delicious toppings, 
finished with fresh bananas, whipped cream, chopped almonds,
 decadent chocolate chips and cherries

Or, Fort Wilderness.   We take the kids there for the afternoon.  We check out Cinderella's horses and the petting zoo, take a pony ride, stay for the Chip and Dale sing-a-long (and meet Chip and Dale), go for a hayride, make a smore by the campfire and watch a movie outdoors.  Then, we head to the beach for fireworks and the electrical water parade.   Aside from the cost of a pony or hay ride, this afternoon and evening combo is free. 

6. Get the heck away from Disney
I know kids like Disney, BUT... and it's a HUGE but... they also like other things.  My kids talk more about Gatorland than they do Disney.  They loved the gators, snakes, turtles and shows.  LOVED.  We'll spend the whole afternoon there... without the crowds, chaos and exhaustion that comes with Disney.

Absolute fun at Gatorland

Or, what about the beach?  The beach is only about an hour away, and of course, it's free.  Not to mention all the amazing natural experiences around Orlando: a gazillion fresh water springs, canoeing, manatee watching, and so much more.

Grant at the Coco Beach 

7. Find a coupon
I usually subscribe to Groupon for the city we're visiting... we've purchased tons of stuff: go karts, dining, science museum trips, dinner shows.  A real easy solution to a vacation on a budget, especially dining out.

8. Dining out
We've eaten well at Disney before... but this trip is all about the budget.  So, we'll eat in some nights, and the nights we do go out, it'll be cheap and easy.  Anything from Mexican to a Chinese buffet (or Groupon find), we'll go out without spending a ton. We will spend a chunk of dining money on a character meal, which becomes another half day Disney experience for us.  I hate waiting in line, so I sure am not going to pay several HUNDRED dollars to go the Disney for the day, only to stand in line for 90 minutes so that Grace can see Rapunzel.  Ain't happening.  So, we usually head to a character meal to meet up with a few official Disney characters too.  We usually reserve a very late breakfast (cheaper than dinner) and spend some time at the resort's beach when we are done.  We've had breakfast at the Beach Club in the past, but this year, we are going to the O'hana character breakfast because Grace is obsessed with Stitch (hasn't seen the movie--but a girl loves what a girl loves).  

Grace at the Beach Club breakfast

Grace with Stitch

9. Souvenirs
People spend a lot on souvenirs.  That's just not our thing.  We don't spend a lot of money on trinkets that we're just going to give to the Goodwill in a year.  One year, I gave the kids $20 each to spend at Disney.  Grant came out with a magic worm and a string machine.  Stupidest stuff ever.  So, instead, this trip, we purchased them some Disney pins for graduation (yes, from preschool and kindergarten) to trade around... they will feel like they are leaving with new stuff, will get the chance to interact with lots of people, and mommy doesn't have to spend another dime.  Some people think that's mean, but we're continually trying to teach our kids that stuff doesn't matter... so, another lesson learned at the hands of a totalitarian mother. 

10. Expectations
You know the #1 thing most kids want to do on vacation (according to experts--not me), even a Disney vacation: swim in the hotel pool.  So, instead of stressing, dealing with crowds, and leaving feeling like we've jammed everything in, we take it easy: some swim time, a redbox movie, a rousing game of uno, a round of mini golf, and an ice cream sandwich.  And, our kids are used the fact that not every single waking minute of a vacation is about entertainment.  Instead, every single waking minute is about being together... with some fun stuff thrown in.  We've realigned their expectations.  

So, totals:
Gas: $0 ($300 from the regular gas budget)
Condo: $375
Magic Kingdom Tickets, Parking and Foodie items: $250
Gatorland: $35 (I purchased two BOGO coupons from ebay)
Downtown Disney: $25
Fort Wilderness: $25
Groceries: $0 (from regular grocery budget)
Dining out, including trip up and down: $200
Character meal, including tip: $87
Grand Total: $997

The vacation would obvioulsy be more expensive if we had to purchase tickets for ourselves, had to include the gas as part of the trip, or wanted to go to Disney more.  But, in the end, we'll be able to get away as a family without having to break our budget (which is a huge Momma "no, no").  We'll have four days of Disney experiences (Magic Kingdom, character meal, Downtown Disney and Fort Wilderness) for a total cost of $387, which has me pretty pleased. 

Budget travel isn't for everyone.  But, for us, it's the way to squeeze more out of less--something that this stay-at-home momma is getting better and better at doing!

If you want more information about setting up a budget or finding great travel deals, contact me, and we'll chat!  Nothing makes me happier than budget talk... well, except maybe that Earthquake thingy!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

25 to Go!!!

I doubted we'd ever get this far!  But, we've had a great summer.  I wanted to walk a fine balance: I didn't want to play cruise director every moment, but I also wanted to get out and to explore with my three young kiddos.

Our list of 100 items has changed a bit.  Some of the items weren't going to happen.  Some were going to take too much time... or not enough.  And, so we've swapped out some (like make a fairy house with go to a musical or a play), but the majority have stayed the same.  And, with school starting AUGUST 1, we're hopeful to get close to the end of our list!

Send a care package to a soldier

Take cookies to the firestation

Go to a waterpark (not sure why I don't have any pics of my kids... but alas)

Play with shaving cream

A few on our list don't have pictures, and we hope to knock several off the list with next week's family reunion...  NINETEEN days of summer left...

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Epic Parenting Fail

The tooth fairy forgot to come last night.  One.  Disappointed.  Boy.  One.  Loser.  Mommy.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Fourth of July

A great fourth: fireworks, smores, parades... classic fun: and three more items off of our bucket list!

Watch a parade (what kid doesn't love a parade... especially when you come home with five pounds of candy!)

Make and eat a smore

Watch fireworks (already in our jammies!)

Hope you had a great fourth too!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Too Much Fun

Summer continues... as does our bucket list:

Play at a splash park

Visit a farmer's market

Wash a car

Go to a craft workshop (actually, Michael's has craft camp where we are on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, all summer, for two hours each morning: cost $2.... amazing!)

Go to a Children's Museum (I'm a tad burned out on our amazing Indy one... so spur of the moment, we hit one in a nearby town on a rainy day)

Play at an indoor park (Columbus has one of the most amazingly artful indoor parks)!

Take swim lessons (where they play after swim lessons--a.k.a.: not your momma's swimming lessons)

Ride on a monorail (another free fun day that we finished with eating lunch with Daddy at work [not pictured])

Visit a zoo (about a hour away is a free zoo; it's small... which makes it PERFECT)

Ride on a train (next to the free zoo is the not free train)