The Netherlands: May 13 – 17, 2018

Day 5 (Cont’d)

After a lovely, speedy, scenic trip by train from Brussels to Amsterdam, we emerged from Central Station to find a place to get public transit tickets. Joe immediately broke his principled stance re: paying to pee, and used a few euros to use the restroom while I bought us two 92-hr transit passes (good for trams, ferries and buses). We decided to hold off on activating them, even though it was drizzling out, and walked to our AirBnB instead. We wound up going right through the Red Light District (though, I didn’t actually see any red lights, but it was also mid-afternoon). There were a lot of sex museums, sex shops, strip clubs, etc. But really, it took me a while to realize it. If you aren’t paying attention to the storefronts, you’d just notice the canal, cobblestones, and lovely architecture! Joe must have been well-hydrated from the train ride, because he had to stop and pay to pee again. We bought macarons to snack on as we walked.

We easily made it to our beautiful AirBnB, which had an enclosed garden patio outside of the bedroom. We were pretty impressed!!! It wasn’t in the City Centre, but it was on the periphery, and it was only a few minutes walk from a Tram #3 stop. We wound up FREQUENT users of this tram, since it encircled the City Centre and made it very easy to get anywhere we wanted.

After an incredible, in-depth tutorial on Amsterdam from our host, involving a thick binder full of info about the AirBnB itself and the city, we had a good rest. We took some time to catch up with folks back home, and search for a GF/Veg-friendly restaurant nearby. We found out about a pizza place called Mastino V and decided to try it out. We hopped on Tram #3 and found it easily on Bilderdijkstraat. Let me just say, it was so good, we came back again before we left Amsterdam. I think we could’ve eaten there every day…

Day 6

The day started late after a good lie-in in our lovely AirBnB. After figuring out how to get to a market that our host recommended, we made our way a few steps up the street to Bagels n’ Beans for brunch. This was a Monday morning, so as we sat down on the patio to eat, we also got to watch all of the well-dressed Dutch ride their bicycles to work. It was incredible to us how pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, rollerblades, trams, buses AND cars all navigated intersections seamlessly. Halifax could learn a lot!

Bagels & Beans was the perfect brunch spot for newbies to Amsterdam with “special diets”. They easily accommodated us with gluten-free options for me, and vegetarian options for Joe. My plate was a mix of sweet and savoury, with fresh cream cheese, salmon and cucumber for my bagel, and a yogurt/banana/walnut parfait with some chocolate sprinkles on the side. Joe ordered the “Goodmorning Breakfast” with likely the healthiest-sounding bagel option. We really loved the presentation of the toppings, and I have been searching for those tiny condiment dishes ever since! 😛

 

After brunch, we hopped on Tram #3 to Norderkerk Market. Even though it was near closing time, there was still tons going on! My favourite part was just the walk there, where we saw a HERON, just chillin’ on top of a parked car. He was completely unfazed by us, even when I stopped to take photos. He looked like he was waiting for someone, to be honest…

At the market, there were stalls upon stalls of clothing, antiques, food, and random bits n’ bobs. I found some Dutch-themed painted knobs that I bought. One of which I immediately installed on my desk when we returned home! After exploring the market, we continued on strolling, and found a neat café to stop in for a caffeine and snack fix. The café – De Koffieschenkerij – was located inside a 13th century church (De Oude Kerk aka the old church) and had very cool furnishings! We both enjoyed poking around and taking photos upstairs.

From here we just strolled until dinnertime, soaking up the beautiful sights of the city. We tried to go to Anne Frank’s house along the way, but found out you need to reserve your ticket ahead of time (as in, weeks ahead). That was surprising considering we were there during the shoulder season, not peak tourist season… so I was a bit disappointed, but what can you do! I have no doubt we’ll be back anyway. We loved Amsterdam too much to never return.

After a while more of strolling and a bit of shopping, we got some basic groceries for the next couple of days’ worth of breakfasts and evening snacks, before heading back to relax and figure out dinner. After a bit of research, Joe suggested a place called SLA (also along the Tram #3 route!), so off we went!

SLA treated us very well, with very creative AND filling vegetarian/GF salads and soups. Joe was in love, and was happy to have a big, healthy meal. The man loves salad! We walked home from there, taking in more of Amsterdam’s gorgeous scenes after a stroll through Vondelpark. We even saw another heron! The same, I couldn’t say. But how odd to see so many herons! The only chance we have to see herons at home is to go out canoeing in the wilderness! We were entranced by all of the beautiful restaurant terraces and private balconies, filled with people having big dinner parties or intimate conversations over drinks. What a truly beautiful city!

Day 7

Breakfast in the garden was a lovely way to start the day, before hopping on the tram to Central Station to catch the ferry to Buiksloterweg. It was quite impressive how many bicycles could cram onto a ferry, and how efficiently the 2-minute ferry ride transported thousands of commuters! We got caffeinated (and orange juice’d) at Coffee Virus, where Joe had an in-depth conversation with the staff about bean sources and brewing options. From there, we walked a short way to Amsterdam Bike Company to get a couple of rental bikes for the day. The folks there were SO nice and helpful, and even though it was cash-only, they let us leave the remaining euros we had and my driver’s license as collateral. We even got excellent directions to Marken, which were spot-on!

The leisurely 20 km ride took us 2h30m, including a stop for a picnic of sandwiches, fruit and chips. The villages along the way were adorable and tempting, and Marken itself was pretty charming! We had some fancy ice cream before locking up our bikes and hopping on the ferry to Volendam (or, as Joe referred to it, Voldemort). By the time we arrived in Volendam, I may or may not have had a case of heat exhaustion/dehydration. So I was less than peppy about walking in the sun to the giant waterslide that Joe spotted along the shore. I got a good video of him sliding happily into the sea, but I didn’t go in myself. As grumpy as I already was, I did not want to be soggy as well! 😛

We explored Volendam a bit more before getting back on the ferry. Joe ensured that I drank lots of water before our bike back, since he was worried about potential heat exhaustion. I guess I wasn’t doing too bad though, since I sped ahead and got us back in 1h20m! Joe panted, faaaar behind me, and asked me several times if I’d ever done a triathlon (answer: no), and insisting that I should. Poor Joe. We managed to get some cash exchanged in Central Station, before ferrying back again to pay the rest of our bill and returning our bikes before they closed for the day at 6pm.

img_7184

We rested for a while at home before dressing up and heading out to a dinner reservation at Haesje Claes (a traditional Dutch restaurant) for 8pm. We really were not feeling well (heat, dehydration) but went anyway, in order to try some traditional Dutch fare. The towering cheese plate alone would have filled us up (thankfully we could only handle a few pieces) and the pea soup was THE BEST I’d ever had. We probably should have stopped there. The mains were HUGE. Joe did eat all of his (no meat, wise choice). Mine was literally mashed potatoes and gravy, with a giant meatball, sausage AND bacon on top. With the new sunburn/dehydration/possible heat exhaustion, I very nearly puked it all up. I may have visited the bathroom twice in quite rapid succession. Don’t worry, all was well. But I did need an extraordinary amount of water to keep myself upright.

We finished the evening with a walk home along canals in the cool air, and slept VERY well!

Day 8

Our last full day started with a HUGE gut-busting laugh for me, as Joe plonked himself down quickly on the wooden patio chair for another breakfast in the garden, and let out the most hilarious expression (auditory AND facial) of pure pain. After the prior day’s 40K bike excursion… his butt was officially broken.

I laughed my head off, for several minutes, as he howled and hopped around. It is still one of my favourite trip memories.

Even so, I did take it easy on Joe finally. We started the day trying the coffee at Lot Sixty One, strolling lazily for a bit, and then figured out the train/bus route to Weesp. I had done some research, and apparently Weesp had THE. BEST. ICE CREAM in the ENTIRE country. So that was the mission.

As it turns out, Weesp is an adorable little canal town, with locks and an old fort. We did find the ice cream at Nelis’ IJssalon, and … it was pretty intense! There were a LOT of options! We were pretty pleased with the results. 🙂

We enjoyed exploring along the canal in Weesp, before finding our way back to Central Station in Amsterdam once again. From there we used a coupon from our AirBnB hosts’ binder and bought tickets for a Canal Tour through Amsterdam. it was a bit overcast, and perfect for photos!

Of course, before we left Amsterdam, we had to return to our favourite restaurant, Mastino V, to try something more adventurous. Again, we were bowled over by the amazing, fluffy, doughy GF pizza crust AND the vegan cheese! I could not believe how delicious it was (I’m a cheese-lover… so this was a big deal for me to admit!)

img_7409

We walked home for the last time, again taking in the cool night air and beautifully lit canals. I had more energy than I should have had, and quietly packed everything up while Joe passed out in bed after a much-needed soak in the bath.

Day 9

Due to the “Magic Elves” that packed the night before, Joe woke up ECSTATIC that he did not have to do anything. We had a bite to eat, using up the last of our groceries, and headed out for the airport. Unfortunately, Joe couldn’t find his transit pass (I probably packed it), but we managed to easily find a vending machine in one of the subway stations and got a cheap one-trip ticket. Phew!

We were bummed to be leaving Amsterdam, as we had fallen quite in love with it, but we were also pretty excited to be on our way to Prague!

Overall Costs:

  • Accommodations: $558.63
    • AirBnB (garden room in the beautiful Weesperzijde neighbourhood beside the lovely Amstel River – worth every damn penny!) for 4 nights
  • Food/Coffee/Other: $489.26
    • We 110% recommend Bagels & Beans, Mastino V and SLA
      (all DELICIOUS and all GF and vegetarian-friendly!)
  • Transport: $180.42
    • Bike rental (24-hr): €37.69 for two bikes (21% tax and €6 insurance inc.)
    • Two 96-hr transit passes: $70.49
    • Ferry (2 return tickets) between Marken and Volendam: $39.20
    • Other transit ticket for unknown reason (likely that bus to Weesp was not included in city transit pass): $8.68
    • One-way transit ticket (Joe lost his 96-hr pass on last morning :P): $4.65
  • Entertainment/Attractions: $56.24
    • Canal Tour (I think we had a coupon from our AirBnB host)
  • Other purchases (souvenirs, etc): $176.44
    • Includes a bath bomb from LUSH that Joe insisted on after the killer bike ride 😛

Approximate total for 4 days in/around Amsterdam: $1284.55 (not including souvenirs/other purchases) out of trip total of ~$9200

  • $642.28 per person
  • $321.14 per day
  • $160.57 per person per day

Again, if we ignore the AirBnB, since it was booked and paid for in 2017, we spent $725.92 (out of ~$5200 total) while actually there.

We saved big in Amsterdam by just using public transit and renting bicycles. We didn’t rent a car or take any other transportation not covered by our transit passes (no taxis, no Uber).

We also saved money by getting basic groceries (e.g. fruit, yogurt, bread (GF croissants!), cheese, milk, eggs) at the Marqt grocery store on our second day there, and making breakfast two of the mornings. That way we headed out to explore with full bellies. When we did hit up cafés, we weren’t tempted by the pricey pastries and other treats.

While we could have spent money on museums (there are a LOT) or other attractions (*cough* Red Light District *cough*), we were actually 100% entertained just by walking around, looking at the architecture, ogling the bridges and canals, and checking out what was down adorable, narrow streets. Amsterdam is so beautiful, it IS the attraction! Perhaps this only works though if you’re either alone, or on your honeymoon, and not looking to take part in the more famous tourist attractions of the city. One day, if we’re able to return with our kids, we would definitely give ourselves a lot more time in the city, and we would probably spend more money on attractions and museums, since there are a lot of things to see! Here’s hoping we can actually make that happen someday. 🙂

Next up: Prague/Praha!

Advertisements

Belgium: May 8 – 13, 2018

The Secret

If you’re not wondering already, you may be soon… how can I possibly remember all of this, when it happened nearly 9 months ago?

  1. Joe and I kept a journal. Every day of the trip, before we went to sleep, we wrote down the day’s highlights, lowlights, random jokes and/or observations. Usually we wrote down where we ate. Sometimes we wrote down ridiculous things…

    img_1304
    Such as “Highlights: 1. Escaping the fart tube prison.” An overnight flight across the ocean has its downsides… I love that this is the very first thing we wrote down. The last thing written down for that day was “9. Back cracks!!!” After being cooped up in airplanes, on a train, and walking on cobblestones with backpacks all day… it was heavenly to get into bed and roll side to side cracking our spines. I haven’t been able to do that since the early days of pregnancy… I miss it so much!

  2. Bank statements. Since we used one credit card for the entire trip, which took place over just one statement period, I am able to look back at our May statement and see every single charge we made to it, in chronological order. Sometimes I have to guess what a particular company name was, but for the most part it’s obvious. Of course, I ALWAYS remember the restaurants. 😛
  3. Instagram! We posted updates every other day or so for our friends and family to follow along, and going back to read them reminded me of several things I’d forgotten and clarified perhaps which day we went to which restaurant, or which day we went to a particular park/attraction (especially free/cash-only things that wouldn’t show up on a statement).

Day 1

We started the day on the flight from Montreal to Brussels, and taking the train into the City Centre. We were sore, hungry, exhausted and sweaty, but still looking around in awe at the old buildings and steep, curvy cobblestone streets. We stopped to eat at a strange little urban cafeteria called Exki, near Central Station, and ate at a table outside beside some urine-soaked bushes (we assumed dog, but near the end of our time in Brussels, we’d come to understand it was probably human). Since we arrived super early in the morning, and couldn’t check into our AirBnB until mid-afternoon, we wandered around (through Grand Place, and past our AirBnB) to a 3rd wave cafe that was on Joe’s  personal radar called “MOK Specialty Coffee Roastery & Bar”. We got several hits of Rwanda and Peru-sourced caffeine (cold brew + tonic for me… it was hot as blazes out) and then wandered a bit more until the little blue dot on my Google Maps app approached a little green rectangle.

This turned out to be a little park called “Plaine de Jeux Quai a la Houille” aka “Coal Dock Playground”, which was right beside a big rectangular pool with a huge fountain called Fontaine Anspach. Not bad. We grabbed some picnic-y/lazy snacks at an organic market/co-op nearby called “färm” and laid down in the park on my airplane blanket for quite a while, dozing, watching birds, watching babies, and wondering how we had just left winter in Canada and arrived to spring in Brussels in less than 24 hours. After a while, when we were properly sunburnt, we walked to our AirBnB to check in, shower, nap and feel like human beings again. The AirBnB was lovely, and soon we were ready for dinner! But not using our feet this time. They were toast. We took an Uber to a GF-friendly place called “Ricotta & Parmesan” and had our minds blown by the decor, and the people! It was PACKED. We got a table no problem though and had some delicious Italian food before walking home, cracking our backs, and falling deeply, deeply, asleep.

Day 2

The first note for May 10th was “slept in so hard (11am)”, which is hilarious, considering Brussels is 5 hours ahead of home… so really we “slept in” until 6am…

We started the day with breakfast at Kaffabar (fancy coffee, pastries and yogurt with fancy fruit). With that fuel, we started walking toward the Royal Greenhouses, since we were there during the only 3 weeks of the year they’re open to the public. It was also Ascension Day, which we’d never heard of, but apparently it meant everyone was off work/school… and went to the Greenhouses as well! Google Maps took us on a VERY scenic route along rue d’Aerschot in Quartier Brabant. For a while I walked along in a very happy, naive bubble, wondering why there were so many urinals along the sidewalk, and why so many shops seemed to just sell barstools. Finally, I turned to Joe and said “I must be tired. I thought I saw that mannequin move.” Joe laughed his head off, before informing me that “every window for the past few blocks has had prostitutes in it, Gina!”

Oh.

Rue d’Aerschot aka Land of Living Mannequins aka Urinal Row.

Once we turned onto Avenue de la Reine, the scenery changed drastically. Suddenly we were on a main thoroughfare, crossed a bridge and looked up to see a MASSIVE cathedral. From there it was an easy stroll to the Royal Greenhouses. There was a line across the street, which moved quickly enough, and we paid only 5 euros for entry for the two of us! Decent. From that point on we were living our best tourist lives. Walking through beautiful old buildings, ogling pretty, strange and pretty strange flora, snapping photos and trudging behind masses of other people doing the same. From there we went to the Atomium, and checked out the permanent exhibits inside, which included some pretty interesting art. Then Joe bought a $15 cone of candy from the lobby. I guess we needed it.

Our broken feet walked us home along the canal, and we Uber’d to L’Amour Fou for dinner. Delicious food and lovely staff! We got nachos for dinner, but also noticed that they had GF waffles and pancakes for brunch! So we made a mental note to come back for brunch before we left Brussels. We Uber’d home again, thankful not to  have to walk anymore.

Day 3

Our third day in Belgium started rough! We had a good sleep-in, then got caffeinated and had a light breakfast at OR Espresso Bar, not far from our AirBnB. Then, as we approached noon, we attempted to get the metro out toward the Enterprise to rent a car. However, the closest Metro was underground, under construction and we failed to find the entrance to it among all of the detour signs and rubble. So we caught an Uber in order to get to Enterprise on time. We did manage it… but were told we needed our passports in order to rent. I hadn’t encountered that in Norway, so I was a bit upset to hear this. We wound up having to get a cab to the AirBnB and back. We wasted a bit of time, perhaps an hour, but our Enterprise guy, Gerrick, was a superhero in the end. We had kind of a rude dude when we first arrived, but when we returned, he had left for the day so we had a much nicer man to deal with! As it turned out, I’d accidentally booked a manual, but Gerrick was able to hook us up with an automatic (which luckily also had GPS)! Eventually, we got out of there, and hit the highway! From that point, the day greatly improved and we relaxed into sight-seeing again.

I had a secret day planned for Joe, in that he knew approximately where we were headed, but not what I had planned once we got there. I helped navigate us to Ypres, and then we both struggled to find/understand parking upon arrival. Eventually, we found the public library, which had 24 hr underground parking for only a few euros!

We made our way to the Flanders Fields Museum and took in a lot of sobering information and imagery. We headed up the tower as well to check out the 360° view. We were the only ones up there, so it was a nice moment of quiet away from all of the school groups. Once we left the museum, we took the car out of town for a bit to see the John McRae dressing station/Canadian cemetery. It was amazing to walk around this beautiful area and imagine the ground and cobblestones covered in mud, blood and shells. Although a very somber area, we found a reason to smile on the walking trail nearby, where we came across a very fat/pregnant cat who demanded belly rubs. We complied.

We then headed toward the Canadian Memorial site in Sint-Juliaan, and walked through the gardens for a while. It was a beautiful site and memorial, and we were the only people there! Then we headed back to Ypres, parked under the library again, and found dinner at Ypresburger. They had so many GF and vegetarian options, and the owner was so nice! He put some coins into his young employee’s hand and told him to run next door to get me a GF beer. Haha! Small towns. The meal was huge and DELICIOUS. We were so happy and full when we left! We continued exploring more of Ypres (ice cream in hand), learning that they have a bit of an obsession with cats, and finding the Menenpoort Memorial/Gate. After a stroll around town, we found the car again and headed back to Brussels to return the car. Joe couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights on for about 1/4 of the way  back! We had to pull into a farm somewhere off the highway to search the dashboard. 😛

Day 4

We actually had to set an alarm! We caught a morning train to Bruges and enjoyed the view without having to do any navigating. We decided we’d really like to do a biking tour of Belgium, since it is so flat and gorgeous! Once we got off the train, we realized that every tourist in Belgium must be in Bruges that day! We made it our personal mission to avoid the crowds. We basically just watched where the masses went, and went the opposite direction. We strolled through a park, over adorable stone bridges, saw some art installations, and explored (very quietly) a monastery. I wasn’t as quiet as Joe thought I should be though. Ha. We were enamoured with the beautiful (though sometimes fake) facades, the canals, the swans, and the super-old buildings. Joe was also a bit obsessed with mama and baby ducks. We paid for entry to the Torture Museum, where things got so grim, we both couldn’t believe the sun would still be shining outside. We also paid for entry to one of the churches, to see the Madonna & Child. We had some coffee, and Joe found waffles, then we hopped back on the train home.

We got off halfway back to Brussels though, in order to explore the town of Ghent. We had heard a lot about Bruges (and Joe had also seen the movie “In Bruges”), but we didn’t know much about Ghent. We were very pleasantly surprised! It also had impressive canals, and waaaay fewer tourists. We really enjoyed the architecture in Ghent, especially along the canals, which was an impressive mix of ancient Gothic and contemporary/minimalistic. It gave a really cool vibe to the buildings! When we got hungry, we managed to find a GF-friendly restaurant (according to Google) called Per Bacco. We were the only people there, so we sat out in the garden. There was a mix-up in the kitchen regarding the GF pasta, but it all got sorted and it might be the best pasta I’ve ever had! I still think about it… After another stroll through a strange and wonderful park to walk off dinner, we caught the last train back to Brussels. Gotta love transport that actually runs on time! 🙂

Day 5

Our last half-day in Brussels started with brunch at L’Amour Fou (we Uber’d there since it was pouring rain and we had our backpacks). Brunch was incredible! We shared sweet and savoury GF pancakes, and I also enjoyed a mimosa. And coffee of course. Always coffee.

We explored a bit more of the City Centre before we were due at Central Station. We found the Royal Palace and Royal Park (shocked to find/see human excrement pretty much everywhere, as well as used condoms…), the “Pissing Boy” statue (who was at this time dressed up as Elvis), and a few other “must-see” photo ops in the area. Then we headed to Central Station and got the train to Amsterdam! We lucked out in that it was a drizzly day in Brussels, so we didn’t feel bad leaving, and we weren’t too hot walking around in our heavier clothes and carrying our backpacks.

Overall impression of Brussels: Pretty smelly, dirty, weird (in a good way), diverse, with plenty to eat/see/drink, but wouldn’t want to drive a car/ride a bike in the City Centre!

Overall impression of Belgium: Beautiful! Green! Friendly! Want to see more!

 

Overall Costs:

  • AirBnB (located in City Centre): $355.44 for 4 nights
  • Food/coffee: $610.50
    • $560.50 with credit card
    • ~$50 with cash
  • Transport: $513.32
    • $28.36 for two 1-way train tickets from Brussels Airport to Central Station
    • $101.19 for 1-day car rental from Enterprise
      • + $69.82 for gas
    • $49.50 for 2 return tickets (24-hr window) to Bruges
    • $149.74 for 2 one-way tickets to Amsterdam
    • $75.86 for five Uber trips
    • $38.85 for one taxi trip
  • Entertainment/Attractions:
    • Royal Greenhouses: €5 for 2 tickets
    • Atomium: €30 for 2 passes
    • Flanders Fields Museum (Ypres): $34.46 for 2 passes (including tower access)
    • Torture Museum (Bruges): $25.06 for 2 tickets
    • Madonna & Child entry fee: €12 for 2 tickets

Approximate total for 4.5 days in Belgium: $1609.28 (out of total trip cost of ~$9200)

  • $804.64 per person
  • $357.62 per day
  • $178.81 per day per person

This was probably the city/country where we spent the most. However, thankfully, we booked and paid for the AirBnb the year before, so Belgium really only ate up ~$1250 of the ~$5200 we spent while travelling. Between 1/5 and 1/4 of what we wound up spending over 5 countries, which makes sense, and we knew it would be one of the two more expensive places (Amsterdam being the other one).

Next up: Amsterdam! Where I kill Joe with a long-ass bike ride, then regain his love and trust with ice cream.

 

Europe Trip: Final Plans/Budget

*Unless otherwise stated, all currency will be in CAD.

When I last wrote about planning our Europe trip, it was late 2017 and I had just spent $3775 of our trip savings (which totalled $6550 at the time) on our flights to/from Europe, our flight from Prague to Ljubljana, and all 6 AirBnBs.

From that point, I put another $1560 in savings prior to our trip. So the total saved was just over $8100. More than my goal of $8000! We were also gifted from my lovely aunt and uncle about €200 the day we left. Those euros, plus the $200 I took out in Montreal and exchanged once we arrived, lasted us all the way to Slovenia… Our credit card was our primary way of spending for most of the trip.

Credit Card Win

Speaking of the credit card, I had applied for and received a card long before I had booked any of the initial flights/AirBnBs, due to this card’s cash-back offer for foreign transactions. Essentially, we still paid the foreign transaction fees, but received cash-back that exceeded the fee. The trick was to always select the option of paying in the foreign currency. If they didn’t ask, which was rare, I made sure to confirm that they were charging us in their currency, and not CAD. We would still get cash back, but it wouldn’t cover/exceed the foreign transaction fee. Overall, I think we earned about $70 in cash back from the trip, which we were able to put toward the balance later on. Good deal! They also waived the first year’s annual fee, so the card cost nothing to use.

Cheap Flight

The last thing booked before we left on our trip, were EasyJet tickets from Amsterdam to Prague. For two passengers, with no checked bags, that cost us $134.89… or about $67 per person. Not too shabby!

On the Trip

On the day we finally left, I had $4200 in the Trip Fund, plus $300 in gift money. $4500 for 3 weeks in 5 countries. Yee-haw!

We returned home with $0 in our Trip Fund, and a balance on the card of $769.95, so overall we spent $5269.95 in those 3 weeks.

So we did go over our budget by nearly $800 (totally worth it, of course). I managed to pay that off a couple weeks later with my next pay anyway… and then it was time to focus on the wedding!

Final Tally:

For 2 people, exploring 5 countries, sleeping in 6 AirBnBs, taking 6 flights, several train rides, a couple bus rides, booking a one-day car rental and eating lots and lots of food…

  • Total spent: ~$9200 (1/2 spent in 2017, 1/2 spent while travelling)
    • Saved: $8113.89
    • Gifted: $300
    • Paid later: $769.95

Not bad! I set out with a budget range between $8000-$10000 in mind, based on my trip of a similar length with Penny in 2016. We fell right in the middle of it! 🙂

I’ll break it all down (what we did/ate, where we stayed, what we spent) by country in the next 5 posts.

 

Backyard Budget Weddings FTW

Technically, the honeymoon came before the wedding… but I’m going to need more than one post to write about that. The wedding was actually pretty simple.

That’s not to say it didn’t involve a lot of organization, work and thought… but in terms of expenses, it’s pretty simple to think about.

First of all, I knew long ago that I wanted to get married in my parents’ backyard, overlooking the ocean, and make it as laid-back as possible (think, backyard BBQ, but with a 5-minute “show” thrown in). I’m not a girly person. I never really gave a crap about MOST wedding traditions or rituals. I also did not want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a single day. I’m my father’s daughter… I’d rather spend money on something practical. Like a house! Joe was also pretty anti-wedding when we met, but once I told him that I would require us to be married, he gave in. But he still hated the thought of spending money on a wedding, so that also spurred me on to make things as budget-friendly as possible. I took it as a challenge! 😛

(Joe was/is also anti-gift, so I decided to request that our guests donate to one of our chosen charities as their gift instead… and that’s what 90% of the guests did! So that was awesome!)

So I voiced this opinion/request re: the venue/a budget wedding to my parents. They were a little hesitant about an outdoor wedding at their residence. Was it flat enough? Was there enough parking? What if it rained? But soon enough, they warmed up to it and planning was underway.

When I sat down last January to really think about it, I realized we needed to book FOUR big items as far in advance as possible.

  1. The Venue (the venue itself was free, but we also needed outdoor tents)
  2. Equipment (tables, chairs, linens, cutlery, dishes and glassware)
  3. Catering
  4. Portable toilets (since the small house would be off-limits to all but the wedding party, and Dad was worried about the septic tank even at that limited capacity)

Before I could book any of those things, I had to decide on a guest number and a budget.

It didn’t take long to decide that 50 people was the maximum, since that was the capacity of the cheapest yurt plus dinner tables. After calculating some rough numbers for 50 people, I decided that $8000 was a doable budget. Decor was not a priority for me, but Mom took the few ideas I had – and my budget limitations – and ran with them. Bless her. I also went with email invites rather than stationary to save on costs there. I used the free WeddingWire (Canada) site to set those up, and keep track of meal choices.

As it would turn out, despite us insisting on paying for this ourselves, the force of our parents could not be stopped, so they did wind up contributing some funds. It helped us out a great deal, and was very much appreciated. They also all contributed a tremendous amount of work and help.

With a range of 40-50 people in mind, I booked two portable toilets from Royal Flush, the “champagne” yurt from Little Foot Yurts, equipment from McFarland’s Rentals (including the dance floor), and I also requested menu ideas and quotes from the Rose & Rooster Cafe (a wonderful little spot in Grand Desert, Nova Scotia).

The last three companies required deposits as soon as the bookings were confirmed, which totalled $1664.20. I luckily already had enough in the Wedding Fund. The yurt and catering folks allowed e-transfers as well, so I didn’t even need to charge those to my card!

In April, we also got a few other necessary items crossed off the to-do list.

  • I tried on my mother’s wedding dress (from 1982!) and we took it to a tailor to ask about re-vamping it a bit. She estimated between $180-$200. We thought that was reasonable. Then we went to David’s Bridal in Dartmouth to see what we could see, and wouldn’t you know it? I found a dress I loved for $190! After taxes, and then hemming, the total cost was $317.34. Pretty awesome!
  • We went to Access Nova Scotia on one of our few days off together and got our marriage license (cost: $132.70)
  • We had two old family signet rings rebuilt into gold wedding bands by the same local jeweller who re-sized my engagement ring (cost: $260).

All-in-all, before we left for Europe, we had spent $2275 on deposits, the rings, the license and the dress. Not too shabby. I was glad all of the important stuff was taken care of before May, since we wouldn’t have much time to deal with those things after we returned!

Once back on Canadian soil in June, I only had to pay the second 25% deposit for the catering, request some last-minute RSVPs, and pay the officiator ($300)!

The first two weeks of July FLEW by, with the only costs being:

  • the final payments for all of the above bookings/rentals
  • renting the speakers from Long & McQuade in Bedford (we rented a mic too but never wound up using it). (Cost: $112.70)
  • a PERFECT gel manicure from The Ten Spot – Halifax. I stress so much over choosing colours, but they *nailed* it on a day when my brain was not at full capacity. I was very happy! (Cost: $67.45)
  • a rental car from Enterprise for transporting myself and my gals to my parents’ place the day before the wedding. I actually rented it for a few days, but had points I redeemed for two free days. (Cost: $53.45)

After the fact, we also gave our pal, the photographer, $500 to cover her flights. The photography was her wedding gift to us, so she wouldn’t let us pay for that, but this was our sneaky way of paying her anyway! 😛

We also repaid Mom about $250 for decor. She got everything either off of Kijiji, from Michael’s, by re-purposing things around the house (they literally removed two doors from inside the house to put outside), and by using the wildflowers and peonies around the property for centrepieces and my bouquet. She DIY’d a ton of things using rolls of burlap, and Joe and I pitched in to make the party favours. Dad also built several things, like tall bar tables for outside the tent, and did a LOT of work updating and maintaining the house and grounds (mowing, landscaping, built a new walkway and new front steps, made the stands for the two doors, etc).

fullsizeoutput_a91fullsizeoutput_ee7

We didn’t know ANY of this was happening, except for the use of the flowers – which we just hoped would still be in bloom! It was all quite a wonderful surprise!!!

While I will warn that you get what you pay for (the tables, chairs, and portable toilets were all visually in pretty rough shape), nobody noticed except Mom, Dad and I. As soon as things got rolling, everyone paid far more attention to the beautiful yurt, the ocean, the big, clear blue sky, each other, and the food. We also had yard games set up for the kids (and adults…), like washer toss, croquet and a bat/ball. They were all a hit!

I won’t say the day went off without a hitch, but really, for the most part it did. And even the hitches… were HILARIOUS, and they make the story of our wedding day a million times better. We were even threatened by a tropical cyclone early that week, but it seemed to decide better than to mess with our day. 😛

Total cost: $9366.40
Cost after parental gifts: $6480.88

Cost breakdown:

  • Equipment Rentals: $2595.68 (credit*)
  • Catering: $2585.52 (cash)
  • Documentation/Services: $692.70 (cash)
  • Photography: $500 (cash)
  • Yurt: $1867.26 (cash)
  • Wedding Dress (including alterations): $317.34 (cash)
  • Portable Toilets: $437.00 (credit*)
  • Miscellaneous: $370.90 (credit*/cash)
  • Venue: free
  • Invitations: free
  • Bachelorette party: free (didn’t have one!)
  • Bachelor party: free (didn’t have one!)
  • Makeup: free (did it myself)
  • Hair: free (done by my cousin)
  • Joe’s suit: “free” (already owned it)
  • Bouquet/Centrepieces: free, courtesy of nature
  • Memories and time with family/friends: FREE AND PRICELESS

*All things put on credit, were paid off in full by the end of August at the latest (most were paid off by the end of July, but the portable toilets weren’t actually charged to my card until the beginning of August for some reason).

So. It is possible! And I highly recommend it! Budget weddings are the bee’s knees!

 

2018: An Overview

Despite the fact I did not write about it… there was A LOT to discuss in 2018, financial and otherwise.

I have time off now (more on that later) to break the year down into multiple posts, but I’ll do a recap first to get my head on straight.

When I last sat down and cranked out a blog post in March 2018, we were planning a wedding, planning a trip to Europe, I was in the middle of an organizational spree, and I had just paid off my last student loan and started paying my Dad back (a debt of $18,000). I had also just started contributing to my pension, and RRSPs, which was an exciting little bit of adulting.

I would like to report, that the ants have never returned since we got our new fridge, and we still keep our kitchen cloths dry above the sink. The massive amount of Tupperware that I purchased last winter HAS saved us a bundle on wasted (spoiled, spilled, forgotten) food, and certainly helps us see better what we have to use up.

MARCH

Toward the end of March, I took advantage of a work trip to Saskatoon and booked my return flight with a 24-hr layover in Toronto. I got to see my best gal (and MOH-to-be), Penny, and spend some rare quality time with her and her man! The only extra costs were for the UP Express train to/from the airport and food. So much food… such GOOD FOOD! 😀

APRIL

Joe and I both spent April working flat-out in order to save money for our trip, including work trips for me to Saskatchewan and Chicago, and teaching classes for extra income. Somehow, we did find spare moments to go get our marriage license, and have two family signet rings (Joe’s grandfather’s and my great-uncle’s) rebuilt into two plain gold wedding bands. I also managed to find a wedding dress for the same incredibly affordable price that it would have cost me to tweak my mother’s wedding dress. That was a pretty lucky day! ‘

MAY

Before we left for our trip in May, I went to get my nails done (a rare treat, since I’m not allowed to wear polish to work), and celebrated Mother’s Day early with mom by going with her to the Maud Lewis exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. That was pretty neat. 🙂

I’ll do full posts on our trip, but basically, we left for Belgium on May 8th, and arrived in Brussels early in the morning on May 9th. We spent a few days exploring Belgium, then took a train to Amsterdam. We spent a few days exploring in and around the city by tram, on foot or by bike, and then flew to Prague. We explored Prague for a few days, including a hike in Karlstejn. We flew to Ljubljana, and spent a few days falling in love with that city, and exploring Lake Bled (a bucket list item for me!). It was hard to leave Ljubljana… but then we took the bus to Croatia, rented a car and had our minds blown by the landscape (and the toll prices)! We spent our last days of the trip staying in a tiny town called Tribunj, driving along the coast (aka avoiding toll highways) to Split for a beach day, and checking out Krka and Plitvice National Parks. Then we drove back to Zagreb, stayed overnight and flew home! What a trip! I’m very pleased to say that we returned home without having incurred trip debt, and were able to immediately pay off our credit card charges from the trip from our Trip Fund!

Joe’s mom, saint that she is, stayed at our apartment while we were away and kept the cats fed and cuddled. We were soooo happy to snuggle those little goons again!

JUNE

There was very little time to relax once home, as Joe was immediately thrown back into small business life, and I started finalizing a bunch of wedding plans.

June had also *barely* started, when I found out I was pregnant! Joe nearly (ok, totally) lost his mind with joy, and we managed to keep the secret from my folks until  Father’s Day (fortunately, only a 6-day wait… which was unbearable), when we announced that Dad would be a Grandpa! They were beside themselves. 😀

The rest of the month flew by for everyone else, but dragged ON AND ON for me (the early weeks of one’s first pregnancy are quite worrisome and full of questions). Luckily my symptoms were very few!

JULY

We entered July excited about our news, and excited to see friends and family who flew in for the wedding. Three days before the big day, we found out the Dad was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma (a lump under his arm), and two days before the wedding he was admitted for surgery. On the same day, Penny (MOH), Lauren (friend/photographer), AJ (brother), Janet and Laura (Joe’s mom and youngest sister) flew in, and all of our rentals were delivered (Mom & Dad’s neighbours and friends hung out at the house to accept/direct them). So we spent the day going between the hospital and the airport. He was discharged the next day (day before wedding), and walked me down the aisle just in time. What a trooper. I don’t know how any of us did it… but we did! We all just went at those few days head-on, accepting all of the help we were offered, enjoying the highs and handling the lows, and we were only really able to think about it all after the fact.

Joe and I did that by going camping at Keji (our honeymoon) for a few days after the wedding to relax and reflect, while his mom once again looked after the boys. We spent those days just talking and writing down what had happened in the past week, because otherwise it would all become a big blur of emotions! We came back to real life, and went for our first ultrasound at 10.5 weeks, and got to see our little bean on a big screen! That was also very emotional, since up to that point I was in disbelief that something was really in there.

AUGUST

Most of August was spent either working or dying from the never-ending heat wave… but we did get to attend a friend’s wedding, which was so much fun (even though I couldn’t drink… we still danced like crazy). 🙂

By the end of the month, I had paid off any remaining charges from our wedding vendors and we were able to take a few days to make the 17-hour drive to Peterborough, Ontario to visit Joe’s family (though I had met his mom and sisters, I had never met his father, or grandma!) We stopped outside Montreal to see some important folks I knew from my time there, and stopped outside Ottawa as well, to spend the night with one of Joe’s closest friends, Pete. Pete, his wife Amy and their new baby Lenore are just wonderful! Joe was in love with Lenny immediately, and became 1000% more excited (didn’t think it was possible!) for his own baby.

We had a great time in Peterborough, including a day trip to the family cottage/lake, and a brief stop at the Lift-Lock. We vowed to make it an annual trip, since we immediately missed everyone when we had to head home.

SEPTEMBER

September was spent just getting bigger and bigger… but we did manage to get out camping one more time! I took Joe to a new site at Keji, with a beach! It was a little chillier than July… but we still got great sunbathing in, and enjoyed the quiet time to ourselves.

We also went for our 20-week anatomy scan near the end of the month, and all was well! A week or so later, our Dr was able to tell us we’re expecting a boy!

I knew it. 😛

OCTOBER

Getting bigger…

We set up the nursery, and I went on a few work trips. Time was flying by October! I barely remember it. I was just happy the weather was getting cooler, because I was getting HOTTER.

NOVEMBER

We had our baby shower early in November, which was incredible and joyful! My mother and aunt hosted/organized everything. Joe and I definitely felt a lot of love!

This was also my last month of work travel, due to how big I was getting and how rough flying was starting to get (so much swellinggg). I went on a few more trips, getting more and more anxious with each one that something would go wrong. The further along the pregnancy got, the less I wanted to be away from home. So getting home from my last trip was AMAZING.

I also managed to teach a 2-day course this month, which went over splendidly and was paid for by the city. It was so fortunate that they wanted the course to run as two shorter days instead of a long 1-day course (the usual request), because 4 hours was about the limit for my stamina!

I also started seeing a physiotherapist and chiropractor, which helped cure my waddle and rib issues! Turns out, some things we assume are just normal parts of pregnancy, are a sign of something and can be fixed!

DECEMBER

It just concluded, but it already feels like a million years ago.

Nesting was in full swing in December, with lots of organizing, cleaning, baking, decorating and more organizing. Let’s face it, this is carrying over into 2019…

All of my work was local, so no more flying or long drives, and on Dec 19th I was done work completely until 2020!

Christmas was absolutely wonderful, and we managed to keep expenses to a minimum, probably spending the most on cards, shipping and food (baking supplies for all of my projects…). I also managed to give Dad $1500 for Christmas! After paying him about $1000/month all year, I’m now down to owing him $7,500 (from $18,000 before last Christmas)! So that was pretty exciting (for both of us). One of my goals for 2019 is to finish paying him back before next Christmas. We also got to celebrate Dad being declared cancer-free in December, which was probably the *best* way to end such a crazy year!

WHAT NOW?

All of the above deserve their own posts, as they relate to saving or spending. I’ll do my best!

As for now, now it’s 2019… and I have anywhere from 0-4 (or maybe even 6) weeks to get as prepared as I can to bring a baby home! Most everything is already prepared, but I would like to work on: freezer meals, purging more crap, finishing up some nursery decor, re-organizing a few more areas (especially the bathroom and kitchen cabinets), and also taking advantage of this time off by adding more of these posts!

I also need to stay as active as possible during this weird limbo month of no work, but also no baby. It would be very easy to sit around doing nothing, but that won’t help me out when the big day comes. I need to stay mobile! I am still able to get to the gym for the boxing/kickboxing circuit (with modifications), and if the weather allows, I can even still walk there alright. Though the walk back is usually a bit comical…

Thinking beyond this month, fun goals for the year include: baby’s first camping trip to Keji with some other friends with kids/babies, another road trip to Peterborough to show the little one around, and a trip with baby to see my brother in the Caymans! We’re going to try to take advantage of my maternity leave, accumulated airline miles, AND the free seat for babies under 2. 😛

Phew!

Happy New Year everyone!

The Upside of Renting

We’ve had pharaoh ants in our apartment pretty much since we moved in last June. I thought it was just because it was summertime, or I just wasn’t cleaning enough. Then they persisted through the fall, and I spent hours hunting them down. Where did the lines of ants come from/go? What are they attracted to?

I would find them on the cat’s plates a few hours after they’d been fed, swarming the leftover bits of meat. So we started washing those right away. I’d find them floating in our electric kettle, which we then had to make sure to empty after each use. I found them marching in lines from our cupboards behind the fridge, and hanging out by the sink faucet. I’d see one trying to blend into a painting on the wall, or crawling along the bathroom towel bar.

I felt like I was being stalked by ants. Where were they while we slept? *shudder*

So I put down traps, after learning about their sugar/water and protein/grease feeding cycles. I did excessive/obsessive research on pharaoh ants (key takeaway: they’re dicks, and they go wherever there’s pooled water), I wiped our counters and the sink down every night to get rid of any water, and I pulled out every appliance in the kitchen many times looking for food sources. I determined on my own that the fridge was leaking onto the floor, and that the sink was a haven with all its wet cloths. So in December I rigged a contraption behind the fridge to direct leaking water away from the wall/floor, and then we got notice that Pest Control would be coming to deal with the ant issue in the building. It wasn’t just me! Someone is actually going to come deal with this!!!

So they came. We had to take off all of the outlet covers, and clear out under the sinks. For the next week I watched and hoped the ants would finally be gone… but they were not. There were fewer, but they were still there…

This month, in a moment of inspiration, I remembered a curtain rod we had in the storage closet that we hadn’t needed when we moved in, and in 5 mins I installed it above the kitchen sink so all of the cloths could actually dry.

IMG_5757

No more ants.

I’ve also converted almost all of our open pantry items to airtight Tupperware containers, to keep any future pests out of our food. After I watched some ants crawling around our open pasta boxes… that was it. Nasty.

Pest Control came by for a follow-up today and this time I was home… waiting. Like a creep.

I chatted with them (we work for competing companies, turns out), I told him all of the methods I had employed to curb the ant problem. Then I pulled out the fridge, and showed the guy in charge what I believed the problem was. He left and told our super, and then I yanked the fridge out again to show the super who said, “I’ll tell the manager it’s just broken. Too old. You’ll get a new fridge!”

I told him I loved him. I might have even bowed to him, with my hands clasped. I nearly cried.

This stupid fridge is leaky, rusty, and older than the hills. I mean, all of our appliances (based on their colour schemes alone) are likely from the 70’s/80’s. But at least the oven and dishwasher still work just fine. This fridge is a thorn in my side! And now I might get a new one.

The key is complaining communicating. It’s the only power you have as a renter! If you’re a homeowner and something breaks, it’s on you to deal with it. As a renter, if something breaks, you get repairs and replacements for “free” (that’s what rent money is used for)! But you need to SAY SOMETHING.

I told our building manager (many times, because she’s very forgetful) that two of our windows wouldn’t stay open, and one wouldn’t close. So they’ve been replaced. I told them about the questionable black mould in the bathroom ceiling, and (after I killed most of it with 100% undiluted bleach), they came and repainted the ceiling with what I hope was mildew-resistant paint. The mould has stayed away so far.

At the old apartment, I called our building manager ALL. THE. TIME. Everything was dealt with very quickly. I even asked if I could paint the kitchen cabinets white, and they said “just fill out a form, we’ll do that.” And they did. It was incredible.

We may feel like we only have a little bit of power as renters, but we are not just paying for a place to sleep and store our stuff. We’re paying each month for upkeep, so it’s our right and responsibility to bring up any problems. Maybe it’ll take forever to have fixed because your building manager couldn’t locate her own head half the time (*ahem*), but at least it gets fixed eventually. You’re already paying for the repairs and replacements every month with your rent. You might as well ask for them! And if you don’t? They’ll get fixed and replaced after you leave… which means you never get to enjoy it. Booo.

And yes, I wrote this entire post just to celebrate getting a new fridge all because I complained enough to the people who have the power. 😛

Winter Cleaning: Because There are Better Things to Do in the Spring

I don’t know what’s going on, but this past few weeks I have been cleaning and organizing on overdrive. Maybe it’s the spring-like weather we’ve lucked out with, maybe it’s my new habit of walking to the gym and back instead of driving. Either way…

The cats are mad because I never sit down, Joe is amused because he comes home to find me waist-deep in the cabinets or standing on the kitchen counter surrounded by cans of beans, and I am pleased because I’ve eliminated so many cluttered areas and come up with solutions to several recurring messes.

For instance, we have no good places to hang cloths around our kitchen sink. The oven handle is solid, so nothing can hang there. There are no hooks, or racks. So since June, we’ve been draping our soggy cloths over the kitchen faucet… which of course never fully dry. Every time we turn on the tap, or move the faucet right or left, the cloths all fall off. ANNOYING. But I had a lightbulb moment the other day, wherein I remembered a curtain rod we bought at the dollar store in the summer, thinking we’d need it at the new apartment, but we didn’t. So we stuck it in the closet. Around midnight the other night, while Joe laughed his head off at Grace & Frankie, I got out the screwdriver and the curtain rod, and mounted it over the sink. PERFECT. Dry cloths, tidy sink, happy me. And it cost $1-2. Hard to beat that!

IMG_5757.JPG

After that success, I went a little haywire. I cleaned up the “junk corner” to the left of that sink. I cleared out our “plastic bag and potato” cupboard (yes, that was a thing) underneath the counter where we do food prep and make coffee/tea. The cupboard is now empty (bags relocated, potatoes sadly… didn’t make it), and awaiting a new slide-out rack from Amazon that cost about $40 (inc. shipping) – a small price to pay for my sanity. I plan on using it for potatoes/onions/garlic on one shelf, and canned items underneath. The more stuff I can move from high cabinet shelves to low cupboards the better. I hate climbing on counters.

I also attacked the coat closet, the container cupboard (only kept things I found lids for), and bought a Rubbermaid tote today to keep our compost in – which I plan to convert to a vermiculture bin for the balcony in the spring! On the same trip, Joe and I donated a bunch of stuff that we had cleared out from junk corners/the closet over the past couple weeks. Felt so good to get rid of more unnecessary stuff!

I feel accomplished, definitely, and also pretty excited!

My friend held a Tupperware party on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and I ordered…. many things. Mostly containers. I was invited to one a year or so ago, and used it as an opportunity to get Mom a new salad dressing shaker like the one she had when I was little, but lost. At the same time, I wound up getting myself the niftiest ice cube tray that has a silicone bottom (to pop the cubes out), a giant cereal container with a flap seal for pouring, and I also won a “Medium Wonders” bowl – basically a 500mL container. I didn’t think anything of the container until we started feeding the cats their raw food, and then I pretty much consistently used it to store their chicken patties in – since they’re EXACTLY the right size. So… when my friend invited me to her party last month I was pretty amped to get more of those containers. And I did. And much more… I also got a Oval & Square set of Modular Mates for our dry goods, a 12″ round container (for pie, quiche, etc), FridgeSmart containers (I’m tired of throwing out wilted or forgotten produce – such a waste of money!), spaghetti noodle/Breton cracker containers, and a set of Smidgets. Eep!

I’m pretty excited to get those things, both from Tupperware and Amazon. Very, very excited. 😛 You might be thinking ‘that’s a s***-load of Tupperware, that must have been expensive’. Uh, well, yeah. No lie. I added up all of the regular prices of the things I ordered, and tallied up what I paid (I only buy Tupperware if it’s significantly marked down, as a rule). It’s exactly $400 worth of stuff, but I paid $215, taxes included. That’s still a lot, but we all know they last forever. My mom and aunt still have and use Tupperware that they bought in the 80’s. I saw a set today at Value Village, in perfect condition, from at least the 70’s. I mean… it’s pricey, but it lasts. I’m hoping it’ll also save us a ton on wasted food. So that’s my justification!

Next on my list – aside from putting all of my dry goods in containers when they arrive – I’m planning to attack the “junk corner” of the office, the bedroom closet, and under the bathroom sink. I’m also in the middle of making a master grocery list to put on the fridge so we can just highlight the things we need as we run out, instead of writing it down on a random scrap of paper or in a forgotten phone app every time. Or worse, making it up as we go and forgetting half the things we needed.

Again, I’m not sure where this spurt of obsessive organizing came from, but darn it… I’m riding the wave as long as it lasts!

Have you also been taken hostage by a spring cleaning demon? What’s your most creative solution to a notoriously messy spot?

A Big Year Ahead

So much has happened since I last wrote on Dec 3rd about my final loan payment.

BIG NEWS

Joe proposed on December 13th, with my late grandmother’s 75-yr-old diamond ring. I said yes, of course. That was very exciting and unexpected (in that I didn’t see it coming at that very moment)! I was worried about how much resizing it would cost, but we went to a local, retired jeweller and he resized, cleaned and polished it for $40! Such a nice guy, and he did a fantastic job.

IMG_5347

HOLIDAYS

Christmas was a whirlwind of family, belly laughs, storms, back-up plans and hikes. I managed to stick to my budget for gifts, except for a wonderful (and pricey) backpack/suitcase for Joe that I realized was technically a “trip expense” and I had money saved for it after all. #winning ! We were very lucky to have Joe’s mom join us at my folks’ place for Christmas, and then stay with us for a few days. It definitely made the holiday more fun, especially considering only a few years ago, Christmas was just me, Mom and Dad!

IMG_5440

The Karate Kid and Mother Goose on Christmas morning (Joe got me a tea cozy).

BUDGET WEDDING PLANNING

I started working on wedding plans after Christmas, and decided that if I did not have the cash to pay for a deposit, I would not book/buy it. It has worked! I have a caterer, a yurt, portable toilets, and a confirmed equipment rental (inc. chairs, tables, linens and dance floor). So far I’ve only had to pay deposits on the yurt and the equipment rental, which I had the cash for. Otherwise, the menu is still being worked on, so no payment required yet, and the toilets don’t require payment until June. I still need a second-hand dress, and Joe will need a suit (I accidentally shrunk his nice linen suit pants last summer, not realizing after the first wedding we attended that linen can’t be put in a dryer…). We’ll also need to rent speakers, rent/buy the tableware/dishes, and pay for our marriage licence/officiator.

One of my closest friends is the photographer, but she knows I only really care about one photo in particular (one to match the wedding photos of my grandparents and parents), and the rest are at her leisure, so she can take part in the festivities without any pressure. I’ve witnessed her at events where she is a casual attendee but brings her camera anyway, and she somehow manages to enjoy herself/dance/eat/etc. while also snapping the most incredible candid photos of everyone.

I think if I didn’t have my parents/Joe on board with a low-cost wedding, it would be quite difficult to achieve. It would be so easy to put it on a credit card and get “all the things you ever wanted” with the justification of it being your “big day”. But I just don’t feel like it’s necessary, and it’s so nice to be supported in that. I refuse to incur any debt over it, so we’re saving everywhere we possibly can. As hard as it is to resist some things, the money we save is going to be such a relief later on. There is no way I’d feel comfortable spending tens of thousands of dollars on a single day, when most of the stuff isn’t even purchased but rented, or gets thrown out, or never gets used again… Joe and I agreed that we’d much rather save for a house downpayment, or put more of our money in an emergency fund. That, I’m comfortable with!

Other than the wedding, I’m also still saving for our trip and for repaying Dad. I love how easy it is with Tangerine to create new savings accounts instantly, and name them all. It makes divvying up my paycheques so much better. I don’t have to remember how much of one savings account is dedicated to what goal. So I have my Wedding Fund,  Europe Fund and Dad Fund.

ONE REMAINING DEBT

Dad was very pleased with his Christmas gift (I gave him $1000 cash, in different denominations, split up and hidden in each gift with a riddle/poem). I’m almost to the point where I can send him another $1000. So exciting! It’s my only remaining debt, and it feels incredible to pay him off. I never actually thought I’d get to, because I figured my student loans would be around for another 5-10 years! He’s pretty happy about it too. It’s his retirement fun money. 😛

EUROPE

We haven’t done much in the way of Europe planning since I booked our flights/AirBnBs/rental car. I’m still monitoring one flight to see if the price goes down, and every once in a while we’ll think of/learn of things we should see while there and I’ll write them down. We do want to visit two national parks in Croatia, which are close to our planned route. The passes will cost us a total of $88 CAD (two different one-day park passes, for two adults).

THA FUTURE/ADULTING

On January 1st, due to reaching a milestone with my company, I was finally signed up for the company pension plan and also sent information for starting RRSP contributions. We are allowed to contribute a maximum of 6% from each paycheque, which will be matched at 50% by the company. After discussing it with Joe and my folks, and figuring out all the fancy terminology on the paperwork, I signed up to contribute the maximum. So with my contribution, plus the matched amount from the company, I’ll be contributing a total of 9% of my income to RRSPs annually, and I’m allowed to add lump contributions if I want to. Very exciting stuff! It’s definitely one of those things that sounds so boring when you’re a kid listening to your parents discuss it, and even in your early 20’s you just think “Gross. Glad I won’t have to think about that for a long time.”, but then when it actually becomes a thing you have to decide on… it’s actually really cool…

SAVING 4 THA FUTURE!!!

HOME LYFE/BUDGET

In previous posts, I’ve talked about reducing our internet expenses, and changing the cats’ diet to raw meat. In the new year, our internet bill went up about $8, due to the cheapest option no longer being available. Luckily they reduced the price of the next-fastest speed so us “budget folks” would still be happy. Now we pay $63.19/mo (tax included) for 100 Mbps, instead of $55.14/mo for 25 Mbps. Before we switched providers, we were paying $98/mo for 100 Mbps. As for the cat food, after months of buying a bag of 10 patties every 10 days, they finally came out with bulk boxes of 30 patties! The bags of 10 cost $17.99 + tax each, and a box of 30 is $29.99 + tax. So instead of paying $62 each month and having to go the pet food store every 10 days, we pay $35 and go once a month! Amazing.

We are still all about dem PC points, and using them for free groceries. We made a promise to each other last week to say NO when either of us (usually Joseph…) wants to get chips, ice cream, candy, take-out, etc., and sticking to a meal plan instead. I am very good at saying, yelling, or jauntily singing the word NO while flitting about the grocery store. Joe is very good at being a scamp, and trying to wear me down. But so far, he listens and we haven’t wasted any money lately on junk food or take-out. I think if we get some significant storm days this winter, we might find it more difficult to avoid getting snacks, however I am really good at making popcorn on the stove, which is a decent alternative (I think).

I’m still loving my gym, and even purchased some sleek-looking snow pants so I can walk there even on gross/very cold days. I’m learning that the key to avoiding my usual winter hibernation is be adequately bundled. I also upped my Fitbit step goal, now that I can walk comfortably in any weather.

In the job department, my performance in 2017 was “outstanding”, so I’ll be awarded a bigger raise than last year. I’m pretty excited about that, and it’s excellent motivation to keep up the good work! 🙂 I also made some good progress with my side hustle. This month, I taught a food handling course to a large group of community college students, which was really fun and brought in a little extra $$. I’m slowly adjusting my costs for teaching, as I get used to the cost of materials/room rentals/shipping, in order to pay myself a reasonable hourly wage on the day of the class. It’s hard though! I want to make it affordable for the people taking the course, but I also need to make sure it’s worth it for me to continue doing.

I think that’s it for now. Plans are chugging along, life is good, we’re happy and healthy, the boys are still fluffy little nuggets of cuteness, and we’re busy preparing for a fun little life together. Not too shabby. ❤

As of Dec 1st: No Student Debt!

It’s very strange to say, but my student loans are… GONE!

The last automatic payment of $200 came out of my account Nov 30th, and the very same day, I added a lump payment of $600 to finish it off. Like an innocent little jab, followed by a knock-out right hook.

Ok, so the boxing is also going well. 😂

I can’t believe I did it! I made a plan after we moved in June, to get my loans to $0 by the end of the year and I achieved that goal a month early!

It’s crazy to think that if I had just left my monthly automatic payments at $75 instead of increasing them to $200, and if I hadn’t made any lump payments at all, that debt would have stuck around for another 4-5 years!! Yowza.

So I’m pretty happy. It’s a great Christmas present to myself. Now I get an extra $200 each month to put toward other things! Like savings! And paying my Dad back!

Or, paying off Christmas??

Doing my best to keep Christmas affordable this year without feeling like a cheap scummy scumbag. We’ll see how that goes! 🙈😜

In the meantime, I’m enjoying being debt-free this December.

Rejoice! 🎉

Europe Trip 2018 – Planning Stage 2!

Last week was a big one. Many deep breaths were taken.

While it’s pretty fun and exciting to actually book flights and reservations, it’s also nerve-racking to a) confirm something at a price that’s ever fluctuating, like stock prices, and b) actually spend the money you’ve been saving, even though you’ve been saving it for this exact purpose… go figure.

So by the time I pressed the “Confirm Payment” button on our major flights to and from our European destinations, I had taken many deep breaths, tired out my calculator fingers, paced the apartment for a few days, asked my Mom “is that a good price?”, warned Joe “I’m gonna do it tonight” several nights in a row, and if I was a smoker I would have burned through a pack every hour…

It was exhilarating. Our flights are booked. We leave for Brussels next May, and fly out of Croatia a few weeks later.

So what of that giant gap of time?

Well… if you give a mouse a cookie (boarding passes to Europe), it’s going to want a class of milk (a place to sleep once there).

So I spent a couple days after the flights were booked checking out AirBnBs for each city we’re travelling to.

Of course, I booked all of them within days, excitedly showing Joe all of the photos.

Then I booked a rental car in Zagreb.

Then I used my Aeroplan miles to book a flight from Prague to Ljubljana.

I KNOW.

But you know what? We have the money.

I had $6550 saved last week. And I have $2775 left after booking our flights (inc. the one between Prague and Ljubljana, for which I only paid the tax) and all 6 AirBnBs!

I was really impressed with the AirBnB prices and locations, and hopefully we’ll be impressed with what we actually get! Overall, the average cost per night is about $86 for the two of us, or about $43 per person! That’s about the same price I paid for hostel beds last year! I’m very happy with that.

The rental car will be paid upon arrival, but I was happy with that price too! I think it’s €215 for 4 days (though we’ll likely return after 3), and all of the insurances are included. We’ll just have to pay gas and tolls. We’re picking it up in Zagreb, going down the coast for a few days, then coming back up to Zagreb to return the car the day before our flight home, which is out of Zagreb.

We’re very excited. It hardly seems real so far, and I’m still adding to the savings pot (about $1500 left to my trip savings goal of $8000), but having all of that already taken care of, and knowing I can pay for it now instead of paying interest on it for 6 months, is a major relief! Phew!!

Now for learning some key phrases in a few languages, and figuring out the must-sees… 😊 One of my favourite parts of travelling!