Category Archives: Travel

Visiting the Emerald Isle

In July, my wife and I went to Ireland on vacation.  It was our first time in Ireland.  Last summer, we went to London on vacation.  We tried to combine England and Ireland into one trip but decided against it.  We wanted more time to explore both countries on separate trips.

Naturally, I was excited about going to visit Ireland.  What made the trip a little more exciting was that it was my first attempt at travel hacking.  We were able to fly to Dublin from Newark, New Jersey for free.

Hotel

While in Dublin, we stayed at the Albany House located on Harcourt Street.  This hotel came recommended by a friend of mine who stayed there while traveling in the past.  The hotel itself was fine.  The rooms were clean and spacious.  The staff was friendly.  Every morning, the hotel provided a traditional European continental breakfast including toast, cheese, fresh fruit, and coffee or tea.

The hotel was located a block away from St Stephen’s Green.  St Stephen’s Green is a lovely park.  It is located in the heart of the financial district.  Every afternoon, the park was filled with employees from KPMG and Indeed.  They are truly fortunate to be able to take their lunch break in such a nice park.

The complaint that I have about the hotel is not the fault of the Albany House.  Across the street from the hotel is a nightclub.  Every night, from 11 pm until 5 am there was loud screaming, fighting, and broken glass?  As the result of that racket, we did not have one decent night of sound sleep.

Touring

This trip was not booked as a group tour.  We do not enjoy traveling with large groups of people.  My wife and I like to be free to plan our days and not be rushed when we travel.

However, the benefit of touring is that you have a guide to show you all of the major attractions.  For this trip, we planned 3 separate day trips with a tour company. We also had 4 days to explore the city independently.

The company that we used for our three days of touring was Paddy Wagon Tours.  They are the biggest touring company in Ireland.  The cost of the tours was reasonable.  The Tour Guides were knowledgeable and truly entertaining.  We had a great time learning about the history of Ireland and laughing at their jokes.  They were all wonderful.

The Cliffs of Moher

The first trip that we took was to The Cliffs of Moher.  The Cliffs of Moher is located on the west coast of Ireland.  When we arrived at the Cliffs, it was cloudy, but we were able to see them and get a few nice photos.  After we were there for about 20 minutes, the fog rolled in.  Because of the fog, the cliffs were no longer visible.  We are grateful that we were able to enjoy the scenery before the weather changed.

Northern Ireland  

Our second tour was to Northern Ireland.  Like most people who grew up in the 1980’s, when I think of Northern Ireland, I think about The Troubles.  There has been a period of peace in Northern Ireland since 1998.  Since the Brexit decision, tensions have been elevated in Northern Ireland.  The night before our tour there was a small political scuffle that included throwing Molotov Cocktails.

While it was scary, Belfast seemed like a nice city.  We actually toured the neighborhoods where much of the past troubles took place.  The tour guide took us to see the Bobby Sands Memorial.  Just two blocks from the Bobby Sands Memorial sands the Peace Lines that separate the Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighborhoods.

The second stop in Northern Ireland was at The Dark Hedges.  For those of you who are Game of Thrones fans, The Dark Hedges was featured in the second season.  I am a Game of Thrones fan and honestly, do not remember The Dark Hedges.  I am going to have to re-watch the series and keep my eye out for them.

Following lunch, we went to see Giant’s Causeway and the North Atlantic Coast.  Both were truly breathtaking.  The views were panoramic and unlike any coastline that I have ever been to in the past.  It will be unfortunate if these tours are no longer available in the future because of the hard border that will most likely be put in place after Brexit officially goes into effect.

Blarney Castle & Cork

Our third and final tour was to Blarney Castle and Cork.  Prior to taking this trip, my friends and colleagues kept asking me if I was going to kiss the Blarney Stone.  I said no because I do not like high places and because I heard that the locals pee on it.

My wife, on the other hand, was all about kissing the Blarney Stone.  Prior to us climbing to the top of the castle, the tour guide reiterated that the locals do not pee on the Blarney Stone and that it is cleaned throughout the day.  Even though I did watch the workers clean it, I still was not going to kiss it based on the height.

Our last stop on our final tour was to visit Cork.  We only had two hours to take in the city.  Next time, we visit Ireland, we might consider staying in Cork for a few days. It seems like another wonderful city, but we just did not have enough time to take much of it in.  Plus, at this point we were tired.

Dublin

We spent the rest of our vacation in Dublin.  The remaining days were spent leisurely walking around the city and taking in all of the major attractions.  Dublin is a nice city for walking because it is mostly flat.  It was a good thing that we brought comfortable trainers because we walked about 10 miles per day.  Some of the major attractions that we took in were Trinity University and the Book of Kells.  We went to St Patrick’s Cathedral.  We also simply enjoyed seeing some of the historic monuments including Molly Malone, Spire of Dublin, and the Hugh Lane Gallery.

Conclusion

My wife and I had a great time visiting Ireland.  I was in need of a vacation.  I have been busy at work and this blog takes up the rest of my mental energy.

We were only in Ireland for seven days and were able to cover a good portion of the country.  We would have liked to visit Galway but ran out of time.  Next time we visit we might spend half the trip in Cork and the remainder of our time in Galway.

I highly recommend taking a trip to Ireland.  It is a lush county that is full of rich history.  It might not be for a few years because we are planning on visiting other locations, but we will defiantly be back to see the rest of the Emerald Isle.

This post might contain affiliate links.

Please be sure to read the Disclaimer page.

 

Travel Hacking: Round Two

Travel hacking is a great way to travel for free.  Travel Hacking is the practice of opening premium rewards credit cards to capture the generous initial bonus points that these credit cards offer to new cardholders.  The hack is based on getting the bonus points, closing the card before the annual fee is due, and never paying interest or carrying a monthly balance.

I first learned about travel hacking from reading The Millionaire Educator.  It sounded interesting.  It was not until I attended a Rockstar Finance Meet-Up in New York City that I really got turned on to this practice of traveling for free.

In my post Travel Hacking: Round One, I wrote about my first experience with Travel Hacking.  The first card that my wife and I opened was the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.  We used the bonus points from this card to buy two round-trip tickets from Newark, NJ to Dublin, Ireland.

As the result of my first experience, I have decided that travel hacking will be a major part of my financial plan.  My wife and I take at least two vacations per year.  Even though I am frugal, we still have the monthly household spending to earn enough points to pay for two trips per year.

The second card that I opened was the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card.  Unlike the Chase Sapphire, the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card is a business card.  In order to qualify, having a small business like a blog or an Etsy store would qualify.  For sole proprietors who do not have a tax id, they could use their Social Security number when signing up for business credit cards.

Another benefit that the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card offers is that it does not count against the  Chase 5/24 rule that Chase has for opening new cards.  Chase only allows individuals to open 5 cards in a 24 month period from any issuing bank, you will not be approved for new Chase credit card.  That also applies for anyone who is an authorized user.  Since it is a business card, it is not counted as being part of the 5/24 rule.

The Chase Preferred Ink Business card offers a very rich benefits program.  After the cardholder spends $5,000 in 3 months, they receive 80,000 bonus points.  When you redeem those points through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 80,000 points are equal to about $1,000 towards travel.

When you open the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card, there is a $95 annual fee.  Unlike the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, that fee is not waved for the first year.  Based on the value of those 80,000 travel points, it is easy to justify the $95 for one year.

On additional spend, cardholders earn 3 points for every $1 in spending.  The 3 points for every $1 in money spent is good for up to the first $150,000 charged.  After that, cardholders earn 1 point for every $1 in spending.

My wife and I used this card for all of our monthly expenses.  We try to put all of our monthly reoccurring bills on the card.  We also use it when we go out to eat at a restaurant or fill up our car at the gas station.  It took us two months to reach the $5,000 in spend to equal the 80,000 points.

So, how did we use these points?  My wife’s birthday is in December.  She does not know it, but I booked a Western Caribbean Cruise.  While going on a cruise is exciting by itself, this cruise departs on December 23rd.  What makes that exciting is that winter is in full swing in Pennsylvania at that point, so we will even appreciate the cruise more.

I wish that I was able to report that I was able to book the cruise for free.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Hopefully, I will be able to share a post about taking a free cruise with you in the future.  I have not reached that level of travel hacking success yet.

What I did apply the points towards was our flight.  I have never booked a flight from Pennsylvania to Florida in December.  When I went to book this trip, I was shocked to find out how inflated the prices are this time of year.  After giving it a little bit of thought, it makes sense due to the holiday traffic and snowbirds who are flying south for winter.

The normal cost for a ticket from the Scranton International Airport to Tampa is around $300.  This flight cost $625 per person.  Our flight to Ireland was less expensive.

The total amount of points that were required to cover our two tickets were 112,000 in Chase Points.  At this point, I had 88,000 in chase points from the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card.  My wife and I also had 30,000 in points from our spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.  By combining the points from the two cards we were able to cover the airfare.

With the remainder of our points, we booked our hotel.  The cruise departs on Sunday, December 23.  We are flying down the day before.  I was surprised, but we were able to pay for one night at a 3-star hotel for only 6,000 points.  That was the only value that I have found so far on this trip.

Even though the flight was expensive, it ended up being free for us since we took advantage of our points from the Chase Preferred Ink Business Card.  Otherwise, we would have had to shell out over $1,200 for a 3-hour flight from Pennsylvania to Tampa, Florida.  It might seem expensive, but I am sure that I will be happy to be cruising the Western Caribbean instead of dealing with at best a wintery mix at home in Pennsylvania.

I am excited about the money that I will be saving on travel as the result of travel hacking.  Even though it sounds fun, be warned that travel hacking is not for everyone.  Travel hacking is only for those who are ridged and hyper-focused when it comes to managing their personal finances.

If you struggle with paying off your credit card bills every month, travel hacking is not for you.  If you do not have enough in normal monthly spend, travel hacking is not for you.  If you have to try to generate artificial spend to try to earn points, travel hacking is not for you.

Please keep your eye out for my next post in this series on travel hacking.  The next post will be about the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card.  I look forward to sharing about how I am getting free flights and to share with you about where we are planning on visiting next.

This post might contain affiliate links.

Please be sure to read the Disclaimer Page.

 

Travel Hacking: Round One

Until recently, I have never tried travel hacking.  As a member of the financial independence community, I have not looked favorably at credit cards.  I saw them as a way for undisciplined people to spend more than they earn.  In my opinion, I saw them as tools that banks use to hack high fees and interest payments out people who have fallen victim to materialism.

My view on credit was to only borrow when it was a must and to pay it back as quickly as possible.  Since I started working full-time, I only used credit when I needed it.  However, I knew that having a high credit score was important.

My wife and I both have high credit scores but have not borrowed much.  I once had a car loan that I paid off in my early 20’s.  When I went to college, I paid cash for my first two years and took out student loans for my Junior and Senior years.  My wife and I also took out a home equity loan to remodel our house.  That is currently our only debt.

For years, my wife and I only had one credit card.  We used it for travel, shopping on Amazon, and for other purchases when a credit card was more convenient than cash.  We have always just used a basic bank card that paid 1% cash back.

I did not know if 1% was good or not.  I was more interested in using the card when it was required and just paid off the balance every month.  At the end of the year, I would get $500 back and just use the rewards money for holiday bills.

The focus of my personal finance management and writing has been saving and investing.  My approach has been to focus on career growth, saving as much as possible, and capture average market returns by investing in index funds.  Hacking has not been on my radar.

Over the past year, I have started reading more and more blogs about people who are taking two or more vacations per year for free.  Since some of the most trusted bloggers promote it, I decided to read more about it.  It was not until I attended a meet-up in New York City where a group of bloggers from Rockstar Finance got together.  At this event, I got turned on to travel hacking and decided to give it a shot.

The idea of taking a vacation or two per year for free excited me.  We travel anyway, so why not enjoy our trips for free.  I started to do some research.  I also took the Travel Miles 101 online course.  Travel Miles 101 is a comprehensive course that explains all that a person needs to start travel hacking.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about travel hacking.

After taking the travel miles 101 class and reading many other blogs, the consensus card to start with is the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year.  The annual fee after that is $95 per year, but as part of the hack, you set it up to never pay that fee.

So, what do you get with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card?  If you spend $4,000 in 3 months, you earn 50,000 bonus points.  Those 50,000 bonus points add up to some nice rewards. The redemption value is worth $625 in airfare, $625 towards hotels, or $300 in cash.

There are other nice benefits With the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  A cardholder will receive 2X points on travel purchases.  When you dine out, a cardholder receives 2X points on restaurant purchases worldwide.  Every other purchase equals 1 point per $1 spent.

Based on all of the suggestions, I opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.   In order to hit the target of $4,000 to earn the points, I set up all of our monthly household bills to be charged to this card. Since it was November, it did not take long to hit the $4,000 with all of the extra holiday spending.

After I reached the $4,000, my wife opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  We followed the same plan and used the card for all of our bills and spending.  It took us less than two months for us to hit $4,000 on her card.

Now for the fun stuff.  It was time to redeem our points.  We decided that we wanted to visit Dublin, Ireland this summer.  To redeem the points, there is a portal to access the travel section on the Chase Dashboard.  It is as easy as booking a flight on any other travel website.

We decided to fly out of Philadelphia (PHL) and wanted a non-stop flight.  Based on the value of our points, these tickets were going to only cost us about $150 in out of pocket expenses.  Before we booked our flight, I decided to check if there was a cheaper flight out of the Newark Airport (EWR).  I typed in our travel dates and a round-trip ticket from Newark to Dublin on Air Lingus was only $605 per ticket.  We booked our flights and had points to spare.  It was that easy.

I do not know if travel hacking is for everyone.  If you are not good at paying your bills every month, travel hacking might not be for you.  If you end up with a balance and have to pay the high interest, the credit card company is actually hacking you.  You also need to have the required spend to earn the points.  If you do not spend enough to qualify, you should not just spend money you otherwise would not spend to just earn points.

Does travel hacking hurt your credit score?  I have only opened two cards, so I do not have any personal evidence to share with you.  Based on many other blogs, there is minimal change and most credit scores increase over time.  The most important thing is paying your balance every month.

If you are responsible for paying your monthly bills and enjoy traveling, you should look into travel hacking.  Travel hacking also requires a person to be structured and to know when to close a card before the annual fees will be charged.  There are many great travel websites and points tracking tools like awards wallet to make the process easier.

I hope you found this post useful.  Moving forward, I will share our experience with every new card we open and hack.  Please keep your eye out for round two in the next few months.

This post might contain affiliate links.

Please be sure to read the Disclaimer page.

How to get Started with Airbnb

I am very excited about today’s post.  This is a guest post from my new friend Cubert from AbandonedCubicle.com.  In this post, Cubert shares how he is planning on retiring at age 46 and to abandon his cubicle for good.  As a more passive investor, this post has provided me with great insight into real estate investing as well as an introduction to what is required to operate an Airbnb business.  I hope you enjoy it and find it as educational as I did.

How to get Started with Airbnb

For those of you who don’t know my story, here’s a little primer. I go by the pseudonym Cubert to keep a little anonymity on my blog, AbandonedCubicle.com. I’ve been a student of early retirement since the fall of 2014.

Around that time I discovered that it is possible to retire early with very little actual sacrifice and much to gain. That’s a good thing. See, we’d had our first kids – twins – just a year earlier. If life wasn’t crazy enough with work, the home front changes pushed us over the line.

I’m now within a year and a half of ending my cubical days for good. I’ll be 46, which is nowhere near as exciting as others who’ve reached that milestone in their 30s. But then, I have no regrets. And honestly, who can complain about being done working for the man a good 15 or 20 years before Fidelity says you should?

My Plan

It’s interesting how life-changes sometimes come in bunches. Within a span of two years, we started a real estate rental business, changed jobs, had twins, and then locked in on early retirement. Whew. Makes my head spin just thinking about it!

The real estate rental business turned out to be crucial in our wealth building progress. We definitely went out on a limb, but with the help of a good friend already in the business, I had enough confidence to buy our first rental – a short sale single family house.

We weren’t flush with cash. I had to take out a home equity line of credit on our primary residence to afford the down payment. Once we closed, the list of improvements grew to a tally of almost $5,000. Man, what had we gotten ourselves in to?!?

Long story short – this first house got rented out within two months of closing. Rent checks started flowing in. We closed on our second rental just six months later, right around the time we welcomed our twins into the world. Rentals three and four followed in 2015 and 2016.

Ultimately, each of our four long-term rentals have paid off handsomely. Thanks to a strong market here in Minneapolis, we can command good rents. Plus, the tenants we attract have been great to work with. Never a late payment, and often they’ll put their own money into small improvements. We clear about $500 in net profit per house, per month.

1 Our First Rental – “Rental A”

How Airbnb Came into the Picture

In 2017, the pickins were slim. The housing market had really taken off in the Twin Cities. Houses that once sold for $100,000 were now going for $150,000. In my quest for our fifth rental, I kept running into windmills. Cash-on-cash returns just weren’t adding up on the overpriced dumps that were available.

About ready to give up, we visited my folks in Charlevoix, Michigan last August. I was perusing the local paper and decided to take a peek at the real estate listings on the back page. I noticed a condo for sale in the same development where my parent’s spend their summers. It was bare bones, with zero updates since having been built in 2005.

I figured, at $125,000 list price, what could it hurt to have a look? This area is a great summertime destination. A new vacation rental option started to dance around in my head.

What is Airbnb?

For those uninitiated (which included yours truly until a few years back), from Wikipedia:

Airbnb is an American company which hosts an online marketplace and hospitality service, for people to lease or rent short-term lodging including vacation rentals, apartment rentals, homestays, hostel beds, or hotel rooms. The company does not own any lodging; it is a broker which receives percentage service fees from both guests and hosts in conjunction with every booking. In January 2018 the company had over 3,000,000 lodging listings in 65,000 cities and 191 countries.

For a company that started nine years ago, that’s a pretty impressive number of lodgings. How long did it take Hilton to build that many rooms? All Airbnb’s founders had to do was harness the Internet, create the marketplace, and take their 3% cut from each booking. Genius.

As we worked through the offer process and closing on the condo this past fall, I was also digging into my research. We’d stayed at a couple of Airbnbs, but we sure as heck hadn’t hosted any. A few helpful sources: Pinterest (see Financial Panther) and a very helpful book called “Get Paid for Your Pad” by Jasper Ribbers and Huzefa Kapadia.

The Easy Parts

Setting up your digs, whether it’s a spare room in your house, or a wholly furnished separate dwelling is pretty straightforward on Airbnb’s interface. I give them credit for creating a highly intuitive experience for hosts.

I will warn, however, that there are a LOT of variables that come with hosting. You don’t just set your nightly price, upload a bunch of pics and wait (and hope!) Nope. You’ve got to figure out check-in, check-out times. You need to create a house manual.

There’s more. Do you want to set a strict or flexible cancellation policy? Do you want to include a security deposit? How much will you charge guests for cleaning? This is where that handy book “Get Paid…” was a real life-saver.

1 So many variables to set!

Once you do get everything all set up, there’s a certain amount of apprehension that sets in. You have ZERO ratings. Who in their right mind would rent from you? This is why it’s super important to channel your inner marketing skills.

Study this sh*t out of your area Airbnb market. Use the best photos. Make sure your prices are strategically set to account for seasonality and local events. Even after you think you’ve got a handle on everything, be prepared to wait patiently.

I’ve got four whole bookings set for the next 9 months. Once reviews (hopefully 5 stars) start coming in, I’m certain the bookings will ramp up.

The Hard Parts

Then, there’s getting a place ready for prime time. In our case, we had purchased a really solid condominium unit that was not much over 10 years old. As they say with houses, “the bones were good.”

That said, the place was used as a Coast Guard rental. The carpet was original, and the walls were beaten up all to hell. There certainly weren’t any improvements that I could see during that first walk through. All original fixtures, and a lot of wear and tear.

Before…

The bottom line is you’ll likely need to put in some good ol’ fashioned elbow grease to get your property ready for vacation rental use. A LOT of elbow grease. Remember, these types of rentals have to be fully furnished (unlike long-term rentals, where tenants furnish the space.)

After…

Conclusion

I’m really enjoying the journey to my early retirement. Over the past three-plus years of the countdown, I’ve come to appreciate all the trouble I can get into outside of a cubicle. Working on homes and managing properties gets me out of a seated-all-day position. I get to produce something tangible.

We’ll see how the Airbnb Experiment goes. I’m optimistic about its potential, but I’m still learning and researching as much as I can before the high season hits this summer. Just this week, I’ve opted to fire up a listing on VRBO.com. Marketing through more than a single channel is never a bad idea.

I’ll leave you with one last bit of advice: More than anything, I’ve learned that early retirement is simply a means to an end. It should never be just an escape from a bad situation. Instead, “early retirement” is best when you use it as a launch pad for big ideas, projects, and hustles that align with your passion. Endless vacations get a little stale after a while.

New York Personal Finance Meet Up

I did not have the opportunity to attend Fincon 2017.  This blog was newly created in April and in all honesty, FinCon was not even on my radar of things to do this year.  After reading the many blog posts about FinCon 2017, I am defiantly going to attend next year’s event in Orlando, Florida.  I was, however, able to attend the New York Personal Finance Meet Up (#NYPFMeetUp).

The New York Personal Finance Meet Up was not a formal convention.  There were not any vendors or presentations.  It was an informal meet-up of people from the RockStar Finance Forum and the FinCon Community.

Most of the people who attended the meet-up were from New York City.  I was one of the few people who came from out of town to attend.  To attend this event, I traveled from my home in Pennsylvania.

When you think of New York City, you normally do not think of it as a place to live if your goal is to reach financial independence or early retirement.  Don’t get me wrong, Manhattan is about making big money.  It is also about spending big money because of the high cost of housing, taxes, transportation, and just about everything else.  The group of people who I met prove that you can reach financial independence while enjoying everything that New York City has to offer.

Prior to attending the event, there were some people who I wanted to meet because I was familiar with them from the financial independence community.  There were others in attendance who I did not know.  The financial independence community is very big and it is hard to read everyone’s work.  As the result of attending the event, I had the opportunity to meet a few new people and am looking forward to reading their blogs in the future.

Stefanie O’Connell

I was the first person to arrive at Tacombi in the Flatiron Section of New York where the meet-up took place.  I was only there for about two minutes and Stefanie O’Connell arrived.  Stefanie asked me if I was there for the blogger meet-up and our conversation took off from there.  Stefanie is a big deal in the financial independence space.  She is a full-time professional blogger and has been at it for 5 years.  She has over 10,000 followers on Twitter and has been featured many times in the financial media.  Stefanie’s target audience is millennial women who want to be as confident with their money as they are in their lives.  Stefanie O’Connell has an impressive blog and is doing a great job at helping her audience reach financial independence.

Chief Mom Officer

The second person to arrive was Liz from Chief Mom Officer.  She did not have to introduce herself because her gravatar is her likeness.  Like me, Liz traveled from out of town to attend this meet-up.  Liz was one of the bloggers who I was looking forward to meeting.  I stumbled upon her blog not long after my own blog was launched.

Even though I am not a mom, I can relate to Liz in other ways.  We both attended college and graduate school the hard way.  We worked full-time jobs in the day and went to school in the evening while managing our other responsibilities.  Liz’s blog is about reaching financial independence, raising her three children, and caring for her husband who has serious health issues.  At first, I was going to write that Liz is a good role model for moms, but she is a great role model for everyone to follow.

I had a great conversation with Liz about blogging and personal finance.  As a new blogger, she gave me some solid information on growing my blog.  We also spoke about her recent experience at FinCon.  She gave me some tips and suggestions for next year’s event.

Big Law Investor

Another personal finance blogger who I was looking forward to meeting was Joshua from Big Law Investor.  As the title of his blog suggests, Joshua is a lawyer and personal finance blogger who is living in New York City.  While Joshua’s blog is about personal finance for lawyers, the principles that he writes about are useful for anyone who wants to achieve financial independence.

Even though I am not a lawyer, I enjoy reading his articles that are written for lawyers.  His posts about the legal profession are objective and educational.  He writes about the challenges that lawyers face in their career, with student loans, and as investors.  I would highly suggest his blog to anyone who is interested in personal finance or is considering attending law school.  It was a pleasure to meet and chat with Joshua.  He is a rising star in the financial independence community.

The Luxe Strategist

It was also a pleasure meeting Luxe from The Luxe Strategist.  She and I launched our blogs around the same time.  We also follow the progress that each other is making.

Luxe was one of the coordinators for this meet-up.  Luxe is living an awesome life in New York City.  She writes about saving 50% of her salary while indulging in the finer things that New York City has to offer.  Who says you cannot have the best of both worlds?  If you want to learn how to have a high savings rate while living a posh lifestyle, check out The Luxe Strategist.

Pleasant Surprises

Again, since there are so many people in the financial independence space, it is hard to know everyone unless you are J. Money.  Another new blogger who I met at this event was Church from My Mattress Money.  I enjoyed chatting with Church.  I am not just saying that because he is a Philadelphia Eagles fan.  He and I had a good conversation about how important it is to first focus on reaching financial independence before considering early retirement.   His blog is about one year old and has some great content about tracking your net worth, insurance, and how his family shaped his views about money.

As the meeting went on, I had some other great conversations.  I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman named David.  We spoke about using Pinterest to grow blog traffic, the optimal frequency for blog posts, and about different personal finance forums.

About 15 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to end, a gentleman named Jack walked over to me and struck up a conversation.  I was not familiar with Jack’s blog because he is not on RockStar Finance.  Jack explained how his blog is about travel hacking.  He also explained to me how he gets to take great trips for almost free by applying travel hacking strategies.  Jack and I exchanged contact information and he has provided me with some solid tips on how to implement these practices.  Thanks, Jack, you rock!

Conclusion

As you can tell from my post, I had an awesome time.  It was great to be able to meet this group of people who are working towards financial independence, helping others, and living exciting lives in New York City.

There was only one part of the evening that I regret.  As my wife and I were walking back uptown to catch our bus home, I realized that I did not get to talk with everyone who attended the meeting.  It was my fault for not taking the time to introduce myself.  It was difficult because there were 15 people at the meeting, the meeting was only 2 hours long, and as you can imagine the conversations with this group of dynamic people went way beyond small talk.  Next time, It will be my priority to talk with everyone who attends.

 

Jim Thorpe: The Gateway to the Poconos

In the middle of October, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Jim Thorpe, Pa.  Even though we only live about one-hour away from Jim Thorpe, neither of us have ever been there.  We were looking to Take a day-trip to see the fall foliage on this sunny Sunday afternoon.  We spoke about a few different local destinations in Pennsylvania and New York, but settled on Jim Thorpe.  We were not disappointed.

Location

Jim Thorpe, Pa is known as the gateway to the Pocono Mountains.  It is in the Lehigh Gorge and is called the Switzerland of America.  It is an easy location to get to from any of the major cities in the northeast.  Jim Thorpe is only a 1.5-hour drive from Philadelphia and a 2-hour drive from New York City.   

History of Jim Thorpe

Guess who Jim Thorpe is named after?  You are correct.  This picturesque little town is named after Jim Thorpe.  Jim Thorpe was a Native American baseball player, football player, and Olympic athlete.  Jim Thorpe was once known as the greatest athlete in the world after winning the gold medal in both the pentathlon and decathlon in the Stockholm Games in 1912. Following the Olympics, he played baseball for the New York Giants baseball team and an early American pro football team, the Canton Bulldogs.   

Jim Thorpe was not from Pennsylvania.  He was from Oklahoma.  After the state of Oklahoma refused to erect a memorial in his honor, Jim’s wife Patricia looked for a different location that would honor him.  At the same time, the town of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were looking for ways to attract new business and tourists to this area.  Patricia made a deal with these two towns where they ended up merging into one town known as Jim Thorpe.  The town purchased the remains of Jim Thorpe and put up a tomb in his honor.  

Fall Foliage Festival

When we arrived in Jim Thorpe, it seemed very crowded.  That was due to the Fall Foliage Festival that was underway.  We were not aware of this event since we decided to drive to Jim Thorpe on a whim.  We were pleasantly surprised, however, to find out that this festival was going on.  We now know that this event is held for 3 weekends every October. 

We had a nice time walking around the festival.  There was plenty of entertainment.  There was live music on four different stages.  We browsed at what the many different vendors had to offer.  We also enjoyed going to the scarecrow contest and voting for our favorite named “Dilly The Fireman”.

Dining

There are over 40 different places to eat in Jim Thorpe.  There is everything from fine dining to street vendors.  For lunch, we went to the famous Molly Maguires Pub & Steakhouse.  My wife had the Veggie Wrap and I had the Bacon Cheeseburger.  It was a simple lunch, but it was very good.  Lunch cost us $28 with a tip.

What to do in Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe has something for almost everyone.

There are plenty of activities for people who love adventure.  The Lehigh River runs through Jim Thorpe and is known for exhilarating whitewater rafting tours.  There are stables for horseback riding.  There is a 700-acre paintball field.  Visitors can even get a tour of Jim Thorpe and surrounding mountains while sitting in a sidecar that is connected to a vintage BMW motorcycle.

If culture is more your thing, Jim Thorpe also has options for the more cosmopolitan tourist.  There is the Mauch Chunk Opera House as well as Penn’s Peak where top acts come to perform in front of 1,800 spectators.  If you are into wine, there are three vineyards.  Jim Thorpe also has vintage clothing stores, local artisan shops, and art galleries for browsing. 

Do you like to take in the beauty of nature?  Jim Thorpe has hiking trails at the Lehigh Valley Gorge State Park.  Visitors can rent a mountain bike and explore the D&L Trail-head.  If you are into kayaking, boating, or fishing, you can visit Mauch Chunk Lake Park.

 

Where to Stay

Jim Thorpe has many different options for lodging.  The town has many historic bed & breakfasts including the Times House B&B.  There is the historic Tim Thorpe Hotel that was built in 1849.  There are also campgrounds that can accommodate RVs.

 

Conclusion

We truly enjoyed the day we spent in Jim Thorpe.  It is unfortunate that we waited so long to visit Jim Thorpe.  Now that we know it is such a nice place, we will be sure to return.  It is easy to see why it is known as one of the most fun, most beautiful, most romantic, and best adventure towns to visit.  If you live in the northeast or are passing through, I recommend visiting this quaint and extremely fun town.

The next time we visit, I might surprise my wife with a weekend getaway.  We have never stayed in a B&B and the few that I checked out look charming.  I am also interested in going for a ride on the BMW motorcycle.

Have you ever visited Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania?

If you have, please share your experience in the comments section below.

 

 

 

NFL Games: Fun, but Expensive

It is the middle of October.  This is my favorite time of year.  The weather has cooled down some. The fall foliage in North Pocono is panoramic.  Pumpkin flavored everything is available.  If you are a football fan, both the college and the NFL seasons are in full swing.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend my annual NFL game.  My friend Chris and I went to the Philadelphia Eagles vs the Arizona Cardinals game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.  While we had a great time, the cost to attend an NFL game is getting more and more expensive every season.

Getting to the Game

It is about 120 miles to drive from where we live in Northeastern Pennsylvania to South Philly.  It costs $20 in gas for the round trip.  That is not too bad.  The shortest and by far the most practical way to drive there is to take the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  That is another $20.  That puts us at $40 in travel expenses.

Parking

The cost to park at the stadium is $40.  In my opinion, that is outrageous.  Yes, we could park outside of the stadium.  While parking at the stadium is expensive, it is also convenient.  If we looked for a spot outside of the sports complex, that would bring up the other issues of safety and theft.  I would rather pay an outrageous price to park than to have my car broken into or even stolen.  There is not a better option than shelling out the $40 to park.

Tickets

I have been to many professional and college sporting events.  At this stage in my life, if I do not have good tickets, I do not want to go.  I have sat with drunks before.  For me, that is not fun.  I want to enjoy the game with limited nonsense from obnoxious fans.

For this game, we had great seats.  We bought Club Level seats from a season ticket holder.  They were expensive but worth it.  A ticket cost $295.00.

Since I just had to buy one ticket, it was not too bad.  For a whole family to attend, that would be an expensive day to watch a football game.  I honestly don’t see it as a practical family outing if you had to buy four or five tickets at that price.

There were not many families sitting in this section.  There were a few, but it appeared to be mostly couples or groups of friends.  That is unfortunate because I have such fond memories of attending NFL games with my father from my childhood.  Yes, you could buy cheaper seats, but do you want your kids subjected to such foul language and drunken antics?

Food

The cost to eat at an NFL game is also pricey.  It is a long game and I get hungry rooting for my team.  Of course, fans are not allowed to bring their own food into the stadium.  The cost of a cheese-steak sub was $9.  That is much more expensive than the local sub shop.  A soda cost $4.50.  I also had the famous Crab Fries from Chickie’s and Pete’s for $10.50.  It cost me $25 for lunch and a half-time snack.  I also bought Chris two hot-dogs for $5 each.

Fortunately for me, I am not a beer drinker.  The cost of a beer is $8.50.  While that seems expensive to me, they still seem to be selling beer in mass quantities.  I watched a guy who was sitting few rows down from where we were sitting drink at least 6.  I hope he was not driving home.

It takes about one hour to get out of the parking following the game.  Instead of fighting with traffic, we hung out at Xfinity Live after the game.  We decided to have dinner there to fuel up for the ride home.  We each had a burger.  It was good and the service was quick considering there were thousands of people there.  The bill came to $35.

Conclusion

Even though it was an expensive day, it is still fun for me.  I normally only go to one game per season.  The Eagles won, so that made it more enjoyable.

It was cool to watch Carson Wentz play well for the Eagles.  It was also neat to see some of the NFL legends who play for Arizona.  I have always enjoyed watching Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer is on my fantasy team.

I hope the prices do not continue to rise, but they most likely will.  Once you get to experience the good seats, the cheap seats are not an option.  I guess that I am guilty of lifestyle creep when it comes to attending a football game.

Some people say that the best seat is at home in front of the hi-definition television.  I agree that technology has made football America’s number one sport to watch on television.   While I do watch more than my share of football on television, there is nothing like the roar of the crowd when the Eagles make a stop on defense or the offense scores a game-winning touchdown.

Do you think that professional sports are pricing themselves out of business?

Please share your thoughts on the increasing costs to attend a sporting event.

London on a Budget: Part 2

(All of the Photos were taken with my iPhone)

In my first London on a Budget post, I wrote about the good deal we received when we booked this trip, what some of our plans were for when we went to London, and how much we planned on spending. Our trip to London has now come and gone. It was an amazing trip. In this post, I am just going to share about some of the highlights from our trip.

Getting to London

I was a little nervous flying to London since it was my first flight across the Atlantic. We flew out of JFK AirPort in New York. The airline that we used was Norwegian Airlines. I highly recommend Norwegian Airlines. The price was great for a direct flight. The crew was friendly and provided the passengers with two meals on a 6-hour flight. They also have a whole new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s. It was the best flight I was ever on. We did not feel the takeoff or landing, the oxygen in the cabin is controlled to prevent jet lag, and the plane automatically adjusts the lighting for day or night flights. It was a pleasurable flight.

Accommodations

We stayed at the Mowbray Court Hotel located in Earls Court. The hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Earls Court Underground Station. The hotel was posh and the staff was helpful. It came with a nice centennial breakfast every morning. The room was clean. Our only complaint was that the room was small.  I am a 210-pound man and barely fit in the shower. Other than that, I would recommend the hotel.

(Big Ben getting ready for repair)

Windsor, Stonehenge, Bath

Our first day trip was to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. We went with Golden Tours. Our tour guide who was named Graham did a great job. At Windsor Castle we saw incredible artwork, many centuries of British history, and impressive architecture. At Stonehenge, it was pouring rain and windy. We just ran up to the circle, took a photo, and ran back to the bus. By time we arrived in Bath, the weather cleared up and it was a sunny afternoon. Bath is a lovely town. We enjoyed walking around the Roman Baths, but enjoyed walking around the city even more. Of the three stops, Bath was our favorite and would return to visit there again.

Paris

Our trip to Paris was special because it was on our 10th wedding anniversary. We traveled to Paris from London on the Eurostar. The trip took about 2 hours. The neat part about the train ride was that it went under the English Channel. The first tour that we took in Paris was a Seine River cruise. It was nice, but raining, so we did not get to go on the top deck of the boat. Our second stop was the Eiffel Tower.  The was my favorite stop in Paris.  Photos do not capture how massive it truly is. Our last stop was the Louvre. The Louvre is a massive compound. We were not able to enter the museum. There was a security issue and they closed the museum for the afternoon. On our drive to the train station, we were able to see the Flame of Liberty Shrine near the tunnel where Princess Diana passed away.  My wife enjoyed that because she was a fan of Princess Diana.

(The Eiffel Tower on a Rainy Day)

The London Eye

I am not fond of heights or long lines of people. My wife did, however, manage to talk me into going on the London Eye. We purchased the express pass and the wait in line took only 20 minutes. I am happy that I agreed and experienced the view from the top of the giant Ferris wheel. From the top, one can take in a view of the whole city of London.  The ride lasts 30 minutes and a single car holds more than 20 people.

(The London Eye)

The London Pass

For our last three days, we purchased the London Pass. There is great value if you use it correctly and take in all the attractions. We did not get value out of the London Pass. We only used it for the Oyster Card to ride the subway and for a boat ride on the Thames River cruise. For our last three days, we wanted to see the city.  We did not want to go on anymore guided tours. While I enjoyed seeing Big Ben and Westminster Abby, I really wanted to go and hang out in Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Notting Hill.

Restaurants

Many people who have been to both London and Paris told me that the food is much better in Paris. While we did enjoy, lunch at the Eiffel Tower, I found the variety of different types of cuisine in London to be outstanding.  We had Chinese in Chinatown, Indian, Turkish, and traditional British pub food. I enjoyed fish and chips at the Punch & Judy. The curry chicken pie at Battersea Pie Station was delicious. My favorite meal was the Tikka Masala at the Masala Zone.

Budget

We did manage to just stay within our budget of keeping the whole trip to under $5,000. The meals were less expensive than I had planned for and the only art we bought was a miniature Mind the Gap sign. With our extra money, my wife did a little shopping at Harrods. The only souvenir that I purchased was a sweatshirt from The London School of Economics. As a finance nerd, it was cool getting to visit the campus and bookstore at LSE.

(The London School of Economics)

Conclusion

While London is an expensive city, it is also a lovely city. It might have been the cleanest city that I have ever visited. For a large city, it also felt safe because of the large police presence. I would love to visit London again, but it might not be soon because of how expensive it is. If you are looking for a trip to celebrate a special occasion, I would highly recommend visiting London for 5 days, take a 1 day trip to Bath, and to take a 1 day trip to Paris. My wife and I both found that mix to be perfect.

London on a Budget

 

In August, my wife and I are traveling to London for our 10th wedding anniversary.  In the past, we have avoided traveling to London because it is one of the most expensive cites in the world.  In October of 2016, as the result of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, we were able to book a trip to London for an amazing price.  We managed to book our trip for only $2,500.  That price included airfare from New York and 7 nights at a 4-star hotel in Kensington.

The first major part of planning the trip is complete.  Now we have to work on establishing a budget.  We will have to budget for food, guided tours, as well as having money for enjoying the city.

Food:

My wife and I are foodies, so exploring the eclectic flavors that London offers is exciting.  Now we need to create a budget for our meals.  When booking the trip, we selected a hotel that included a daily breakfast.  That would save us about $140 for the week.

For lunch, we are going to budget for $30 per day.  We are just planning for sandwiches or kebabs.  We are satisfied with eating lunch at street vendors.

For dinner, we are going to budget for $40 per evening.  Our dinners will mainly consist of going out for Indian or Chinese food.  We also would like to visit a pub for a traditional British meal.  We don’t drink alcohol, so that will save us money.

We will bring our own snacks from home.  We will pack almonds, jerky, protein bars and other snacks. That will cost about $50.  While in London, we will buy fruit or beverages for our hotel room.  We will budget $50 for the snacks and drinks we buy in London.

Guided Tours:

The next section of our budget is for guided tours.  We are planning on enjoying two full-day guided tours.  A large part of our budget will be spent on these tours.

Our first tour is to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath.  My wife is excited to see the English countryside.  This tour will cost a total of $202.

Our second tour is an anniversary gift to my wife.  It is a one day guided tour of Paris.  It includes the Eurostar passes, Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, and Seine River Cruise.  This tour will cost $620.  It is expensive, but it is a special occasion.

Pocket Money:

The rest of our vacation will be spent exploring London.  We will visit all of the tourist hot spots.  I want to go to Piccadilly Circus.  My wife wants to see Big Ben.  We will also go on a bus tour of the city.  I have gone on bus tours in other cities and you do get a good feel for a city that way.  We will budget about $400 for roaming around the city.

We don’t tend to buy too many souvenirs when we travel.  We do buy street art when we find something we like.  A painting is a souvenir that lasts forever.  We will budget $300 to be safe.

Total Budget:

Our total budget adds up to about $2100.  That is most likely on the high side.  It is our 10th anniversary, so I am not going to focus too much on the budget.  This trip is just about having fun and celebrating our special occasion.   I am happy, however, with the thought of enjoying a fun-filled week in London for under $5K total.

Note: If you are interested in reading about how everything went on this trip, please check out London on a Budget: Part 2.

Knoebels Amusement Resort

If you live in the Northeast and enjoy amusement parks, you should consider visiting Knoebels Amusement Resort.  My wife and I recently had the opportunity to visit this gem of a park located in Elysburg, Pennsylvania for a family outing.  Knoebels Amusement Resort is a wonderful park nestled in the Endless Mountains in Central, Pennsylvania.  Knoebels is located about 13 miles off Interstate-80.  It is about a 3-hour drive from New York City, a 2-hour drive from Philadelphia, a 4.5-hour drive from Washington D.C., and a 6-hour drive from Boston.

Most amusement parks are no longer a frugal option for families to enjoy.  The average cost for a general admission ticket to enter a popular theme park ranges from $80 to well over $100.  Some parks now require reservations to go on rides.  They charge to park, there are extra costs for shows, and the prices for refreshments are astronomically expensive.

Knoebels Amusement Resort is a throwback to the amusement parks of the past.  It is the largest free-admission park in America.  You can buy tickets for the rides that you want to go on or you can buy a pass that allows unlimited access to all the parks rides.  Parking is free.  All the many different shows and exhibits are also free.

Food

There is a picnic grove that is free to use if you decide to bring your own food.  The picnic grove has free electricity.  There are coin-operated gas stove tops to rent or you can bring your own grill.  Refrigeration is available if reserved.  Pets are allowed.  Coolers are allowed.  Alcohol is not allowed at the picnic grove because it is a family-friendly environment.

There are many different dining options.  The Alamo Restaurant offers entrees, sandwiches, and gluten-free options.  The Nickel Plate Bar & Grill serves alcoholic beverages as well as great burgers and hot wings.  There are also many different snack stands around the park if you want to grab something quick to eat while you are on the move.  There is a Nathans Hotdog Stand, Cesari’s Pizza, an ice cream shop, and even a Starbucks.

The cost of food sold at the park is reasonable as well as very tasty.  The New York-style pizza at Cesari’s was delicious.  A large cheese pizza only cost $17.

Rides

Knoebels opened in 1926.  It has been family owned for over 90 years.  Many of the rides at Knoebels have won awards.  Knoebels was voted by The Travel Channel as one of the Top-10 family-friendly parks in America.  Knoebels currently has a 4.5-star rating based on over 1,800 reviews on Tripadvisor.com.

There is no shortage of rides at Knoebels.  There are currently more than 60 rides.  New rides are added almost every year.

There are rides for every age group.  There is a carousel from 1913 that is fun for almost everyone.  There is a spooky, yet family-friendly Haunted Mansion Dark Ride that was featured on the Discovery Channel.  Knoebels is also famous for its two wooden roller coasters named the Twister and the Phoenix.  The Phoenix wooden roller coaster is consistently ranked by Amusement Today magazine as one of the best wooden roller coasters.  I found the Phoenix to be intense.

My wife and I are not hard-core when it comes to rides.  Our favorite ride is the Scenic Skyway.  The Scenic Skyway is a 14-minute ski-lift that climbs a mountain next to the park.  This ride is great if you are into seeing panoramic mountain views.  It is a nice ride to take some photographs.

Camping

Knoebels has a large campground with a few options.  The campground is ideal for visitors who want to stay and enjoy the park for more than one day.  There are campsites for tents as well as campers.  There are also rustic Cozy Log Cabins as well as the Eagles Roost Units that offer more amenities.   The campground is open from April 15th to November 1st.

Golf

If golf is your game, a quarter of a mile from the park is the Three Pond Golf Course.  The Three Pond Golf Course is an 18 hole, par-71 course, that is broken into two 9-hole courses.  There is a discount to play this course for those who are staying at Knoebels Campground.

Swimming

If you want a break from the great rides, go for a swim to cool down.  There is the gigantic Crystal Pool as well as a kiddie pool if you want to swim or relax poolside.  You can purchase a daily pass or even a pass for the whole season.  Group discounts are also available.

Shopping

If shopping is your passion, there are many different shops to browse around in.  There is the General Store that specializes in old fashion country charm.  The park has a variety of different apparel shops that specialize in Knoebel’s hats, shirts, and other souvenirs. There are even different media stores to have custom photos and videos made for your visit.

Attractions

Knoebels has other fun attractions.

Have you ever seen a Bald Eagle?  There are currently two at the Bald Eagle Preserve.  There are daily educational sessions at 2 pm.

Knoebels also has a few museums.  There is a Carousel Museum with 50 carousel figures that date back to 1870.  The mining museum has tools and artifacts from Pennsylvania’s rich mining history.  There is even a Knoebels Museum that provides a detailed history of the park.

If you are looking for a cool place to hang out, enjoy a round miniature golf under the shaded pine trees.

There are also many arcades, a Laser Command game with a full obstacle course, multiple theaters, and other fun activities.

Conclusion

There is truly something for everyone at Knoebels Amusement Resort.  We had a great day.  The rides were fun and reasonable.  The food was tasty and affordable.  The park was not overly crowded like many of the big theme parks.  It is simply a nice park that provides affordable family fun.  In our group, everyone from the kids, to the parents, to the seniors had a great time at the park.

Have you ever been to Knoebels Amusement Resort?  If you have, please share your experience in the comment section.