#5TF: August Recap

Five Thought Friday Challenge:  Week 10 – August 26 – September 1, 2017

This is the final week of my Five Thought Friday Challenge. Having a writing prompt has definitely helped me make sure I post something at least once a week and it’s been a great way for me to really think about my everyday life, those little things that we sometimes forget on the way to life’s bigger adventures. It has been fun so who knows, maybe this winter will bring with it some other writing theme. For now though, it’s time to gear up for travel season.

But first, our August recap…

We made progress on our walking/hiking goal by adding 48.2 more miles to the total. We also completed our goal to find 100 letterboxes this year. For the month as a whole, we decluttered 11 more items, giving us a total of 707 items this year. We earned $223.90 in side hustles. $65 of that was from selling 2 items on OfferUp. We enjoyed 61 meatless meals (or 20 completely meat free days) and picked up 50 of our 62 free bagels from Panera this month. (I love bagels but I sincerely hope they pick someone else for a free month of bagels for the rest of this year. We’re a bit bageled out!)

Though we’re no longer tracking “no spend days”, we do still try to stay within our budget each month. For August, we saved 15% of our income toward retirement and investments. 48% went to essential living expenses (rent, utilities, and insurance). 10% was allocated to paying off my student loan. 21% was spent on groceries, household goods, and transportation (not including a car repair). 6% went to gifts and entertainment.

I don’t know about you but zero-sum budgeting sometimes makes me feel broke (since there’s no dollar floating around out there without a dedicated purpose – no mad money, if you will, beyond what’s been designated as such) but it’s also the best way I know to ensure we stay on track with our financial goals. I have 2 student loans to pay off before the end of this year and I intend to get there. To do that though, we need to revisit the amount of money we spend enabling others. Or rather, we simply need to revisit the whole “enabling others” scenario. We spent $120 this month on gas and groceries for other people. For some that may not seem like a lot but for us, it represents about 5% of our overall budget.

One thing I really enjoyed this week was visiting Rock Island State Park. With the exception of getting eaten alive by chiggers (again!), we had a great time picnicking, hiking, letterboxing, and taking in the views of 3 stunning waterfalls. The best part though – our cell phones had no service for most of the day, which gave us a chance to really unplug and enjoy our time away. I wish we could have taken a dip in one of the swimming holes but it started to rain and we didn’t want to chance slipping on the steep trail leading down to the river. You can read more about our adventure here.

I am grateful for good neighbors. Judy has been my mom’s neighbor and friend for 20 years now. She’s a great person who has helped my mom a lot over the years, from watching her cat, Daisy, to bringing her medicine when she was sick. Last weekend, she let us borrow her lawnmower to cut the grass. Thank goodness, because it has rained almost every day since then! She also connected us with someone who could repair our mower on-site at a reasonable price. (Sadly this means we did not get to ride the mower uptown dressed in costumes on Saturday.)

Speaking of repairs…

I need to let go of the fear of failure or rather, the fear of messing things up if you make a mistake. We like to pride ourselves in being hands-on DIYers. We’ve tackled toilets, installed floors, and once even renovated a 30-year-old camping trailer, including the wiring! So why did I second guess myself this week in repairing our car? Because it’s new(ish) and I didn’t want to mess it up if I was wrong. So we took it to the shop and as it turns out – I was right. There was a crack in the coolant reservoir tank. To fix it ourselves would have been $60 for the parts and about an hour of our time. To have Firestone fix it – $299 – and they had to keep it overnight. Let’s just say – this was an expensive lesson learned!

Ticky’s hula shorts

The funniest thing that happened this week was when Ticky came over on Monday with her little friend Gracie. Having two 2-year-olds running around the apartment was entertaining enough but watching them play dress-up with my night clothes and a basket of shoes would have made even a stone statue crack a smile. Ticky found a pair of striped shorts that I’d laid out and asked Angie to put them on her (which she did). For a while, she paraded around with her “hula skirt” on, managing not to trip on the length. When she discarded the shorts and ran off to other things, I thought it would be okay for me to put them on. Oh no! Ticky grabbed the hem and tried to pull the shorts down and then tried pulling them from the waistband. “My pants,” she said. “Can I borrow them?” I asked. She answered with that simple little word made famous by all 2-year-olds – NO – so needless to say, I had to change clothes. (Photographing children is like photographing wildlife. They move so fast, you often get just a blur. This is the best photo I could get of Ticky wearing my shorts.)

As I mentioned above, travel season is about to begin. The garden is coming to an end and our lawn chores are slowing down so it’s time to go out and have some fun. In addition to our road trip and cruise in October, we are planning a few Fall camp-outs, another visit to the beach, several meetups with family throughout the country, and we’ll be at the Tennessee Tiny House Festival next weekend. It sounds busy but it’s not. Every trip is an opportunity to relax, unwind, and enjoy the great company of friends. We’re looking forward to every adventure we have planned for Fall.

How was your August? Were you able to cross any items off your happiness bucket list?

Breaking up with Airbnb

It doesn’t always pay to be cheap. For example, when your idea of backpacking is carrying a light jacket, a book, and a bottle of water on a walk around the neighborhood, a hostel is probably not a good choice for a week-long vacation. If you’re afraid of strangers, couchsurfing is also a definite no-no. But mostly when you’re over 40 and carrying a 32″ duffel bag full of clothes, hammocks, snacks, and laptops, choosing an Airbnb in a third floor walk-up is a bad idea. Choosing an Airbnb in a third floor walk-up with bunk beds is an even worse idea. Choosing an Airbnb in a third floor walk-up with bunk beds in a scary neighborhood is decidedly the worst idea ever.

Yes, that’s what we did. And we probably would have stayed except for the floor…and the door…and the smell…and maybe the view. Okay, from the minute we walked in to our Baltimore Airbnb, I knew we weren’t going to stay.

We chose our accommodations very carefully…just like we always do…weighing the pros and cons, along with the price. We knew going in that this particular rental was on the third floor. We also knew it was in an older building and that there were bunk beds (and an airbed). To top that off, we even knew that it was near a bad neighborhood. Given the price, we thought we could deal with those things, plus the reviews were outstanding. More than 100 folks gave it 5 stars and a good majority of the comments talked about how neat and clean the place was. It’s important to note here that CLEAN is a requirement for us.

I’m not sure how other people define clean but if a hotel floor was as stained as the floor in this Airbnb, it wouldn’t even have a 1 star rating! Yes, the linens were clean, the towels were clean, and the host had made an effort to get it ready for us, but when the first things you see are basketball sized stains in the carpet and baseboards so thick with dust that they were outlined in black, nothing else really matters.

In case you’re wondering about the other things I listed above – the front door wouldn’t open. It took us jiggling the key for 10 minutes to get inside. In this neighborhood, I thought a quick entry might be important. The smell – old building, mixed with stale air. The view – a 360 degree panorama of the aforementioned bad neighborhood.

That night we went to dinner at Ruby Tuesday and spent the entire meal online looking for a better place to stay. We ended up at the Holiday Inn, at 50% off the rack rate thanks to Hotwire. It’s a pretty swanky place…with a Keurig in every room and pillows labeled “soft” and “firm”. They even have a full hot breakfast and free cookies in the evening. Most importantly, it’s clean.

Yes, we’ve become one of “those people”.

I used to think my grandparents were old fuddy-duddies because they always traveled with their own pillows, their own coffee, and for a while, even their own toaster. Now I realize, their travels weren’t about trying to escape their home or their routine. They were out to see new things and they didn’t want to detract from the experience by being uncomfortable on someone else’s lumpy pillow, drinking someone else’s bitter coffee while eating someone else’s burnt toast.

This isn’t our first bad experience with cheap accommodations but I can guarantee it will be our last. Not because we’ve suddenly decided price isn’t important but because we’ve learned a more valuable lesson. It’s important that your travels become an extension of your everyday life, otherwise every trip will be miserable. If you don’t tent camp in your own home state, you’re not going to like tent camping in another one. (We learned that lesson last summer.) If you sleep in a queen-sized bed at home so you can snuggle your significant other, bunk beds make for a very long night. And if you can eat off your own floor at home, you’re definitely not going to like spending a week in a place you’re afraid to walk around in with socks on.

What about you? Have you had a bad experience with a hotel or Airbnb? What happened?