Saturday, July 14, 2018

Sometimes You Gotta Get Away: Our Mini-Vacation to Colorado

I went into this summer knowing that even with our deep-seated commitment to our financial goals, we were eventually going to want to get out of town. See some new sights. Traverse some new trails. Try some new beer. Spend some money.

Sure enough, we started getting antsy for a break in mid-June. Obliterating our credit card debt gave us the perfect excuse to celebrate with a mini-vacation. We decided that for just one month, we'd pay the bare minimums on our student loans and use our remaining disposable July income for a much-anticipated getaway, one that would give us a breather from our debt repayment and the daily grind. 

The destination: the mountains of Colorado


We hemmed and hawed for weeks about our destination. Our requirements: it had to be beautiful and within a day's drive (flying was out of the question due to time and financial constraints), and it couldn't be too hot. We considered New Mexico and coastal California before settling on southwestern Colorado and the breathtaking, cloud-skimming peaks of the San Juan Mountains. Fortysomething and I spent time there while I was in college, and we've been wanting to go back for years. Our only concern was that the area was being ravaged by the 416 wildfire, which ultimately burned more than 54,000 acres. With rain in the forecast, we took a chance and decided to go anyway (our gamble paid off: by the time we got there, the fires were largely out thanks to the tireless efforts of fire crews).

The San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado

Five days of R&R


Day 1: After an uneventful six-hour road trip, we arrived in the laid-back creekside town of Durango and treated ourselves to a sushi dinner followed by homemade mulberry crumble ice cream (the sushi was okay; the ice cream was scrumptious: creamy vanilla ice cream streaked through with crunchy crumble topping and fat, fresh, tart berries). We moseyed along Main Street and peeked into shops before heading to the store to stock up on groceries and get gas. 

Durango Main Street. It was decked out with HERO signs for the firefighters.
Then we ventured up the highway to our rental, a vacation condo that we booked for three nights through VRBO. Tucked away into the mountainside, it offered a secluded retreat that was still central to everything we wanted to see and do. It featured two bedrooms, access to a swimming pool, amazing views, and a fully-equipped kitchen, allowing us to prepare some of our own meals instead of depending entirely on restaurant food.

Views near our rental
Day 2: We explored the old mining town of Silverton, where we had lunch at a sandwich shop (three sandwiches plus soda = $38...) and admired the Hardrock 100 ultramarathon rock (shown below in all its glory). Free things to do in Silverton are kind of limited, so we hopped back into the car, toodled around, and eventually found ourselves at Andrew's Lake, a gorgeous spot with hiking trails and fishing access. It would have been easy to spend an entire day there, but the troops got tired and cranky so we returned to the condo for a swim.

Silverton, CO: elevation 9,318 feet
Long-distance runners will understand the significance of this painted rock,
which graces Silverton's main street
Andrew's Lake was one of our favorite stops of the entire trip
Day 3: The Kiddo planned our schedule that morning and chose a diesel-powered train ride. In all honestly, this was really not my thing: the train was crowded with people who seemed to lack a basic understanding of personal space, and the whole setup was pretty kitschy. Plus, it was insanely expensive... like, Disney-level expensive (I said yes to the idea before fully evaluating the cost). But we did see some gorgeous whitewater rapids, and the Kiddo enjoyed himself immensely... so I'll call it a win. Afterwards, we drove back to Durango, visited the fish hatchery (it's free!), strolled along the bike path, had homemade tacos full of fresh local ingredients at Zia Taqueria, and enjoyed a few pints at Ska Brewing. (Did I mention that we absolutely love, love, love Durango?)

I'm comfortable dangling this close to the edge of a bridge.
I am not comfortable being this close to so many people.
View from the bike path in Durango
The SuperTaco at Zia Taqueria in Durango was perfection
Day 4: We checked out of the condo and drove north to Ouray, known as the "Switzerland of America" because it's surrounded on three sides by impressively steep mountains. Before we were married, Fortysomething and I spent several days here holed up in a hotel room during a snowstorm. It was very romantic. You can imagine, then, that my memories were of the rose-colored-glasses variety. What we found as we re-acquainted ourselves with our old haunt was a town that, while still charming, seems somewhat tired and worn despite its eyebrow-raising price tags. The vibe was just... off somehow. Whereas Durango felt cheerful and energetic, Ouray felt like it was in need of a nice long nap.

The Kiddo proudly took this shot of Ouray
We ditched the crowds of Ouray and went to the next town over for a picnic lunch in a tree-shaded park. Later, we enjoyed a taco dinner at the delectable Taco del Gnar. Important side note: I would happily eat tacos every day at every meal for the rest of my life.

We stayed at a Comfort Inn that night and... I kind of wish we hadn't. It was fine, but at $155 a night, it was just too expensive. On the plus side, it did come with a full breakfast.

Day 5: I got up early to run at the track in downtown Ouray, and then we packed up the car to leave. A highlight of the trip home was a foray through Monument Valley, which is particularly spectacular when the monsoon clouds start rolling in.

Monument Valley

Breaking down the budget (and what we'll do differently next time)


Last summer, one of my big financial wins was taking a cross-country trip on the cheap. This trip was... not as budget-friendly. In the interest of full disclosure, here's a complete tally of our trip expenses:

Accommodations: $744 
Gas: $53.60
Food (including groceries and restaurants): $396.69
Activities and souvenirs: $188.71
Cat boarding: $102
Total: $1485

We exceeded our trip budget by more than $300, but instead of beating myself up about it (why ruin a perfectly enjoyable vacay by lamenting the budget in retrospect?), I'm just going to consider what we'll do differently next time:

  • The condo rental was comfortable and cozy, and I'm glad we stayed there. In the future, though, we'll pay more attention to fees that get tacked onto the initial cost. For example, the condo was listed at a reasonable $129/night, but the total price was jacked up thanks to an automatic $100 cleaning fee and a $57 service fee.
  • When (not if!) we go back to the glorious San Juans, we'll probably bring our camping gear and camp for a couple of nights to save money. I can handle that. Plus, now we know where the good local camping spots are.
  • We'll try to avoid expensive one-night hotel stays during the tourist season.
  • While I certainly want the Kiddo to help plan our activities and excursions, I'll research costs in more detail before saying yes to what he wants to do.

Thankfully, although we went over budget, it didn't break the bank and we didn't accrue any credit card debt in the process. We had some financial flexibility on this trip, and it felt rather luxurious. I can't remember the last time I went on vacation and didn't low-key panic about what we were doing to our finances.

In short, I couldn't have asked for a better vacation. Sure, I wish it had been longer, but we packed a surprising amount of activity and relaxation and fun into just a few days. I have a feeling that this trip is going to be a meaningful one for my family, one all three of us will remember fondly and talk about for years. 

In that sense, it was worth every single penny.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Our July 2018 Budget and Credit Card Zero Celebration!

First: We did it! We paid off the credit cards!



I'm still in semi-disbelief, but the credit card balances are now ALL at zero. The big moment happened the day before Independence Day:


Actually, it almost *didn't* happen, because the bonus we'd been planning to use for the final payoff didn't show up when it was supposed to. I got impatient, dragged the money over from our emergency fund, and insisted that we eliminate the remaining $1500 anyway. Boom! (Bonus arrived today, so I replenished the e-fund.)

The fact that we managed to meet this milestone, and well before we ever expected to, feels shocking in an is-this-really-happening (or as my former therapist would have coached me, did-we-really-make-this-happen) sort of way. It hasn't sunk in yet. Credit cards have been my ball-and-chain financial reality for so long that the idea of existing without carrying a balance seems... outside the realm of my understanding. And yet here we are!

July budget: Paying the minimums while we go have fun


As we mentioned a couple of posts ago, we're taking the month of July off from intensive debt repayment to celebrate our credit card win. This means that we'll be paying nothing beyond the minimums on our two student loans.  The rest of our disposable income will be used for a mini-vacation to the mountains and some kitchen supplies. 

Vacay means contending with the following expenses:
  • The cat needs to be boarded (because our friends are all away or not interested in hauling themselves across town to feed our charming little beast)
  • We need vacay lodging (I rented a somewhat reasonably-priced place through VRBO)
  • We'll be going out to eat more (but we'll also be eating meals at home in the rental)
  • We'll be doing some fun and not-free activities
Repeating to myself: I will keep it in budget. I will keep it in budget. I will keep it in budget.

Anyway, here's the July plan in all its messy glory.

July 2018 Budget:

Recurring Fixed Expenses:
  • Rent: $2100
  • Student loans: $650 
  • Phone bill: $78
  • Internet: $65
  • Auto and renter's insurance: $73
  • Thousand Trails: $108
  • Netflix: $13
Recurring Variable Expenses: 
  • Utilities: $180 (darn air conditioner... but it's been necessary the last couple of weeks)
  • Groceries: $800 (don't say it... I already know)
  • Gas in car: $150 (higher this month since we'll be road tripping)
  • Very Expensive Feline: $170 (boarding + vet fees - I am probably overestimating this)
  • Miscellaneous: $390
One-Time Expenses:
  • Vacation + home supplies: $1100
Total budget for July 2018: $5,877
Disease Called Debt

Sunday, July 1, 2018

June Goals: Win Some, Lose Some

June didn't work out quite the way I'd planned. Oh well.


I'm starting to think that unless we're making financial goals - on the whole, we're pretty good at meeting those - I should stop making goals at all. Or perhaps a better approach would be to label things as goals AFTER I've achieved them, similar to the way in which I create to-do lists that consist mostly of tasks I've already completed so that I get the satisfaction of crossing them off.

I don't think I'm doing goals or lists correctly. Can anyone relate?


Here's how I did with my June goals:

(1) Dry June: You may recall that I decided to stop drinking for a month. It was a really good idea for multiple reasons, one being that May was boozy and my liver needed a break. Unfortunately, this effort was a total failure. Okay, not a total failure: I made it about two weeks without imbibing. Then Anthony Bourdain died. I'm not sure why his passing hit me so hard; I've always liked him and respected his work, but I've never been one to get obsessed with celebrities. Like when Prince died, I just did. not. understand. why some of my friends were so upset about the death of someone they'd never met. Now I get it.

Anyway, Anthony Bourdain's death seemed to warrant a toast consisting of several beers. Right after that, the shitty news really hit the fan: I was beside myself upon reading that kids were being separated from their parents at the Mexico/U.S. border. And then the end of June brought the revelation that a Supreme Court justice is leaving, possibly endangering Roe vs. Wade... I'd already been panicking about the state of the country, but this month really put that panic into overdrive. Cue that glass of wine with dinner.

In short, I didn't meet the goal. On the other hand, I did drink significantly less than I did in May, so... yay?

New approach: instead of cutting out the booze completely, I'm going to adopt the approach of only drinking on the weekend. That's a goal I can meet.

(2) Paying off Credit Card #3: We planned to pay off our last credit card by the end of June, thanks to a handful of bonuses, a side hustle, and a family gift. As of today, we have a balance of $1500, but we'll pay that off tomorrow when the last bonus hits our bank account. So we didn't meet the goal exactly on time, but... we're still meeting the goal. I'm calling this a win.

(3) Increase in running mileage: This was not a clear, set June goal. I made it up just now. Turns out that I was super consistent throughout all of June, hitting the trails five days a week and logging a total of nearly 150 miles. My highest-mileage week was 40 miles. I suspect the fact that this was a difficult month played a role here, too. Running helps me process and compartmentalize information, and I was in serious need of processing and compartmentalizing. Running helps calm my mind, and since my mind seems to be in a constant state of worry these days, I'm running more.

I also worked on my goal to be more involved in the running community. I volunteered with the Couch-to-5K group on most weeks, except last week when I had to get my kid to soccer practice. I'll be volunteering with this program again in the fall.

Goals for July (if I dare to make them)




My main goal for July is to just enjoy it. I think I can handle that. Next week we're heading out of town for a mini-vacation, and I can't wait. I need a change of scenery. We're taking our son to a place in the mountains where Fortysomething and I have some history and where I feel inspired. When we come home, we'll be outfitting our house with some much-needed kitchen gear. What we won't be doing this month is obsessing about our debt: we'll make the minimum payments on the student loans, but other than that, our disposable income will be used for fun stuff. 

That said, another July goal will be to develop a strategy for debt repayment moving forward. Do we put the student loans on the back burner and build our emergency fund? Do we blaze forward with the loans and leave our little emergency fund as is? Do we try to split the difference? We need some time to think it through.

Lastly, running goals: I'd like to ramp up my mileage a little more (mostly via longer long runs) and select an ultrarun for the fall. For some reason, I've been very hesitant to actually sign up for a race, but given that I'm doing all this training, I need to go for it.

What about you? How did you do with your June goals, and what are your goals for July (if you do goals)? 

Sometimes You Gotta Get Away: Our Mini-Vacation to Colorado

I went into this summer knowing that even with our deep-seated commitment to our financial goals, we were eventually going to want to get...