February 2019 IWSG


December Goals
Finish any last minute planning I have for Paris/Egypt/Berlin.
  - You can always do more planning.
Finish Christmas shopping and wrapping.
– Pack and prep for travel. (Including cleaning before we leave and blog prep.)
  - Missed the January IWSG post. :(
  - Also missed my New Years resolution post. (It was half written but not scheduled until we got back.)
  + wrote reviews for finances, books read, and year.
  - Didn't finish making store returns before leaving.
Review my year.

Additional Successes
• BEING SOCIAL.
  + Work party for Justin. (And somehow managed to pull together an outfit last minute!)
  + Getting together with friends before traveling. (But hey! There was pizza, gelato, and wine. Being social is pretty good when you include those things!)
  + Spending all day with my sister-in-law on Christmas eve despite needing to clean, plan, and pack.
  + Hosting the family Christmas eve dinner. While packing and planning.
  + Then being existent right before our flight for a family Christmas breakfast.
  + A loud wedding in Egypt with people I don't know very well.
  + Then three days of tours, two with people I was suppose to "know" and get along with, one with a group of people I will never see again.
  + A tour of Berlin with friends after a week of traveling … when I was tired, stressed, and feeling like I was not able to keep up with the group mentally or physically.
• But then there were those moments when I was able to add incite to a political or philosophical conversation. (Does photoshop really alter the reality of a photograph? Is the use of the word "girl" when speaking of a woman condescending across different cultures? Or, alternatively, does "mådschen" auf Deutsch have the same meaning as the word "girl" in English? … Does racism exist outside of the United States? Is it an issue we need to conquer globally rather than just locally?)
• Getting French Christmas lights to put on our Christmas tree for Christmas 2019! (It's been a goal for a couple of years.)
• Trying Mexican food in Germany… 😳
• Getting a flight to Sharm-el-Sheikh after weeks and weeks of trying and failing. AND getting to pay in Egyptian pounds so we saved $$.
• Paying off the car. YAY!
• Finding a hat that is cute and will keep my head warm. (Harder than it sounds in a typically warm climate.)
• Hiding my chest/neck in Egypt while not being too hot. And coming across as Egyptian in some circumstances! (I'm pretty conservative for American standards, but I never really worry about whether my neck or the insinuation of cleavage is covered, like when wearing a V-neck top.)
• Getting most of my image files transferred to my new DROBO.
• Learning how to haggle in Egyptian markets. We were still taken advantage of, but it gives you a totally new perspective on the "worth" of an item and how not to get emotionally involved.
• Translating a LONG Christmas card with help from google translate and writing a response auf Deutsch.

February Goals
– Plan and prep for April A-Z.
– Write a financial monthly review post.
– Finish with the DROBO back up. And talk to Justin about how to access files from outside the home.
– List one more item on Poshmark.

IWSG Question –– Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

PHOTOGRAPHY! I love challenging myself to get better. I feel like a good image can enhance the words I share on my blog.

I've experimented with drawing, sculpting, singing (2 years), and playing an instrument (the cello, 3 years). 

I keep going back to the written word because there are so many nuances to it. I can say the same word and add an exclamation point to give it a different meaning. Or I can italicize it. Bold it. Use different words around that one word. If I sing a cuss word, maybe it will sound less harsh? And then there is the complication of translating the word so that it is easier for speakers of other languages to understand. If I say "Achoo!" in text, you might think I have sneezed, but perhaps I am just describing something that sounds like a sneeze? Or maybe, to someone who speaks another first language, the sound is similar to something they are familiar with that I may not be as familiar with?

And the challenge with photographer is getting the image right. How do you capture the scene exactly as you remember it? How do you get the colors just so? And what about all of those power lines? Light coming from underneath might look scary while outdoor lighting is very different from indoor lighting. And then trying to tell a story without words? How do you compel a viewer to look at your image for longer than a few seconds?

While having many creative outlets gives me new and interesting challenges, I do wonder if it prevents me from perfecting myself in any one area? Perhaps if I focused all of my time and energy on writing, specifically, I could be a better writer? Or maybe photography is where my focus needs to be? … And how do creatives feel about life influencing your creative outlets? Maybe if you weren't exposed to a foreign language, you wouldn't be as thoughtful about the words you were using in your stories?

Anyway, creativity is complicated.

Your Turn

What creative outlets do you have? Do you think giving yourself the flexibility to focus creative energy in many areas helps you? Or does it keep you from perfecting your ability in one specific area? Are non-creative aspects of life helpful in expanding your creativity?

Click here to learn more and
link up with IWSG!

Monthly Financial Update: January 2019


In December, when reviewing my finances for 2019, I mentioned my desire to look at them on a monthly basis in 2019. Justin and I spent a little too much in 2018 and let our finances get the best of us. Maybe by looking at our finances monthly (and letting you guys/gals keep me in check), we will do better this year. That's the goal anyway.

So, here we go …

Spending:

green - this year; yellow - last year

Where We Spent Our Money:

Top 10 Locations
1. Marriott - 6 nights + food/drinks + souvenirs/stamps
2. Progressive - 6 months car insurance
3. Hyatt - 2 nights + entertainment + food/drink
4. Sheraton - 2 nights + food/drink
5. DHL - 2 shipments to the US
6. Chase Card Membership - Sapphire Reserve
7. Nile Airlines - flight from Sharm-El-Sheikh to Cairo
8. Kroger - groceries
9. Egypt Group Tour - with wedding party
10. Electricity

Top 10 Categories
1. Travel - hotels, taxis, flight, checked luggage
2. Food and dining
3. Auto & transport - car wash, public transportation, gas, floor mats, batteries for the fob, car insurance
4. Shopping - books, clothes, gifts, souveniers
5. Bills & Utilities - engineering dues, electricity, cell phone, email
6. Entertainment - museums, tours
7. DHL shipping
8. Fees & Charges - interest, transfer fees
9. Uncategorized - haven't figured it out yet!
10. Personal Care - dry cleaning, hair cuts
11. Financial - life insurance

(compared to last year)

Here's where I think we can improve:
• Obviously we won't be traveling in February (that I know of), so spending will decrease there.
• As a result of not traveling, food/dining, shopping, shipping (business services), and gifts should also decrease.
• Auto care might go up, because we need to get Justin's tires looked at and change the oil.
• I've gotten everything dry cleaned that needed to be after our trip, so the next time that will come up will be at the end of winter (April, May, June).

February is usually our least expensive month. We will see if that holds true this year. We are pretty motivated to get back on track with paying down debts at this time of year. The only unexpected expense I foresee is taxes.

Net Income:


It's a bit of a shocker to me that we haven't spent more than we made this month yet.

Debt



Our interest and transfer fees, as well as overall credit card debt, is up. We just paid for six months of car insurance, so I'm hoping this is just a fluke and that I will see a decrease next month. But that's why I'm tracking my debt here. Ideally, if it is not a fluke, I will see that it isn't and be able to work to correct it.


Luckily, student loan debt and our car loan are both down. And actually the car loan is paid off!! WOOT! Just before the car hit 100,000 miles. The student loan payoff date (according to Mint) is 11/1/22, one month earlier than it was last month. (It's my opinion that Mint is wrong based on what I've seen on the student loan websites, but I'm willing to give Mint the benefit of the doubt on this one. Please be correct Mint!!!)

Numbers:
* Loan Payoff Date 11/1/22
* Emergency Funds: $8936
* Credit Scores: 764 (Justin), 781 (me)
* Car loan paid off! YAY!!!
* Investments at -60.28% (Only slightly worse at .04% than a month ago.)

Overview of the Biggest Impacts This Month
1. Travel to Europe and Egypt
2. Car insurance
3. Bonuses!
4. Paying off car.
5. Transfer fees.

What went wrong this month?
1. Buying winter clothing because it was on sale.
2. Buying souvenirs and gifts. And then having to pay extra to ship them home … or for checking them at the airport.
3. Not sharing meals while overseas. Food costs were high this month!
4. Trying to use an expiring gift card on Amazon that ended up not going through, so they used our credit card instead. :(
5. Transfer fees. If we didn't have debt, this wouldn't be a problem.

What went right this month?
1. Paying off the car!!
2. Spending extra time looking at our finances and working out some goals for 2019.
3. Spending time with friends we otherwise might not have seen this year. Even if it cost us more.
4. Buying winter clothes on sale, because ideally I won't need to buy them at full price next time I travel somewhere in the winter.
5. Buying hard-to-get goods in other countries, because who knows when I will be back?

Financial plans/goals for next month?
1. Spend less on food.
2. Decide which clothes I want to return and do so.
3. Look at the Chase Sapphire Preferred and see if it is a card we can cancel.
4. Purchase Starbucks giftcards from Wal Greens using Chase Freedom to get 5% back and save on our morning Starbucks tea/coffee (and beat traffic into the city).
5. Try to spend less in February than we did in January and less than we did last February '18.

Anyway, that's where we stand. Will you be tracking your finances monthly? Will you help me stay on track this year? I'd love it if you would!

Thoughts on Egypt/Berlin 2019 A-Z


To get a better grasp of my recent travels, I decided to write up a little overview in A-Z form. Maybe it will play a part in the upcoming April A-Z challenge? Or maybe not. Either way, this post is mostly for me, but I would love to have your thoughts too! I did include a delicious recipe for lemon with mint that I recommend you try!

A. Anxiety was the name of the game for this trip. The side of me that loves challenging myself to take on new experiences was thrilled at the prospect of a trip to Egypt. But then the side of me that hates hot weather and thinks deserts are dirty and not the prettiest place to take a picture was less than thrilled about a trip to Egypt.

And then there was Berlin. We were traveling there with friends. In the past I have fallen apart when it came to planning where exactly to travel with them in our chosen location, this time was no exception. Despite having a book on Germany, did I touch it? No. Why would I? But Visit A City and Google Maps saved the day. Visit a City gave me a list of the most interesting places to see in Berlin including several different types of history museums as well as art museums and cultural destinations. Add in a department store and bam! Trip planned. I used Google Maps to lay it all out and confirm that Visit A City was giving me the best routes to get from location to location. With the Visit A City app downloaded on my phone, both with and without internet, we were ready to go. I felt like I had contributed, even as the plans changed during our time there, and, hopefully, my friends felt like I was putting as much effort into this trip as they were.

B. I stuck to basics when planning this trip. First I booked the flights to the major cities I knew we were visiting as soon as I knew we were visiting them. Obviously. Home –> Paris (the only city I was truly excited about visiting), Paris –> Cairo (for a wedding), Cairo –> Frankfurt (to visit friends and perhaps get some relaxation in? Worked out differently than I originally anticipated, but that's ok!), and finally Frankfurt –> home. We stuck with the cheapest flights and economy seating.

Next, I booked the hotels I knew we would be staying at.

With only one day in Paris, we went with the airport hotel. The idea was that we could drop off our bags and go. The airport is an hour away from the city, so we decided we would make better use of our time not lugging around our suitcases and being within walking distance of our terminal.

For Egypt, we decided to stay at the Marriott where our friends were having their wedding reception. It was fancy and expensive, but we knew it was a safe, easy choice. I only booked two nights there, at first, and added on to our stay as our trip developed over time and our itinerary became more clear.

Because we were visiting friends in Germany, we went with their choice for Berlin. It didn't require much thinking or research, which I was all in favor of given how busy our schedule, leading up to this trip, was.

We had one extra night in Frankfurt before flying home, so we chose to stay at – what else? – the airport hotel. We got back from Berlin so late and left Frankfurt so early the next day that we didn't explore Frankfurt at all. So much for needing to research a Frankfurt dinner or breakfast restaurant!

Last minute we threw in a trip to Sharm-El-Sheikh. I chose my favorite hotel chain for our stay there, the Hyatt Regency. And boy did they not disappoint. We got upgraded to a suite for our duration there! I can't wait to blog about it! It was a fantastic New Year's Eve surprise.

And then one more airport hotel in Cairo smack dab between Sharm-El-Sheikh and Frankfurt/Berlin. Yet again, it made our travel to the airport easy and less stressful than staying in the city would have. Walk straight from the hotel to your terminal? Yes, please!

Of course, after booking flights and hotels, then it is time for activities. We relied on friends, for the most part, to dictate what we were doing and where we were eating. Visit A City was also incredibly helpful. ANNNNNNND we stumbled upon an amazing English speaking taxi driving tour guide who helped us navigate our first day in Cairo. The whole trip would have been more complicated (or confusing) without him.

C. Cairo guides –– I'm not sure how we stumbled across a good guide, but I can tell you that there are many, many bad guides in the city. Or, even if the guide isn't "bad", there are many that are less helpful than others. We found at least three of them. The fourth guide was helpful, understanding, and kind, but less-so than the one guide we stumbled across accidentally at the beginning of our trip.

So? My takeaway? You can book guides online before you travel to Egypt. It is helpful having a guide, especially if you have never been to Egypt before. A mediocre guide for the first day or two is potentially better than no guide at all. I recommend Urban Adventures for that mediocre guide, because our Urban Adventures guide was slightly above mediocre on the bad to great scale. However, I can give you the name and contact information for the guide we had that we loved. He's a bit much at first, but overall it's clear that he gets American culture better than many Egyptians and can explain Egyptian culture in such a way that, if you trust him, you will find yourself falling in love with the culture too. I truly believe that my experience in Cairo and with the Egyptian people would have been more mediocre had we not had our terrific guide, even if for just one day, while we were there.

D. The City of the Dead –– I still don't understand the City of the Dead as fully as I could, but I do know that it is not a place to fear if you are with the right guide. And perhaps it is never a place to fear? Maybe our "right guide" was misleading us, but, from what I've seen, which is limited in perspective, I would recommend visiting just to say you did.

E. EgyptAir was a pain to book with using our American credit cards. We ended up booking with our Schwab debit card, and even then got a phone call immediately from security. If you are trying to book a flight with EgyptAir, first be sure to look at the price in Egyptian pounds! It can save you a ton of money! (In our case over $100.) Next, if you are booking online and your credit card won't go through, try booking with a debit card. Ideally one that won't charge foreign exchange fees, like Charles Schwab. I've read the Paypal debit card also works. You can try calling to book, but they may charge you the American price rather than the Egyptian. As a last resort, if you still can't book in any currency, I recommend going through Indie/BootsNAll, my preferred travel agency. I used them to book our trip to Egypt before I learned how to navigate and book on the EgyptAir website. Every flight I've ever booked with them has gone well, so I will definitely consider them again, in the future, if I'm struggling to get the price or deal I want and they have a similar price that works for me. <3.

F. Fun. Spending time with friends.


G. Gold or Money. Yeah, it's a stretch. 😛

We spent way more than we intended when we bought all of the hot chocolate and tea in France on our first day abroad.

We continued the trend in Egypt where most things were cheap, though we did make some mistakes in haggling for things we wanted. Apparently American prices, while they seem reasonable, are still incredibly high for Egyptians.

Comparatively, Germany was fairly cheap with most of the attractions paid for in advance. However looking back, I'm certain we paid more for the Welcome Card than we would have if we had paid for the attractions individually. C'est la vie.

H. Hot was the temperature in Sharm-el-Sheikh, especially compared to all of the other locations we traveled to. But it was so beautiful there that it didn't matter.

I. Ill. A lot of the people we traveled with weren't prepared for the water problems in Egypt. Justin and I brought a filter for our water and managed to stay relatively healthy. Others in our tour group found themselves with stomach bugs, holed up on the tour bus after only a day or two in Egypt. Were they really sick because of the water? Did we really avoid sickness because we were filtering our water? I'll never know. I think it's better this way.

J. Jetlag. Oh my goodness. I may have slept through an entire performance of The Nutcracker in Paris just so that I would be awake later that night for raclette! (The things you do when you only have one night in Paris!)

It got a little better when we were mostly traveling in the same time zone. Paris to Cairo is a one hour difference, then we had to deal with it again when we traveled from Cairo to Berlin. Overall, I think we handled it pretty well.

K. Khan-El-Khalili was crazy and I was so scared of the market at first. Luckily our first experience there was with a seasoned guide who directed us through the many parts of the market – the tourist section, the Egyptian section, the spices, the water pipes… He told us that we didn't need to worry, with him at our side no one would bother us. <3.

The next day Justin's friend asked to meet us at the market. But messages got mixed up when, as it turned out, the friend was going to a show there and we were going to … wait on the show to finish? Hmm… I was a little angry about that. Exploring a mostly unfamiliar area alone at night that I have been told to be afraid of is not typically the best of ideas. Honestly, the story gets more complicated than I am revealing right now, but the point is we survived.

So, tips if you ever go to Cairo and visit Khan-El-Khalili:
1. Don't be afraid. Lift your head high and act like you know where you are going even if you don't.
2. Most products sold there were made in China. But if you want something particular, they probably will have it. And because the items are made in China, you can bargain for a really good price.
3. BARGAIN. Never accept the first price. One of our tour guides suggested we ask for 10% less than the initial price, but we found that you should ask for even less than that. And if you are traveling with a tour group, all bets are off; you will get a bad price.
4. Have fun. Don't worry about paying the best price for an item, because it's very likely the item is worth less in Egyptian pounds than it is in dollars. So a reasonably priced $1 postcard is probably expensive for Egyptians. It's more likely that it is 25¢ for 10 postcards. But also keep in mind that many of these people in Cairo are excruciatingly poor; if you pay a little more than the item is actually worth, you are making their lives easier. You are happy because you got a cheap (to you) price and they are happy because they made just a little bit more off of their goods.
5. Don't be afraid to say no (or "la"). They aren't going to stalk you or chase after you if you don't want their items.
6. Don't spend more time than necessary glancing at items as you walk. If you are interested, by all means, look as long as you want. But once you stop to look, they will try to sell you something.

L. Lemon with mint was one of my favorite drinks in Egypt. I was a little skeptical at first, but I am grateful to have tried it. Now we make it at home on a regular basis.

3 limes
1 lemon
sugar (to taste)
water
a handful of mint

Blend everything together including the lemon and lime rinds until it is mixed well. Strain your liquid and drink.

M. And we will follow that up with Yellow Label tea and mint leaves. You cannot visit Egypt and not have this. (Or, rather you can, but you shouldn't.)


N. I was shocked to see, at the end of The Nutcracker Ballet in Paris, everyone just sat in their seats and clapped for the longest time. It felt really strange compared to the US where everyone is racing out the door to get to their vehicles during the final scene. This felt incredibly respectful. I feel like that amount of gratitude isn't common all across Europe, but maybe I've been seeing the wrong shows. Any thoughts from Europeans? Is it normal to sit and clap for 30 minutes after a show ends?

O. Palais Garnier Opera House is a beautiful building in the heart of Paris. They offer tours in English, French, and Spanish.

P. Paris in just over 24 hours:

7am Drop luggage off at the hotel.
10am Stores open. Head right for Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Look at the Christmas lights outside the stores, then head inside. Buy too much Angelina's hot chocolate and French Breakfast Tea. Maybe buy a strand of Christmas lights. Eat donuts with an overlook of the Eiffel Tower. Maybe grab a sandwich.
1pm Take items to DHL to ship home. Pay too much.
2pm Visit an umbrella shop and admire $1000 umbrellas.
3pm Tour Garnier la Opera. Don't remember anything from the tour because you are so tired.
5pm Apertif. Nobody is serving dinner yet. Maybe snack on a crépe.
7pm Arrive early for The Nutcracker. Try to catch a nap before the show.
8pm Continue napping into the show. 😳
10pm Take a cab to a restaurant for a late night meal of raclette. The restaurant will stay open late for you. ❤️🧀

7am Wake up early for breakfast at Angelina's.
10am More shopping. Oops.
11am Head to CDG for your flight.

Q. Quintessential things to do in Berlin:
• See the wall. Both the gallery and the memorial.
• Eat currywurst.
• DeKaWe. Great for almost anything, but I would spend the majority of your time meandering the food section.
• At least one art museum – probably the Pergamon.
• Probably one history museum. This city is rich with history.
• Adventure outside of Berlin proper to Potsdam.

R. Rain in Alexandria makes the streets incredibly muddy. While the city is definitely worth visiting any time of the year, I think the warmer months might be best.

S. Rest and relaxation is paramount when you are on vacation. The only time we really stopped was in Sharm-el-Sheikh. It was absolutely beautiful and one of my favorite places to visit during this trip.


T. Tips for surviving 8 flights:
• Be as minimalistic as you possibly can be. Start with only carry-ons. The fewer, the better.
• Ship back souvenirs. The more luggage you have, the more you have to check with airlines. You will also pay based on weight. Shipping can be more expensive than just paying the checked bag fee , but you have to consider if it is worth lugging the extra weight around.
• Distribute your bags evenly. Perhaps have one roller bag, one over-the-shoulder bag and one book bag to make your luggage easier to carry.
• Take advantage of luggage carts and airport hotels. Save your energy for more important things, like sightseeing.
• Consider buying a new piece of luggage at your destination. New clothes also make for a great souvenir!

U. Apparently some political issues are more universal than I thought. Women's rights and black rights are not just important to US citizens.

V. One of the coolest videos we got was of a muslim singing his call to prayer. The guide we used our first day in Cairo asked the muslim to do this for us. It was very kind and a special treat for us.

W. The wedding we attended in Egypt felt very similar to one we attended in Germany except that it was louder.

Egypt (on the way to the reception): A small parade in the hallway walking from the elevators to the reception hall with a band. Immediate family and close friends follow the bride and groom as they dance their way down the hall. The elderly and people not quite as close to the bride and groom are already waiting at the reception. This process of parading down the hall takes at least 30 minutes. Then, when the bride and groom get to the reception the dancing continues. Non-alcoholic drinks and small appetizers are served. It is not until two hours in that the main buffet opens. During dinner, for us at 10pm, the bride and groom disappear for some alone time and the music slows down to give everyone a chance to eat. Of course, as soon as dinner is over, the bride and groom reappear and the dancing continues. Typically the party lasts well into the night (4am was the suggested ending time), but I think there were more Americans and elderly there than is typical, so the party for us ended at 1am.

In Germany (on the way to the reception): It's a parade of cars that follow the bride and groom to the reception. They tie ribbons on the car, so that everyone knows they are in the procession, and they honk their horns the whole way. (See? So not quite as loud as the Egyptians.) It's been a while, but I seem to remember mingling, finding your seat and dinner starting at a somewhat normally expected time. The biggest difference was that there was alcohol and that the food kept coming late into the night with the goal being to keep the bride and groom up as long as possible.

So lots of similarities, especially compared to an American wedding where we quietly drive to the reception site without fanfare and party until 10pm at the latest. Or maybe I just live in a calmer part of the world.

X. I'd be eXcited to go again. While I was a bit fearful from what I had heard about Egyptians (groping women randomly on the street, catcalling, taking advantage of tourists financially), I learned that Egyptians are beautiful, wonderful, heartfelt people trying to make a living in a very difficult economy. I learned how to interact with them in such a way that haggling was fun rather than stressful; they earned extra money (though perhaps not as much as they had initially hoped for) and I got a better bargain than I would have in the states (though more than I probably should have paid had I been Egyptian). Also, whether a fluke or not, I did not experience any catcalling or random groping. One friend seemed to think my darker skin tone helped. (I have an Italian background.) Or maybe it was the wedding ring?

If you want to go to Egypt, don't let irrational fears or government warnings stop you. Try to dress conservatively (which in some cases can be as simple as a light dress, scarf draped over your shoulders and leggings), consider wearing a wedding ring or traveling with a male (or a group?) and don't be afraid to say "la" to the venders trying to make sales. They aren't trying to harass you; they are just trying to put food on their table. Be kind, considerate, and respectful, and you will probably get the same in return.

Though one note of caution: Everywhere you go there are metal detectors. EVERYWHERE. And you will probably be body checked. With women, they tend to do it a lot less than with men. Either way, be prepared. And women, be prepared to go through a separate screener from your man at the airport. It's not a big deal; I promise.

Y. Yellow vest protestors in Paris were few and far between when we were visiting Paris. We saw one shop with broken glass, but that was it. Security was high within the city, though. They used a wand to check people going into the high end department stores (where we spent the majority of our time); of course these types of checks are not unusual for department stores in France. Every time we have been to a department store in Paris (Christmas 2015, July 14th, 2017), they have checked.

Z. Berlin Zoo and Tiergarten – Did you know that the Tiergarten in Berlin is approximately half the size of Central Park in NYC? Fun fact. :)

The garden is beautiful to walk through, though a bit boring in the winter. We didn't actually visit the zoo there, so I can't comment on that. If you are visiting Berlin in warm weather though, it may be a good place to take a picnic or rest during what is otherwise a busy day. :)


As always, traveling to so many different places (and the planning for travel to so many different places) taught me a lot. I now have a better understanding of geography, history, and I learned more about cultures that are different from my own.

What I shared today is just skimming the surface of what I learned and took away from the travel experience. I might need some time to soak it all in. It is nice to get some initial thoughts to screen, though.

Having read my initial thoughts, would this have been a trip you would have enjoyed? Did you learn anything? If you've been to any of these places before (Paris, Cairo, Sharm-El-Sheikh, Berlin), did I miss anything pivotal? Share in the comments!

2019 Resolutions


I started my list of resolutions in December before traveling to France, Germany, and Egypt. Now, two weeks later, having just returned to the states, I'm looking at my lists absolutely exhausted. While the following goals are my ideals, I want to recognize that life can get messy and I may not always complete the goals in as perfect of a way as I intend. Once a month might need to be changed to once every two months … or six months … or just getting by.

So, dear self, do your best in 2019, but don't stress out if you can't meet all of your goals exactly as written. It will be ok.

1. Finances
A. Pay off car.
B. Conquer interest charges.
C. Look at refinancing Justin's student loan.

2. Blogging
A. Start planning for April A-Z in JANUARY.
B. Start participating in Wordless Wednesday again.
• Organize images and make sure the DROBO back up is complete.
C. Re-join the travel blogging community.
• Write one travel post
• Or participate in one twitter travel chat … once a month.

3. Travel
A. Go to a new beach for July 4th.
B. Visit Justin's uncle in Boston.
C. See Billy Joel at Madison Square Gardens in NYC?

4. Health
A. Fewer calories and healthier food choices (veggies, fruits, tea).
B. More movement.

5. Home
A. Finish The Curated Closet
• Only have clothes in my closet that I wear and love.
• List more clothing on Poshmark.
• Alter clothing as needed or get rid of it.
B. And The Simple Magic of Tidying Up.
• Organize the spare bedroom so that everything has a place.
1. Exercise equipment.
2. Sewing supplies.
3. Financial Documents.
4. Empty box of books.
5. Find a place for electronics. Toss unnecessary electronics.
• Get the bedroom more organized as well.
1. Move blankets and sheets from the bedroom closet to the bathroom closet so they are easier to get to.
2. Replace decorative Euro pillow.
3. Get master duvet cleaned.
4. Replace master duvet feathers.

6. Other
A. Read. Ideally one book a month.
B. Practice German.
C. Drink wine (or tea) with friends and family. Relax.
D. Question the world. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. Sometimes it's the same grass … only painted. 😳
E. Assume the best in people. Don't be quite as cynical.

What resolutions have you set for 2019?

See goals from previous years here: 2014, 2015, 2016.

2018 Review


It's been a bit since my mid-year review. Well, here is the follow-up; this is what I've been doing since August. Plus a few pictures since I've been neglecting Wordless Wednesday!

SEPTEMBER


We went to NYC for a wedding and enjoyed exploring the city with friends and eating far too much.

OCTOBER


I was accepted for Dîner En Blanc which ended up being a bit of a let down. We spent the two weeks prior to the event buying clothes and dinnerware with packages from Amazon arriving almost daily.

NOVEMBER


Friendsgiving, Thanksgiving, shopping, birthdays, seeing Annie Leibovitz!

Finally, DECEMBER

Shopping for Christmas presents, parties, planning for Egypt. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it has been keeping me busy.

2018: OVERVIEW

1. What did you do in 2018 that you’d never done before? Travel to California! Dîner En Blanc!
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions and will you make more for next year? I didn't make any last year. I meant to, but I never got around to it.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth? SIL, cousin Brooke and Jordan
4. Did anyone close to you die? no
5. What countries did you visit? Egypt (as of the end of December), France
6. What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018? I'm not sure. I pretty much got everything I needed or wanted. Maybe world peace? Or, more realistically a mirrorless camera.
7. What date, from 2018, will remain etched upon your memory, and why? None? There was no one date that stood out.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Making a difference in children's lives. <3.
9. What was your biggest failure? Spending. Eating.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Only minimal, thank goodness.
11. What was the best thing you bought? A trip to California. Because of that trip we were invited to Egypt. Also I learned to enjoy wine while we were in Napa. Basically, California was unforgettable.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration? This is an odd question. Any time the children I watch behaved, I thought their behavior merited celebration.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Anytime the kids I watch didn't behave… The government, people in my family…
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Going to Paris for Christmas. It's one of my favorite times of year to go.
16. What song will always remind you of 2018? I have no idea. The kids I watch don't really listen to music, so nothing stands out like it has in other years.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you: Happier or sadder? sadder
Thinner or fatter? fatter
Richer or poorer? mixed? Probably richer. Car loans and student loans are closer to being paid off but our credit cards don't look too good.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of? paid off more debt.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Shopping. Eating.
20. How will you be spending Christmas? in an airplane headed to Paris.
21. How will you be spending New Year? not? I don't think they celebrate in Egypt.
22. What was your favorite TV program? none. I didn't watch tv.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Hate is a strong word. I'm not sure I know enough people to hate a new person every year!
24. What was the best book you read? How to Get Dressed was the most life-changing. Like the realization that I ought to care for and that I can care for my clothing to keep it long term. The Secret Magic of Tidying Up was also a reminder that it's ok to get rid of things that don't bring me joy even if I paid a lot for those items or they were given to me as a gift.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery? No music discoveries this year. I just didn't do music too much this year.
26. What did you want and get? A DROBO! And a new laptop.
27. What did you want and not get? Lower debt.
28. What was your favorite film of this year? Deadpool 2. I didn't really see many movies this year for whatever reason.
29. What did you do on your birthday? We went to Laguna Beach, Florida for my birthday and ate at a swanky Italian place. We also had the most amazing chocolate cake of my life from Modica Market, eggs cochon from The Ruby Slipper Café, and some yummy ice cream from Thomas Donut. It was a delicious way to celebrate.
30.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Paying off more debt.
31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2018? Free People all the way.
32. What kept you sane? the husband. To a lesser extent (sorry!) my blogger friends, Anne, and Tony. It's always nice to have someone to rant to.
33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Honestly I would have considered having Ellen Degeneres's babies after I saw the Michelle Obama Costco book signing. That was so funny and exactly what I needed to see shared when I needed a distraction.
34. What political issue stirred you the most? I don't even know. So many.
35. Who did you miss? No one? My life has been confusing as all heck and missing people would complicate things.
36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018.
You do you.
Don't wait for other people to change. If you don't like something, you change. What can you do to make that aspect of your life better?
And TALK! If the people you are angry with don't know you are angry, they definitely won't change.
37. Quote that sums up your year. "All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt." – Charles Schultz

Did any aspects of 2018 stand out for you? Was 2018 a good year? Are you going into 2019 with any regrets? What about hopes?

2018 Financial Review

In the past I've tried to a financial overview. Mostly it's for myself, but you all can follow along if you want.

One of the top priorities in my husband's and my financial life is paying down debt. Specifically student loans. We also have a car loan and credit card debt. I'm not going to lie – even with the amount of money my husband brings home in a year (which is more than average), it is still hard to conquer debt. We owed more than $100,000 between the two of us right out of college. It is hard to stay focused on paying down the debt and not spending any extra on extravagances like travel, morning coffee, or a new outfit. The struggle got even more real in 2016 when my boss threatened to fire me if I didn't replace my car ASAP. (It had broken down 4 times in a month; I don't blame her.) In the past six years we also had to replace my husband's truck, both of our laptops, and we felt it was only the right thing to do to attend a few weddings overseas.

Everything added up, the debt pay down process has been a slow and steady race with missteps along the way. I am happy to report, however, that the debt is getting paid down though. Of course, there is always room for improvement. Maybe 2019 will be our year.

DEBT


Decrease of $5,805 this year.
Total decrease over the past 6 years: $26,497

STUDENT LOAN DEBT



Decrease this year $8,144.86
Total decrease over the past 6 years $38,281.43
Payoff Date: 12/1/22 (improved by just under a year! Last year's date was August 2023.)

We refinanced my student loans within the past month to get a 2.5% variable interest rate. It may be time to refinance my husband's loans as well; the interest from his last refinancing has crept up to over 5% which isn't a huge increase, but if we could get it back down, that would be good.

CAR LOAN



Payoff Date: 4/1/19, an improvement of two months from last year! Paying off the car now seems easily within reach!

CREDIT CARDS


We have spent more on credit cards this year than we have in the past.

This year I think one of my biggest problems with credit cards, the one that can easily be corrected, is not allowing companies to take advantage by charging interest when we are unable to pay the bill in full. We've mostly thought the accruing interest was our fault and that we deserved it rather than using high credit scores to move the "problem" to another card with a 0% interest rate.

If you are in this same situation, don't be like us. Move the amount you owe to a card with 0% interest like Chase Slate and continue to work on paying it down without worrying about the extra interest adding up and costing more in the long run.

While I usually provide a payoff date in my financial reviews, I feel like Mint isn't giving me the correct information regarding the cards I have on file with them. It's currently suggesting a date of May 2020. We'll see.

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Below, I cover fees which I want to explain before I share.

While I am complaining about interest fees which should be rightly avoided if at all possible, I do think credit cards can be helpful for taking your money further. Cards, like Venture, offer 2% back on all purchases which is essentially an extra $.02 for every dollar you spend on the card. While it does cost a yearly fee of $95, you can easily get that back if you use it to obtain TSA Pre, an option that can save you time at the airport (and worth $100 if bought outright). So, I see some fees for credit cards as worthwhile, but it all depends on how often you use the card and whether or not you can get value from the card.

Regardless of what the fee is though, I think the goal should always be getting as much value from the card and paying as little in interest as possible on the card as possible. Justin and I spend a lot of money on credit card fees (and this year we spent a lot on interest), so ideally in 2019, we should aim to get our interest expenses down and only keep the credit cards we get value from. I've written about the pros and cons of each of our cards below and shared my initial thoughts on which cards we should keep and which we should cancel in 2019. Obviously, the more time you spend researching which cards will work best for you, the more you will save.

FEES


Credit Cards Without Fees:
Amex Blue Cash Everyday – 3% cashback at grocery stores, 2% cashback at gas stations and department stores
Amex Blue Delta Skymiles – Kept for maintaining credit history and credit score.
Bank of America Cashback – free entrance to select museums on the first weekend of the month
Chase Freedom – 5x Chase points on rotating categories
Chase Disney – Kept for maintaining credit history and credit score.
Citi Double Cashback Card – 2% cashback on all purchases
Discover It – rotating 5% cashback categories
Suntrust Cash Rewards – 2% cashback on gas and grocery

Credit Cards With Fees:
Amex Gold Delta Skymiles – $95 fee, free checked bag for everyone that flies with me, early boarding with Delta and cobranded companies, 2x miles on Delta purchases (drinks, snacks, bags, flights)
Capital One Venture – $95 fee, 10x the miles when booking hotels with hotels.com, no foreign transaction fee, credit for Global Entry/Pre, 2% cashback on purchases
Chase Sapphire Preferred – $95 fee, 2x points on travel and dining, no foreign transaction fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve✓, complimentary lounge access, option to use The Luxury Hotel and Resorts Collection
Costco Anywhere Card – fee depends on Costco membership ($120 for us), 4% cashback at gas stations, 3% cashback at restaurants and on travel, 2% cashback at Costco

Justin and I may want to consider dropping Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Preferred in the next year since we have the Sapphire Reserve and Discover cards. Dropping the cards would save us $95 per year. We may also want to consider looking at new cards to see if there are any that will better work for us in the future.

THIS YEAR COMPARED TO LAST



As a personal goal, I typically try to spend less from one year to the next and a great way to look at it is by month. I admit getting distracted and busy as the year went on which made it harder to stick to my goal. Maybe in 2019 we will do better? We spent more in seven months this year compared to last and $13,000 more total. :(

I am grateful that we only rarely spent more than we made, though. Obviously, the goal is to never do that, but it can be easier said than done when you get distracted and busy with life. I've heard great things about Dave Ramsey and separating your money into envelopes, but then you aren't getting the benefit of money back through credit cards, so … complications.

WHERE OUR MONEY WENT

Categories
1. Food & Dining
2. Travel
3. Shopping
4. Auto & Transport
5. Bills & Utilities
6. Gifts & Donations
7. Personal Care
8. Financial
9. Entertainment
10. Taxes

Stores
1. Costco (includes new tires)
2. Boots N All (flight to Paris, Cairo, Frankfurt, home x 2)
3. Kroger
4. Electricity
5. Best Buy (laptop, radio for my mom, camera memory cards)
6. Unclaimed Baggage Store (used cell phone, used laptop x 2)
7. Homeaway (Rental property for stay in NYC during September with friends)
8. Publix
9. Progressive (car insurance)
10. Delta (flight to California, NYC)
11. Quiktrip
12. Amazon


NET INCOME



We spent more than we made during two months this year. Yikes!

NET WORTH


I am grateful to see our net worth continuing to go up, though. Paying off debt is a hard and long process.

Unfortunately, our stocks aren't doing quite as well at a drop of -60.24%. I guess that's the chance you take with stocks.

ASSETS


Justin and I have put less time and attention toward assets this year as we worked on our debt. Toward the end however, Justin started putting a bit extra away to buy stocks within his company. He has been given stock options which, should his start up company sell, could bring in some money. It is always a risk investing, but I can understanding wanting to put money where you've spent ten years of your life working.

Overview of the biggest impacts on our finances in 2018:
1. April travel to California (to visit Omar and fiancé)
2. Omar's wedding (including travel to NYC, Europe, and Egypt)
3. the purchase of 3 laptops and a DROBO (Raid backup system)
4. shopping in general 😳 (The top of the list will be car tires, a freezer, Christmas gifts, and a garage door opener among other things … like clothes and shoes.)
5. car insurance (nearly $2000!!)
6. paying taxes ($700)
7. Food expenses were up. 😞We bought a lot of food for other people. We also spent more on alcohol than we have in the past.

So where were the downfalls? What went wrong financially this year?
1. Forgetting that fees don't have to be a normal part of life. Credit card companies do that to make money. It's not personal; it's business.
2. Trying to help my parents and brother when we really needed to focus on ourselves and our finances.
3. The people I work for opening a credit account in my name without my knowledge and causing my credit score to dip down. (But it's all fixed now! Credit score never fully recovered, though…)
4. Travel to California that resulted in a drowned laptop unable to fully recover. So $$$ turned into $$$$ when I had to replace it. (We won't add on the additional $$$$ spent on going to Egypt, also a result of our trip to California.)
5. Dîner En Blanc also felt like a waste of money. The location was boring and we missed most of the event. It didn't cost too terribly much, but it is still money I would rather have put toward something else.

What went right this year?
1. Getting a decrease in my student loan interest rate! YAY me!
2. Learning how to use Citi's cashback feature. We have gotten more than $100 back in purchases bringing the price of items sometimes below $10!
3. We spent less on car expenses this year!
4. Started putting money towards Justin's company's stocks.
5. Getting extra work and making more money. With all of the mistakes we made this year, the extra money is helpful.

What are our plans/goals for next year?
1. Consider applying for a loan that will lower Justin's student loan interest rate.
2. Get rid of (or change out) unnecessary credit cards.
3. Pay off the Mazda.
4. Lower food spending. And shopping costs.
5. Try to find car insurance that costs less.

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Obviously we have some work to do, but maybe 2018 will have led to a stronger and smarter 2019? I can only hope.

Do you have financial goals you worked on this year? How did that go? Anything you need to improve on in 2019?



OLD FINANCIAL REVIEWS: