A Review of 2015

What a crazy and busy year 2015 has been! Every year (see 2012, 2013, & 2014) I try to take the time to look back and reflect. This is my post for 2015. :)

January


I began 2015 with a book in my hands, I think. My new challenge for 2015 was to read 2 books a month for the rest of the year; could I do that? Shortly thereafter, one of my friends announced that she was engaged to her German boyfriend and would be getting married in Germany later in the year, so I started planning a trip

February


Justin and I helped plan an elaborate barbecue dinner with some of the most decadent ice cream ever so that my brother could announce my nephew's birth date to my grandparents. We also went to hear blogger and entrepreneur "Nomadic Matt" speak about his book How to Travel the World on $50 A Day later that month making for a fun date night despite not really learning anything new. :-/ Before the month came to a close I had booked the first few nights of our November Disney vacation and bought a box of my favorite fruit ever, blood oranges, to see how many things we could make with them. It was an exciting and busy month!

March


By the time March came around, we were crazy busy. My sister-in-law announced her engagement and was married within the month, we had a trip planned to the Biltmore House to see the flowers in bloom there (with both my parents and my in-laws), and Justin's cousin was getting married at the end of the month in Nashville, a 7 hour drive away! WOW! I barely had time to breathe!

That's when I decided to start blogging about things to do in Atlanta. It was a fun series that I had been wanting to blog about for … years? I don't know …  a while, anyway. It's easy to forget what all there is to do in your hometown…

April


Come April, it was time for A-Z posts! Yay! One of my favorite times of the year! We celebrated Easter by cooking an Easter bunny! 😧 And eating delicious cake. Yum!

May


Right as the calmness of April was beginning to take over, May was upon us! Justin and I made a trip down to Florida to see my brother's girlfriend graduate.  We also went to Asheville, NC and the mountains of north Georgia.

In other news: I was uninvited to my friend's wedding in Germany and we quit talking. It was depressing. That's when I started focusing on other travel opportunities to get my spirits up. :-/

June


When I went on leave from my job in June, Justin and I started traveling again. He had heard about a place called the Unclaimed Baggage Store, which we had to visit. Then, upon leaving, we ventured to Chattanooga, Tennessee where we stopped to get ice cream and view the sunset. It was fun to just get in the car and go somewhere completely random – an experience we won't soon forget. :)

July


Justin and I spent the first weekend in July in Savannah with family helping to move my brother to his new apartment. As soon as we got back, we spent 3 weeks designing the most beautiful baby shower invitations, using watercolor and screen printing methods. To end the month with a bang, Justin and I took a short weekend vacation to Charleston for my birthday where we tried new restaurants and explored a wildlife preservation site at Edisto Island. It was an amazing way to end the month!

August 


The beginning of August was incredibly stressful. I dropped my iphone and the screen shattered and we had a lot of problems with my car. :( Inevitably, we ended buying a new (used) one. We did enjoy the end of the month when we held a baby shower for my nephew, and then traveled to New York and Boston to visit with family and ride Amtrak for the first time! The lime rickey (Boston version with raspberry juice) became a new favorite for me!

September


The Saturday of Labor Day weekend my brother called to say baby Nash was on his way, so my parents, husband and I all piled into the car for the long drive to Savannah, Georgia where we spent the weekend. We did a lot of socialization with family and friends … and then we booked a flight to Europe! It was time to start planning!

October


I spent the majority of October babysitting and getting ready for Disney World. We did spend a bit of time in Savannah visiting my nephew, which ended up being more of a work weekend for both myself and my husband. :-/ I really enjoyed putting together my GoodReads list and working on my Decade by Decade music posts. :)

November


The second weekend in November Justin and I found ourselves in Orlando, Florida for a friend's wedding and a trip to Disney World for the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival. Of course, with it being Justin's first trip and me being the perfectionist that I am, that prompted a series on the blog about Disney trip planning because (shock and surprise!), it's complicated!

When we got back from Orlando, I had to jump head first into Europe-trip, and Thanksgiving meal planning (for 18!). It was a busy month!

December


This month we spent lots of time preparing for Europe (hence my week of travel post ideas during Christmas week). I did some looking back in preparation for the new year and considered some of my favorite music, favorite books, and how my finances were doing. While I'm both sad and happy to see 2015 come to a close, I am looking forward to welcoming the new year with friends.

Looking back on 2015, what were some of your favorite moments? Are you excited to begin the new year? … Have you made resolutions yet?!? :)

** I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was a response to #27 on the list "2015 Taught Me". :)

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Savannah - Midtown Review

image from TripAdvisor

Destination: Savannah, GA
Date: September 2015
Hotel: Holiday Inn Express & Suites
Brand: IHG
Elite Status: Spire Elite
# of travelers: 4
Nights: 1

Hotel: Making the Decision

The Saturday before Labor Day as my dad was getting up to go to work (around 6:30AM), his phone rang. Turns out my brother and his lady were headed to downtown Savannah to the local birthing center. S. had been in labor since 3 that morning and she knew that my nephew was on his way…

When Justin and I heard the news, I immediately threw (well, rolled … I'm terrible at making decisions!) a bunch of clothes into a suitcase for a two night vacation to Savannah. My first priority was packing as opposed to hotel looking, so when Justin and I found ourselves waiting on my elders to finish getting ready, I sat down to look at what hotels were still available on what was a holiday weekend.

Immediately I got on Kayak to see what the prices were. My first choice for a hotel chain was going to be Hilton where if I completed 3 stays before October 31st, I would have gold status. First I called Hampton Inn; they were showing availability on Kayak until I went to pay… I called, and I was told they were sold out. :( The woman at the front desk transferred me to the Holiday Inn across the street. No luck there, either.

Finally, feeling desperate, I noticed that this Holiday Inn Express had good reviews. "Why not?" I thought not even realizing how not downtown this hotel was. I figured with my newly obtained Spire Elite status, maybe I would get some sort of benefit? I mean – it was worth trying anyway.

Getting There & Location

Obviously, we drove. (Or is it not so obvious?) Anyway, more or less you have to get to this hotel by car. It is located in "midtown" Savannah NOT "historic" Savannah. If you are going to Savannah for fun, there is a 90% chance (not a real statistic) that you are going to historic Savannah, a 20 minute drive from this hotel. Book the Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn there instead (among other hotels).

If you still intend on coming to this hotel, the website notes that the Savannah airport is 20 mile taxi ride and the Amtrak station is an 11 mile taxi ride. I have no idea what you would do at this hotel without a car though. There is a nearby mall if you are into shopping…

The Lobby, Checking In, Elite Benefits

The staff at the front desk was courteous and friendly. They offered us some water and extra points (or a drink from the bar) when we checked in for having status with IHG. During our stay, any time we had a problem (like no hot chocolate mix available with the coffee bar), the staff did their best to make us happy (and get the hot chocolate). It was little things like that that made our stay delightful. Of course it probably didn't help that my dad was gushing to the staff the entire time about his new grandson! The ladies were understandably like "aww!"


image from TripAdvisor

Room, View, Amenities, & Price

The hotel room wasn't particularly noteworthy. We had a beautiful (stunning, really!) view of the parking lot as well as beds we only thought we wanted to sleep on. (Oops!) The room was mid-sized. Basically, it was a good room for the one night we stayed there, but I wouldn't choose it again. If you are going to Savannah for business purposes or just need a quick, cheap hotel this might be the one for you.

The room came with soaps, shampoos, and a hair dryer which is something I love about American hotel chains. It also had a microwave, but no mini fridge (that we could find) despite what the website says. Instead of saving our leftover pizza from dinner for later, we ended up having to trash it. :( The nice thing was that we had plenty of room to spread out. Given the suburb location of the hotel, I wouldn't have expected less.

Breakfast

We did enjoy a hot and delicious breakfast before taking the new grandparents to see their new grandson the next morning. Cinnamon rolls, fresh-to-order (but not very good) pancakes, muffins, bagels, eggs, omelets, yogurt, and (in our case) either bacon or sausage was available for eating. I stuck with the sweet stuff (and some yogurt!) because I wasn't too impressed with anything there. (But it is breakfast! And I'm hard to impress.)

This little guy brought out the labor in Labor Day weekend! Aww! :)

Overall Review

★★★ (average)

If you are looking for a hotel just outside of the Savannah historic city limits (for whatever reason), this is a pretty decent hotel. It is typical of what you will find for most IHG Holiday Inn Express & Suites style hotels. There are benefits like free parking, free breakfast, a fridge in the room (maybe), a microwave, and plenty of room to spread out, but there are also downsides: like being so far away from the historic city. If you are traveling in one vehicle with your parents (or in laws) and you have the strong desire to get away and go explore the city, you won't be able to do so without leaving someone without a car. Alternatively, if you take separate cars, gas is more expensive. :( The breakfast almost makes up for it saving you both money and time.

Would I go again?

Probably not. I would much rather stay in downtown historic Savannah or on Tybee Island proper. Parking and hotels are more expensive, but, given the location of this hotel, you would have to pay for parking in those locations anyway. Plus, unlike many other cities, historic Savannah is very walkable. Tybee, not so much, but then again, you are going to the beach (most likely) if you are at Tybee.

Your Turn

So, what do you think> Have you ever had a reason to stay at a hotel outside of the historic district of downtown Savannah? If you did, would you choose this one?

** I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was a response to #3 on the list "Best Day of 2015". :)

Paris In Style Review


One of the books I simply had to read in preparation for my latest vacation was Paris In Style by Janelle McCulloch. I had glanced through her other book Paris: An Inspiring Tour of the City's Creative Heart, but Justin wouldn't let me purchase it. He commented that travel books featuring places often get outdated quickly. While he is right, that didn't deter me from checking out this book, especially since I knew we would be visiting the city of light soon.

The thing I found most appealing about Paris In Style was the layout of the book. McCulloch first provided an introduction following that up with suggestions on where to stay, where to dine, which gardens to see, which sites to see and, finally, sharing her favorite design, fashion, and style locations only minimally returning to topics she had already covered such as where to eat and sleep in those locations where style and fashion are central to daily life.

This book is very good at providing must-sees and must-dos for artists and fashionistas alike, but the reviews of each location are very short and somewhat minimal. I suppose in a city like Paris where there are so many different places, you have to be quick to the punch; however, I, personally, would have liked a bit more detail. A website perhaps, her favorite things to buy in the store, the store hours, or even (most helpful!) a map. Even the pictures (which are beautiful!) aren't really related to the stores mentioned in the chapters. It's almost like the book concept was slapped together. Maybe a blog would have suited this topic better?

While I do have my reservations about this book, I did discover so many stores and shops that I would love to visit that I would, otherwise, have not known about: fabric, button, clothing, and antique shops entice me. Flea markets and flower stores enthrall me. Where will I go this vacation? I wonder.

Yes, I do have a place in my life (and heart) for Janelle McCulloch's Paris In Style, but I'm not sure this will be the ideal travel book for just anyone. Definitely take into consideration the types of places you want to visit in Paris before purchasing. There may be a better book out there for you.

Buy Paris In Style here.

P.S. Click here to see a map featuring locations found in this book that I am interested in going to.

* I received this book for free in exchange for sharing my review. All opinions are my own.
** I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was #14 a response to "Space Between".

Merry Christmas!

Beautiful, snow-covered tree.
Wishing you a merry Christmas touched with wonder and filled with love. Have a fantastic holiday weekend! :)

* I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was a response to #25 on the list "Love is…".

7 Things to Do In Dresden

The beautiful city of Dresden

In T minus 48 hours my husband and I will be headed to the airport to board our flight for New York City. I can hardly believe that after several months of planning, that time is almost here! After exploring New York City for a few days, we will be moving on to Paris, Strasbourg, Stuttgart, and Prague. Of course the last city we will visit before leaving Europe is Dresden, a German city rich with cultural and political history. (Read more about it here.)  Plus, we will be accompanied by a few of our German friends! What could be a better way to end our trip to Europe?

Anyway, after learning more about the city through Google, the following is my bucketlist of things to do and see in this amazing city. 

1. Admire Elbwiesen.

Iconic views of the old town + river? Totally in! I'd do that in a heartbeat! Another option? BrĂŒhlsche Terrassen.

2. Explore Semperoper (the opera house).

They are showing a ballet one night we are there and an opera the second night. I've never been to an opera before, so that could be a cool way to see the opera house, even though it is an Italian opera. Or… we could just tour it. It kind of depends on what our friends want to do. I'm totally up for the Pretty Woman experience though. :)

3. See beautiful art and sculptures at Zwinger Palace.

Built as a palace in the rococo style, it is now home to several art museums featuring some of the world's most famous art and scientific instruments? The question is: who decided to put those two things together? Either way, the courtyard, even if we didn't manage to actually go in to the museums, is absolutely incredible and worth a view.

Hofkirche at sunset.

4. Climb to the top of the Frauenkirche and judge the masses below.

Once again – a beautiful city view? I'm there! But I may be extremely tired of stairs by the end of our trip… The Kreuzkirche Tower is 6€ and not quite as strenuous, so that might be another option. Here is a list of a few other places in which we can get views.

5. Look for the Kunsthof-Passage.

Look out for this section of town to discover interesting and unique art on buildings. It's a little out of the way, but it looks like a lot of fun and very photo worthy.

6. Explore a castle or two.

I have it on good authority that there are castles nearby. I'm not sure which one is most worth a visit though…

7. Umm… The Hygiene Museum?

I must admit I am a bit skeptical about this, but it has good reviews. From what I understand, it is a science museum about people and their relationships with each other and the world, as well as "this is how we work". According to TripAdvisor, the exhibit is only in Deutsch which makes it sound like a fun trivia game. Charades perhaps? Only we'd be doing the guessing without ever figuring out if we were in fact correct in our assumptions. Seeing as I bought French cookbooks in French in Paris last time I was there, I'd like to think I'd be up for a fun game of "guess the exhibit", but would I be into the hygiene of it all? … the science? Only one way to find out!

Have you ever been to Dresden? If so, what were some of your favorite things to do there? If not, is there anything on this list that stands out to you? Would you consider Dresden, Germany for a future vacation?

** I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was #13 a response to "A is for" referring to how my husband and I took German in school. :)


Suitcases and Sandcastles

10 Things to do in Prague

Ile de Kampa

In the two weeks following Christmas, Justin and I are taking a short vacation exploring New York City then flying out to Europe. As part of my planning, I wanted to do a little bit of research and, while I was at it, share a few ideas for things to do in the places we will be visiting with you, my readers. Earlier this week I shared about New York and Paris. Today, I have moved on to Prague.

1. Try trdlnik (sweet rolls with sugar and cinnamon)!

And maybe go on a food tour. Because food. :)

2. Walk across the Charles Bridge.

Beginning construction in 1357, this bridge has a lot of history including having a very different name all the way up until 1870. It resides over the River Vltava and was the only means of crossing the river until 1841. The Charles Bridge connects the Prague Castle and the Old Town areas of Prague and was an important trade route between Eastern and Western Europe (Wikipedia).

3. Stand in awe of the astounding Prague Castle.

One of the largest castles in the world, the Prague Castle occupies an area of almost 70,000 m². The castle contains a large variety of exhibits including including the National Gallery collection of Bohemian baroque and mannerism art, exhibition dedicated to Czech history, Toy Museum and the picture gallery of Prague Castle, based on the collection of Rudolph II (wikipedia).

4. Glance into St Vitus's Cathedral.

A Roman Catholic metropolitan cathedral in Prague and the seat of the Archbishop of Prague, St Vitus's Cathedral is a prime example of Gothic architecture with beautiful stained glass windows and a tower that reaches 96.5 meters high!

Swans visiting the Charles Bridge!

5. See the Dancing House, Lennon Wall and Astronomical Clock.

Some things you just have to see to believe.

6. Explore the Klementinum.

They have a unique tour available that includes access to the Baroque Library Hall, the Mirror Chapel, and the Astronomical Clock Tower from which you can see all of Prague. Apparently, the sites in this tour are very beautiful, but no photography is allowed. :(

7. View VyĆĄehrad.

The first settlement in Prague? Who knows? The fort does contain one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city though, and that, by itself, may make this a place worth visiting.

8. Take a river cruise for a unique view of the city.

There is nothing quite like seeing a city from the water. You have to agree with me on that. :)

9. Check out the local garnet jewelry.

Mined from the city of Turnov located just northeast of Prague, if you buy any garnet, make sure to get a certificate of authenticity.

10. Walk through gorgeous Petƙín Park.

Is it as beautiful in the winter? Only one way to find out!

While these are only a few of the many, many things there are to do in Prague, they have succeeded in getting me excited about a city I knew very little about before starting my research. Have you visited Prague before? If so, what were some of your favorite things to do there? If not, what would you do if you could go? I'd love to hear! :)

** I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was #20 a response to "warmth" (and how we will be seeking it!). :)

Untold Morsels

10 Things to Do in Paris at Christmas Time

No trip to Paris at Christmas would be complete without a walk down Champs Elysees!

Just after Christmas Justin and I are going on a 2 week vacation. To prepare for the trip, I have put together a couple of lists to help aid us in figuring out what to do. Yesterday I shared our must-do list for NYC. Today: Paris.

While going to NYC just after Christmas had definitely been hanging out on my bucket list for quite some time, going to Paris at Christmas time is more like a dream come true. Y'know: that thing you never thought you'd do? ever? But then you get the chance to do it and you cherish every moment? Yeah. That. To say I'm excited would be an understatement. :) Anyway, the following are a list of our must-sees and must-dos during the Christmas season in France.

1. Go in search of the best croissant.

You can start with this list and then move on to baguette seeking next. If a best pastry or bread item exists, it probably exists in France…

2. While there, sip on the some of the finest hot chocolate that exists in the world…

Yes, it's true: I'm going to drink hot chocolate in New York City, but where else could hot chocolate taste more decadent than Paris? Maybe we'll take a trip to Angelina … or Maison du Chocolat? Wherever we go, it's sure to be delicious!

3. Enjoy a service at a catholic church.

Notre Dame would be fantastic, but it's also likely to be filled to the brim since everyone wants to go there. A smaller church might be nice though. You're in Paris and the service is likely to be in French, what could be wrong with that?

Beautiful decor at Galeries Lafayette!

4. Go shopping.

Check out the Christmas markets and see the tree at Galeries Lafayette!! I hear it is beautiful! Also I have to visit Le Bon Marché. I've been there before, but why not go again?

5. Visit Ladurée for a yummy macaron!

Yes, they have amazing macarons all year long (I imagine), but I've never had one! All the more reason to go get a Christmas treat! (Did you see their Christmas movie on their website?)

6. Enjoy the view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

This could be done at any time of year, but, to me, Christmastime would be the best time. After all, they decorate the Champs Elysees making the view even more magical, I would imagine.

7. Try Galette des Rois (King cake)!

Other delicious foods to try… Mont d’Or (winter cheese) from La ferme Saint Hubert Fromagerie, roasted chestnuts, Vin Chaud (hot wine), and BĂ»ches de NoĂ«l from Pierre HermĂ©.

8. See a Christmas concert or show.

Justin and I are planning on going to La Sainte Chapelle, but there are plenty of other shows to see in Paris. Of course there is always the Moulin Rouge, the La BayadÚre at Opéra national de Paris, concerts at La Madeline, Philharmonie de Paris 2 and music at Notre Dame Cathedral. Basically, take your pick. :)

9. Day-trip to Vaux le Vicomte.

The more popular Palace of Versaille will be crowded and busy, like it is every other day of the year. Instead, make a day trip outside of the city to see the beautiful chĂąteau that inspired Versaille. As an added bonus, they decorate heavily for Christmas and allow you to take pictures inside! #win!

10. Take a Seine River cruise.

Justin's boss recommended it. Sounds good to me. :)

What do you think? Am I missing anything important? What would you do if you had the opportunity to go to Paris during the Christmas season?

Wanderful Wednesday hosts:
Lauren of Lauren on Location

**
I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was #14 a response to "Space Between".

7 Things to Do In NYC at Christmas Time

Christmas at the Rockefeller Center

This year for Christmas, Justin and I will be going to NYC, Paris, Prague, and Dresden for the holiday season, a personal dream come true! All week I will be sharing ideas for what to do in these places both to help me understand where exactly I'm going as well as provide ideas for anyone else that reads my blog and has plans to travel to these places at Christmas time either this year (you're running out of time!) or any year thereafter!

Today my focus is in NYC, our first stop on a 2 week long vacation. While this summer I came up with a list of must-dos in the city for the warmer parts of the year, I decided that I should approach a trip to NYC in the winter a bit differently. Here are a few ideas I have for things Justin and I can do during our two day duration there.

1. Drink fancy hot chocolate.

In 2014, Fodor's put together a list of the best hot chocolate in America. I'm slowly making my way down the list. I have all of one (!!) hot chocolate shop tried. With 2 shops located in the big (chocolate covered?) apple, why not try them? Plus, it will be cold. Warmth in chocolate form has never struck me as a bad idea. :)

2. Eat delicious chocolate at The Chocolate Bar in Brooklyn or the MarieBelle in Soho.
Because, chocolate. I mean: seriously. :)

3. See the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

The Rockettes scream Christmas in New York City to me! Or maybe they dance Christmas? Either way, it wouldn't be the holidays without them! Another option: The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center.

Bryant Park decorated for the holidays!

4. Walk along Fifth Avenue to see window displays.

Yes, shopping is fun, but sometimes it's all about the window displays. Having never been to NYC in December, I'm looking forward to seeing how creative shop keepers are during the holiday, especially since store window decorations don't really happen where I live (aside from in the mall which doesn't count).

5. Stay at a Christmasy hotel during the holidays.

This year Justin and I are staying at The Waldorf Astoria, but if I had known about The Lotte maybe we would have stayed there instead. The Peninsula, The Four Seasons, and The Plaza are beautiful (but expensive!) hotels that I would love to stay at during the Christmas season.

6. Take in a service at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

A beautiful church on the outside, I'm certain that mass there would make it feel just as beautiful on the inside (not that it's not already!).

7. Enjoy a Christmas light tour of the city.

The Brooklyn Lights and Cannoli tour seems to be the most famous.

Have I missed anything? Be sure to tell me! Not being from NYC, I'm sure I missed something spectacular!

* Wanderful Wednesday hosts: Lauren of Lauren on LocationVan of Snow in TromsoIsabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World

Christmas Foods!

After a busy Thanksgiving where we fed 18 people a barbecue style feast(!), Justin and I are quite happy to not be hosting for Christmas. Instead, my grandmother, who loved the barbecue idea (not at first but it grew on her), will be hosting her own barbecue style Christmas dinner. (Can't people come up with their own original ideas?!?!) Anyway, for this Friday food post, I decided to go back to a more traditional dinner, and share foods that I might consider making if things were to change and we were to host Christmas dinner at our house. (Totally not going to happen!) Feel free to browse through and find delicious options to fill in your holiday dinner plan holes!

Snacks

Easy Fiesta Christmas TreeCaramel PopcornCandied Pecans

Bread

Brown Butter and Rosemary Dinner Rolls 

Meat

Rosemary-Pepper Beef Rib Roast with Porcini Jus

Sides

Garlicky Green BeansRoasted Potatoes
CarrotsTender Greens with Champagne Vinaigrette

Desserts

Buche de NoelCardamom-Laced Milk Chocolate Truffles
Cranberry Vanilla CakeRaspberry Brulee

Drinks

Mulled WinePeppermint Hot Chocolate AffogatoVanilla Bean Eggnog

Is there anything in this list that you will be making for Christmas dinner? Is there something you think would go along with this meal? Share! I'd love to hear!

** I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was #29 a response to "Home".

2015 Financial Review

In 2013, I filled out an all encompassing financial review which I've been doing every year since (2014, this year). I like taking the chance to dig deeper into the financial posts I have been sharing for the past 36 months as we work to pay down debt, save as much as possible, and lean toward the possibility of owning property in the future.

Where are we?


We currently owe about $1,000 less than we did last year and $2,000 less than the year before. That's not too shabby considering we bought a car this year. Yes, I would like to see those numbers lower and I am a little disappointed that we didn't pay down more debt. Nevertheless, adding a huge amount of debt, like in a car purchase, we could have easily taken on far more debt than we did. The day we bought the car, and in the week after, I was so upset. It was the thought that all of the money we had spent paying off debt over the past 6 months was just going to be obliterated, like it never happened. I'm glad to see that the fallout, while bad, wasn't as bad as it could have been. For that, I take comfort.


Look! This makes me soooo happy! Over the last year we have reduced our student loan debt by almost $10,000!!!! We still have a long way to go, but seeing the difference from 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 makes me so glad we refinanced Justin's student loans. My suspicion is that next year we will see even more of a decrease than that since we didn't refinance until midway through the year. Perhaps a $20,000 decrease next year? Or more since we won't be buying a car? I can only hope…

Our payoff date is still remaining steady at Feb. 2023. (8 years?! Blech!)


Credit card debt is down by about $2000? Maybe? I mean – at least it's down and not up. We're looking at a May 2016 payoff date, but that may or may not get moved around since we have a few interest free credit cards. It's much better, in my opinion, to have a debt that isn't growing while paying down a debt that is (due to interest rates). Of course the interest free card option won't always be available. Our goal is always to pay off the interest free card that we owe on by the time the interest free period ends – whether that means moving the money around (using, at most, a 1% transfer fee) or paying it off completely (always the preference).


A $5,000 increase in assets is nothing to sneeze at. We had our peak in June reaching a high of $9,000 more in savings than we had in 2014, but that quickly dwindled away with the purchase of a car and computer. Oh well. Better luck next year?


Last year, this was the chart that made me most happy. This year I just want to hide my face in shame. Of course Mint is partially to blame, but they fixed the error of their ways sometime in October/November, so I had the chance to get back on track for a few months. Plus, knowing there was a problem, I could have tracked my expenses more closely. But I didn't. :( This year we spent approximately $11,000 more than we did last year (car purchase included). Granted by August there was no way for us to make up for the extra $10,000 in spend; it was what it was. BUT we could have spent less in the months following by eating out less and shopping less. Even a meager $500 a month over the course of 4 months adds up! Maybe in 2016 I'll get back on track; after all, spending less than you did the year before is not exactly an easy task. I do believe it is one of the most difficult financial goals we currently have!


Our net income was another disappointment this year. In July we bought Justin a computer, me a tablet, and then screens to fix both of our phones. It was pretty miserable, but we were confident we could overcome the excess spend in August … That is, until we discovered that I needed a new car. :( Another month down for the count. Then, I was struggling to get my act together for preparing for our European vacation shortly. When I finally realized the trip was coming whether or not I was ready, we ended up spending far too much in November buying boots, sweaters, cell phones, hotel stays, train tickets, show tickets, etc… At least this month, when we finally get to where we are going, we will mostly be paying for food and activities. So that's nice. (#excuses)

As an aside, we had an average monthly net income of +$1,200. Overall, it's not too bad. An increase for 2016 would be nice though. I'd love to pull the net income that I did in the early months of 2015 in 2016 (+$2,000).


Our net worth is gradually improving. It's improved by approximately $4,000 from last year, a notable increase from the $2,000 increase last year. And by increase, I really mean decrease. As in we are in the negative now working our way toward positive – a few thousand at a time.


Stocks are down by 1.7%, but they fluctuate so much on a day to day and weekly/monthly/yearly basis… Neither Justin nor I directly handle our stocks. With so much debt, we're trying to focus on that. One day though I'd like to learn about the stock market and play around with it. I've heard doing so is kind of like finding a great sale at your favorite store. I could totally get behind that. :)


Interest charged – I think we learned our lesson. Of course, this only coincides with credit cards. We've also saved a lot on interest charges this year with regards to our student loan consolidation. Yay Earnest!

Overview of the biggest impacts on our finances in 2014:
1. Car purchase. Ouch.
2. Huge tax refund! Wow!
3. Travel. Yay!
4. Student loan refinancing. Less interest.
5. Electronics upgrades. Needed.

So where were the downfalls? What went wrong financially this year?
1. Having to buy a car. We weren't in a financial position to buy a car without going into more debt. Equally, I wasn't about to buy a car that would need replacing in 5 years; I wanted something that would last. We opted for a more expensive newer model vehicle (yet still used so we wouldn't lose the cost from driving it off of the car lot). It's a nice car, but if I hadn't been worried about paying down debt and keeping my job, I'm not sure I would have gotten it. Justin still drives my old car to work to save on gas, so it was definitely fixable and remains usable despite the problems that caused me to buy the new car in the first place.
2. Traveling. We went to NC, SC, TN, FL, NY, MA, and NJ. It's been a busy year. But we've seen so many people that we love. So financially, it was terrible. But for a million other reasons, it was the right (best) thing to do.
3. Upgraded electronics. Justin got a laptop – his first in over 3 years! Plus we both got iphones and used amazon money to pay for a Nexus 6 to use Project Fi for our trip to Europe. Expensive but probably necessary.
4. Not sticking to budget. When you need something within a 2 or 3 month period, it's hard to not buy the first thing you like. And when you are busy it's hard to think about how much you are spending on food.
5. On the same note, Mint sucking. When they stopped letting me compare month-to-month, I became more susceptible to spending. I didn't have that helpful push to stay below 2014's budget. It's back working now, so goal for 2016?

What went right this year?
1. Refinancing Justin's student loan. With a lower interest rate, I have confidence we are paying loans down faster than we were before.
2. Getting a large tax refund. It meant we had to start paying down my student loans, but we needed to start doing that anyway…
3. Keeping credit card debt at 0% interest rates. We did open up new cards to keep that interest rate, but it should help in the long run…
4. Taking on some awesome jobs to get things for free – hotel stays ($600+ value), dinners, movies, books, music, and a smart thermostat ($240 value)! Yay!
5. We paid off one loan in full. :)

What are our plans/goals for next year?
1. Paying off a debt of some sort. Preferably credit card debt, but I'd take any debt.
2. Sell things. We started working on that some this year, but we didn't get very far…
3. Spend less than we did in 2016 but still have awesome life experiences. I know it's possible!
4. Cut out unnecessary spending. Dropbox, credit cards with fees, and an unused cell line are the ones that come to mind right now.
5. Get credit scores even higher. They are hanging in the lower to mid-700s for both of us, but I love the idea of having a high range 700 score or even 800!
6. Save more. I'd love to find a high(er) interest savings account and take advantage of bank deals for opening new accounts. (Free money ftw?!)

What are your financial goals for 2016? Are there things you are particularly proud to have accomplished in 2015? Anything you are particularly disappointed in? What did you learn this year that you hope will influence your spending and budgeting goals for 2016?

* I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was a response to #24 on the list "One Year Ago".

Wordless Wednesday + December LookBack

NYC – Aug. 2015

Listening to: nothing in particular. Christmas music to a small degree. Pandora likes to play classical Christmas music when i'm driving which simultaneously calms me down and makes me more agitated. Is it just me or do drivers get worse at driving at Christmas time? Some of them are all about driving as slow as possible and waiting until the very last minute to get in the turn lane (Seriously? you decide to put on your blinker the minute you see me coming up around you?) and then the rest are in a crazy hurry, not paying attention, cutting people off, running red lights/stop signs, and following too closely.

Remembering: our last trip to Europe – the ups, the downs, the rain, the sun, the friends, the flight. Are we ready to do all of that again?

Planning: everything! DIY Christmas cards and whether or not I have time to do them, finishing the last bit of Europe preparation, getting price matches, and just trying to find time to breathe. I haven't even finished Christmas gift shopping! (Let's not talk about wrapping.)

Anxiously Awaiting: Santa Claus! No, seriously, I have no idea. I think I might just be anxiously waiting. It turns out you can think of a million things you need to do right before a trip, and that's what is going through my mind. Will we get everything done? Once I'm on the plane and Santa has come and gone, everything will be good though. I think…

Interested to Know: what this Christmas will be like with my brother in Florida and my sister-in-law in North Carolina. Praying we get some good family time before we have to be at the airport. Also, will I be able to finish everything in time? Christmas cards, blog posts, all of the pages read?

Keeping A Secret: a few actually. Christmas gifts for the most part. :)

DIY'ing: Christmas cards maybe? We haven't actually started them, but I have an idea that could potentially be fast and easy … but very personal and unique.

Reading: a few books really. I'm almost finished with Modernist Cuisine Vol. 1 and I have to read/review Modernist Cuisine Vol. 2. Then there is 2 A.M. At the Cat's Pajamas and At the Water's Edge. Oh - and a travel book. I have 320 more pages (and only 2 weeks!) before I complete my 10,000 page goal.

* I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was a response to #26 on the list "Real Life".

9 Tips For Saving Money on Your Disney Vacation

Cinderella's castle looks magical at night!

While Justin and I definitely took advantage of some of these ideas when planning our trip to Disney World, I thought I would share a few tips I've read about in the time since we've gone to hopefully help you save more money than we did. Disney vacations are expensive and each little piece adds up quickly. It helps to know what you want and book as far in advance as possible. Maybe some of these tips will help you to have a free or very cheap visit to Disney in the future!

1. Get the Disney credit card. 

After spending $500 on the card in the first 3 months, Justin and I received a $200 credit or the equivalent of one night in a hotel on Disney property. Because we were spending the $500 anyway, it was nice to see a return of 40%.

Make sure to look at what the card is offering before signing up though. Sometimes they offer Disney gift cards or less money for spending the same amount. I've heard reports of receiving a $50 Disney gift card in exchange for spending $500; is that worth it?  I guess $50 in a Disney gift card is better than nothing, but there may be other credit cards that offer more. Be sure to check them out. Also, if you struggle to pay your credit card on time, I recommend skipping this option. Neither $200 cash or $50 in a gift card is worth going even more into debt!

2. Other credit cards might offer a better return on investment.

See the Sapphire. They are currently offering 3x the points for travel (through the end of this month), 2x the points on restaurants (and travel after December), and 50,000pts. when you sign up. On the website, they claim that the 50,000pts. is good for up to $675 in cash, but with the 1:1 transfer to hotel chains, you can easily get a lot more for your points than that! I recently found a 50% discount on a hotel if I book through Sapphire! How awesome is that?

The Venture is another great credit card. You receive 2x the points for any purchase and can redeem those points towards travel you've already done … or  towards Amazon gift cards (for Christmas, yes?). You receive 40,000pts. for signing up which is equivalent to about $400 towards travel or Amazon, $200 towards other rewards (or straight cash back). This could easily cover 2 nights at a Disney hotel.

Two other cards that may be worth considering are the Chase Freedom and Discover It. Both offer 5% on varying categories throughout the year. Discover It provides options for rental car discounts with the cashback you earn ($20 for a $40 rental car coupon), and the Chase Freedom points can be transferred to a Sapphire account and be used in conjunction with those points. Currently both cards are offering a percentage back on Amazon purchases, but in the past they have provided a discount on retail stores, home improvement stores, grocery stores, and gas.

3. If, for example, you have a credit card that offers a percentage back at a specific store (like the grocery store Kroger), you can buy Disney gift cards at the store prior to your trip to Disney World for use on Disney property. There may be a difference between Disney store gift cards and Disney property gift cards, so make sure you do a bit of research and make an informed decision when purchasing.

Purchasing gift cards through Kroger when they run
their 4x the fuel points promotion is a great way to
save on gas.

4. Use Disney gift cards in the park.

In the moment it can be easy to just spend, spend, spend. If you have a gift card, you will always know exactly how much you've spent in the park. I don't recommend putting more on a gift card than you expect to spend though.

5. Get everything you need (including souvenirs) outside of the parks.

I promise, it feels like there is a "Disney tax" when you are in the parks. Everything practically doubles in price. You'll save yourself from a financial breakdown if you buy all of your needs outside of Disney property.

6. Speaking of which, eat outside of Disney property.

Yes, I understand that food inside the parks just tastes better. There's nothing quite like buying a beer from a guy with a German accent or learning about French wine from someone who actually speaks French inside EPCOT, but refrain. Unless, that's why you are going to Disney World in the first place. A drink that should only cost a $1 or so will easily run $3 in the park. And don't get me started on food…

7. If you are up for it, sleep outside of the parks as well.

Basically, if you learn anything from this post, it's that Disney makes everything more expensive. You can get great deals by going through companies like Costco. Many hotels, not on Disney property, will offer you a shuttle ride to Disney. Plus, if you stay at a chain, you can use points to stay there for free! Some chains come with perks like free breakfast, so you might be able to make up for lost time with the free food.

8. If you want to stay in the parks, consider booking with third party sites like Expedia, Orbitz, or TripAdvisor well in advance of your trip.

First of all, Disney hotels fill up fast. Second of all, prices go up for hotels as they fill and as events are scheduled. If you know, like I did, that you are attending an event on a specific date in the next year or so, go ahead and start looking for a hotel deal. Take advantage of coupons. (I used a $75 off $300 coupon with expedia to book a room at Disney last year at this time.) And before you book, compare with sites like Kayak or TripAdvisor. If you go through a portal, you may be able to get even more money back on your purchase. An additional 20% off after using a $75 off coupon? Heck yes! I'll take back all of the money they want to give me! (And even some they don't!)

Woot! Tickets!

9. Buy your tickets from Undercover tourist.

Recently Amex offered money back for the purchase. Either way, you will save money by purchasing your tickets from there. BUT be careful. Don't purchase tickets from ebay or people on the street. You might be able to get some for free from hotel chains for sitting and listening to them attempt to sell you property. The hotel ones are cool (if you are willing to sit through a boring one hour presentation), but don't buy used tickets (or tickets that could have been used without you knowing it!). Disney tickets are non-transferable which means if your fingerprint (or theirs) has been scanned along with that ticket, your fingerprint won't work. You will have wasted money and will need a new ticket. Don't fall into that trap! Undercover tourist is licensed to carry Disney tickets and they provide discounts; use them!

So, are any of these tips helpful to you? Will you be planning a cheap trip to Disney in the future? Do you know of any other tips that I might should have included?

I hope you have enjoyed my series on Disney travel. Perhaps some of the information I have shared will be of use to you as you plan your magical Disney vacation. Stay tuned for my Disney hotel reviews of Port Orleans Riverside and Coronado Springs in the new year!

* I'm participating in Susannah Conway's December Reflections. Are you? Today's post was a response to #21 on the list "Numbers". :)