Classy Frugality

Making the most of life while living on a budget

I’m Going Back to School!

I know it’s been a while. It’s been almost 11 months since my last post. I could use this post to share with you about how we packed up our lives and moved to Guatemala. I could tell you about the steep learning curve I’ve been on, learning how to teach English and mentor other English teachers. I could tell you how I thought I knew Spanish but each day I realize there is so much more to learn.

But that’s not what I want to share with you today. Instead, today I have decided to share an exciting announcement with you…

I’m going back to school!

I shared in my last post that I was taking some courses last fall to get an TESL certificate so I could be better equipped to do my job teaching English here in Guatemala. Long story short, I ended up only taking 3 courses and did not do the whole TESL certificate (due to time). However, the courses were extremely helpful, and I started thinking around April how nice it would be to finish up this certificate. In emailing with a professor at the university I went to, she told me it would likely be a better use of my time to do a Masters in TESOL.

A Masters degree. Whew.

I had always anticipated that I would likely go back to school to get a Masters degree, but I never knew what in. The more I started thinking about this, the more I started to see the dots connect: I have an a BA in English, and a B. Ed (Education). I love languages. I love teaching English. It seemed like the perfect fit, and like all the things I am passionate about all rolled into one. Plus it would help tremendously in my current job teaching English.

After talking about it with Fred, the big question that came up was, “How are we going to pay for this?” 

If you know me or have been following me, you know that we became debt-free about a year ago after paying off almost $100,000 in student loan debt. Since becoming debt-free, we have been following Dave Ramsey’s “baby steps” and have built an emergency fund and starting putting away 15% for retirement. Since we don’t have kids or a mortgage, we have disposable income, which for the last several months we used to get what we needed to move to Guatemala (we both needed new computers, Fred needed a camera for work, etc.) and also to set up our home in Guatemala (we bought some furniture and some home decor). We definitely took a pay cut to come down here, but we have been very comfortable with our income level.

Then we factored in the numbers for this program, and it definitely wasn’t what I wanted to see. I didn’t think we would be able to afford it, and in talking it over with the school to discuss financial aid, they suggested a student loan.

If you scroll up just a little bit, you’ll see that we paid off almost $100,000 in student loan debt. There was NO WAY that we were taking out another student loan to pay for it.

Time went on, and I started doing the orientation for the program just in case we found a way to make it work (the only entrance point in the program is July, so if I missed it this year, I would have to wait 12+ months to start). I was still on the fence about this decision for most of May and June, and then, the financial pieces started coming together. I found out I got some financial aid. We were able to budget what I would need each month for school and make it work with our salaries. And I started feeling more confident about it.

So after two months of back and forth, I have decided I’m diving in! I’m doing this program to not only do better in my current workplace, but also to prepare for the future. Although this program is quite an investment, it will have a rate of return in the future that makes it more than worth it. The best part is, the program is 100% online, and I can do it while working. It’s the perfect way to make the most of my experience teaching English, and I’m thrilled to be doing it!

In this process, I’ve realized how liberating it is to be debt-free. If we were still in debt, I wouldn’t be able to do my Masters. I would probably feel stuck and frustrated. Instead, I get to invest in my career in a tangible way, and I’m not stressed about it. Life is good!

Photo credit: The incomparable Fred Brown

Now What?

Sometimes big events are anti-climatic.

I shared in my last blog post how Fred and I recently became debt-free and compared it to my recent experience running a 5K. Both events were big for me – milestones in my life that I will look back on with pride and fondness, and yet, both events felt a bit disappointing in the moment.

Don’t get me wrong – I am so glad for both of those things, and I am proud of both of those accomplishments. But sometimes you look forward to something for so long, that when you finally get there, you think “Now what?”

Fred and I paid off our last loan payment on July 1. We punched in the numbers, pressed send, looked at each other and then I eloquently said…”Now what?”

We have been paying on our student loans for 5 1/2 years. It’s been a long journey, and I didn’t ever think it would end. We had talked about what we wanted to do when we became debt-free, I just didn’t anticipate how I would feel once I actually got there.

Photo 2016-07-26, 7 08 59 PMAfter we became debt-free, people kept telling us, “You should celebrate!” We didn’t fully know what we wanted to do, but once we got the official “Your student loans are paid in full!” letter, I knew that it was time to commemorate our freedom somehow. So we took our “date night envelope” and we went to The Keg (a fancy steakhouse). We hardly ever go there but we both love the food, so it seemed fitting to splurge a little. We dressed up, we ordered a bacon-wrapped steak, we ate, we talked. We told our waitress why we were celebrating, and then she gave us each a free dessert (so amazing). We took a picture. We discussed what we wanted to do with our money now that we wouldn’t be making student loan payments anymore.

Photo 2016-07-26, 8 06 56 PMAfter we ate our free dessert and paid the bill, we went home and opened up a bottle of Martinelli’s that Fred insisted we keep from our wedding (that’s 6 years ago, folks). Thanks to refrigeration, a good seal, and some preservatives, the sparkling cider tasted just as delightful as it would have 6 years ago. We toasted being debt-free, we took more pictures…

And now here we are. Life still mostly looks the same – we budget each month, we still use our envelopes of cash to keep us on track. We’ve slightly increased our date fund and our personal spending money (much to Fred’s delight). We still pay our bills, we just don’t pay student loan payments anymore.

As time has gone on, I think the reality has sunk in a bit more. It’s very surreal coming out from a burden you’ve had for years. I took out my first student loan when I was 18. Now, at age 29, I’m re-surfacing from 11 years of being indebted. I’m learning that sometimes freedom takes time, and it’s not all about feelings. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I’m grateful to learn it.

You may be wondering, “What will you do with all of your extra cash now, Browns?”  Great question. (That’s what I would be wondering if I was reading someone else’s blog about being debt-free.)

As many of you know, Fred and I recently accepted jobs with a nonprofit and we will be moving to work and live in Guatemala (starting in January) for the next two years. I’ll be teaching English as to students in a Guatemalan school, so I’m actually going back to university part-time in September to get my TESL certificate.

For me, this has been the coolest thing about getting out of debt. I’m going back to the same university where I started 11 years ago with just a dream in my heart and student loan in hand. This time, I’m going back without a student loan, paying in cash. I couldn’t be happier.  I have come full circle and I know that I am never, ever borrowing money again…and that feeling is worth all of the years of sacrifice and payments.

We’re Debt-Free!

(Some of you have already heard this news, and some of you haven’t. Either way, I’m going to share some of my thoughts about our journey to becoming debt-free. Enjoy!) 

imageIt finally happened.

6 years ago, when Fred and I got married and had almost $100,000 in debt, I didn’t know when we would ever be free. Despite the large amount of money we owed to both the Canadian and American government, we have paid faithfully every month, and on July 1 we made our last payment on our last debt. We’re debt-free!!!

Paying off our debt has felt like a marathon – ebbs and flows of feeling energized (“I’ve got this!”) to feeling defeated (“We’ll never finish…”) and moments of steady perseverance, one foot in front of the other, thinking about something other than how tired we felt and how much I wished it was over.


Sitting on the couch after we made our last student loan payment on July 1!

In June, I ran a 5K race – not a lot to some people, but to me it felt like a big accomplishment. I was never much of a runner before January: I would get winded running for a few seconds. However, I decided that I wanted to participate in a charity fundraiser on June 11, so I got a free app to help me build a running plan (shoutout to Runkeeper!) and I started running. It was slow at first. I stopped a lot and felt like I would never be able to run for 1 minute, much less for 5K. Slowly, over time, I gained endurance. I was able to run for the length of a song before getting winded. Then 2 songs. Then 10 minutes. It was working – I was becoming a runner!

I admit that some days I walked more than I needed to because I didn’t want to run, and on race day, I didn’t run the whole thing. I ran most of it, but stopped to take breaks as needed, and tried to focus on the finish line. One step in front of the other, asking my running friends to tell me stories, anything to get my mind off the fact that I was hot, tired, sweaty, wanted a drink of water, wanted to stop running…

And then I saw it. The big red arch and the words “Finish” in big white letters. “I see it!” I called out breathlessly to my two running companions. “We’re almost done!” With a new burst of strength I ran towards the finish line and crossed it, pumping my arms over my head like I was in a movie.


Post-5K selfie!

“I did it!” I called out. “I did it!” And then like a true millennial, I shouted, “We need to take a selfie! I need to gram this!” I wanted to share this moment with the world – I did something that was something out of character for me, something I had been working on for months, and people needed to know about it.

We snapped our picture, we high-fived people who had finished before us, we ate apple slices. We stretched. We chatted with friends. I went up to people and told them triumphantly, “I did it! I didn’t think I could run 5K, but I did it!” I couldn’t believe it. I knew that I had just finished something I never thought I could. Even though I didn’t run the whole thing, and it took me 42 minutes when it took others much less, I was proud of my pace. I was proud that I did it.

Reflecting on this experience, I can’t help but think how much it reminds me of our debt repayment journey. There have been some seasons where we have chosen to fly somewhere to visit family or to celebrate an event rather than pay off debt. We’ve given to charity when we could have put that money towards our student loan. We didn’t cut out fun money, we gave ourselves date money every month. We jogged or walked some moments when we could have run in our budgeting. But we did it. We accomplished something great.

Looking back at our journey, I am proud. I know we could have paid off our debt in less time. I know we could have cut out some fun things, given less, done less trips, not updated our old iPhones, and scrimped more. But we didn’t. We took the time we took and we still feel proud. At the end of the day, I know we ran the race and we crossed the finish line. We’re debt-free, and to us, that’s what matters.

Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on what it has been like to be debt-free, and some exciting upcoming life changes!

My Five Favourite Meat Substitutes

We all know meat is expensive.

Yet somehow, most of us just keep buying it and complaining about it. I know I do sometimes.

Today’s blog is about hope. About doing something about the thing we complain about. Here is the solution: do something different. Don’t just keep buying something you hate paying for. Make a change!

Fred and I have been on a tight grocery budget for years as we have been paying down our enormous pile of debt. We only spend $60 a week on food. That means we need to be creative with our protein, especially here in the Great White North where things are more expensive!

We try to do at least one meatless meal per week to cut down on grocery costs. We don’t really like tofu, so we’ve learned to use some things that are a bit tastier for us but still pack a protein kick. Here are some of our favourite meat substitutes so we still have enough protein in our diet to get out of bed in the morning.


Photo 2016-04-11, 5 08 40 PM[We aren’t fancy cheese people. Judge our No Name marble cheese all you want, but we like it.]

It seems simple, but cheese is a great protein source, and so good! You can use it to make your own healthier version of Kraft Dinner (Mac and Cheese) or put a pile of it on a baked potato. We also like to put cheese in potato soup, cream cheese in certain chili recipes, and sometimes just eat cheese and crackers. It’s fantastic.


Photo 2016-04-11, 5 07 52 PMLentils seem kind of weird, like something hippies would eat. They probably do…they know how to get protein on a budget! Lentils are a great source of protein (25g per 1/2 cup – that is three times more than a cup of whole milk!), and they don’t have much flavour, which means they pick up on the flavour of things around them. The easiest way to get lentils in your diet is in soup or stew – make a big pot of lentil veggie soup and cook up some biscuits to go alongside – cheap and hearty!


Photo 2016-04-11, 5 10 55 PMI devoted an entire blog to chickpeas where I teach you how I buy chickpeas in a giant bag (for $5), cook them in batches in my crockpot, and use them all the time. Each cup of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) packs 12g of protein. Our favourite ways to use chickpeas are instead of chicken in stir-fry, and to replace some meat in our crockpot chili recipes. You can barely taste them, and they keep you full for hours!


Photo 2016-04-11, 5 09 15 PMSimilar to chickpeas, I also buy bags of uncooked beans, cook them in the crockpot, and keep them in freezer for when I need them (this picture is a jar of frozen black beans). Beans have endless possibilities – you can use them on salads, in quesadillas, in chili recipes, or to make a tasty dip for chips or tortillas. If you want to get really creative and unconventional, I’ve heard good reviews of using black beans to make gluten-free brownies or to make your own burger patties. Choose your level of comfort with this magical fruit.


Photo 2016-04-11, 5 10 20 PMThis isn’t my go-to meat substitute, but one I have used before. I bought the eggplant in this picture for $1 and used it in a batch of spaghetti sauce instead of beef. Eggplant has the feeling of being more substantial, and like lentils and chickpeas, soaks up the flavour of whatever is around it. Easiest way to incorporate eggplant in your meal plan is Italian food – spaghetti, lasagna, and other pasta dishes.

These are a just a few of my simple suggestions for meat substitutes. I’d love to hear from you – you’re welcome to leave a comment below to share your own meatless ideas!

Can’t Buy Me Love

Photo 2016-03-25, 7 22 14 PMI used to think that money solved everything.

This is not entirely inaccurate – money can do a lot of good things like feed hungry families, buy medicine for the sick, or provide something for someone who desperately needs it. But money is just a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. In addition, as The Beatles reveal to us in their famous song, there are some things it just can’t buy.

This journey to becoming debt-free has revealed a lot to me about what kind of person I am. I have learned what I value, what I truly want, and I have learned most of all about being content where I am. Although I don’t have this down pat (I’m not perfect yet!) I have definitely come far from my days where I thought we would be poor forever and pitied myself.

Now I have a better mindset when it comes to money – mainly that I’m not stuck in this poverty mentality anymore. I realize that we are intentionally putting heaps of money to pay off our debt that we could be using for something else. Sometimes I catch myself thinking “I can’t afford that!” and feeling sorry for myself.  In those moments I force a shift in my thinking to instead tell myself, “I could buy [that thing] if I wanted to – but I am intentionally putting my money towards debt.” It helps. It reminds me that we don’t have much further to go, and that the sacrifice is worth it.

I have been thinking the last few weeks about what it will be like to be debt-free. We plan on paying off the remainder our debt (just over $14,000) this year for sure, and more specifically in the next few months (if all goes according to plan). We have started dreaming about what kinds of things we’ll want to do with our money (currently about half of all of our income goes towards debt at this point in the game), and I have started eagerly awaiting the day when I can do “whatever I want” with money.

I have to tell myself that this is not completely accurate. I won’t be able to do “whatever I want” because debt or no debt, there are bills to be paid and things to save for. We will still budget each month, we will still have a plan. Even if the purse strings are loosened a little, we certainly don’t want to waste what we have worked so hard for. We also don’t want to forget these long years of “humble living” (as we affectionately call it) because these years have truly shaped our character, and like a fire, these years have brought our deepest flaws and desires to the surface.

Money can expose our weaknesses, and it can certainly help in certain situations, but it can’t do everything. I’ve been thinking lately about the things that money can’t buy that we can have. These beautiful things are a blessing, and no matter how much money you have, you won’t be able to buy them.


After all…

Money can buy souvenirs, but it can’t buy you memories.

Money can buy you a wedding, but it can’t buy you a happy marriage.

Money can buy you food, but it can’t buy you contentment.

Money can buy you tickets to a show or fancy presents, but it can’t buy you friends.

Money can buy you sleeping pills, but it can’t buy you peace.

Money can buy you a vacation, but it can’t buy you rest.

Money can buy you any material thing you could want, but it can’t buy you character.


I know now that money can’t buy everything, and for that, I am grateful. 

Ways I’m Practicing Thanksgiving This Christmas Season

Photo 2015-11-27, 8 45 09 AMAs an American living in Canada, I have the privilege of celebrating Thanksgiving day twice (and having a wonderful reason to eat a big turkey meal with loved ones in October and November)!

This year, I realized that I want to practice Thanksgiving not just on those days set aside and given to us off of work, but always. Especially with Christmas coming up.

This realization came mainly as I was planning my Christmas present list. I LOVE giving gifts (probably one of my main love languages) and last year Fred and I spent way more than originally planned. Sure, we budgeted for it and paid cash for everything, but we definitely wished we had planned better. Giving gifts is wonderful, but there has to be a better way to appreciate those we love in our lives rather than overspending and under-planning, right?

I was also thinking about what I wanted to buy with my own Christmas money that I would likely receive and started feeling frustrated. Instead of thinking how nice it would be to have a little money to spend on something for myself, I started thinking about how it wouldn’t be enough to buy everything that I wanted.


I couldn’t believe I had slipped into such a greedy place. It shocked me enough that I knew that I needed to pause and reflect. I like to fancy myself very content, frugal, and appreciative. However, as a person living in a North American context, it’s so easy to get caught up in being focused on material things. Especially as Christmas approaches, greediness is not only culturally okay, but even encouraged (I write this on Black Friday – a prime example of this).

I realized that I often forget about being thankful. Thankfulness is the best cure for greediness in my experience – and this Christmas season, here is how I am going to practice the art of giving thanks to combat greediness:

1. Giving away what I don’t need or use. 

This has been my new favourite thing lately. I’ve been going through clothes, drawers and closets to find things that I have just kept because I forgot about them or wanted to keep them “just in case.”

So far I’ve given away a few boxes of things that I definitely don’t need and have freed up some valuable space in our conservative apartment. It feels amazing to get rid of things – you should give it a try!

2. Appreciating what I have.

Once you get remove the things that you don’t need from your home, you’re left with the things that you actually use and you can appreciate them more. I find that if I think about using the things that I actually have rather than focusing on what I don’t have, I am more thankful.

Photo 2015-11-27, 8 57 00 AM3. Celebrating progress.

As Fred and I continue to pay off our debt  (with just $21,726 left to pay out of over $95,000!) I am choosing to focus on what we have accomplished instead of being frustrated with what we still have left to pay off.

I shared on social media how we paid off my U.S. student loan last month and never wrote a full blog to commemorate it. Today I share that I am thankful that we have paid off this $22,596.75 loan in just under 5 years. (This would be over $30,200 CAD with the current exchange rate.)

This is a huge accomplishment and instead of thinking that we still have one loan left to go, I need to remember we have paid 5 out of our 6 loans. For that, I am thankful.

4. Making my Christmas gifts.

Instead of just buying something and checking something off a list, I am making the majority of our Christmas gifts this year. It reminds me how thankful I am for the person I am giving it to, rather than just giving them something that I “picked up.”  (Bonus budget tip: This is also a great way to save money as homemade gifts usually cost less if done right!)

Fred and I affectionately call these my “Christmas crafts” (inspired by Dave Ramsey telling people to “make Christmas a craft” when paying off debt.) In addition to saving money, I am actually having so much fun and am more thankful for people as I spent more time making something for them!

5. Focusing on being thankful instead of on what I don’t have. 

This is the main thing that keeps me thankful. Sometimes I look around my house and say out loud “I am thankful for my chair and couches that I didn’t pay for” or “I am thankful that I have a nice place to live.” (Side note: Our lovely ’70s couch featured in this blog’s title picture. It just seemed right.)

Just acknowledging out loud that you are thankful for something really shifts something in your heart and mind and I really believe it can change the way we view our circumstances. Feel free to give it a try today!

How do you practice thankfulness? Leave a comment below if you’d like to share with me. 🙂 

How to Travel on a Budget (Part 2)

Photo 2015-09-01, 4 52 58 PM3 months ago I shared how to travel on a budget, particularly when it comes to trips where you do mostly driving in your own country. However, many times travel involves flying and going international.

My family and friends know that I travel a lot for my job, which is great fun for me and such a privilege. In my many travels, I have learned a few things about budgeting and saving money on an international adventure, and I want to share some of my tips with you today!

1. Bring your own food. Airport food is a rip-off. Some of you may already know this, but it is ridiculous. Sometimes you have no other option but to buy a meal in the airport, and that’s the way that it goes, but sometimes you have the luxury to plan ahead.

If it works with your travel schedule, bring a meal or snacks that you made at home or purchased at the store. Even buying snacks like chips and granola bars at the grocery store ahead of time will save you a ton of money compared to the prices in the airport and on airplanes. (I never travel without a snack in my bag – you never know when you’ll need to eat something and you’ll thank yourself when your only option is a $4 bag of chips or a $3 bottle of water!)

I once saw a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at an airport for $5. Let’s stop the madness – bring your own food (and water bottle) if possible.

2. Think about what souvenirs you want to buy ahead of time. Knowing what kinds of gifts and souvenirs you want to bring home before you go shopping is a great thing to do to help you eliminate unnecessary shopping. When I am in a local market or souvenir store, I want to buy everything because it all looks so cute and fun. One of the things I ask myself when I am looking at something I want to buy is “Will this still be cool when I get back home?” Usually the answer is no.

Photo 2015-05-10, 1 57 47 PM (1)If you travel a lot, it may be helpful to think of one thing that you like collecting or buying for certain friends and family members that can be your “go-to” souvenir. For me, I really like nativity scenes, and can usually find ones that are decently priced when I travel. These are a fun decoration that I bring out for just a month or so every year, and they remind me of the place I visited (see the llama one I picked up from Peru – hilarious!).

For some of my good friends, I always buy them some kind of carved or crafted bird (usually a duck if I can find it). Knowing what I want to buy allows me to have a focus when I shop for souvenirs so that I am not distracted by all of the “cool” things I could bring home.

3. Think local. If you’re able to find a nice local who will show you around town and show you where the locals shop – you’re bound to get a better deal. Tourist markets often have marked up prices because they assume that you as a tourist might not know better. Having a local friend will change the price that you’re given at a market.

Even better is if you have a few phrases memorized in the local language so that you can bargin like a pro!

4. Dive into the culture. Don’t just hang out with all of the white people – go to local places to experience culture and food. You’ll save a bit of money eating local, and you’ll have a much more authentic experience of the place you are visiting. The best tacos I ever had in my life were outside of someone’s house on a little street in Mexico. My Mexican friends trusted the owners and went with me – and we had the most delicious meal without spending much at all!

5. Research. Make sure you do a little researching beforehand to know what you want to see when you are there so that you can plan your trip out before you go.

We once had a layover in London overnight, and Fred researched a fun local restaurant to eat at and printed a map of the subway before we went so that we knew what we were doing. It ended up being so helpful to have a route mapped out because we didn’t have a lot of time to see the sights!

6. Bring US dollars to exchange for local currency. For my American friends, this makes sense, but it’s a good reminder for those of us who live in Canada. Many places don’t take Canadian money when exchanging, so it’s good to save the hassle and come prepared. You’ll save a hefty bank fee and a headache.

These are just a few of my tips for travelling! What are some of your travel tips? Comment below – I’d love to learn from your experiences! 

How to Travel on a Budget (Part 1)

Photo 2015-07-20, 5 27 12 PMThis month, my husband and I went on a 23 day road trip. And we only spent $1,535 for our entire journey.

We had been wanting to join my family for a vacation in Yellowstone, and we decided that driving would be the most cost-effective way to go. Then Fred decided that since we were already driving across the country, we might as well stop and see more family and some friends on the way. This week-long trip morphed into over three weeks over three provinces and eleven states.

I could chronicle our whole trip in this blog, but I won’t. Most of our close friends have already heard our whole saga. What I want to do instead is share some of our money-saving tips with you.

Here is what I learned from our trip:

1. If you can get somewhere by driving (and you have the time), then drive. It’s not always feasible, and for us we are in a sweet spot in life where we have no kids and Fred has the summers off. I know that sometimes time is a factor, and kids make it hard to travel in the car.

For us on this trip, it was an easy decision to choose to drive. In addition to it being less expensive than flying, we had family and friends along the way, which helped a lot with my second tip.

Photo 2015-07-15, 1 12 24 PM2. Stay with friends and family if possible. This saved us so much money on our trip! We only paid for one hotel our whole 3.5 week trip. It’s a great way to spend time with those you don’t see often, and so helpful for the budget.

However, don’t just be a free-loader. Help with the dishes. Buy some groceries to share. Bring a little gift and card to say thank you. Just because they are friends or people who have to like you because they are related to you doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat them like gold!

3. Pack a cooler and buy groceries for the car. Eating out every meal on a road trip gets expensive quickly – even if you’re only eating fast food. We tried to eat at least one meal of homemade sandwiches/salads during our long driving days. Not only did this save us money, but it helped us eat a lot more healthy!

Photo 2015-07-09, 4 04 47 PM4. Do something fun. For us, visiting our family and friends was the main reason we went on the trip. However, we also made time to do fun things for just the two of us – our top outings were going to the beach and going to Disneyland for a day. It helped us to feel like it was a real vacation where we could relax and enjoy – without breaking the bank.

5. Make a budget. For us, we made a budget for our whole trip so that we planned ahead and stuck to the amount we wanted to spend. We used a combination of cash and debit cards, and this helped us to stay on track. If we had been charging things as we went, it would have been so easy to overspend. Having a debit card helped us to track our purchases each day, and know how much we had left.

Here are some things that we put into our budget:

  • Travel insurance (we were in the states, so this was a must for us, even though we didn’t end up using it)
  • Money for fun with friends (we planned for this, and were able to have a great night on the town with a close friend)
  • Gas (obviously)
  • Food (mostly for groceries, with some eating out)
  • Buffer (we carried some “emergency cash” just in case)

Overall, here’s how our budget played out (in CAD):

Travel insurance: $132

Our time in Canada (6 days): $400

Our time in the U.S. (17 days): $1003

Total : $1535*

*We also had a small fix that we needed to do on our car (replace our right axle as well as do an oil change), which we hadn’t budgeted for, so that came out of our budget once we got home as an emergency. This was a $373 surprise, but was quickly resolved by our savings.*

Stay posted for part 2 of this post – how to travel on a budget when you need to take a plane to get there.

Do you have any advice for traveling on a budget? Leave me a comment below to share your tips. I’d love to read them!

How We Went to Disneyland on a Budget

Photo 2015-07-23, 11 19 10 AMTwo weeks ago, we were in the magic kingdom.

In my last post, I mentioned that we went on a road trip (which I will share more about in my next post), and on this trip we had the privilege of going to Disneyland for a day. I wanted to share with you some of the ways we saved money and how we were able to go while in this season of paying off our significant amount of debt.

We were traveling to the Southern California area to visit family anyways, so that automatically made our decision easier. We didn’t have to buy plane tickets, which is a huge factor for most people in going to the park.

We were going to be less than 30 minutes away from Disneyland, and Fred and I had been wanting to go for years since we were both children last time we went to Disneyland. We decided it was worth it since it was a dream of ours, we had family nearby that we could stay with and we were already going to be so close. It seemed like a no-brainer, even though we are on a budget and still have around $27,000 in debt to pay off.

Sometimes, even when you are on a budget, you sacrifice for the things that will make a dream of yours come true. (Click here to tweet that.)

In order to go, we knew we had to budget and plan for the day. We learned a few things and gleaned a lot of wisdom from people, and I wanted to share some of our money saving tips with you! Here they are:

Photo 2015-07-10, 11 35 45 PM1. If possible, stay with family or friends who live nearby. My grandparents are literally a 20 minute drive away from Disneyland, so we were able to stay with them for free and drive in and out easily, without having to book a hotel. I realize this is not an option for everyone, but for us, it helped save a bundle.

2. Snag a discount ticket if you can. Now, tickets will rarely be more than 1-10% off, but if you have some kind of discount, only if it’s a few dollars, take it.  MouseSavers is a great website that outlines tons of discounts. We were blessed to receive a large portion of our tickets as a gift from someone, who generously paid for the bulk of our tickets after we had some unexpected car repairs on our trip. Another option would be to save up Christmas/Birthday money for a ticket.

Photo 2015-07-10, 7 55 55 AM3. Stay as long as you can. The park opens at 8:00am and closes at 12:00am. Since tickets are $99 USD each, we wanted to make the most of our day there. We arrived before rope drop (opening of the park) and stayed until the park had officially closed to ensure that we made every minute of our 16 hours there count!

4. Don’t buy meals in the park. Now, this may seem obvious, but it is a huge money saver. We had breakfast before we went, and brought sandwiches for lunch and dinner. You are allowed to take food in, so we packed our backpack full of sandwiches, crackers, fruit, and granola bars so that we didn’t have to buy any food there.

If we had bought meals, we would have easily spent $8/meal per person (at least $32 total). Every dollar counts when you’re on a budget! The one exception we made was splitting an ice cream in the heat of the day ($6.15 USD). A small treat that was worth every penny.

5. Parking can be free. We didn’t do this, but I have heard that you can park at Downtown Disney for free for 3 hours. If you want to pop in and out to move your car to save the $17 USD parking fee, you can. For us, it was more worth it to spend as much time as we could in the park, but this is an option.

Photo 2015-07-22, 8 15 17 AM6. Think about souvenirs ahead of time. There is literally so much stuff that you could buy at Disneyland. Some of the rides even exit through a gift shop. For me, I wanted one small souvenir to remember our day, so I used a Starbucks gift card to buy a Disneyland mug. This  was exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t actually spend any of my own money. It was the perfect token to take home!

We don’t have children, but if you did go with children, I would suggest that you allow them to either have a price limit (ex. $15) or allow them to buy only one reasonably priced item so they walk away with something small to remember the day, but not something from every store.

A friend of mine said that as a child, her parents gave her “Disney Dollars” that she could spend on snacks or souvenirs in the park, and once they were gone, that was it. This option gives children a limit while still allowing them to walk away with something special. You could also give yourself Disney Dollars if this would help you really stick to your budget!

Overall, it was a magical day, and was definitely worth it for us to put this in our budget. Below is a breakdown of what we spent in the magic kingdom (a bit more than it would be for our American friends, since we live in Canada and the exchange rate is 1.30 right now).

Photo 2015-07-09, 4 04 47 PMTotal spent in CAD: 

$259.78 (tickets)

$22.10 (parking)

$8.00 (ice cream)

$1.34 (postcard)

Total before gift: 291.22 CAD

– $200 (gift towards tickets)

Total we spent: $91.22 CAD

Totally worth it to make our dream come true!

Do you have any tips on saving money in Disneyland or any other theme parks? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom!

Things I’m Into – July 2015

Photo 2015-07-14, 4 33 54 PMSo…it has been a while since I have written a blog (3 months and a few days, to be exact).

I often have really good ideas for my blog, but life has been so busy with travel and work that I haven’t had the time to sit down and actually type them. I have two awesome blog ideas in my head for traveling on a budget (stay posted!) but today I will be sharing the things that I have been into this month.


Fred and I went a road trip this month and our favourite snack food was Chicago Mix. This is a beautiful blend of cheddar cheese and caramel popcorn. So incredibly delicious.

We seriously ate it almost every time we had a long driving day, we had some at Disneyland, we ate some on the beach…you get the idea. If you’ve never had it, you should pick up a bag as soon as you can. You won’t regret it!

To Wear 

Photo 2015-07-19, 9 53 49 PMI’ve always wanted to find ways to wear things that are super comfortable that make me feel good. Fortunately, jumpers (a.ka. onesies that are socially acceptable as grown-up outfits) are in fashion right now, and I bought one when I was in Edmonton this month.

Love it. I’ve worn it at least twice a week since I bought it 3 weeks ago.


On our road trip, we spent a lot of time in the car, and we listened to music, an audio book, and lots of podcasts. My favourite thing that we listened to is a new podcast called Mystery Show. I used to think that podcasts were just sermons, but there are hundreds (well, at least dozens) of interesting podcasts out there that feature a broad range of topics.

Mystery Show has 5 episodes so far, and every one is a winner. Download the first one to listen to, and you’ll want to listen to them ALL.


Photo 2015-07-19, 10 11 44 PMA few months ago, Fred checked out the last season of The Office from the library. I know it’s been two years since the show ended, but we really enjoyed watching it.

I loved it so much that I went back and I have been watching through the series lately. It’s so funny, and has been the perfect background noise for my current hobby.


Photo 2015-07-19, 11 39 54 AMWhen people get married and have babies, I like to crochet something for them. For weddings I make potholders, and for baby showers I make baby blankets.

It’s fun, frugal, and personal, but it does take a lot of time, so it’s nice to be able to have something else to do/watch/listen to while I am working. The Office has been great for that!

So that’s a little glimpse into my life this month. What things have you been into lately?

Leave me a comment below and share with me. I’d love to hear about what you’re into!

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