One For the Road

During June, COMPASS has shared ideas, experiences and stories about how to have fun on a summer budget. Today’s post was adapted from a past edition of Simple Living, a monthly column by Amanda Garcia and published in the Messenger magazine, the denominational magazine for the Church of the Brethren. 

On the Road

On the Road

When I was a little kid and our family minivan trekked from the Midwest to Gramma’s house in Florida, there was no greater road trip treat than chicken nuggets and orange soda. When I got older, it was a cold, chocolaty, coffee beverage with whipped cream. But these days, my idea of a “treat” while traveling looks more like a salad that’s not in a plastic box.

Fresh, healthful food can be a challenge to come by on the road, which makes eating well a challenge. Cost is another factor—when French fries cost 50 cents and an apple costs 3 dollars in an airport terminal, it can be difficult to weigh your choices. Wisely spending money and making nutritious food choices are two very different stewardship practices that need to be considered together while traveling.

In the name of simplicity, savings, and wellness, I’ve experimented with travel-friendly foods that I thought I’d pass along. If you have suggestions to add to this list, please share!

Happy trails.

  1. While driving, stop at roadside farm stands whenever possible (especially when they have homemade apple butter).
  2. Instant oatmeal packets require very little space in suitcases and make a quick, cheap, and nutritious breakfast almost anywhere (including hotels with in-room coffee makers).
  3. Hardboiled eggs are a great way to add protein to a meal on the run, and are especially easy to eat if they are peeled ahead of time.
  4. Slices of carrots, celery, and broccoli are tasty replacements for chips alongside a store-bought sandwich. They also don’t require refrigeration for several hours.
  5. Apples, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits (pineapple, apricots, golden raisins, cranberries, bananas) are full of fiber and all natural sugars, and also require no refrigeration.
  6. Whole grain crackers travel well in a small box or bag and go perfectly with your apple butter.
  7. Almond butter and honey will also top your crackers well, and are good for stirring into oatmeal—just be sure to pack them in your checked luggage if you’re flying.
  8. Dry cereal and granola are filling and great for snacking, as well as breakfast.
  9. It’s always important to drink lots of water while traveling, so if you’re flying, pack an empty bottle and fill it with water after you get through security.
  10. If you’re traveling with a cooler, freeze bottles of water or juice for an efficient way to keep food cold instead of ice. When the liquid melts, drink it!

Amanda GarciaAbout the Author: Amanda Garcia is an Ecumenical Stewardship Center board member and a freelance writer and designer outside of Chicago. Her undergraduate degree is in Communications and Worship Arts, and she is currently pursuing a Masters in Business Administration, where her interests in strategic planning, dynamic leadership, and good financial practices merge with her background and expertise in communications. Amanda and her husband, Dan, are avid gardeners and prioritize healthful cooking and seasonal eating all year long. They are active members of Zion Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Elgin, IL.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credit: On the Road

More Tips for Travel on a Budget

COMPASS has shared ideas, experiences and stories during the month of June of how to have fun on a summer budget. Recently, Nicole Brennan shared with us some of her cost-saving tips for travel. Here are some more helpful reminders on how to stay budget conscious and still have fun during your summer travels.

Like I wrote in part one, I relish in deals and money-saving tricks, especially when traveling. Summer can be expensive for travel (since gas prices are higher and it’s the typical tourist season) but with some handy tricks, it shouldn’t put a huge dent in your wallet.

Try to be flexible. When searching for airfare, check prices for three days prior and after your planned travel dates. Flying out on a Saturday morning rather than a Friday night can easily save you $100 a ticket. Create a list of various activities you’d like to try and rank them in importance, knowing you might not visit them all. The worst part about pre-planning is having too rigid of a schedule. Make allowances for weather, emotions, and exhaustion by having a few options available.

Having dinner in Vernazza

Having dinner in Vernazza

Splurge on lunch and save on dinner. One of my more practical tips focuses on meal planning. Dinner is the most expensive meal of the day for Americans. Lunch specials can offer the same great cuisine at a discounted rate. Make a reservation for that Michelin restaurant at 1pm, and eat pub food in the evening. A role reversal can save you a lot when dining out. (Be sure to share your food, too! You can split a few meals, try a bite of everything at the table, and not have to pay extra!)

Savor your surroundings. While on vacation or staycation, plan some nature time. A hike, picnic, or a walk down the boulevard or beach is a cheap way to waste a day and appreciate the beauty around you. Find some quiet time to marvel at God’s wonders before your next activity. (I find journaling during these times particularly eye-opening.)

Visiting the Niagara butterflies

Visiting the Niagara butterflies

Maintain a balance. I try to “highlight” one activity a day to help me balance out my frugality. Whether that is a great meal, a unique excursion, a special treat, or an unusual souvenir, I try to treat myself daily. Just like a diet, if you are constantly in a starvation mode, you are bound to act out. This is a vacation after all- Enjoy it! Allowing yourself a “cheat” every once in a while helps your psychology and your budget in the end. (Be sure to include extra spending money for your “cheats” in the plan. You do have a budget, after all!)

Above all else, remember people (and your experiences) are always more important than things. I learned this proverb at a young age, and incorporate it in my daily philosophy. It is easy while watching your pennies to become too focused on the spreadsheets and not what really matters. It is more important to spend money on the journey, the memories, and your travel companions than extra postcards, magnets, or other frivolous souvenirs. Have your priorities straight when planning and during the vacation and invest in them.

During your travel, be it an exotic destination, entertaining cruise, or a sparkling staycation, take time to enjoy the many blessings God has created: the scenery, the company, and the opportunity you have to travel and relax.

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoy live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Tips for Travel, Vacations, or Staycations on a Budget

During June, COMPASS is sharing ideas, experiences and stories for how to have summer fun on a budget. Today we welcome back Nicole Brennan, a marketing assistant with Barnabas Foundation who shares some budget-friendly tips for summer travel, in the first of a two part blog-post series.

School is out, long weekends abound, and the beautiful weather outside your window is beckoning… All signs point to vacation!

Everyone needs a little “TLC” or “R’n’R” (pick your acronym!) during these warm, lazy summer days, but sticking to a budget is still necessary. I enjoy being frugal and thrifty, and carry these values out to my travel plans, be it a vacation or staycation.

Enjoying a ride with my friend Catherine in a gondolla while visiting and experiencing Venice, Italy

Enjoying a ride with my friend Catherine in a gondolla while visiting and experiencing Venice, Italy.

First step’s first- Create a budget! Know who is going, where you will go, what you will do, and the approximate cost. (Of course not knowing where you go is always an exhilarating adventure!) Research and estimate the cost for transportation, meals, activities, souvenirs, and create a budget including a “miscellaneous” category. Stay within your means by finding discounts, planning free or low cost activities, and taking advantage of friends and family. (Why pay a hotel/hostel/campground when you can stay in a guest bedroom/living room/backyard for free?) I also keep my receipts and journal my expenses during the trip. This way, I know where my money is going and am more budget-conscious in the midst of the vacation.

Don’t be caught unaware… Be prepared! Preparation is crucial to budgeting. There’s an old adage in event planning that can be applied to a multitude of situations: “An event can be cheap, fast, or good, but you can only have two.” Since I want my vacation to be cheap and good, I can’t have fast, too. That’s where planning comes in. Spreadsheets are my best friend, and I highly suggest you become acquainted with them. Write out (or include hyperlinks) to various information you might need: sleeping schedules, packing lists, day plans, directions and maps, meal information, and your vacation budget. (On my recent trip to Italy, I had seven different spreadsheets and a “vacation folder” I traveled with containing printed versions.) I suggest planning to happen at least a month before the trip. A benefit to prior preparation- it builds the anticipation!

“Let’s make a deal” should be your catchphrase. If you are traveling, be sure to check airfare and transportation deal sites. Expedia, Booking.com and Airfare Watchdog are great sites for airplane tickets, but Hotwire, TravelZoo, Orbitz, and Travelocity provide deals on airfare, cruises, hotels, activities, etc. Try to check them all for deals and steals. Finding a great bargain can be daunting, but I get excitement from it. If that’s not you, pick your favorite “deal” site (or two) and go with those. If you only check one site, be sure to check Kayak.com because it compares various websites and has a “Confidence meter” that tells you when to buy your tickets. BONUS: Purchase airfare at least a month to two weeks in advance, and on a Tuesday afternoon when flight prices are their lowest.

On the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

On the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

Check with the vendor. A frequent tip I share is to check Groupon for deals, and before you make the purchase, call the vendor. Most of the time, they will honor the Groupon price without you having to purchase the Groupon. (Groupon makes their profit by taking a percentage of the purchase price from the seller.) By bypassing Groupon, you are still getting a deal, but you are putting your money in the hands of the local business. The same goes for airfare and transportation. Some budget airlines (Southwest, Spirit, Frontier, etc.) don’t list their flights on other deal sites, so you’ll have to check their websites individually.

Read the policy statements and customer reviews! I get so excited when I find an amazing deal that I sometimes buy it before checking the details. (There is always a reason why that good is on sale… find it out.) Budget airlines might charge you exorbitant fees for baggage. Hotel deals may not be available for weekends. There may be too many people in your party (or not enough) to qualify for the activity deal. Know the limits of the bargain and try to work within them.

In the next blog post, I’ll share some more helpful hints and budget friendly tips!

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoy live music with friends, or watching reruns ofParks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Fun and Frugal Ideas for the Summer

During June, COMPASS is sharing ideas, experiences and stories for how to have summer fun on a budget. Today we welcome Nicole Brennan, a marketing assistant with the Barnabas Foundation who shares some fun and frugal ideas for the Summer. 

summer funThere are so many options for fun activities during summertime, and all those options can be expensive! I always find it amazing how quickly everything adds up, even when you watch your wallet. Since kids are home from school, it’s a surprising extra expense to keep them occupied, too.

I am one of four kids, and during the summer my parents would take us on several day trips. My favorite summer memories just happen to be budget friendly, as well. (Which is a necessity when you have multiple children!) Now, as a SYAC (single, young adult in the city) I need to mind my pennies, but have fun with my friends, too!

Here are my suggestions for fun and frugal summer ideas:

  • Day at the beach. Pack your towels, sunscreen and cooler for sandwiches for a cheap but long day! Go with another family, couple, or a few friends, too! Bring your shovels to build a sand castle, DIY lawn games (like Ladder Ball), and volleyball to keep you and kids occupied.
  • Picnics at the park. Parks (local and national) abound in the USA! Take advantage of them and the free equipment they have. Bring some leftovers, pasta salads, or summer fruit and enjoy the greenery around you. Be sure to pack a blanket and bug spray, too!
  • Free admission days to the museums or zoos. Most museums and zoos have free admission days during the summer. Be sure to check the websites of your local places for their schedules! Bonus: Heritage or cultural centers are usually free or accept a small donation, and are under-utilized by the general population. They are just as educational and most offer discounted programs, too.
  • Read at the library. Libraries are becoming increasingly unpopulated, but I sure don’t know why! Free air conditioning, summer reading programs, and free access to all the books in world… what else does someone need? Libraries also have CDs, movies, audio books, e-books, and apps for you to borrow! If you don’t have a library card, get one today!
  • Visit your city’s online calendar. Almost all cities (or villages, counties, etc.) have a website with a calendar of events. With a little research, you can find great festivals and free events in your community. I live in Chicago, and we have a wonderful city calendar, complete with notices about free concerts and weekly dance parties!
  • Attend summer/day camps. VBS (Vacation Bible School) was always a highlight of my summer, even though it wasn’t at my home church. I met new friends, learned a few verses, and stayed out of my mom’s hair for the week. Besides your church, try your YMCA, park district, and community college for day camps. Learning new skills is valuable at any age!
  • Plan a treasure hunt. Geocaching is my nieces’ favorite way to explore nature and find hidden treasures. There are over 2.5 million geocaches around the world and I assure you, dozens in your area. As long as you have a smart phone or GPS you can play this global hide and seek!
  • Check social media for DIY projects. Pinterest always has great DIY projects and games for the whole family and is budget friendly! You can easily spend a few days just finding them! Buzzfeed had a great list full of Pinterest activities for kids made out of dollar store items!
  • Google it! When in doubt, Google and Google Maps are your best friend. Find Meetup groups, free or cheap events and fests, and endless ideas to waste away the day. Learn a dance routine, try a new recipe, build a hammock, or play a new game. It’s all there on the amazing, free tool we call “the internet!”

Do you have other ideas? Something that really worked for you? Please share in the comments below!

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoy live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Summer and Vacation Fun on a Budget

During June, COMPASS is sharing ideas, experiences and stories for how to have summer fun on a budget. Today we welcome back Marcia Shetler, Executive Director and CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center who shares some thoughts about vacations. 

RVI like to travel, and I come from a family of travelers, at least on my father’s side. My grandfather bought his first RV in the early 1960s, when that type of vehicle was somewhat of a novelty. Both my grandparents and parents spent a significant portion of their retirement years as full-time RVers. As a child and even a teenager, I looked forward to our family summer vacations each year, which were often trips to an Atlantic Ocean-side beach. As a parent, I was happy to be able to provide similar vacation experiences for our own children, including RV “camping”.

Writing about vacations, of course, is referring to a subject of privilege. North American culture tells us we deserve vacations and holidays, but many persons in our world cannot imagine such an opportunity. As Christians—and Christian stewards—should we view vacations from a perspective of entitlement, guilt, or something in between?

Aaron Crowe, editor at the Credit Solution Program, wrote an article titled 7 Reasons Why We Overspend on Vacation.  He includes a sense of entitlement on his list, and some other interesting factors, like letting the feeling of needing to run with the crowd to popular, hyped-up destinations trump real rest and solitude off the beaten path, which really would do us the most good. The last item on his list of reasons for overspending is “not practicing mindfulness and gratitude”. There’s a bit of a faith-based connection! He closes by saying, “So slow down and spend some time just lounging at the hotel pool instead of rushing out to spend more money. Really talk to your spouse and kids for once, instead of allowing everyone to tap away at their smartphone screens during dinner. When you’re grateful, you don’t need to fill some inner void by acquiring stuff.”

A resource of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative is a short video, “How do you decide what to do with your money?” One of the young adults in this person-on-the-street-style video shared that his mother encourages him to invest in experiences, not things. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the crowds of his day—and he tells us—not to worry about food and clothing, and that God will provide for us. We need to make sure we are not packing those anxieties in our bags for vacation or otherwise.

Can your faith, budget, and holiday or vacation time really coexist? Karen Baker wrote about Five ways to explore your faith on vacation in the US Catholic. Consider these ideas, many of which are quite budget-friendly:

  • Visit a retreat center or take a trip to a place with spiritual significance.
  • Spend time outdoors in God’s creation.
  • Visit an historical site (like a birthplace or monument) of a person or group that you find inspiring.
  • Invest your vacation in God’s work and kingdom: volunteer near or far.
  • Do all of the above in areas close to home that you have yet to explore.

If you have the privilege of a summer vacation, consider that it is part of the blessings that God has given you, no matter what your budget. Be grateful, and be on the lookout for God’s presence, no matter where your travels take you!

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credit: RV

Summer Fun on a Budget

RevealsThe sun is shining, the water is warming up and the days are much longer. Happy Summer everyone!

COMPASS is sharing different perspectives and ideas during the month of June to help get you in the mood, and to help prepare you to have fun this summer while on a budget.  Some of the topics and questions we will share about will be:

  • Having Summer Fun on a Budget with Young Adults and Kids
  • Camping and Christian Camping as part of summer
  • Tips for Travel, Vacations and Staycations on a Budget

We’ll cover these topics and more with the help of a number of guest writers and me. To start our month of ideas, tips and conversation, consider these three questions:

  • What is your best summer memory? What makes it so memorable, and how could you make that experience happen again?
  • What kind of a budget do you have for summer fun? Or, do you need help making a budget for the summer?
  • Have you ever gone traveling on a vacation or spent a week (or more) at camp during the summer? If so, where did you go and what did you learn?

As I think about those questions, my best summer memories either all involve vacations with families and those close to me, or the fun around the summer that my wife Allison and I got married. The common denominator in all of these memories is fun outside (at a pool, playing baseball/kickball, etc.), spending good quality time with important people in my life. Allison and I will be moving later this summer for her internship toward pastoral ministry, so hopefully we’ll be able to build some fun sightseeing into our moving trip.

Allison and I on a quick summer trip last year to see a couple friends of ours be ordained as pastors.

Allison and I on a quick summer trip last year to see a couple friends of ours be ordained as pastors.

Our upcoming move and a planned trip for a friend’s wedding are considerations as we plan our summer fun budget. We look forward to hosting friends at our home this summer and exploring local options, like attending a ball game or two.

I have been very blessed to be able to travel throughout much of the United States with family and loved ones, and I’ve even seen some different parts of the world. What I’ve learned through traveling and vacations is that I really love learning about history and the stories and cultures of different places and different peoples. It gives me a better perspective about how I relate to the larger world which I am part of as one of God’s children and part of God’s creation.

Now, it’s your turn. How would you respond to these questions?

Also, I am still looking for guest writers on any of the topics above. If you would like to share a perspective or reflection, please let me know!

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Frugal Tips for Recent Graduates

During the month of May COMPASS  has been giving space for conversations and questions about “What’s Next?” Specifically we are thinking about budgeting and student loans during and after graduation and the life transitions that commonly begin during this month. Today we welcome back Grace Duddy Pomroy to the blog. This post previously appeared on Grace’s blog, and is adapted and used here with her permission.

graduationIt’s the time of year when graduation pictures fill Facebook and Instagram: a time of bittersweet endings and fresh beginnings for many people. Congratulations to all of this year’s graduates. I called this post “tips for recent grads” because we are just coming to the end of the graduation time of year, but really this is advice for anyone.

After you have just graduated you experience a significant life transition, making it an easier time to shift your money priorities, but you could certainly make this shift at any time. For young professionals, I am convinced that two of the best things that you can do with your money is to use it to invest in yourself and those you care about through repaying loans and saving.

If you are a recent grad, with student debt it can be tempting to wait until the end of your grace period to start paying your off your student loan. I would encourage you not to wait. When you get a full-time job and begin creating your budget, put your student loans in your budget right away. There are many online calculators that can help you figure out your monthly payment amounts for your loans. If you can’t afford making the payments right away, consider just paying the interest on the loans during your grace period. Any little bit will help in the long run.

After you move out of your grace period, get on a payment plan that works for you. If you can afford to pay at least the minimum on all of your loans, do it. Check into consolidation and income-based repayment plans if you qualify. Then make a plan to get out of debt.

Snowball

Snowball

I have a plan to pay off my student loans in 5 years (half of the recommended time). I am using the snowball method to get out of debt faster. I began by paying off my two smaller loans ($2,000 or less). I paid off the first one within a little over a year of graduation and then put the minimum payment from that loan towards the next smallest loan. Within about six months, I paid off the next smallest loan. Now, I am putting the money I had been putting towards that second smallest loan towards my next smallest loan which also happens to be the one with the most interest. I hope to pay off this loan with in the next year or two. Coming out of grad school, I felt overwhelmed by my debt and needed some quick wins so I started with my smallest loans. However, the smarter choice would have been to get rid of the highest interest loan first.

During a research project, I spoke with a man in his thirties who told me that he and his wife had decided not to focus too much on paying off their debt but instead to take this time to enjoy other opportunities, particularly travel. There is certainly a balance between enjoying your 20s and 30s vs.  paying off your loans quickly. You have to find the balance that is the best fit for you, your values, and priorities.

Once you have a plan for your debt in line, you can begin thinking about savings. Regardless of your debt level, you should always leave space in your budget to build up your emergency fund and long-term savings, even if it is just $20 a month. Beyond that you can begin to think about short-, mid- and long-range savings goals. Short-term goals (two years or less) might be saving for a vacation, computer, car, or even a wedding. Mid-range goals (five to even twenty years out) might include saving for house, dream vacation, a child’s education, etc. A long-range goal is generally retirement or another 20+ year goal. At this point in my life I am focused on short and long range goals, saving for my emergency fund, retirement as well as doing some fun short-term savings. There is almost nothing more financially rewarding than continually investing in a savings fund and achieving your goal.

When you are focusing on paying off debt, especially a large amount of debt, it can be tempting not to save. In most cases, this would be a mistake that could really cost you. It is important to have some emergency savings (3-6 months of income saved) or at least a modest rainy day fund ($1000+) before charging full speed ahead on your debt. While this may seem like a road block in the way of paying your debt, if you don’t have an emergency or rainy day fund any unexpected expense like an unanticipated car repair, medical expense, or travel expense can really throw off your budget and your debt repayment plan by adding more debt. Saving and paying off debt is a delicate balance but it is doable and worthwhile.

Join the Conversation: What is your plan for repaying and saving?

Grace headshotAbout the Author: Grace Duddy Pomroy is a Financial Education Specialist at Portico Benefit Services and previously served as Executive Director of Operations at Kairos and Associates, and Assistant Director for the Center for Stewardship Leaders and Luther Seminary. She is author of “Stewards of God’s Love”, recently published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She blogs regularly and you can follow her on Twitter.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credits: Sea of Graduation of Caps and Snowball.