Getting Away on a Budget: My Change Jar Vacation

When you are living on a tight budget, one of the first things that often gets cut out is travel. I went for years without a vacation. It made me very, very cranky.

One of my October goals was to spend a weekend in the mountains, which is one of my favorite places to be. I was bound and determined to make it happen.

I had to figure out a way to get my mini vacation without skipping any bill payments or resorting to eating ramen noodles for the entire month of November.

Enter the pickle jar

money-jar

I’ve been saving my loose change for about a year, waiting for the perfect time to cash it in. We have not been purists about it – it has been robbed now and then for lunch money or other small expenses as needed, but it was still full enough to get me gas and a hotel room for a night.

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My bank doesn’t charge a fee for members to use the Coinstar.

I had hoped to stay two nights, but I didn’t quite have enough for the hotel and it would have left us without money for gas or fun. Instead, we left on Saturday morning and paid the $20 early check-in fee so we could drop our stuff off and go enjoy the perfect weather and perfect fall colors.

the famous rock

I tend to avoid the touristy attractions, but some you just can’t miss, so we decided to go to Blowing Rock.

Blowing Rock, NC

We decided to stay until the sun set. It was perfect.

blowing-rock-sunset

Afterwards, we stopped at the grocery store to get sandwich fixins, which was a lot cheaper than eating out. Then we hung out and bonded over some cable tv.

Sunday morning we slept in and it was glorious! I never get to do that at home. We missed the hotel breakfast, so we finished up our sandwich ingredients instead, checked out, and headed back to Blowing Rock for a hike.

The hike

I chose a trail from one of the brochures we had picked up that sounded like it would be a nice walk down to a waterfall. E isn’t too big on the nature thing (yet – I’m working on her), and I wasn’t really looking to wear myself out before driving home.

Well, after an hour of following a rocky trail down, down, down to the “waterfall” (if you’re being generous about it), I decided I would check my AllTrails app. Clearly, I should have done this before we set out, because this:

glen-burney-trail

Recommended for VERY EXPERIENCED ADVENTURERS

We hung out by the waterfall awhile so I could catch my breath – I sure wish we had brought some water and snacks! In typical teen fashion, E was snapping selfies left and right. I generally try to avoid being in front of the camera these days, but in the spirit of getting better at loving myself just the way I am, I let her take one of us (I have taken so few in my life that I don’t even know how to hold the phone right)!

waterfall-selfie

Snagged from Snapchat #MotherDaughterGoals

After a tortuous exhausting climb back to the top, we exchanged a well deserved high five and headed straight for the nearest gas station for a bag of ice and a jug of water. I am pretty darn proud of us!

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31 floors – I don’t even have steps in my house!

The Winding road

After our big hike, we decided to take a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway before heading home. Everything about the weekend was perfect, and it was an adventure I very much needed. I came back rejuvenated and refreshed and re-motivated, and it made me realize how necessary these mini-cations are to my mental (and physical) health.

blueridge-parkway

Obviously collecting change isn’t going to fund more than one or maybe two mini vacations a year, so I need to find other ways to save for them without jeopardizing my budget. I will be sure to share my ideas soon!

Now you: Do you budget for things that give you joy? If your budget is tight, how do you make room?

 

Sick & Tired

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I am so sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

Oh, and fat. I’m tired of being fat. After losing a significant amount of weight six years ago, I’ve gained it all back and more. If you add it up, I’ve gained more weight than all three of my pregnancies combined. Sob.

While I can blame some of it on a legitimate health issue (I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism at 14 and Hashimoto’s a few years ago), my biggest problem by far is me. I am my own worst enemy.

I love to eat. Food is my drug, especially since I quit smoking 7 years ago. I hate to grocery shop. I hate to cook. And although I enjoy being outdoors and being active, it takes a lot of energy to pry myself off the couch.

Over the years I have lost and gained the same pounds again and again. With every birthday, it gets harder and harder to shed the pounds, but they manage to come back so much easier! To add to the frustration, things that worked for me when I was younger don’t work for me any more.

Now that I have both feet pretty solidly in middle age, I have to do really hard things to get the weight off, and it comes off in ounces, not pounds. Hard things are…you know, hard.

Also, menopause can suck it!

All this is to say that it is time for me to stop being a whiney bitch, walk away from the fast food buffet, and get down to it. It’s not just about tight clothes or huffing and puffing my way up the stairs any more.

It’s not about the ever increasing pants sizes or the 4:00pm face plants that are immune to any amount of caffeine (and my daughter works at Starbucks, y’all, so there is no shortage of caffeine around here).

Suddenly it’s about the scary fact that my A1C number is right on the edge, even with medication.

It’s about the fact that metabolic syndrome is now part of my vocabulary, and my doctor has made me painfully aware of the risks associated with it.

It’s about being afraid for the first time in my life that I may not be around to see my grandchildren grow up.

So yeah, I’d say it’s time to get my head out of my ass the sand and stop putting off the hard things I have to do to get healthy.

Hard things like giving up gluten and dairy and sugar. I don’t know if the devil wears Prada, but I promise she comes bearing milk and cookies.

Hard things like sitting down and doing some meal planning, and then doing the grocery shopping, and then doing the actual cooking.

Hard things like getting up early to move my body, even though here in NC it is still far too warm and humid for a fat girl who sweats when the temps get above 72 (I swear I was meant to be a Canadian).

I know I can do the hard things. I’ve done them before. And I know that my journey won’t be perfect, because let’s face it – I’m still a highly reactive single mom with more issues than National Geographic.

But the rewards are so, so worth it.

Small step by small step, and ounce by ounce, I will find my fit. I have to, because my life depends on it.

50×50 Win – Go Tubing

I may have been one of the only people in the state who hadn’t been tubing before, but on July 27 I was finally able to cross that dream off my list!

Tubing on the New River

Twelve years ago when we moved to North Carolina, I made a list of mountain adventures I wanted to have. I have always wanted to live in the mountains, so naturally I figured living so close (within three hours) would mean that we would go all the time and check everything off my list pretty quickly.

Except, we only made it to the mountains twice. For a long time it was due to financial limitations, but then not spending money on vacations became a habit and I just didn’t prioritize it.

Jorden turned 21 in July (which doesn’t make me feel old at all), and what she wanted for her birthday was a trip to the mountains. I’d like to think I would have planned a trip anyway, but this gave me a great excuse to cash out my travel fund and make hotel reservations.

It was a quick trip – we arrived in Boone on Wednesday and headed home on Friday – because she could only get three days off work. We initially tried to go tubing on Wednesday afternoon because the weather forecast promised rain almost the entire time we were there. Unfortunately, we missed the last shuttle, so we decided to go first thing on Thursday before the rain rolled in.

On the way to the outpost, we drove through a quick thunderstorm, but by the time we got there the rain had stopped. It turned out to be perfect tubing weather, overcast and not too hot, and our two hour float was absolutely perfect.

We used High Mountain Expeditions, and we will definitely use them again! We are already planning a white water rafting adventure with them in 2018. I just love their two dogs in a raft logo!

High Mountain Expeditions Tubing Trip

It was so fun I was left wondering why the hell it took me so long to do this and why we hadn’t been spending every free weekend in the mountains. We will definitely be making regular trips back. In fact, if Jordan gets accepted into Appalachian State, we may be moving there next year!

Fifty by Fifty: My Bucket List

fifty-x-fifty

Over the years, I have created various bucket lists. I’m sure they still exist in notebooks or journals or computer files stored on an old hard drive somewhere. Clearly, they aren’t something I have spent a lot of time thinking about, much less planning to achieve.

A few of my big goals – the lifelong dreams I don’t need to see written on a piece of paper to remember – have been consistently pushed to the back burner for years, leaving me feeling frustrated and depressed. A little voice in my head was always asking “Are you ever going to make these dreams come true?”

After my 47th birthday, I think I freaked out a little (ok, a lot) about time passing me by without any forward progress. I started swinging blindly, taking action without thinking it through, trying to scrabble my way toward something, anything, before it was too late.

Thankfully, I came to my senses!

I took a pause before I did anything really stupid (like packing up and moving to a strip of land with a barn in Tennessee at a time my family really needed me here). After a lot of self-reflection, I came to the realization that I was jumping into things because I was afraid: afraid I was getting too old, afraid that if I didn’t do it right now I would never do it at all, afraid that I was stuck and my dreams were slipping away.

I decided to make another list, but this time one that would live on a new blog, front and center. A concrete list of things to motivate and inspire me, but also things I could reasonably, with hard work and persistence (in the form of small, consistent steps) achieve before I turned 50.

Now I wake up every day with a feeling of purpose and direction. I know what I’m working toward, and it excites me. It gives me a structure around which to plan, and helps me decide how to spend my time, energy, and money.

I’m sure the list will evolve and change over time (I actually don’t even have fifty things just yet), but this is what I have so far. I plan to share my progress on a regular basis as I baby step toward my dreams…I hope you come along on this journey with me!

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  1. Get a passport
  2. Learn calligraphy
  3. Lose the weight and keep it off
  4. Go white water rafting
  5. Go zip lining
  6. Learn to drive a team of horses
  7. See Pink in concert

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8. Ride in a bi-plane
9. Build a Habitat for Humanity house
10. Catch up on scrapbooks
11. Visit Alberta, Canada
12. Go to Harry Potter World
13. Section hike part of the Appalachian Trail
14. Run a trail half marathon

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15. Tour New England in peak leaf season
16. Jump off a cliff into the water
17. Learn another language
18. Grow a successful summer garden
19. Build a successful blog (hopefully you’re reading it!)
20. Toastmasters (yikes!)
21. Go hiking in the Rockies

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22. Watch a meteor shower where there is zero light pollution
23. Go horseback riding on the beach
24. Go horseback riding in the Rockies
25. Get a truck (tow vehicle)
26. Get a camper
27. Go snow-shoeing
28. Become Certified Financial Recovery Coach

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29. Go rock climbing
30. Go tubing
31. Buy an awesome new wardrobe that suits my style
32. Write a book
33. Figure out where I want to live
34. Go kayaking with dolphins
35. Send Mom & Dad on vacation
36. Visit 15 National Parks

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37. Go whale watching
38. Ride in a long distance trail ride
39. Start personal finance non-profit
40. Meet the man of my dreams
41. Get an Australian Shepherd puppy
42. Take a photo every day for a year (Project 365)
43. See the Northern Lights

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44. Learn archery
45. Travel cross-country in an RV like I did when I was young
46. To be determined…
47. To be determined…
48. To be determined…
49. To be determined…

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50. Spend my 50th birthday in Scotland

So, there’s my list so far. I hope to have a lot of new memories to smile over on my fiftieth birthday!

Do you have a bucket list? What are some of the things on it? 

First Step

About six years ago, I stumbled across this little book sitting unassumingly on the shelf at the library. It looked interesting, and as I read it I felt little light bulbs exploding in my brain. It made so much sense! It was such a huge mindset change for me, and I used the philosophy of small steps to make some big changes.

I ran a marathon.

I started a side gig.

I registered theartofsmallsteps.com and made big plans to start a blog to document my small steps toward the life of my dreams.

I left a job that made me miserable.

And then…

I got sidetracked. That happens to me a lot. I am ADD and I see squirrels everywhere. Since then, there have been a lot of changes in my life – some intentional, some not; some good, some not. Now I find myself staring down the barrel of the big FIVE OH and I am nowhere near where I thought I would be, or where I want to be. I’m fat, stressed, and broke.

Things have got to change, but it seemed completely overwhelming when I looked at how far it was from here to there. Until I rediscovered the book, sitting unassumingly on a shelf at the back of my closet (my own copy, not the library copy, though I have been known to take almost that long to return a book now and again).

So I think it’s time for me to start the blog.

I am here. I am going to get there. I’m going to do it by taking as many small steps as necessary, and I’m going to share it all here.

First step…check.

50×50 Success Story #2

Ever since I got my JEEP, I’ve been casually checking out used RVs. Meaning, when I’m bored I jump on Craigslist and see what’s out there (even though pretty much everything road-worthy is out of my price range) and dream about traveling.

Well, last week, I stumbled across the perfect camper: it is absolutely adorable, affordable, and maybe best of all…the perfect Pinterest project!

We are going to work on it over the next few months, take her on some test runs over the summer, and hopefully hit the road long term in the fall.

Meet Lucille, our vintage “canned ham” 1961 Mallard:

lucille

She’s not much inside…yet…but I can’t wait to get started making her into our home away from home. Project updates to come!

50×50 Success Story #1

jeep-life

When I was 14, my parents took my sister and I on a cross country trip in a 25′ RV. At the time, the thought of spending six weeks crammed in a small space with my parents was about the worst thing I could imagine. As it turned out, those are some of the best memories I have and I dreamed for years of taking my kids on the same kind of trip.

Although two of my kids are older now and living their own lives (and will barely agree to share a hotel room with me due to my alleged snoring issues), I would still love to get a pop-up or small tow-along and go exploring with the one kid still willing to put up with me in such close quarters.

I wasn’t really in the market for a new vehicle, but as it so happened, my daughter and I were in a series of car accidents that left both of our cars totaled. With the paltry insurance proceeds, my mad negotiating skillz, and some good luck, we were able to replace both cars within our tiny budget, and I got my dream car – a Jeep Grand Cherokee. She is a ’99 and a little rough around the edges, but it only makes me love her more.

I can’t wait for the many adventures we are going to have together!