How we saved over $800 on an FI Family weekend in NYC

We haven’t been vacationing much lately. Almost two years ago, we moved our family of four  from Seattle back to our native Philly ‘burbs. In our ten years in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, every weekend was like a vacation because everything was new and exciting to us! The mountains, the sound, the Methow, Whistler, San Juans, Portland, Yellowstone, whale watching, etc. We were serious tourists for a full decade.

Back to the East, we’re still weekend warriors, with the benefit of having family (a free home away from home) on a lake in the Poconos, in beautiful coastal North Carolina and in the Finger Lakes … we’re really lucky to have family in great, vacation-worthy places.

But, we still like to take advantage of the culture, food and adventure of the east-coast cities. We’re only a 30-minutes train ride from downtown Philly, so we get there often. But this past weekend, we took the kids to NYC, with a little FI-style.

FI Family in NYC by the Numbers:

  • Amtrak from Philly to New York’s Penn Station: $243 for four. This is actually what prompted this trip. I got a special offer email from Amtrak … and off we went. SAVINGS: $123
  • Hotel: FREE!  We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Times Square for $0. I redeemed 140,000 Hilton Honors points for 2 nights and it was the perfect location for tackling Manhattan in a weekend. SAVINGS: $652

There is so much to do in Manhattan, so free, some not. Let’s start with the free things we did:

Other free activities we didn’t do include the Staten Island Ferry, so many museums and art galleries, central park, and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

We chose to pay for one activity per day: an observation deck on a tall building and a museum. I discovered that my company offers a ton of discounts on shopping, travel, insurance, plays, activities, etc. So we took advantage of discounts on these two:

  • Top of the Rock: $110 for four. I thought that looking at the Empire State Building would be better than the view from it. We selected 6:40pm so we could watch the sunset, but the warm spring day took quite a turn and it was chilly and cold! The sunset was a bust, but the view was great and we stayed until the Empire State Building’s lights went on. SAVINGS: $55
  • The American Museum of Natural History: $51.50 for four. Looking at the forecast, we knew we’d want to spend our time on Sunday inside. This museum is huge and was so crowded, but we were still able to see a ton of exhibits without feeling like sardines. SAVINGS: $20.50 and we got out of there without buying anything from any of the many gift shops!

I would have loved to see a show with the kids, so I looked at tickets to the Blue Man Group, but with the charges and fees, it came to $500 for four. It was $350 with the company discounts, but we still chose to pass. It’s a lot to spend and there’s only so much time in the day.

We didn’t save any money eating, in fact I’m afraid to look at what the total damage was. We’re thankful for the food hall trend – we all eat what we want in one place:

  • The Food Court at the Plaza: The Doughnuttery only further fueled our son’s desire to open a donut shop.
  • Eataly: the Italian food market; we hit the one in the financial district and enjoyed a drink, pizza, charcuterie with wine followed by gelato and some serious market browsing with beer. There’s an incredible amount of prepared food to indulge in here and plenty to offer to make every weary traveler happy.

Finally, how we got around:

  • Walked 12.6 miles
  • Climbed 30 floors
  • Rode the subway six times
  • And took four cab rides

With what we spent on food, drinks, souvenirs, subways and cabs, this was by no means an FI vacation, but we saved $850.50 with the points and discounts we used. We can be frugal and always look for the best deal, but by no means do we deprive ourselves, especially on vacation.

We’re looking forward to coming back to NYC for a weekend in Brooklyn!

Calculating our savings rate and realizing how much we’re not yet saving

ski shadow family

I’ve been meaning to calculate my savings rate and finally got down to it: 29%. Eh. I thought it would be more, but I’m maxing my 401k and the kids college will be funded by real estate.
I haven’t yet calculated my husbands, but I anticipate his is about the same but with a few differences, like funding our HSA. 
We’re working to pay down debt, so our savings rate will remain flat for the foreseeable future (three mortgages!).

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 401k: 15% (*just reduced to 13% due to bonus)
  • Employee Stock Purchase Program: 8%
  • FSA: 4.4%
  • 529: 1% – this is just sad
  • Roth IRA: 1%

I wonder what our debt paying rate is? I’m not sure what that’ll tell me, but it will be interesting to calculate. It also varies based on other household spends like kids activities and household repairs. And skiing.

Retiring early and paying for college at the same time … is it possible?

I have nine years. What will college cost in nine years? It’s a daunting thought and I try my best to avoid it. And think I must I live on Fantasy Island when I say I’m going to retire at the same time I’m sending my two kids off to college. I honestly don’t know if early retirement will be able to happen at the same time. (Loans are not an option – personal parenting goals.)
College is a wild card. Or maybe I want it to be a wild card because all my (limited) research shows tuition will about double and that’s scary. The Vanguard college tuition calculator provides a pretty basic estimate of anticipated costs. Low-ball estimate is that a four-year college education at $100,000 today will increase to $167,000 in nine years.

  • 529s: Today’s standard for college savings. Put it in post-tax, pull it out for education-related expenses without penalty. We have two, established by the kids’ grandfather when they were babies. Our nine-year-old has ~$12k today. We contribute $100/mo. At this savings rate, using a compound interest calculator, this will be almost $40k in 9 years. Maybe enough for one year if we stay at the same contribution rate.
    • We increased our college savings another $100/mo into each of our Roth IRAs. (No, we’re not at the point where we can max these out yet.) Withdrawing from a Roth prior to age 59.5 carries penalties, unless for a qualifying reason. Your child’s education is one.
    • And there’s this: “… most parents should max out their Roth first then look at funding a 529 plan.” With that, we will make a plan to max these out. I wonder if we can squeeze that into 2018?
  • Community College Transfer: I really like the idea of saving on tuition by going for two years at a community college then transferring to a four-year, but there seem to be more drawbacks than positives. Maybe this will shift to being a more common practice in the future, but I can’t plan on that.
  • Having recently moved from Seattle, I’m wondering … perhaps moving back to enjoy the mountains and sound, while taking advantage of UW’s Dual Enrollment would be worth considering. (Reason #458 we should move to Seattle.)
  • Scholarships? This Washington Post article is old, but it probably still stands close to the truth today: 19% of high GPA students receive academic scholarships and 0.7% receive athletic scholarships. This would be really great, but I can’t count on it.
    All PGA players start somewhere
  • Go Pro: Our younger son is eight and has declared that he will be a professional golfer. So be it.
  • Real Estate: Our obvious choice and we’re so so so thankful we have it, because I really don’t think we could achieve the savings rate we’d need to pay for college without loans. We have two rental homes in the crazy Seattle market. We’ve owned one, our ex-primary, for 11 years and the other for four years. Either of them would more than pay for both kids to go to college at today’s average tuition rates. We can’t predict what they’ll be worth in nine years. I don’t have a crystal ball. But this is what will pay for college and enable us to retire around the same time.

    ​I hope.

Spreading the FIRE

I’m starting with our wins of the week:

  • Filed our taxes via H&R Block and got fat federal and state returns (this probably means we need to adjust deductions)
  • Took federal return to pay off one card! WHOO!

Going for the Gold!

golden gardens

No one wants to stop spending. I haven’t found too many like-minded friends in my circle of friends. A co-worker is enthusiastically into FI, so it’s pretty awesome to share learnings and successes with each other. But among my close friends and family, it’s not spreading. I’m not exactly pushing it either. You have to be interested in learning and open to change. And breaking away from our consumer-driven culture isn’t something a lot people are interested in. People like to shop.
But, let’s pretend.
At this point, if asked, I would recommend the following books:

I haven’t read these, but they’re on my list:

Podcasts:

Blogs: I don’t read too many – just not enough time, but I like these:

We’re nine months in and these are all common names to me now. There’s such a wealth of free information foranyone that wants it. It’s like we all have the ability to stretch this super muscle, but we don’t. It doesn’t have to be complicated, there are several simple changes you can make that make a huge impact. Anyone can do it!