Vacation Rewind: The Cost of My Trip to Macedonia and Vienna

Today it’s time for another vacation rewind that answers the question: How much did my trip to Vienna and Macedonia cost? These posts tend to be some my most popular ones. Uh, have you ever Googled “cost of trip to Peru?” Maybe you should, if you like seeing pictures of me. So let’s do it again!

In 2014, one of my best high school friends got married to a girl from Macedonia. When he told me where she was from, I had to look this country up on a map, because that was the first I’d ever heard of it. Albania? Knew it. Bulgaria? Of course. Kosovo? Sure,  I’ve heard of it, but do I know if that’s a, official country or some kind of region? No, I don’t. But I’d never even heard of Macedonia.

Ohrid (37)Macedonia is part of the former Yugoslavia, bordering countries like Greece and Albania, where this friend had worked for the Peace Corps. So when they got married, they had a U.S. wedding and a Macedonian wedding. And since this could be my one chance to go to Macedonia, I left Marge behind and made the trip solo! Sorry, Marge! Tell your office to increase their vacation time and you can join me on the next crazy jaunt!

The conversion to US Dollars was made back when I took the trip in August 2014 ($1 USD = 0.758 Euros or 46 Macedonian denars) and some cash expenses were rounded to the nearest dollar.

Total Cost = $1,021.83

Flights

Ljubljana Airport (5)

 Flight Retail Cost Discount My Cost
Newark to Skopje, Coach $1,090.00 60,000 United Miles $180.10

 

Ljubljana Airport (4)

Empty Ljubljana Airport

Ever the travel hacker, I looked at all of the available options for flying into Skopje, where the wedding party would be meeting. It’s not easy to get to Skopje’s “Alexander The Great” Airport. Starting from a major U.S. hub, Newark, it takes at least three flights to get there. I wanted to use miles to buy the flight, and since Skopje is a little-used airport, there are only one or two airlines aligned with a major partnership flying into it. My only option was United miles because I had to use Star Alliance partners.

I eventually found flights that worked: Newark -> Zurich -> Llubjana -> Skopje. And then returning by Skopje -> Llubjana, -> Vienna -> Newark. I flew on United for the overseas flights, and Adria for European flights.

Vienna

In my search, that word stuck in my head.  I’d been wanting to go Vienna ever since seeing The Third Man in high school. And it seemed to work as a transit destination for the return trip. I played with the United scheduler, and figured out that I could have a stopover in Vienna for three days and use no extra miles! Hence, the second part of my trip. I planned to stay in Vienna by myself!

Marge was able to put her jealousy aside and allowed me this chance to add a few more days to this extravagant, but very cheap, trip. As you can see, it cost about $180 total, which is all fees and taxes. Every airport you fly into charges you one or two fees. So since this required two stopovers in each direction, this cost was actually higher than I anticipated.

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Frugal Failure? I Bought A New Phone

It was almost a year ago when I published a breathlessly raving review of the hottest cell phone you need to own RIGHT NOW, the Nokia 2600. I received this cell phone as a hand-me-down over ten years ago. It could make and receive phone calls, send rudimentary text messages, and even had games like Bounce and Millenium Mission. And the best part was, the cost came out to only about $5 a month. I used it a handful of times each year.

Tracfone (2)Logically, I came to the conclusion that this Nokia 2600 was the only cell phone anyone ever needed. So it may surprise you to learn that, only a few months later…

Hell was freezing. Pigs were flying. And I bought a new cell phone.

Holy moley! After writing a jokey review and then an honest defense of my 11 year old cell phone, I bet the last thing you thought I’d do is upgrade. Me too. But things change. People change.

Let’s take a moment to remember the good times. Please, play this video and take a look back with me at some of the Nokia 2600’s finest moments. I can’t believe these days are over.


Anyway, the reason I had to get a new phone is that people want to text me. I’ve resisted the move to texting until now, because now we have tenants. And though my old phone was perfectly fine at receiving texts, it was crap at sending them. In fact, it couldn’t reliably send a text unless it was in reply to a message already received. So I decided for the good of my tenants and the quality of my landlording, I had to make a huge upgrade.

I spent $40 dollars to buy a new phone on eBay

This is technically the first cell phone I’ve ever bought, since my earlier one was inherited. Look, a real smartphone!

Moto E (5)

It’s a Moto E. The entire glass front is a screen and it works by using your finger to select things. Technology! Aside from making calls and sending texts, it can basically do everything a computer can do. You can get directions, look up restaurant reviews and see the score of your favorite sports team! Sports!

Want to see what I use it for? Let’s turn it on and see a portrait of an inept smartphone user:

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Ridinkulous Quarterly Expenses: Q2 2016

Poli Genova, Batman! We had a tremendous savings rate this quarter. Almost 72 percent! How did we do it? See the specifics below, but basically we enjoyed a few extra paychecks by how the pay periods fell, and we didn’t have to pay any big bills like property taxes or home insurance. We also spent less than normal on most of our usual expenses. We had so much surplus cash this quarter that we paid off the rest of our student loans over Memorial Day weekend!

And according to our Planting Our Pennies-inspired Retirement Locale calculator, for the first time since we’ve been releasing quarterly expense reports, we can afford to retire somewhere in the world! Where could we immediately quit our jobs and move to? Read on to find out!

And remember, I exclude all income and expenses related to our income property.

Total Expenses: $11,194.08
Avg Per Month: $3,731.36

Without Debt Payments
Total Expenses: $5,745.21
Avg Per Month: $1,915.07

Savings Rate: 71.7%

 

The Necessary Evils :

Quarterly Total Monthly Average
Mortgage 2,083.74 $694.58
Student Loans Go Bye Bye 3,365.13 $1,121.71
Home Insurance N/A N/A
Property Taxes N/A N/A
Medical $193.68 $64.56

Bye bye, student loans! I will be more than happy to see this line item disappear. I got this delightful email from Sallie Mae when it was all done:

 

NavientSuccess

Indeed.

 

Mr. Bucket

Mr. Bucket

Home Maintenance and Improvements

Quarterly Total Monthly Average
Contractors $145.80 $48.60
DIY $10.58 $3.53

The only big expense here is hiring the professional to fix our leaky pipe.

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The End of Parking

You might’ve noticed on our Quarterly Expense Reports going all the way back to Q1 2015 that Marge and I have a monthly bill for parking that is almost $26. That’s all me.

Years ago, I was able to park for free when my office was in another location. But then we moved to Albany where parking is a hot commodity, so like everyone else, I started to pay for the privilege of parking my car. It’s taken directly out of my paycheck, almost $13 every pay day.

This was a bummer initially, because I had been enjoying free parking at our other location. Then, dangerously, I got used to it. I didn’t even think of it. Funny how recurring expenses quickly go from “burden” to “necessary.”

But now in our modern age of planning for Early Retirement, the parking expense has become harder to ignore. As I cut back on everything from pet insurance to newspapers, and from cell phones to rabbit litter, this one remains. Twenty-six dollars is not a lot of money, but in the land of eternal optimization, I am always looking to cut unnecessary expenses

parkingspace

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Should I Sue Lending Club?

In a fantastic mark of my own procrastination, I’ve never talked about my relationship with Lending Club here in depth. For those of you who still haven’t heard of them, Lending Club facilitates lending from one person to another person. Instead of holding onto deposits and lending them out to whoever they choose as a traditional bank would, Lending Club cuts out the work of the middleman and puts the onus on the investor to choose who to lend money to. This results, in an ideal world, in lower interest rates for borrowers and higher interest rates for would-be depositors.

Since its inception ten years ago, this peer-to-peer lending site has slowly become a mini-darling in the personal finance sphere. Mostly this happened after the big boy himself said he was experimenting with it in September 2012.  That was about 18 months after I started using the site, I might add. I started as an investor (read: lender) at Lending Club in April of 2011. Since then, the total amount of loans at Lending Club has exploded, from about $500 million when I joined, to well over $18 billion today.

LendingClubStat

Initially we got returns around of 12 or 13%. But as the loans have gotten older and more people have defaulted,our returns have pretty much flat-lined around 9.5%. That’s still really good, and though I haven’t invested anything new in a year, preferring instead to max out all of our tax-advantaged retirement plans, I don’t have any plans to withdraw from the account either. And since they enabled automatic re-investing based on your own customizable filters, I spend hardly any time on the site anymore.

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We Paid Off Our Student Loans – Now What?

We’re spending Memorial Day weekend on Cape Cod. I’m sure we’ll be spending time at the National Seashore, one of my favorite places, especially Marconi Beach. (Maybe if you hurry up, you can find us!) I’ll be using some photos from our earlier trips here.

And as part of our trip, we’ll be celebrating a big milestone…

We are now student loan free!

Maebys Marconi Sprint (4)

That’s one happy puppy

Yes, twelve years after graduating college, and hot on the heels of paying off our car loan, we just extinguished another type of debt from our balance sheet. Now the only debt we have is mortgage-related. How did we do it?

Well, over the long-term, we haven’t done much except meet our normal monthly payments. Occasionally I would make an extra payment or two, but if you look at our debt chart, you can see the student loan debt is a simple, straight line until the end. Mainly, between the two of us, we have just been paying the $211 per month dutifully for twelve years.

Marconi Beach Day1 (4)

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Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Last Sunday, Marge scheduled a play date for Maeby at a local dog park. Maeby’s been to dog parks before without incident. She loves to sprint and run around for a few minutes, either letting other dogs chase her or chasing other dogs. Other than that, she stands around and watches. I don’t think greyhounds understand “play,” only running.

An ideal day out for Maeby is a solo run followed by enjoying some nature smells.

IMG_0423 TU

On her way out the door, Marge said, “I hope nothing bad happens.” I have no idea why she said this, and neither does she. I thought she was just worried about getting lost on the way to the park since this was a new one she’d never been to before. Well, they made it there fine, but something bad happened anyway.

Right after arriving, Maeby ran off with some other dogs. And when she came back, someone said, “What is that on your dog’s side?” And Marge said it was a scar, because Maeby has always had a scar on her side since we adopted her six years ago. It’s slowly grown hair and you can’t really see it anymore. But this was on the other side. Maeby had a fresh new gaping wound.

Maeby stitches (2)

Post stitches

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Keeping Birthdays Frugal

Well, it was my birthday quasi recently. Actually, it was two months ago. But that doesn’t matter. “Recently” is all in the eye of the beholder., right? The point is that I had a birthday relatively recently, and hasn’t everyone had a birthday relatively recently?

There’s always an urge to go all out and “treat yourself” for your birthday, or treat your spouse on their birthday. Treat your six kids on all of their birthdays. But in the early retirement lifestyle, all things must be kept in check, and that includes birfdays. You can splurge, but within reason. And at this point in our life of eternal optimization, it takes very little to feel like a huge splurge!

Here’s what we do on birthdays to make it fun and keep our savings in checl:

Eat Whatever You Want!

After abolishing Takeout Fridays, Marge and I hardly ever eat out or get takeout. We’re not lazypants, we like to cook food for ourselves. It definitely costs less, although I refuse to accept the notion that cooking is inherently healthier than eating out. It’s all in what you make of it (the food), but let me say this: Making our own meals definitely means less sodium intake. There’s so much salt in food out among the English. The only times we do eat out is when traveling to fantastic places… and on our birthdays! And on birthdays, all rules are out the window.

Flying ChickenUsually these birthday meals turn into birthday meal weekends. How exciting it is to pick out a favorite home-cooked meal from the past or something from one of our favorite area restaurants. For the past few years, my birthday dinner has been fried chicken and waffles from a local place.

I still managed to especially frugalize this birthday. I was all set to order the fried chicken dinner and noticed on their website that they are now on GrubHub. That’s an online ordering platform, I guess, but the point is that I could get $7 off my first order since I’ve never used the service before. Seven dollars is worth like two fried chicken thighs and a drumstick! Sign me up!

Birthday Beers 2016My other special birthday treat is a handpicked six-pack of craft beer. This is basically the only time I’ll buy a six pack during the year. Maybe one other time if I’ve really “earned” it through DIY work around the house.

Birthday BreakfastSpecial birthday meal for me usually extends to Sunday breakfast as well, which usually means fried eggs, corned beef hash, bacon, and a couple apple cider doughnuts from a local baker. It’s your birthday! Treat yourself! And the treats don’t end there!

Customized Birthday Cake!

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Leaving It To The Professionals

Last week, part of our ceiling collapsed.

Tub Drain Leak (6)

It’s not as bad as it sounds. It was a drop ceiling in the one room in the house that still has that. A leak sprung from our second floor bathtub’s drain pipe and started water soaking into the big drop ceiling tile. The tile got so saturated with water that it collapsed to the floor. Luckily, we have two bathrooms, so we can just use the other shower while we fix the drain pipe.  No buckets for water collection necessary!

I got up into the drop ceiling to see what was up, felt around pipes and found exactly where the leak was: Where a metal pipe fits into a PVC pipe. So I got out my wrench, gloves, and bottle of Blaster to try and and take apart the pipes.  (It turns out you’re not supposed to use Blaster on PVC anyway, kids!) After stinking up the place with Blaster and rubbing my fingers raw trying to get the pipes apart, I had a flashback…

Tub Drain Leak (2)

The culprit

A few years ago, one of the toilets wouldn’t stop running. The water would keep running through the tank. The seal wasn’t tight anymore. So I attempted to fix it. But this toilet was so old that the style of flushing mechanism (technical term) wasn’t manufactured anymore, so I couldn’t buy a replacement part.  Instead, I had to take the whole thing apart, take out the whole flushing thing-a-majig, and put in a new one.

Each screw was excruciating to take off. The toilet probably hadn’t been taken apart in forty years, when it was made. The screws were rusted in place. I spent weeks trying to slowly get the thing apart. I eventually did it, but was a trying experience.

With this drain pipe in the ceiling, I could suddenly see the same thing happening. I saw myself spraying Blaster up there after work, night after night, and pathetically trying to yank the pipes around in their little enclosed area, then probably having to buy tools that I might or might not ever use again.

So instead, I decided it was time to call the professionals. Marge called a guy the next day, he came over a few houes later, and by 5PM, it was fixed. And our pockets were lighter by $149. Ouch!

Call it a Frugal Failure, but sometimes I think it’s worth it to go to the professionals. We paid up to get the bats permanently out of our house last year. Whenever a job takes specialty knowledge, expensive tools, or is obviously going to take us forever to get done, I consider them.

Other times I look to professionals instead of DIYing it

Certain types of food. I’ve never tried making my own beer or wine. I know people do it. And I imagine it tastes somewhere on the scale from “okay” to “something died in this.” But there are people who spend their lives dedicated to the alchemy of alcoholic drinks. I could try to learn some things and waste my time buying equipment and making my own barely palatable swill. Or, for the few times a year I buy beer or wine, I could just go to the experts who live and breath this stuff and buy something that has been tested and judged to be nummy by all.

Birthday Beers 2016

Birthday Beers 2016

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Our Own 1,500 Days…

That’s right. 1,500 days.

Yes, you read that right. 1,500 days until we can potentially retire.

If that name rings a bell, you’re not alone. There are other more famous people out there who have launched websites based on that number and their own calculations. I only point it out because that number came up for me, too. According to the countdown clock on my enormous financial spreadsheet, 1,500 days from today, in June 2020, we should be able to quit our jobs if we want to.

This is what I refer to as QT (Quttin’ Time), a time that Maeby enjoys all day.

IMG_4042

Please wake me up to have my meal

What goes into this calculation?

I project out all of our savings based on our predicted income and where our savings will be saved. We (probably) won’t have $1 million in 1,500 days. But I will be 38 years old and will have put in exactly 15 years at my current workplace.

With that many years, I will be able to claim retirement at age 55 and begin getting 16% of my final average salary. Unfortunately, there’s no accounting for inflation. It will be 16% of what my final salary was 17 years earlier. But as I showed in my classic post pitting a defined benefit pension against a DIY “pension,” having a pension at your job acts like a weak pair of golden handcuffs. Saving on your own, you can make much better returns. Especially if you’re using savings to buy rental properties.

And if we wanted to quit our jobs in 1,500 days, that would be how we (potentially) could do it. In 1,500 days, we probably won’t have enough financial assets that they will be worth 25 times more than our annual expenditures. But bring expected rental income into the picture, and we have enough, between income and assets, to cover our 2015 average expenses of $3,000 a month. After the pension kicks in at age 55, we would have more than enough, and we could sell the rental property.

So… Annual Rental Income of $15,000 + Some Withdrawls From Savings + No Debt + Pension Kicking In At 55 = Ability to pay for 2015’s expenses ($3,000/mo) adjusted for inflation, for all time.

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