I want to go on a cruise

It is cold here in Connecticut. Really cold and windy, with blowing snow. Weather like this makes me think of escaping to somewhere warm. I start to think about sitting on the deck of a cruise ship, drinking something fruity. I want to go on a cruise.

Photo from the upper deck of the Norwegian Epic, looking out into the Mediterranean.

Photo from the upper deck of the Norwegian Epic, looking out into the Mediterranean.

Vacation planning insanity

This year is the big ten year wedding anniversary. It’s hard to imagine that I’ve actually been married that long. We decided that for our anniversary we would go to Italy this year. It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do, but we kept pushing it off for “a better time.” I’m not really sure what “a better time” would be, but that’s what we kept telling ourselves. Well, about a month ago, we decided that there was no better time. If we were going to go, we should go now. We’ve got the time and the money so it’s a good time to go.

After a lot of research, we decided we would take a cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines. I like the idea of freestyle cruising and it was a way for us to see what we wanted without being on tour buses all day, every day. At first, we were going to go in August. Then I started researching pricing. If we decided to go in June, we could save over $1,500 on our trip. That’s a good reason to go earlier, at least I thought so.

I was amazed at the differences in pricing among different booking sites. Make sure to check any groups that you are associated with. There are discounts out there via AAA, AARP, Unions, warehouse clubs (BJ’s, Costco, etc) and various other organizations. We booked our trip through BJ’s travel services, because the pricing was the best and we got other incentives, like a free on-board credit and a BJ’s gift card. If you book with certain credit cards, there may be other incentives as well. Check with your credit card companies before you book to see what they are offering.

You also have to be really careful about “free upgrades” and other bonuses your travel company may be offering. Norwegian Cruise Line was offering free mini-suite upgrades if you booked a balcony room. When we were going over the pricing with the agent over the phone, we realized that the air fare with that free upgrade was $600 more per person that the air fare for a balcony room. I would highly recommend that you book your reservation over the phone. It was completely worth it to talk to someone who didn’t work for the cruise line but took a lot of cruises. The representative at BJ’s travel was a great resource for us. She had lots of tips and suggestions, plus she was willing to go back and forth looking at different pricing options with me.

Sometimes the pricing on the website is deceiving. We found that a package that looked less expensive at first glance, turned out to be much more expensive. Again, this is why I suggest calling a representative so you can ask all of your questions.

If you are considering going abroad and don’t have a passport yet, it might be a good idea to just get it now. When I went to the U.S. Passport website, there are some places on the site that state the waiting time is 4-6 weeks, other spots say four weeks and some spots say up to 8-10 weeks. Because we waited, we ended up having to pay the expedited fee of $60 per passport. Make sure you get your passport early. When we booked the cruise, we couldn’t finish our registration with the cruise line because we don’t have our passports yet. Hopefully, they’ll be here soon.

Now that we’ve gone through the headache of booking the trip, we are both really excited. For the first 24 hours, I just kept saying “Hey Honey, we are going to Italy” with a silly little smile on my face.

By the way, it’s amazing how frugal you get when you are trying to build up as much spending money as you can for your trip. I may have no pantry left when we get home but at least I’ll have good spending money.

My little cash experiment

I’ll start by saying that I really want to go on vacation. A real vacation. Over the past twelve years, Jeff and I have gone on one real vacation. That was our wedding in Vegas. All of our other vacations have been local, a family visit or a few days for an event. I decided that this year, I would start saving for a major vacation. I want to take a cruise to Italy. I’ve always wanted to see Italy and I’ve been looking at the cruises that visit the country. It looks like a lovely idea and it’s a lot of money.

Since we are still paying down debt, I did not want to divert any of those funds for the trip. I needed to find a new way to cut back my spending to save for this. In January, I started using cash again. I’ve done this periodically through the years to help tame my spending but always went back to the debt card. This time, I put my debt card away (aka one of the cats stole it) and have been using cash for the past month.

Each time we get paid, I take out a certain amount for gas, groceries, eating out and other things we’ll need for the next two weeks. I based this amount on what we’ve been spending in the past using the debit card. I can only use the cash I have. Once it’s gone, I’m done spending. When I’m about to take out money for the next two weeks, I count up how much money I have left. I deduct that amount from what I take out of the bank, bringing my total back to the fixed amount I should start my two weeks with. The money I saved goes into my vacation account.

In the first month, I saved $97.00. I’ve got a few days left until we get paid again and I’ve still got about $60 left. I’m going to need a few things this week and gas but I’m hoping to still put $30 in the account. I always tend to spend more at the beginning of the month, since that’s when we make the big trip to the warehouse club to stock up on cat food, litter and other things we need for the month. The majority of the money I put in the savings account last month was from the 2nd half of the month. I would be thrilled to put $30 in for the first 2 weeks.

I know $100 doesn’t seem like a lot, but when your total biweekly allotment is $300, I cut my discretionary spending for a four week period my over 16%. Not too shabby. It’s funny when you are holding something in your hand and realize that this could be money for Italy. I’ve put a lot of things back in the past month.

Credit and debit card issuers state that the average person spends 8-10% more when using plastic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a purchase and not even known how much I spent. I know I had the money to cover it, so who cares right?

I know that if I would have had my debit card on me, I would have purchased a new vacuum last month. Mine needs a ton of repairs and it would be more cost effective to get a new one. Instead, I bought an $8 broom and dust pan. I’ve got all hardwood floors and it actually takes me less time to sweep, plus the broom gets into all the crevices in the floor. Oh how we think about things when we’ve got greenbacks in the wallet and a cruise on the mind!