Tips for Vacationing on a Budget

Italy-traveling-on-a-budgetFor many of us, taking at least one vacation per year is a necessary reprieve.  The time to rest from our work and literally “vacate” our usual occupations is essential for our mental health and state of being!  While it can be easy to spend thousands of dollars on a luxury vacation, booking a refreshing trip to relax and enjoy God’s creation doesn’t have to break the bank.  It’s pointless to stress your personal finances to take a trip that’s supposed to be relaxing, especially when doing so will only create more stress later on.  There are a number of ways to go on an awesome vacation with a minimal amount of cash; here are a few strategies that have worked for me and my wife:

Go on a “staycation.” Plane tickets, car rentals, or gas can add a lot of expense to a vacation.  Save money by going on a vacation that’s nearby. Stay in your local area (within few hours driving distance) and explore places you haven’t been before.  I often talk to people who have never visited the great sites in their own back yards.  Chances are there are people who travel to your state for vacation; find out what they’re looking at.  You might be surprised by what you discover!

Find hotel alternatives.  Hotel prices seems like they are going up and up these days, especially in highly traveled areas.  The good news is that there are a number of new “people to people” websites that make affordable vacation rentals easy to find.  Instead of paying exorbitant amounts for well known hotels in prime locations, give a vacation rental a try.  Many privately owned vacations rentals offer special amenities and are located in scenic areas that can’t be matched by large hotels (and at a fraction of the price).  Here are the sites to check out: airbnb and VRBO

Make your own food! Eating out for most of your meals can add up really quick, so find a vacation rental or hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette   Stock up with all the food you need for your trip at the beginning of the week, and you’ll be set!  Buying groceries and making your own meals will save you a lot of cheese, even if you buy a few gourmet groceries to help you really get in the vacation mode.  To get more of the local experience, shop at a farmers market and meet a few of the natives.  You might even get a few insider tips about what to do in the area.

What’s included? When considering the price of where you’re staying, carefully examine all the amenities.  For example, if a hotel you’re looking at includes a gourmet breakfast, that could be anywhere from a $10 to $30 value per person.  As previously mentioned, it might also be worth spending a little extra on a place that has a kitchenette, since you’ll ultimately save money on food costs.

Go with friends! Traveling with friends is probably one of the best ways to save money, especially if you’re traveling overseas.  You can potentially split the cost of a place to stay, groceries, and a rental car.  You might even be able to get group discounts on admissions tickets and passes.  Plus traveling with friends is just a lot of fun and provides a great bonding experience!

Plan and book ahead. Planning is a big money saver and can make your trip far more enjoyable.  If you set a budget for your trip and schedule what you want to do and how many times you plan on eating out, then you can enjoy your itinerary without worrying about spending too much money.  Also, by booking ahead (about three months) you can save money on flights and rental cars.

Travel in the off-season. Peak season is almost always more expensive for traveling, so try and vacation when everyone else is staying home.  Summer is often the most expensive time to travel, but the weather is usually still beautiful near the end of spring or at the beginning of fall.  In addition to saving money, you’ll also beat the crowds!

Travel light. By taking as few bags as possible, not only will you save money on baggage fees, you’ll also be able to rent a more affordable car, since you won’t need a ton of space to store your stuff.

Sign up for a frequent flyer miles credit card. This tip has really paid off for us.  Choose a frequently flyer mile card that will earn you miles for an airline that flys where you most often like to go on vacation, then use your card for as many expenses that you can!  Just be sure to pay it off every month; you won’t be saving any money if you have to pay interest on payments you didn’t have cash for!  If you own your own business or work for an employer that reimburses you for expenses, then you mileage points will add up even faster.

These tips have helped us save a ton of money during or travels and allowed us to go on more vacations than we would’ve been able to otherwise.  If you have any tips for vacationing on a budget that I missed, please share them in the comment section below!

Photo Credit: Andy Langeland

Originally posted 2013-06-08 17:54:38.

9 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Eating whole, healthy food isn’t always more convenient than eating pre-made, processed foods, but it can be more affordable. Here are a few tips my wife and I use to eat healthy on a budget:

1) Planning meals – Meal planning allows the most efficient use of food. Planning a purpose for each item bought or grown helps us avoid eating the tastiest, expensive, and convenient ingredients right away, ingredients that would otherwise contribute to more nutritious and enjoyable meals.

2) Shopping at local farmers markets – When we shop carefully, we almost always find a good deal on local produce. Some vendors even offer discounts on produce they haven’t sold by the time the market closes.

3) Looking for sale items – When we spot a special promotion on any whole food items that can be canned or stored in the freezer, we stock up! Even greens freeze well and can be added to scrambles, soups, stir-frys, and green smoothies.

4) Shopping in the bulk section – Many popular and healthy products like beans, rice, grains, nuts, and spices can be found in the bulk section at discounted prices. Other benefits of shopping in the bulk section include: reduced packaging waste, fewer preservatives or chemicals (like BPA), and the ability to sprout or soak foods like beans, nuts, and grains (which you can’t do with canned or prepared foods).

5) Planting trees and a garden – Even one fruit or nut tree and a small garden can contribute a significant amount of healthy food to a family’s diet and at very little cost. For example, one mature fruit tree can produce hundreds of pounds of fruit in a year, which is equal to or more than what’s consumed by the average American (273 lb per year). We have a small garden and several fruits trees, and the produce really adds up!

6) Purchasing free-range meat with friends or family – If you want to get free-range meat, which is lean and high in important nutrients like Omega-3s and vitamin K2, at a good price, then find a few people to buy and split a large purchase with. Local ranchers often sell their products at a significant discount when purchased in larger quantities, such as a whole, half, or quarter beef.

7) Minimizing waste – Americans are the most wasteful society in the world. Every year we throw away billions of dollars worth of food. We try to minimize waste by eating perishable items right away. Purchasing fresh food means it won’t last on the shelf forever, and we have have to go to the market more often, but it’s worth it. We also try to make a special point about taking servings size into consideration and being realistic about what we’ll enjoy as leftovers.

8) Re-thinking the value of food – Many of us have been raised to believe that “more is better” or that expensive food isn’t a good value, but neither of these assumptions is always true. Instead of thinking about food in terms of quantity, we try to think in terms of quality. When it isn’t getting enough vitamins and importnat nutrients, the mind will tell the body to keep eating. In fact, we can consume thousands of “empty”calories and still be starving. The result is that many of us are obese and simultaneously undernourished and prone to disease. Our bodies don’t need many calories when they get enough nutritionally rich food. Nutrient-dense foods can seem more expensive, but they’re actually a better value in terms of nutrients per dollar. For example, butter from grass fed cows is more expensive than conventional butter, but it provides two powerful nutrients (vitamin K2 and CLA) that are almost entirely absent in conventional butter.

9) Using the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen Shopping List – Another way we’ve learned to save a few dollars and still be sure that were only eating good food is by making our organic purchases really count. While studies indicate that conventional and organic foods go head to head in terms of their actual nutrient content, what those studies fail to mention is the harmful pesticides that many conventional produce items contain. At the same time, some conventionally grown plants use very few pesticides and are safe to eat (though they’re still not always grown in a way that’s good for the environment). To help us figure out what foods should be purchased with the assurance that they were raised organically, the Environmental Working Group created a list of the “cleanest” and “dirtiest” foods. “The Clean Fifteen,” as they call it, are the fifteen fruits and vegetables that were tested and found to have little to no chemical residue. “The Dirty Dozen,” however, are the twelve fruits and vegetables that should be purchased in the organic section, as they commonly harbor pesticide residues. You might not have guessed it, but apples were the number one offender. For the full shopping guide, check out the EWG’s site here.

We’ve found that following these strategies has improved our household economy and personal health. We also feel good knowing that what’s good for our economy and health is good for the larger economy and environment. Hopefully you’ve discovered at least one tip that you hadn’t thought of before, and if you have one that we missed, please let us know, and we’ll add it to the list!

Originally posted 2013-04-06 02:29:00.

Trader Joe's – Recommended Shopping List

I know it took me a little while to get this posted, but here is my recommended shopping list for Trader Joe’s to accompany the $25.00 gift card give away.  While shopping at local farmers’ markets and buying produce through Community Supported Agriculture programs are the best ways to get the freshest and most sustainable products, Trader Joe’s has some great organic and fair trade options.

Both of these eggs are about $2.50 per dozen, not as cheap as your basic eggs but a good deal for what they provide. By purchasing cage free eggs, you know that the chickens were treated in a more humane way, allowed to roam free instead of being confined to a cage. Barnstar’s Omega 3 eggs are great because they provide 350mg of Omega 3s per egg! For the perfect sunny-side-up fried eggs, put a tablespoon of butter on the bottom of the pan and melt it on low heat. Once the butter is melted, add the number of eggs you want to the pan (the more eggs, the thicker the whites will turn out). Cover the pan with a lid and heat on low-medium. Remove and serve the eggs as soon as the white on top of the yokes turns opaque – perfect eggs every time! The trick is to cook them covered, on low.  


The benefits of eating fish are well known: fish provide excellent amounts of protein, are low in cholesterol, and contain high amounts of Omega 3s (if it is a cold-water fish). Salmon is one of the best sources of Omega 3s but can often be too expensive for many people’s grocery list. If fresh salmon doesn’t fit your budget, check out Trader Joe’s 14.75 oz cans of wild-caught, Alaskan salmon for under $3.00! Alaskan fisheries are known to be one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world, and the great thing about wild-caught salmon is that it contains less than 1/10 the amount of mercury contained in canned tuna.

For an easy meal, mix salmon with two eggs, 1/4 cup of whole wheat bread crumbs or almond meal, a 1/2 teaspoon of lemon pepper and a couple tablespoons of lemon juice, and a 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper and thoroughly mix. Then, form the mixture into patties and saute in butter, over medium-low.  Cook patties for about 4-5 minutes on each side.  Serve on a whole wheat, toasted bun with a mayonaise/lemon juice sauce, or eat it without the bun. Add a side of steamed broccoli and you have super-food meal!


Shopping organic when possible is better for God’s creation that you are part of. These organic apples don’t contain the pesticides or chemical fertilizers found in conventionally grown apples.  Apples are an excellent source of energy-boosting, anti-oxidant quercetin, as well as healthy carbs, fiber, and vitamin C.  For a healthy dessert, bake sliced apples in an oven set to 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until tender.  Then drizzle lightly with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon!


Oranges have an awesome carbohydrate to fiber ratio (one orange has about 6 grams of fiber).  They are also loaded with vitamin C and other anti-oxidants.  Oranges contain around 170 different phytonutrients and 60 different flavanoids that have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties!  Make them part of your daily diet.  Don’t just drink the juice though, because the white skin found immediately inside the peel, on the surface of the fruit, contains some of the most powerful phytonutrients of the orange.

Heavy whipping cream – get a better bang for your buck by skipping the half and half and going for the heavy whipping cream instead.  The point of half and half in coffee is the fat – a much smaller amount of heavy whipping cream goes father than an equal amount of half and half.  Also, heavy whipping cream contains a minimal amount of lactose and provides natural vitamin A.

Coffee – the life blood of champions.  Coffee is one of the most pesticide ridden crops in the world.  By buying organic, you are doing yourself and God’s earth a favor.  Also, this coffee is fair trade certified, so you know that the people harvesting the coffee are being compensated fairly (seems like the Christian thing to do).  Coffee has anti-oxidant effects, is associated with a decreased risk of diabetes, and provides a healthy dose of caffeine for that extra boost to your day!

Incorporate more protein in your diet – protein is the building block of life.  These free range, organic chicken drumsticks are only $1.99 per pound at Trader Joe’s – the best price I’ve seen!  For a quick and healthy dinner, sprinkle the drumsticks with your favorite spices (suggested spices: a little bit of garlic, pepper, and salt) and broil for 15 minutes on each side, wah-lah! Serve with your favorite veggies and a small serving of beans.

Looking for a healthy snack?  Go nuts for almonds and cashews, but stick to the raw or lightly roasted ones.  Both varieties of nuts are anti-inflammatory, rich in a number of minerals, and high in protein and fiber!  If you are doing an intense workout or want to mix it up, make a sweet snack by mixing 1/4 cup of cashews and a 1/4 cup of almonds with 1 tablespoons of honey – deliciously sweet and salty!

Originally posted 2011-05-10 17:51:00.