Destination England

Our journey from debt to England…and everything in between!

Posts Tagged ‘Finance

5 Inexpensive Things to do in London

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These are just a few things you can do in London that are either free or have a nominal cost.  Whether you live in London, or are visiting, there are countless options that won’t hurt the pocketbook. These are some of my favorites!

  1. Go to a Museum or Art Gallery – there are quite a few museums in London who don’t charge admission (though donations are welcome!).  The British Museum, The Natural History Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern and Victoria and Albert Museum are just a few free museums around town.
  2. The Royal Parks The Royal Parks are some of the most beautiful parks I have seen.  They are filled with beautiful gardens, walking paths, and trees that you’ll forget you’re in the middle of London at times.  Check out their website to see what events the parks have going on!
  3. Street Markets – Places like Camden Market, Portobello Market, Greenwich Market and others offer a great place to get out and get away from traditional malls and stores.  I’ve been to the Camden Market, and it was definitely an experience!
  4. Street Performers/Artists – Spending any small amount of time in Covent Garden, you will see a host of performers and artists.  Sarah and I had a drink and watched a school choir from the US perform various popular songs, as well as an opera singer!
  5. Go to the Pub – When all else fails, go to the pub. There are literally thousands of pubs throughout London varying in size, price, and atmosphere. Go for a drink, go for a meal, or go just to relax in by the fire with your favorite book, pubs are a great way to truly enjoy London like the locals!
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Written by Jas

May 2, 2010 at 6:00 pm

My Spending Challenge

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Over the next couple of weeks (pay cycle), I am going to attempt to actually stick to our budget.  I don’t understand why it is so hard. I have quit smoking, which was one of the hardest things I have ever done, yet sticking to a budget that makes common sense is beyond me!  It is frustrating and infuriating at the same time.   Budgeting is a good thing, so why is it so difficult?

My only real excuse is…

Laziness. The more I look at it, the more I realize that my money isn’t disappearing magically.  I’m spending it on laziness.  What do I mean by that?  A bad habit I have is forgetting to pack a lunch.  This means that on my work days, I will be “forced” to eat out.  The worst part about this is I don’t even feel satisfied after spending. In fact, I feel guilty.  I know that it isn’t wrong what I’m doing, but I do know it is counterproductive.

To be honest, the real culprit is eating out all too often.  I try to use every excuse in the book to justify it, and the truth is, I don’t feel justified.  One side of my mind is starting to think “I could have made this at home, with better ingredients for almost a fraction of the price.”  The other side is thinking, “But that’s effort I don’t want to exert.”

Time for a change

This is my challenge the next two weeks.  I am going to stick to our budget!  There will be no eating out, no forgetting lunches, or waking up too late to have breakfast! To steal a quote from President Obama’s presidential campaign – “Yes We Can!”  Can we stick to our budget?! Yes, We Can!

What does the budget look like?

This is what we’re looking at.

Initial Balance $1,479.19
Rent $ 722.00
Vonage $ 38.44
Gas (car) $ 120.00
Food $ 150.00
Cell Phone $ 126.04
Medical Bill 1 $ 105.00
Netflix $ 9.25
Electric $ 113.51
Medical Bill 2 $ 50.00
Remaining Balance $ 44.95

This pay, there’s really a very small margin for error, but I did it this way for a reason.  I took the extra money and applied it to making bigger payments on the two medical bills.  The only questionable amount on there is Netflix, as I lowered our plan to the 1 DVD at a time plan, so I’m not exactly sure what the total is with tax. We have also lowered our Cell Phone plan, so that will lower that bill next month.

I’m feeling confident in this endeavor.  One thing I hope this will do is instill the habit to continue this forward.  The great thing is that from what I’ve looked into with our budget, I will have all of my old debt paid off by the end of the year.  That means only Student Loans and Car left to go, which admittedly is a giant chunk.  The old debt has been hanging around for years, and when it is gone, I’ll never look back!

I’ll update you all on my progress with this, and wish me luck!

Written by Jas

April 30, 2010 at 8:00 am

Posted in Debt, Finance

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“A Powerful Agent…”

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The past month or so, I have been researching the idea of freelance writing.  I enjoy writing, and having fallen out of it the last few years, have decided it’s time to dive back in as a side hobby and maybe a source for additional income.  The more I’ve thought about it and researched it, the more I’ve been attracted to the idea of making it a full time career.  Lots of others out in the world have done it, why can’t I?

What led me to this point?  Well, there are more reasons than I could post on this article, but here are a few of the big ticket items.

  • Cube Life Isn’t For Me – I currently work for a Company, that in the way of Corporate America, this is one of the best in my opinion.  But, I’m finding more and more that the 95 isn’t for me.  Too many times I wake up, the sun is shining, the air is crisp and fresh, and I am faced with the reality I won’t get to enjoy it.  I don’t like Cube life!
  • Family Matters – This is a huge one. After my son was born, I realized I want to be there for all the small things as well as the big things. I want to spend as much free time as I can with him and my wife.  Freelance writing allows for that flexibility. As I tell my wife “Have laptop, will travel!”
  • Passion – I felt I had lost my passion.  My wife has been finding her way spiritually and it’s reignited her passion.  I looked around and there was nothing I was truly passionate about.  Since starting this blog and researching freelancing, I have felt more energized. 
  • It’s Not About The Benjamins – While I would love to be able to live off freelancing, it isn’t the primary factor in doing it.  I’m finding I would rather be known for what I have given to society (or those around me), than how many pennies are in my bank account.

Mark Twain stated “A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words… the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.” It amazes me how one can read a piece of fiction, and see the author use their words to paint the landscape, the emotions, and the imagery of the story.  How one can read a book or article on a topic they know nothing about and come out retaining even a small portion of that knowledge.  Words can pull at our heart’s strings in ways we can’t imagine.

What To Write About?

This is an area I am struggling with currently.  What direction do I want to go in? What topics should I write about? Originally I started this blog as a place to discuss my family and I’s journey from the US to moving to England.  Now, I wonder what else could be discussed that others would want to read about.  Also, having found renewed vigor in writing, I want to use it as a practice ground for my writing.  I want to write about England, but do so in a way that isn’t recycling the same facts that can be found in a history book or tourist guide.

As far as writing professionally, I honestly don’t know where I would like to go with that yet.  Right now, I’m in the planning and researching stage.  I’ve been reading blogs on freelance and ordered a few books that have some positive reviews about explaining on how to get started, and how to succeed in freelance writing.  I’m sure as the months progress, this blog will transform, and begin to take a proper shape.  This is uncharted territory for me, and its both exciting and scary at the same time!  I’m looking forward to finding my voice, and finding my niche in the world of writing.

What Now?

RESEARCH. MORE RESEARCH. AND STILL MORE RESEARCH!    Knowledge is power, and there is a profusion of information out there.  Also, I am hoping to reach out to others in the blogosphere with similar interests with moving to England, or English related blogs.

In the upcoming weeks I plan to post some articles outlining our experience with the US Visa process, as well as some posts relating to our time in England this June.  We’ve got a jammed packed three and a half weeks, and I’m sure there will be many stories to tell, and experiences to share!  If you have any ideas or thoughts on what you’d like to read about please leave a comment or send an email.  Feedback is always welcome!

Written by Jas

April 28, 2010 at 6:00 pm

How I Plan to Save £153.80 With London Pass

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Ah London.  There is no city on earth like it.  Mention the word “England” and most likely “London” is the first city they’ll think of.  It is full of things to do, places to see, and people to meet.  One question that I get asked by my friends in the states who have yet to go is “What is there to do in London?”  I think the more appropriate question is “What isn’t there to do in London?”  It has something for everyone it seems.  Museums, art galleries, theaters, castles, fine dining just to name a few line the streets of London. With so many attractions for tourists (and probably some locals), one question I asked is “How do I get the most bang for my…uhm…quid?”  The London Pass is a great way to see many attractions, and save money doing so.

What is a London Pass?

“The London Pass is a ‘smart card’ – like a credit card with a computer chip inside – which allows you completely cash free entry to your choice of 56 London tourist attractions.” – source

You can purchase a pass for anywhere from 1 day to 6 days.  Here is a list of attractions you gain access with the London Pass. With this card once it is activated, you gain access to anywhere the card is accepted, and there are 56 different attractions.  Simply put, the more you see, the more you save.  The site boasts up to £186 on a six day pass, though I am skeptical on that number.  For us, we reached what I would consider a more realistic savings.  These are the places we plan to visit with our six day pass, along with the entrance cost.

  • Kensington Palace        £12.50
  • HMS Belfast    £10.70
  • Shakespeare Globe      £10.50
  • St Paul’s           £12.50
  • Hampton Court Palace   £14.00
  • Jewel Tower     £3.00
  • City Cruises      £11.50
  • Tower Bridge   £7.00
  • Tower of London         £17.00
  • Jason’s Canal Boat Trip            £8.50
  • The London Zoo      £16.80
  • Windsor Castle £15.50
  • Eton College     £6.00

That would total £157 each, or £314 for both of us.  We paid for two £160.20.  So with the London Pass we’re saving £153.80 for two people on those attractions!  The savings continue to grow the more places we see, but with a baby, we’re taking a conservative approach on seeing these attractions.

But Wait There’s More!

What else can you do with the London Pass?  They offer transportation savings, various restaurant deals, shopping deals, and more.  Plus, for those who need to exchange currency – they offer commission free money exchange at Bureau de Change.  With these deals the savings just keep adding up. Also, it allow you for “fast track access” eliminating the lines and queues.

What’s the downside?

The only downside I found is that the time limit starts from your first swipe, and the ticker then expires the number of days after. So for example, if you activate the Pass on Monday, it will expire on Saturday.  My personal wish would be to be allow to stagger the days over the period of a couple of weeks or a month.   Other than that, there’s no real down side I can see.

Is London Pass Worth the Cost?

I would venture to say yes.  Due to the savings you get on attractions alone, You definitely are saving money.  Again, the longer period of a pass you buy, the more you boost your savings.  Factor in the other additional savings the card offers, this is a great way to get the most “bang for your quid” in London.  I’ll be sure to let you know how our experience turns out.  Fingers crossed!

Written by Jas

April 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm

4 Things We’re Doing to Save on Food

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1. Cutting out Fast Food

This I have to admit is a hard one for me.  I fail, time and time again. The reason is strictly laziness and poor time management.  I usually eat at these places for breakfast and lunch.  This is due to the fact of not getting up early enough to cook, or packing a lunch beforehand.  We have been more prone to eating out since Connor’s been born, but now I think it’s more out of habit than actual convenience.  This is one area in the budget we are hemorrhaging money.  Lately, we’ve been doing well with eating dinner at home, even if it’s just hot dogs and chips.

2. Food Inventory

With our move fast approaching, we’re starting to see real progress on the packing front.  I hope to get even more done this weekend, as we have this weekend and next really to spend packing, and then after that we move!  This past weekend we spend boxing up the kitchen utensils and dishes.  Since our room mate’s stuff is still there, and she’s not currently living there we’ve been using her things.  As we went through our cupboards, we noticed a lot of food just sitting there.  At first I thought, well let’s box up what we’re not using.  Then my wife suggested, let’s make an inventory and use what we have.

The plan is to use most of the food in our pantry and refrigerator and only buy the bare minimum that we need before the move.  This will lower the amount we have to pack, as well as helping out the pocket book.  Plus we’ve truly wasted a lot of food.  Laziness is a big culprit (and I’m not exactly the poster child for strong willed determination), and with a seven month old, sometimes it is just easier to order out.  Because of that, we forget about things we’ve purchased and they stay locked in the cupboard or in the fridge until they have expired or gone bad.  This is something we’ve both committed to change, and creating a food inventory will certainly help!

3. Meal Planning

A few weeks ago I was listening to the morning radio show and they were talking about a story involving a family where the child forgot to take his lunch to school, and the school called to ask if it was ok to give him a hot meal lunch, and the mother said no, as she wanted to teach her child a lesson.  Now, this conversation delved into the fact that the mother was quite OCD.  One thing she did was meal plan for the entire month.  This was promptly the subject of many jokes and quips from the radio station, but really it is good advice. Meal Planning serves two purposes in my mind. 1. You know what you’re eating and when allowing you to shop for specific items and reducing impulse buys at the grocery store. 2. It saves time.  Knowing, what you’re eating and when allows you to plan ahead and have those items ready to go.  I do think planning the entire month is a bit extreme, but doing a weekly meal plan is definitely a win/win situation!

4. Buying Fresher Ingredients

For St. George’s Day my wife, being the English woman she is, wanted to cook a traditional English dinner.  We went to Whole Foods Market and purchased most of the ingredients.  The difference in quality was amazing from what we’ve been buying the last few months.  We have been buying more for cost value.  I couldn’t believe the difference.  The cheaper meat that we had purchased did not hold a candle to these sausages.  The same with the produce, the potatoes my wife purchased, and then mashed had such a nicer flavor than the instant we’ve been using to save time/money.  Truth be told, they didn’t take that long to prepare either. Ok, this one may not save you money up front, but in the long run, it most likely will.

Now, I don’t know if we’ll buy from Whole Foods for all our meat, and produce, but a couple local super markets have a butcher counter, and the actual fresh produce is better, so we will likely use them as well.  However, I am more inclined to spend more on better quality food now.  It was a real eye opening moment.  We also bought a couple stuffed beef steaks (one with cheese and spinach, and one with pepperoni and cheese) for dinner on Friday. Me being the extremely fussy eater (I loathe most veggies) tried some of my wife’s spinach and cheese steak.  I actually enjoyed it!

Written by Jas

April 26, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Posted in Family, Finance, Goals, Moving, Random

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Free Diabetic Prescriptions!

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Last night Sarah and I made our way to our local pharmacy to pick up our prescriptions and something for dinner.  Upon walking in there was a big sign that said “Free Diabetic Medicines!” and listed five common medicines used to treat diabetes.  Two of which –metformin and glipizide – I happen to be on!  I spoke with the pharmacist to confirm (because this sounded too good to be true), and indeed they were free. So how does this help the budget? I’ve broken down the costs we spend on prescriptions.

My Prescriptions:

  • Metformin – $8
  • Glipizide – $6
  • Lisinopril – $4
  • Simvastatin  – $4
  • Vitamin D – $6
  • Byetta – $40
  • Needles – $5 (this every three months)
  • Testing strips – $25

Sarah’s Prescriptions:

  • Birth Control – $10
  • Vitamin D – $6
  • Thyroxin – $6

I’m spending roughly $94.67 a month for my prescriptions before this offer.   My wife pays about $22 for her three prescriptions.  That brings our monthly total to around $117 a month. With getting metformin and glipizide for free, that saves $14 a month, bringing the montly total to $113 a month.  So by saving $14 a month, I’m saving $168 a year!

Moving to England looks to bring even more savings for us on the prescriptions front.  According the NHS website, prescriptions have risen to £7.20 for a prescription – I will assume that is for a single 30 day supply, £28.25 for a 90 day prescription, and £104 for a year long prescription. So using that math, my six prescriptions would cost £43.20 a month. Now, my wife is also on medication, which would add three more prescriptions, bring the total to £64.80 a month.  Keeping the £ and the $ relative, that’s cutting our prescription costs in half.  That being said, reading further down on the site, I found this:

Medical exemption (MedEx) certificates are issued on application to people who have:

  • A permanent fistula (for example caecostomy, colostomy, laryngostomy or ileostomy) requiring an appliance or continuous surgical dressing.
  • A form of hypoadrenalism (for example Addison’s disease) for which specific substitution therapy is needed.
  • Diabetes insipidus or other forms of hypopituitarism.
  • Diabetes mellitus, except where treatment is by diet alone.
  • Hypoparathyroidism.
  • Myasthenia gravis.
  • Myxoedema (hypothyroidism requiring thyroid hormone replacement).
  • Epilepsy requiring continuous anticonvulsive therapy.
  • Continuing physical disability which means the person can’t go out without the help of another person. Temporary disabilities do not count even if they last for several months.

Reading that, it looks looks like I would qualify for the MedEx certificate.  Also, my wife would qualify as she recently found out she has Hashimoto’s Disease, which will in all likelihood leave her with an underactive thyroid.  This means that all of our prescription costs would not cost us any out of pocket expenses.  I would be very relieved having not to worry about any out of pocket expenses for my medicines.  I’d that £64.80 a month and put that into a high yield savings account, or a college fund for Connor.  While we aren’t anywhere close to a plan similar to the English equivalent, the fact that some pharmacies are starting to offer free diabetic medicines, and antibiotics is a good start.  I’ve only seen Meijer and Giant Eagle doing this, but a google search revealed a chain called Publix is offering free metformin to its customers.  Hopefully this is a trend that will continue to help combat the rising costs of prescriptions!

Written by Jas

April 25, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Bank Accounts

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I’ve been debating about the number of accounts that I currently have, and if it would be in my best interest (no pun intended) to reduce them.  Right now I have my main checking account, a basic savings, and a rainy day savings through my work’s credit union, a checking account with US Bank, and recently I opened a Checking/Savings account with Chase.  I also am part of my mother’s checking account through US Bank, but that is used primarily for making payments for her nursing home as well as any other needed expense related to her.

So let’s break them down:

BCU

  • Checking – This is my primary checking…the one most of my money goes in and out of.
  • Savings – I don’t actually use this savings account, as it was required to have when I opened the checking. It holds a $5 balance though.
  • Rainy Day Fund – Or as I’ve named it “Moving to England Fund” This is just a place to throw money into for our move to England. I have it because it has a great interest rate (1.5% the first year, and then 3% up to $25,000 after)

US Bank

  • Checking – This is supposed to be an emergency fund, but I have failed miserably at that.  Maybe it the fact that the funds are easily accessible. 

Chase

  • Checking – This was actually opened to house our money for England so that it was “out of sight, out of mind.”  Though this account has been a total disappointment.  I suppose for a domestic account, it wouldn’t be bad.  Though, for international use, it isn’t very good.  Though I did get a $100 for opening it.
  • Savings – I got this one because I thought it would be easier to horde money there for our trip to England.            

So there we go…six accounts total.  Far too many!!!  Ideally, I’d like to have only four accounts.

  • One joint account for Sarah and I
  • One primary account for myself
  • Our Emergency Fund
  • Savings for Move to England/Other

So I am considering closing the US Bank Account all together.  The Chase account, I have to keep for at least six months to avoid fees, but overall I’m not impressed by it enough to keep it past that.  To be honest, Chase feels like their bank accounts are a foot in the door to sell me other products they have.  Plus, since we do a lot of international travel, they charge 3% on all international transactions.  My credit union is 1%.   With all of this, I was thinking of moving over to a local credit union.  I might even talk to Sarah about doing the accounts through my current credit union, just to keep everything centralized. I think this will help streamline the money, and bring everything back in focus.  Right now, I feel like our money is everywhere, and it gives me a headache.

Originally, I thought having them at different banks would allow for less chance of “touching” the funds, but with this day and age it hasn’t had that affect.  It’s still easy to go to the bank and get money, debit cards allow instant access, and transferring funds electronically from one institute to another is far too easy.  I do worry about having the accounts in one location presents the problem of leaving money alone.

Time will tell how we deal with this dilemma, and I think there will be some variation of this.  Suggestions are always welcome!

Written by Jas

April 20, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Debt, Family, Finance

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