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People tell us all the time “I wish I could just travel” or “You guys are living the dream”. #1 We’ve made it our priority, and #2 That’s true. While it isn’t always dolphin rides and face painting, we are living our dream. I can’t help but feel that a lot of people out there aren’t living the life they want to because they’re too busy living the life they think they should. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or what everyone else thinks you should be doing. Worry about you, and your partner and your kids if you’ve got them. It’s easy to get caught up in the current (i.e. the Joneses) and think you should be following the same course as everyone around you. For instance, yesterday in the airport there was a good 30 ft line to get on a packed escalator when there was an empty flight of stairs directly adjacent to it. I’m talking one flight of stairs, maybe twenty steps, and they were totally empty. Do you ever stop to wonder what the hell you’re doing? That your actions are determined by what everyone else is doing, rather than what’s best for you? Think about that the next time you get into an 8-car drive-thru line. Do what works best for you, and know that sometimes it might a require a heavy set of earplugs and a pair of blinders. And maybe a good pair of shoes to tackle all the stairs.
It takes sacrifice to live the life of our dreams, of course, and it is far from perfect. We don’t have a home with a foundation. We have no routine to speak of. Our diets are always out of whack. We are in each other’s company nearly constantly and rarely have alone time. Aside from what we immediately need to live, all our worldly possessions are locked away in an RV. We don’t have regular dates with friends. We probably spend too much time in our families’ hair. And even though we like to see how cheaply we can live, we spend a lot of money to travel the way we do. But it’s money we’ve budgeted and set aside and we don’t feel guilty at all watching it fly out the window every month. We can always go back to work.
When it comes to our life together, what we make doesn’t matter at all compared to what we save, and spending less is the easiest way to save more. It definitely takes practice to start and maintain a budget, but we make it really fun, so it takes the negative aspect out of it, and it’s very, very exciting to know that no one is responsible for our financial lives but us. I really try to convey that to others in a positive, shining light, especially when someone tells me they struggle financially. There is hope! Budgeting is fun! Living within your means is fun! Financial freedom is really, really fun! I just turned 33, Greg is 37, and we’re practically retired. I haven’t worked since February and Greg is like, uber part time, and neither of us will work again for real until October. Don’t tell Greg but I’m actually kind of missing work lately. I went to a doctor’s appt with my mom and stepdad a couple of weeks ago and I felt my little heartstrings getting pulled toward the hospital. But… then I got on facebook and read my friends’ updates about how bad their jobs suck and I happily put it out of my mind for a few more months. Months. We get to take months off at a time. But we’re not independently wealthy and it isn’t by some accident we get months of elective unemployment; we paved the road here, and we continue to lay the asphalt every day by living under our means and saving money where we can.
I started this post to talk about the time we just spent in Cincinnati, but I felt compelled to write again about how we maintain this lifestyle even when we’re not working. I know everyone’s road isn’t as easy as ours, but I do have hope for everyone’s financial freedom, and I really, really, really hope our road can inspire others. Just because we have the money doesn’t mean we spend it. We don’t believe in instant gratification and we look for ways to save every chance we get. Truth be told, we don’t even budget for vacations anymore. We budget to set money aside in our high-yield travel savings account and we know the longer we make that money last, the more we get to travel. As I mentioned, we just left Cincinnati after a really, really fun Cubs series, and I wanted to write about the steps we took to make our last trip a cheap but memorable one.
Our friend Josie is home from Australia and we hadn’t seen her in two years, so we made plans to meet at Kentucky’s Red River Gorge for a weekend of hiking, climbing, and s’mores. As luck would have it the Cubs were playing in Cincinnati the following Monday so a detour north worked out perfectly with the Warcken schedule. We camped three nights with Josie and her sister at Koomer Ridge in the Red River Gorge Geological Area. We love camping trips because you get such bang for your buck in quality time versus money spent. Gas on the way there was just $55, and three nights at the campground cost us $40 + $10 for firewood. We ate out one night at a local pizza joint which was around $15 on Greg’s plasma card, and otherwise ate what we brought in our cooler and a milk crate. Spending less on food is probably our favorite way to save money on the road, as going out to eat can quickly kill any budget, especially when alcohol is involved. We’d rather work less than eat well, and think alcohol is an incredible waste of money, calories, and judgment. But that’s just us. Earplugs. Blinders.
The campground had running water, picnic tables, and ice available for purchase, but no flushing toilets or showers. But we are simple folk who are happy to pee in the woods, poop in an outhouse, and bathe with wet wipes. Only this time we brought a camp shower that heats up in the sun so we got to wash our hair and stinky parts with soap and water. I’ll tell you what mister, that camp shower really changes things for the ol’ Warckens. Remember last summer when Gregory and I nearly divorced over not showering in seven days? Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic but I was none too happy with him refusing to get a hotel room when we hadn’t paid for a single night of lodging in over two months. We had a nice long chat about where it makes sense to cut corners and we got over it and I eventually got my shower (at a truck stop, mind you). But we don’t have to worry about that anymore, right hun?
After our lady friends headed home from Kentucky we started north for Ohio and took the back roads to Cincinnati. It was astonishingly hot and humid (bloody close, to the Brits) and we were feeling rather lethargic and unresponsive on the way, which is a surefire way to spend a bunch of unnecessary money. Think going to the grocery store without having eaten first. There’s a campground in north Cincy for $28.50/night, but the thought of setting up the tent again in that humidity was more than we could handle. We debated staying in a hotel one night, then camping the other nights, but there were no cheap award nights to be found and I didn’t want to pay $100 for one night of laziness. We looked at entire houses on Airbnb but they were shockingly expensive, like $300+/night downtown. Is this Tokyo or Cincinnati? I can’t tell. We’ve never stayed in a shared house on Airbnb, and we weren’t feeling very outgoing so we didn’t want a room in someone’s private home. We just wanted to lay in bed in an air-conditioned room and watch Game of Thrones.
I ended up finding a private room in a house that was set up more like a hostel for just $45/night after Airbnb fees, and I booked it through Virgin America’s partner page for 1 Elevate point/$1 spent. We never even saw the owner; a key code got us in the front door and our room key was waiting for us inside. There was a shared kitchen and one bathroom for four rooms, but we only caught brief glimpses of three other patrons and there was never any competition for kitchen or bathroom space. Compared to camping it was worth the extra money for the fridge space, the wifi, and of course the air-con. Because of the way it was set up we were able to ‘check in’ immediately after booking, and after dropping all our things off inside we walked toward the University of Cincinnati to find some supper. Our ‘hostel’ was a short walk to lots of cute restaurants and bars, as well as the Cincinnati Zoo. We found a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant and split chicken molé for less than $11 before tip, then walked home after supper and settled in for the season finale of GoT. So…. GOOD…
We had big aspirations of getting up early and going to the zoo, the cemetery and arboretum, or the Underground Railroad museum before the first baseball game, but as it turned out we were still feeling lethargic and unresponsive so we ended up sleeping in and lying on the bed all day, catching up on the interwebs and researching our next ‘What do you think about moving to another country?’ trip. We still had plenty of groceries left so after brunch at the hostel I packed us a little lupper (lunch/supper) for the Reds game. And by Reds game of course I mean the Cubs game. We froze two nearly-full Nalgenes the night before and hid them in the secret pocket in the bottom of Greg’s bag so we wouldn’t have to buy bottled water at the game. Not just because of the extra cost, but because bottled water is one of my least favorite things on the planet. America’s toilet water is cleaner than 90% of the world’s drinking water and I know every one of us can afford a reusable water bottle. Please stop trashing Mother Earth and invest in one.
Across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati and the Great American Ball Park is charming Covington, Kentucky, home of free parking after 4:00p. Of course being with Greg Warcken meant we got to Covington at 3:40p for a 7:10p game. A Warcken is never late to ball game. A Warcken also never leaves a ball game early. It’s actually 2 hr parking until 6:00p, so we sat in the car until 4:00p so we could leave our car legally parked for those two hours, then made our way across the really, really lovely John A. Roebling suspension bridge on foot.
Greg had half-heartedly searched for tickets on Craigslist, but we knew there were cheap tickets at the box office so we headed there rather than trying to find tickets on the street. Greg asked for two of the cheapest tickets they had and the guy told him “I’ll do you one better than our cheapest tickets. We’ve got $15 tickets available that include $9 in concession credit.” You don’t have to tell the Warckens about free food twice. What a steal! I’ll tell you what, mister, we sure like going to Wrigley but it is so nice not paying Wrigley prices. We sat amongst tons of other Cubs fans and waited for the gates to open 1.5 hours before game time. We were happy as larks to see the Cubbies were taking batting practice so as soon as we got in we ran to the left field side to stand behind Contreras as he warmed up. A ball sailed right to Gregory and he snagged it bare-handed (what a stud!). I thought he would give it to a child, but he shoved it in his backpack posthaste (what a kid!). The thing we love about ball games is that every one of them is a chance to see something incredible, to witness history in the making. Like my boyfriend Kris Bryant smacking three homers and two doubles to lead the Cubs 9-2 over the Reds. Speaking of studs.
Before the game started we found Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and their $1 hotdogs and used $4 of our allotted $18. Due to some ticket confusion we actually went $4.25 over on food, which is not typically Warcken, but I wasn’t going to track Greg down for his ticket clear across the stadium after standing in line in 900° heat for a box of fries.
Cincinnati has a very lovely, very photogenic waterfront, and after the game I gave my phone to Greg so he could read about and rewatch all the highlights while I took pictures and enjoyed the perfect weather.
Cincinnati is a great place for kids what with the ball park, their famous zoo, and all the amusement and water parks you could ask for. On our second full day in the city we were planning on going to Kings Island because of its combination ticket with Soak City waterpark, but tickets were $43/person plus $15 for parking. I found a coupon that saved us about $15, but there was no other option but to print tickets. Like, you had to have physical tickets. Well that just sounded like a big hassle and Greg thought he’d be under too much pressure to have a good time between the two parks and $100. I mean, we were only going to be there from the time they opened at 10:00a until we had to leave for the next 7:10p game, so, like 15 minutes if Greg had his way.
I searched Groupon and LivingSocial for water park deals and found The Beach for $29/2 people + 2 sodas, plus $8 for parking. Nothing irks a Warcken like paying for parking, I swear, but for future reference, you can park in the Hampton Inn parking lot and just walk to the park. The Beach was advertising tickets for $28.99/person so two for $29 was a real steal. I asked the family behind us in line if they bought tickets from LivingSocial and they had never heard of it. Since there was no one behind them we stepped out of line so I could show her how to use the site and her family of four saved $60 on admission tickets! That’s another day at the waterpark! The Beach is conveniently located across the interstate from Kings Island so we got to stare longingly at all the big kid rides on our way in. It doesn’t look like much when you’re walking in, but it actually has a lot of rides and there was hardly anyone there. Our kind of place.
We took a mandatory lap around the lazy river, then hit up the slides before the crowds showed up. Well, they never really showed up and the longest line we waited in was maybe twenty minutes for the Big Kahuna, and that was just the once as we caught too much air for me to find it at all entertaining and I refused to do it again. In addition to our tickets and sodas, we also received two free passes to the zipline. As we were standing in its four-person line, two little girls approached us and asked if it was free. We told them they needed tickets and sent them on their way. Then we got to thinking about it and decided they needed them more than we did so we went and found them and forked the tickets over. One of them found us in the wavepool and gave a little wave from the zipline.
Now I’m under the opinion that there are two kinds of people in this world- those who pee in the shower, their wet suits, and in pools, and those who lie about it. I’m open and honest so when Greg tried to come snuggle me while I was peeing in the wavepool, I let him know what was going on. He immediately pushed me away, pointing and yelling “SHE’S PEEING IN THE POOL! SHE’S PEEING IN THE POOL! GET AWAY FROM HER! SHE’S PEEING IN THE POOL!” while everyone around us first stared, then quickly made their way away from me. I just laughed until I cried, it was my only defense.
Outside food and beverages weren’t allowed at The Beach, so we had a big, protein-laden breakfast and didn’t eat again until it was almost time to leave for the game. They did allow us to take our empty coffee mugs inside and the concession clerks were happy to fill them with ice and water. There was a large picnic area next to the parking lot and we sat in the shade and enjoyed our lunch of string cheese, turkey sausage, and pork rinds. On a hike earlier this summer Greg asked if I had packed pb&js. “No, but I packed pork rinds.” “Great!” he replied, “We’re the Porkens!” After lunch we gathered our sundries and headed back into the park to take advantage of the showers so we wouldn’t have to stop at the hostel on our way to the game. If you’re ever looking for a free or cheap shower on the road, public pools are a good place to look. We cashed in our two free sodas for some iced teas and hit the road.
We left the water park a little later than Greg had hoped so I dropped him off next to the stadium and I drove across the bridge to park and walk back. We got the same $15 tickets and headed straight for Ollie’s for some more hot dogs. We weren’t repeating our Fry Box mistake from the night before, and chose Macho Nachos instead, loaded with shredded chicken and jalapeño. We actually had food credit left over after we finished our supper, so we gave our tickets to the next Cubs fan we saw standing in line. Little did we know the game would go 15 innings, but we always take our own sun seeds in to keep us occupied. We never plan on buying food at games, but we’ve agreed to always put $5 on Split the Pot. I’ve got two major goals in my baseball career: 1. To get on the Kiss Cam and 2. To win 50/50. There were three firsts for me at our second game- Two 7th inning stretches, pitchers playing left field, and a GRAND SLAM. It was slow there for awhile, of course, but it got real fun at the end.
On our last day in Cincinnati the game started at 12:35p and we were out of breakfast food so we used the bogo coupons on the back of our previous game tickets to get four sandwiches and two coffees at McD’s (using the app for coffee credit, of course). Like I said before, free parking in Covington is only available after 4:00p, so Greg researched online and found another free parking option downtown- the Jack Casino. It said online we needed to be player’s club members to get free parking, which we were willing to sign up for, but when we got to the parking lot there wasn’t anyone supervising so we just parked and walked out of there like we owned the place. Aside from the M Life properties in Vegas that now charge for parking, casinos are typically a sure free-parking bet (pun). It was a pleasant mile walk to the park amid tons of Cubs fans but we were dismayed to find our $15 tickets sold out and $19 grandstand tickets being offered instead. Oh no! The Warckens hadn’t packed any extra snacks! Greg asked if there were any other tickets that included food purchases and we were offered a $20 ticket that included $10 in concession credit. Well yeah! We bypassed the $1 hot dogs for Macho Nachos again and a tub of popcorn, and gave the remaining credits to another Cubs fan standing in line. Word to the wise, there are lots of food options at Great American, but they get insanely busy during the game so get your food before it starts so you don’t have to waste precious plays. The Cubs won again and swept the Reds 3-0. Go Cubs! We had made plans to see Josie’s family in Illinois so we left as soon as the game was over and headed west.
The whole time we were in Cincinnati I kept thinking about traveling with a family. Everyone tells us to get our traveling out of the way before we have babies, but we have friends who take their babies and toddlers all over the world and they’re just fine. I think a lot of people put vacations to the side when they have kids because they think it’ll be a hassle, or it’ll be too expensive, or their kids aren’t worth traveling with because “they won’t remember it anyway”, which is the saddest excuse I can imagine. Look, it’s easy for me to say now because we don’t have any of our own, but I think traveling with kids is probably the most rewarding travel you could ever do. So what if it’s a hassle? Traveling with adults can be a hassle. Too expensive? Nothing is too expensive when you budget and save for it. Well what if they don’t remember it? You will. Only you can prevent not living the life of your dreams.
Go Cubs Go.
A quick recap of all the ways we saved on this trip:
- Took a cooler and all the groceries we had room for.
- Used a $6 solar camp shower instead of paying for one at a campground or truck stop.
- Donated plasma for our dining and entertainment budget. We paid for the first game with our travel money, but then we agreed it was more like date night so now baseball games are coming out of plasma too. Greg’s pumping for restaurants and regular season games, I’m pumping for the playoffs.
- Ordered water at restaurants (or took our own in, depending on the restaurant), and split entrees.
- Always carried a reusable water bottle.
- Rented a room at a shared house on Airbnb.
- Found free parking. We’ve walked upwards of two miles each way to avoid paying $5 for parking, but downtown Cincy was $15+ so we were happy to walk to every game. If you think about it, three games parking = 1 night in an Airbnb.
- Bought $15 baseball tickets that included $9 in food purchases. Unless we’re in the Bleachers at Wrigley, we typically buy the cheapest ticket available and move seats once the game starts if we’re so inclined.
- Paid $1 extra for tickets on our last day and got $10 in food credit. I don’t know if that’s a Great American thing, but I’ll be asking for tickets that include concession credit everywhere we go now.
- $1 hot dogs.
- Used LivingSocial for buy one get one free tickets to the waterpark, refilled coffee mugs with ice water, picnicked, showered, and got two free iced teas out of the deal. If you don’t know about LivingSocial or Groupon you should definitely check them out, you can get some great vacation deals.
- Clicked through TopCashBack to purchase and earned 15% cash back on the LivingSocial deal.
- Always packed a picnic lunch.
- Used buy one get one free coupons for breakfast sandwiches at McDonald’s, and used the McD’s app for buy five get one free coffee credits.
- And of course all this went on travel credit cards (aside from the plasma purchases), earning us miles and points to redeem for future vacations. And of course we paid them off as soon as we got home.