Amanda Dorough | She's Paying It Off

The Story of My Journey to Debt Freedom, One Tiny Step at a Time


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No Spend Challenge 2020: April Recap

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March felt like it lasted for 500 days.

April, in contrast, felt like it lasted for 4 hours.  Man it was a quick month.

This is a weird year to be doing a no spend challenge because it’s almost deceptively easy.  Everything’s closed.  I can’t go shopping, can’t go to the movies….I don’t really have anywhere to drive to besides work either.

Despite that April was probably my worst month so far in terms of my no spend challenge.  I blame food.  I ate out a couple times at work when I didn’t need to.  I know what you’re thinking, Amanda don’t be hard on yourself, but when the year started I put eating out (except for one monthly trip to Panera) on my wants list.  That being said sometimes, when you’ve had a super long day, a strawberry limeaide from Sonic is the best thing ever.

Speaking of work, this last month my employer changed our work shift schedule from 48 hrs on/96 hrs off to 24 on/48 off in anticipation of the Covid 19 spike in TX.  Funny thing is they changed it in order to help us conserve energy but in truth I feel more exhausted than ever.  Thankfully the schedule switches back this week because the change in schedule also meant I was having to drive to Houston twice as much which meant more mileage on my car and more money spent on gas.

Thankfully gas is super cheap right now which is AMAZING.  I spent $1.17/gallon the other day.  I never thought I’d see prices go that low in my lifetime.

Some other notes from April…

  1.  I finally got my stimulus on the 30th!  I had to manually enter my direct deposit info so it took longer.  I’m going to use some of the money to take a small road trip once this mess is over then the rest will most likely either go to the dentist or my car.
  2. Thankfully I’m an essential employee so I’ve been working this whole time which allows me to pay all my bills without issue.  I have student loans from my paramedic degree with Nelnet and from my earlier Bachelors degree through Navient.  The Nelnet loans are deferred with no interest thanks to the CARES act but I wasn’t so lucky when it came to the Navient loans.  Regardless though, I decided to keep paying on both.  I’ve got the budget so why not.
  3. I read 10 books this last month!  That’s the most I’ve read in a month every I’m pretty sure.  One book I owned but the rest where all checked out from the Library on my Kindle using the LIBBY app.  Considering all the libraries are closed it’s been a lifesaver and I love it.
  4. I made $10 via side hustles this month, all from Field Agent.  I couldn’t justify making unnecessary trips to the store to complete jobs with a stay at home order in affect, but since I was already in Walmart I went for it.  I got some free Febreeze too so it really worked out.
  5. We were gifted a lot of food this last month while working from from citizens and local businesses alike.  Jersey Mikes to McDonalds.  I definitely feel very blessed by these gifts.

And finally, money I put towards debt in April…

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The amount may be the lowest yet, but every little bit counts right?  Even better is that I’ll be able to pay off my credit card this month (May)!  That being said hopefully I’ll have really exciting things to report by this time next month!

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Frugal DIY Greeting Cards (from Magazines!)

Hey all!  How are you doing with this whole social distance thing?  Surviving?  I’m just so ready for it to be over but alas, it is what it is right now I guess.

So, considering so many of us are stuck at home and finding ways to get creative and pass the time I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite frugal DIYs.

Now before we start, this project depends on having a stack of old magazines at your disposal.  If you don’t have that you can always get creative in other ways, using construction paper or whatever you may have on hand, but for the sake of my project I’m using old magazines.

Ok, now onward to the craft!  Today folks we’re making DIY greeting cards, which, if you’re on a no spend year like me is great because it means you won’t feel the temptation to spend money on cards.

What you’ll need (and hopefully you already have on hand):

Old magazines
Glue
Scissors
Cardstock or printer paper
Pen/Pencil

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Step 1:  Flip through your magazines looking specifically for pages with large areas of solid colors OR cool looking prints.  Tear out the pages.

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Step 2:  Go through and cut out the solid colors from the pages, attempt to keep the pieces a straight as possible (think rectangles).

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Step 3:  Cut the pieces into small squares

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Step 4:  Now take your glue and cardstock/printer paper or whatever you’re going to use to make the body of the card.  I had a bunch of blank cards I got at Michaels a while back so that’s what I used.  Begin gluing the small squares to the card in whatever pattern you like, going line by line.  Don’t worry about letting parts of the squares overhang the sides, we’ll take care of that on the next step.

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Step 5:  Now that you’re done gluing on the squares flip the card over and trim the edges.

Step 6:  Now is the time to embellish.  You can do this however you’d like.  You can even just keep the card as a plain pattern.  If you want to keep the frugal concepts going you can cut out shapes from other magazine pages or extra printer paper (like I did here).  OR of course you can use stickers, glitter, whatever else you may have on hand.

And there you go, you have some easy frugal greeting cards and (hopefully) didn’t even have to visit a craft store!


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No Spend Challenge 2020: What, Why, and my Ground Rules

Three years ago, while I was living in Alaska I was browsing through Pinterest one day looking at budget and money management inspiration when I stumbled upon a little blog called AndThenWeSaved.  Honestly, it was the kick @ss graphics that drew me in but I quickly found a source of inspiration that would (or should I say will) become life changing for me.  The blog’s author, Anna, had experienced a sick and tired moment when it came to her debt.  She then devised a plan to complete a year long no spend challenge, aka a Spending Fast, to get rid of her burden of debt once and for all, and she did it you guys!  She paid off over $20,000 of debt that year and chronicled it all in her blog.  Even more, just before I discovered her she published a book where she further outlined how she got out of debt and gave tips, tricks, and advice to inspire others to be successful at paying off their debts too.  So, of course, I immediately went onto Amazon and bought it (you can find it here), and I tell you what, I was on fire and ready to slay my debts…for about 3 weeks and then the reality of being a broke Paramedic student with barely any income sank in.  Yes, I could follow some of the tips and live frugally so that I hopefully didn’t incur any more debt, but the real attack was going to have to wait until after graduation.

Well, as you can imagine graduation came and my first paramedic job came around 5 months later.  It was amazing, after making only $12,000 in taxible dollars the previous year as a student I was finally bringing in a sizeable income.  Suddenly I wanted all the shiny, pretty things I had been depriving myself of.  To be fair I didn’t go out and buy an expensive car or a fancy laptop, but I could finally get all those fun little things on my list that were going to make me the coolest girl in town right?  Pricey brand name makeup from Ulta, a pair of Rifle Paper Co. designed Keds, a Clairsonic Mia.  Suddenly all of my WANTS were more important than the mountains of money I owed.

And it stayed that way for a while.

Every now and again I would get a wild amount of inspiration to start paying off my debt.  I’d even go back and read through Anna’s book again, but the motivation would quickly go away and I was right back where I started.

Then this last January something changed.  I can’t say that I had a specific moment where it clicked for me, but I was just really tired of being scared of my bank account.  I hated logging into the app for my credit union because I knew I was going to have a scary low amount of money in there.  Y’all that’s NO WAY TO LIVE!  Jeez.  So I committed to getting rid of my debt once in for all.  It was slow going at first but over time I’ve gained more and more momentum.  I’ve cash flowed car repairs, dental procedures, and medical bills.  Oh ya, and I also paid off my car and my line of credit!

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Now, why a spending fast aka no spend challenge?

So in general I follow the Dave Ramsey baby steps and use the debt snowball method.  Step number 2 is to pay off all your debts but the house (which I don’t have) smallest to largest.  That’s it.  There’s no how to’s or inspiration laying in that step.  Just pay off your debt however you can.

And that’s where the spending fast comes in for me.  Over the last year I’ve done a pretty good job at budgeting and cutting expenses but honestly, I could do better.  I don’t need a  new shirt from Walmart just because it’s cute.  I don’t need to eat dinner with the firefighters every day I’m on shift.  Instead, that money, one dollar at a time, could easily go to pay off my debt just a little faster.

I’m kind of looking at this as a cool challenge.  I’m a fairly competitive person so this is pretty much a competition for myself.  How long can I really go without spending money on my NEEDS (more on wants vs needs later)?

To sum it up I still have a lot of debt.  Close to $80,000 and if I don’t do something radical, at the rate I’m going it’s going to take me years to pay it all off.  If I can really commit to this fast I predict that I can pay off at least $30,000 next year, but possibly more.  It really depends on the amount of overtime and the number of shifts at my part-time job I can get.  We’ll see!

So what are my ground rules/general guidelines I’m setting for the fast?

First of all, the time frame.

I thought a long time about how much I wanted to commit and 6 months just feels right.  So as of now I’m committing to a Spending Fast from January to June.  Then once June comes around I’m going to reevaluate.  I’m keeping the possibility of doing a fast for an entire year high on my list, I’m just not ready to commit quite yet.  By June though, if not before, I should have a good idea if the tactic is working for me.

Now what else?  Let’s see….

  1.  Only buy needs.  To some of you that concept may seem super vague.  Others of you may think it sounds super strict.  I promise it will become clearer soon.  My plan is to make a general wants vs needs list, as well as a more detailed list, within the next week or two and share it here for accountability.  This is to keep me on track and remind me what my needs really are compared to simple wants.
  2. Have grace when it comes to unexpected needs.  I recognize that I could plan everything down to the detail and surprises will still arise.  My plan is to weigh each situation as it comes up and determine how significant of a need each item or experience truly is.
  3. Sinking Funds/Envelopes:  Once the new year starts I will stop contributing to a majority of my sinking funds and envelopes.  Sinking funds for health expenses, Toiletries (because hair dye is a need for me, but only the cheap stuff), social, and Misc. will continue to receive contributions.  All others will stop.
  4. Paying for needs.  Some needs such as rent, electricity, gas etc. are going to remain line items in my budget.  Other needs such as toilet paper or socks, should all of mine suddenly disappear (an extreme example but we all know that sock goblins love stealing socks), I’m going to use my current sinking funds to pay for.  For example, the cost of toilet paper would come out of my cleaning and organizing fund.  Because I will no longer be contributing to these funds, once the money is depleted the needs will be paid for using my Misc. envelope.  If that were to run out at some point I will have to go without or use another fund, such as groceries, to cover the need.
  5. Follow through on current plans.  I have a trip scheduled at the end of January/Early February to go to Seattle to spend time with my family and go skiing with my dad.  Two other tentative trips for the first half of the year are a short trip to Alaska to visit friends (using Airmiles) and a possible weekend trip to Dallas to visit my cousin.  I have decided to not cancel any of these trips but instead approach them very frugally.  Each will/would have their own set of rules that I will establish as they get closer.
  6. Make do and mend.  Try to fix it first, buy used if I can and new if absolutely necessary.
  7.   It’s OK to say no.  No to hanging out.  No to spending money.  No to OT shifts.  I’m doing this to tackle as much debt as I possibly can.

And there you have it!  My last paycheck for 2019 is December 26 which means things are going to start getting tight after that!  And the funny thing is, I can’t wait!

**Note:  The Term Spending Fast is trademarked by Anna and therefore I will refer to my Spending Fast as a No Spend Challenge going forward.  (P.S.  Anna, if I slip and end up calling it a Spending Fast and don’t realize it I apologize in advance!)


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London on a Budget : What to see and do

Hello all!  Pardon my slight absence but I had a bit of an issue with my laptop.  We’ll just say it took a swim in the bathtub…. but now I’m back and ready to give you all the down-low on the fantastic free and cheap things I discovered to do while I was in London.

Now, let me start off by saying I am by no means a London expert, I’m just a super budget conscious girl who found some awesome budget-friendly activities and wanted to pass on this knowledge in case I can help any of you other budget conscious travelers out there.

Now let’s get on with it.  First up…

MUSEUMS

London has so many incredible museums and with the exception of a few small museums, they’re FREE.  Probably one of my favorite words. I by no means visited every museum in London, but here are the ones I did in order from my favorite to least.

  1.  The British Museum:  Where do I even start. This is probably the top museum in London and it’s massive with the crowds to match.  I didn’t even come close to seeing everything.  It serves as home to some pretty incredible artifacts from all over the world and throughout history such as the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian relics, and even pieces of the Parthenon from Athens.  Displays in the museum literally span history from Ancient Mesopotamia to Alaskan Native culture and beyond.  I was in constant awe of the artifacts I was witnessing.
  2. The Victoria and Albert Museum:  This museum was a complete surprise to me.  I honestly just ducked in to use their wifi (all the museums had free wifi) and ended up loving it.  Similar to the British Museum it houses a lot of historical artifacts but it focuses more on the humanities, art, and design.  My favorite spaces were the Cast Courts which houses copies (or casts) of dozens of historical monuments and sculptures (like Michelangelo’s David).  The most impressive to me was a casting of Trajan’s Column from Rome which is actually displayed in two pieces because it’s to tall to fit in the building.  Impressive.
  3. The National Gallery:  This massive art museum houses many iconic works from famous artists throughout history.  If you want to get up close and personal with works by Van Gough, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Rembrandt, Di Vinci… This is where you need to go.  Paintings are sorted by historical period and or country so it can be quite difficult to find the specific paintings you want to see unless you know what you’re looking for, however on the museum’s web page they list their most famous paintings and exactly which rooms you can find them in which is helpful.  Also again, the museum has free wifi so accessing the website shouldn’t be an issue even if you don’t have data.
  4.   The National History Museum:  Honestly it’s very similar to every other natural history museum I’ve been to, that’s the only reason it doesn’t rank higher on the list.  The museum is home to a pretty impressive collection of rocks and gems as well as taxidermy animals.  The centerpiece though is probably the museums Hintze Hall which has a massive blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.  The room itself also has some pretty cool architectural details built into the columns and staircases.
  5. The Tate Modern:  In general I like modern art, I mean arguably the art I create would be classified as modern art.  I did not, however, like about 90% of the Tate Modern.  I just didn’t get it.  The meanings of the strange installations were over my head.  The one redeeming quality of the museum for me was its location.  It sits on the south bank of the Thames in an old Power Station.  On the top floor of the building is actually a viewing deck where you get some pretty awesome views of the river, the Millennium Bridge, St. Pauls Cathedral, and the rest of London.  I highly recommend a visit for that alone

*Also, pro tip.  There are public bathrooms all over London that you have to pay to use (and rightfully so), but all the museums have fantastic bathrooms that you can use for free.  So, if you ever find yourself needing a “Lu” and you’re close to a museum just duck in and save some pence.

West End Shows

Ok, I’ll start this off by saying the obvious, this isn’t a free activity BUT, if you’re a musical lover like me there are some tips to help you save big!  While I was in London I decided to go see the musical “Waitress.” Having done a bit of research beforehand I learned that Waitress is among a handful of West End shows that offer “Day Of Tickets.” Theaters obviously want to sell as many tickets to a show as possible since an empty seat equals no profit. This essentially means that if you have the energy to wait in line for the theater to open on the day of the show you have the possibility to score an awesome seat for cheap.  Now not every show does this and times, lines lengths, and rules vary depending on the show as well (I suggest doing some research online before you head out), but here was my experience with Waitress…

After researching I learned that the ticket office at the Adelphi Theater (where Waitress is preformed) opens at 10:00 in the morning so I aimed to get there by 8:30 to make sure I got a good spot in line.  Well, I got there at 8:30 and no one was there!  I was a little confused and wondered if I got my info wrong, so I wandered down the street to get some free wifi and double-check (everything checked out, just no one else was waiting yet).  So, since I had an hour and a half to kill I wandered around and stumbled upon the que for The Lion King (musical) and the line was INSANE (I also heard the line for Wicked can get that way).  I was pretty happy with my choice of musical at this point and decided to wander back to the theater.  By the time I got back, there was a couple standing in front of the theater (in line) so now I didn’t feel so awkward and decided to join them.  By the time the theater opened there were 8 of us total, not so bad.  I ended up scoring a 5th row center ticket for $30 USD, which is a little bit pricier than day-of tickets in NYC but still a fantastic deal considering the people next to me spent close to $100!

Other tips:  Both “Hamilton” and “Harry Potter” and the Cursed Child” sell their leftover (discount) tickets using an online Lottery.  I entered for both but was unlucky on all counts.  Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did 😉

Explore Parks

London is home to several incredible parks which offer a great way to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city (even though you’re still technically in the middle of it all).  You can stroll among the many paths or rent a Satander Bike for a couple pounds.  Overall parks are just a great place to people watch and see some iconic monuments, like the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.  It took me awhile to find it but it was totally worth it!

  • Note:  I also highly recommend St. Dunsten of the East church ruins.  While it’s not technically a park the foliage covered ruins are an incredible sight to behold.

Affordable Alternatives

Southwark Cathedral:  Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls Cathedral are both incredible sites to behold but expensive to get into.  If you want to get your cathedral fix but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg consider Southwark Cathedral.  It’s free to get into and £2 for a photo pass

The Sky Garden:  Skip the Shard and it’s high price tag and take in the view from the Sky Garden instead.  Located at the top of the “Walkie Talkie” building the Sky Garden offers panoramic views of London as well as a cafe and lush indoor gardens all for FREE.  That’s right, FREE.  Note:  You do need a ticket to be allowed on the elevator but these can be booked on the Sky Garden Website ahead of time.  Apparently, some time slots do “sell” out during busy tourist months, but in October when I visited I didn’t feel like it was overly crowded.

So there you have it.  A very brief outlined version of some awesome free/cheap things to do in London.  Of course there are some honorable mentions that totally belong on this list but it would go on forever if I included them.  So I’ll just quickly mention… 1. Camden market is quirky and fantastic, a wonderful place to hang out and probably my favorite spot in London; 2. Notting Hill is full of charm, adorable pastel colored houses and Portobello Rd. Market; 3. The canals of Little Venice are fun to explore; 4.  Covent Garden and the neighborhoods of Soho are fun to explore and full of cool little quirks like Neals Yard; 5.  You can still learn a lot about the Tower of London without going inside.  There are tons of plaques around the outer wall giving you a glimpse of its history; 6.  Shoreditch has amazing street art including a couple Bansky’s; and finally 7.  Borough Market has a lot of fantastic food for good prices!


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London on a Budget: 8 days, $1063, How I did it aka my Budget Breakdown

Hello Everyone! So happy to be back!

As you may have seen in early October I took a trip to London and it was absolutely fabulous!  My goal from the beginning was to be as frugal as possible while still maximizing the fun and adventure I experienced and honestly, I think I did a pretty awesome job.  England is notoriously expensive.  Prices are very similar to the US in many regards but the British Pound is stronger than the US dollar (even though the rate was at a significant low while I was there, 1.22 USD to 1 BP) so when all is said and done goods in general are slightly more expensive for Americans.

I saw this as a challenge I was more than ready to accept.

From the moment I stepped on the plane in Austin until I walked back into my apartment door 8 days later I had my little Moleskine notebook out taking notes on things I saw, did, and the money that I spent.

So when all was said and done how much did this 8 day London adventure cost me?  Exactly $1062.58 (give or take for fluctuations in the exchange rate).  That’s everything.  Flight, lodging, food, etc., everything.  I knew my low number was pretty impressive, but it wasn’t until I returned home and spoke to a friend who had been to London a couple months earlier that I felt how truly impressive it was.  He had spent more on a London hotel for a week than I did on my entire trip.  Holy Smokes!  I told you England is expensive!

So I thought I’d give you all a little breakdown of how much I spent on each category and how I accomplished it so that maybe I could inspire some more of you amazing budget savvy travelers out there.

I’ll start with the subject that started it all….

Flight
Cost: $470.01

I’m definitely one of those weirdos that likes to search for cheap flights and dream of travel in my spare time.  Usually these searches don’t come to fruition but this time I decided to go for it.  One day I was perusing Kayak.com (one of my favorite travel search engines) and came across a non-stop flight from Austin to London for <$500.  I immediately started picturing London in the fall and ooo it seemed dreamy.  Every part of me wanted to go, but I’m on a debt free journey and travel is frowned upon.  So I sat on the idea for a few days but couldn’t get it out of my head.  Finally I decided that if I could make the rest of the trip as cheap as possible I would take the plunge, be spontaneous, and go for it!  So I headed back to Kayak and found the same flight on British Airways for the same price.  Score! I then clicked over to the British Airways site, because personally I prefer booking through an actual airline vs. a third party vendor when I can, and found the flight there for even a little bit cheaper!

In todays air travel society airlines are splitting up classes more and more.  Domestic airlines started using a class called “basic economy” a few years ago and slowly international airlines have started to catch on.  In general these are no frills fares where you give up a lot of “perks” in exchange for paying less money.  I’m proud to say that I flew to London in British Airways Basic Economy and my frugal self didn’t give in to one single upgrade.  Quite a feat considering during the booking process they try really hard to make you give in.

So what did Basic Economy on British Airways look like?

  •  Carry On luggage only… For more expensive fares you get a free checked bag but for basic economy you have to pay if you want to check a bag.
  • No pre-selecting your seat…  If you’re allergic to middle seats on airplanes this probably isn’t the best fare for you because with a Basic Economy fare you’re nearly guaranteeing yourself a middle seat.  The first chance you get to pick a seat is at online check in 24 hours before your flight.  That is what I did and I still got a middle seat.  Luckily the other middle seat next to me (I was in the middle section of a 747) was empty on the way to London so really it meant more space!
  • Boarding the plane last…  Really this just means you’ll have to fight a little harder for space in the overhead bins.
  • Food, entertainment, blankets on seats etc. are all the same as the other economy members of the flight.  No sacrifices there.

If I had chosen to upgrade to choose my seat I would have spent an extra $70 each way (at least), and by sticking to a carry on bag only I had less to carry around with me in London and less space to buy junk I didn’t need while I was there.  Even being in the middle seat wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  If you’re a budget traveler I definitely recommend Basic Economy.

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Transportation
Cost: $138.18

I’ll add into this that London is a really big walking city. Everyone walks here so invest in comfortable shoes that aren’t going to kill your feet. Even women walking down the street in a business suit wear tennis shoes because they know footwear matters. I really screwed up in this matter. I thought I had good shoes but didn’t and I paid for it physically (Blisters, shin splints, etc.) and literally because I ended up taking public transport a little more often than I’d planned due to the pain.

Here are some other tips I have…

  • Getting to the city from Heathrow Airport:  The “Heathrow Express” train is highly advertised but also super expensive.  We’re talking about $42 (£37) round trip for the 30 minute ride to Paddington Station.  I instead elected to take the Tube aka London Underground to the city.  It takes a little bit more time but it is soooo much cheaper.  I spent £3.10 to get to Kings Cross Station (off peak hours) and £5.10 to get back to the airport (peak hours) which if you’re keeping track is about 1/4 of the cost of the Heathrow Express.  The tube station is also right in the terminal at the airport and there are tons of signs to help you find it.
  • If you’re going to use the Tube (and you should) then invest in an “Oyster card.”  The Oyster card is a multi use card that you can preload money to so each time you go to use the tube you just tap the card on the entrance gate instead of paying for single tickets each time.  Fares using the Oyster card are also discounted from single ticket costs so even more worth it.  You can easily get your Oyster card from a tube ticket machine (I got mine at the airport).  You do put down a £5 deposit when you get the card but this, along with any other money you still have on the card, is refundable when you leave.  The only exception is with the “Visitor Oyster card” that they market to tourists and you can order before you arrive in country.  The deposit on that is not refundable (so what I’m saying is you should probably just get the regular Oyster card).
  • London is split into different zones and tube fares are different depending on what zones you travel between.  Most places I went to were within Zone 1 aka central London so it was just a flat fee (£2.40 per ride I believe) but there is a full breakdown of costs available online.
  • This area also includes the train I took to Watford Junction (£18.10) where I caught a shuttle bus (£3) for the Harry Potter Studio Tour as well as the train I took out to Oxford (£27.40) for a day trip.
  • Finally this area also includes the Lyft ride I took from the airport to my apartment when I got back to Austin ($34 after coupon and including tip).  Luckily I got a ride to the airport from a friend when I left, but they were in class when I got back so I had to find alternative options.

Lodging
Cost: $116.00

You read that right, $116.  Pretty stinking cheap right?  Well it’s because I stayed in a hostel.  I know that the concept of hostels is pretty scary and foreign to a lot of people but I don’t mind them, especially if it lets me travel for cheap.  Thankfully London is very rich with a lot of amazing hostel options.  Really there is something for everyone.  You can get anything from a private room for £60/night in a hostel to a 20 bed dorm room for £13.  I researched for a good week before I finally made my decision which I made based on 4 factors: price, location, reputation, and communal kitchen.  The place I really wanted to stay was about £30/night for a bed in a 6 bed female dorm.  Man it looked nice but it was so much more than I wanted to pay.  After all was said and done I finally chose to stay at a hostel called Clink 78.  Set in an old court house it really is a super cool building.  I’m going to be posting a video review of my time there soon but here are some  of the specific reasons I picked it…

  • Location:  The hostel is about a 10 minute walk from Kings Cross station.  It’s not right in the middle of all the tourist activities but Kings Cross is a good launching point for almost anything London has to offer.
  • Communal Kitchen:  I wanted the option to be able to cook my own food to save money.  Not all hostels have kitchen so this was huge to me.
  • All female housing:  I’ll share a dorm with guys if I have to, but I really do feel more comfortable when I can be in a room with only women.  This hostel not only had girls only dorms, but it had a girls only wing which I really liked.
  • The price was right:  They had a promotional sale going on which brought the room down to about £14/night.  For 6 nights it was about £85 (or $105 according to my bank). That’s cheaper than one night in most hotels!  I also decided to spend $11 extra to guarantee myself a bottom bunk.  When I was 10 I loved top bunks, now I don’t.  Money well spent.

Overall my experience in the dorm this time was pretty good.  The bunk beds all had privacy walls between them which was nice.  There was some snoring but it was bearable.  It was a bit cluttered with suitcases but passable.  There was a lock box for me to put my important/expensive items into so I didn’t have to worry about them.  Best of all though I made friends.  When you’re traveling alone and spend all day in your own head sometimes it’s nice to have people to talk to.  We were all from such different walks of life (not to mention different countries) but we had some awesome conversations.

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Food
Cost: $136.01

Eating can definitely get expensive if you’re not careful.  There were some staple British dishes I wanted to try like fish and chips and meat pie and mash that I let myself splurge on but other than that I was very careful.  Restaurants can get real expensive real fast.  I would estimate that prices for similar dishes in most establishments are 20%-30% more than what you would pay for a similar dish in the US.  Thats just how it is.  Some dishes are worth it, some aren’t.  Just make good choices.

Here are some other things I did do save on food:

  • I brought some food with me from the US.  I had a gallon ziplock that I filled with items I had at home.  Oatmeal packets, easy mac, peanut butter packets, little restaurant condiment style honey packets, granola bars, hot chocolate…  Usually most mornings I would throw a granola bar in my purse and eat that for breakfast as I walked about.  I also bought some bread from the grocery story and used the PB and honey to make sandwiches to take with me.
  • Convenience stores are everywhere.  They sell cheap premade sandwiches and easy microwavable meals for a few pounds.  Most nights I would stop by one of these stores in Kings Cross on my way back to the hostel and would pick up a drink, snack, and some sort of microwave meal like Shepherds pie then take it back to the hostel and cook it in the kitchen.  I saved a ton of money this way.
  • I found street markets have pretty cheap food.  My first day I got some stir fry and fresh juice at Borough Market and later in the week I got an awesome almond tarte at Portobello Rd.

Fun
Cost: $113.02

This is one of those areas where I have so much to tell you that I’m definitely going to have to do another post on it.  Keeping with the theme of London being expensive this area is no exception but if you’re smart about it you can having an amazing time without spending a lot.  Before I left Austin I heavily researched everything I could see and do, priced them and prioritized them.  I may have only spent just over $100 on fun but I was throughly entertained the entire time, I assure you.

Here’s a bit of a breakdown (without going into to much detail) on where I spent my money and what I saved on:

  • The biggest chunk of this was the Harry Potter Studio Tour which was £45 ($55 according to my bank).  This was the number one thing I wanted to and I booked my ticket basically the day after I got my flight.  I decided it was going to be my one big splurge and it was soooo worth it.
  • Going to see a West End Show…  I absolutely love musicals and knew I had to try to see one if the price was right.  I tried really hard to win the £10 ticket lottery to Hamilton but no such luck, so instead I got up early and waited in line for a “day of” ticket for “Waitress.”  I got a 5th row center ticket for £25 ($30 according to my bank) and it was so worth it.
  • Admission to various colleges in Oxford…  On my second to last day it was a bit rainy in London so I decided to get out of town and Oxford was a pretty affordable day trip by train.  I absolutely love historical architecture so I picked a few different colleges in Oxford that I wanted to go into and check out what they had to offer (like the Cloisters at New College and the Divinity School at the Bodleian Libraries).  Tickets to get in varied between £3 and £8.50, so not really breaking the bank but not free either.
  • In London I elected to not go into any of the big monuments like Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London because the entrance fees were so steep.  Maybe one day, when I’m debt free, I’ll go back and check them out, but for now I was pretty content looking at these sites from the outside.  Instead I took advantage of the dozens of free activities London offers like the changing of the guards at Buckingham palace or the museums.  Dang they were cool.

And finally…

Miscellaneous
Cost: $89.36

Because sometimes little things that don’t fit in any other category come up. In this category I included the bandaids I had to buy after my shoes gave me horrible blisters and the slippers I bought because of the same foot issues. I also included any other clothing items I bought for myself (like socks because it was cold) as well as some small souvenirs I got for my family.

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So there you have it. My breakdown of how I spent a week in London for just over $1000. I know that my way of travel isn’t for everyone but man, seeing how affordable I could make it while still experiencing maximum enjoyment was a lot of fun.

Stay tuned in the next week or two for more on free/cheap activities I recommend in London and Oxford as well as a full review of my hostel!

*** Disclaimer:  I am on a debt free journey and paying of debt is my #1 priority right now.  I work a lot (between 56 and 115 hours a week on average) in a career that can be both physically and mentally taxing.  I hadn’t taken a real “break” since I moved to Texas almost two years ago.  I was totally worn, physically and mentally.  While I’m not an advocate for big extravagant vacations while paying down debt I do advocate doing what you need to do to make sure you’re healthy mentally and physically.  In my case I needed to get away, rest, recharge, and reset so that I could start tackling my next chunk of debt and not shrivel into a depressed, anxious, prune. So just in case anyone out there feels like commenting on the fact that I shouldn’t be traveling right now I just wanted to get it out there that this is my why, it’s something I needed to do for me and as should be obvious I did it all while spending as little as I possibly could so not to get me completely off track. Thanks!