Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Nashville Adventure...The Exciting Conclusion

One would think that a vacation that starts off with being mistaken for Jon Acuff and getting to meet Dave Ramsey and watch him tape his radio show, would be the ultimate vacation and nothing further would be as satisfying. But that is just what part II of my Nashville adventure had in mind. A few years ago during our debt fighting days my wife and I chose to scale down annual travel plans and stuck to regional and staycation destinations. In doing so we came across and used it as an opportunity to open our home to travelers and bring international culture to our doorstep.

Through Couchsurfing we have made several friends and have had the great fortune of being able to get to know some amazing people and travelers. But one French couple, making their way on a year-long world trip, stood out the most to us among all of our Couchsurfers. It was surprising how fast we got to know one another, as if we were all childhood friends. So when we found out that our favorite French couple were making their way back to the States, my wife and I bumped up our Nashville trip from the Fall to the Summer, and I am so happy that we did.

We pretty much picked up right where we had left off a few years ago. And I must say, it is incredible to click and connect with another couple as well as we do. We took in the sights and sounds of downtown Nashville, checked out the Parthenon and all the while were able to catch up on life and everything in between. Truth be told it wasn’t really Nashville that was amazing (although I do like it better than Charlotte and Charleston), as much as it was being able to spend quality time with my wife and great friends.

We didn’t feel the need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars bar hopping and trying to force an “Epic” night to happen. Instead we went the flow and thoroughly enjoyed on another’s company. And this is another huge reason why this recent vacation meant so much to me. Usually when on holiday my wife or I jam pack the itinerary with “To Do” items and by the end of our vacation we are in need of another break. But this time I came prepared with a list of “options” for things to do in and around Nashville, remained flexible and went with the flow. And this self-professed nerd loved every second of it.

I have to give a shameless plug here, mostly because it was well earned. While in Nashville we opted to stay South of the city in Brentwood at a Candlewood Suites location. And man did these guys earn my praise. Accommodations were pristine and at an awesome nightly rate of $68. Plus our room came with a full kitchen and the facility had laundry on site with free washers and dryers and an honor system pantry that included fresh fruit, coffee, laundry soap and snacks. The only down side was that the location does not have a pool, but since we didn’t spend a great deal of time at our hotel we really didn’t miss having access to one. Which leads me to:

Anderson Road Public Beach

Having grown up in Southern California and gone to college in Hawaii, it takes a lot for a beach to bowl me over with astonishment. But that’s exactly what Anderson Beach did to me while I was in Nashville. The stretch of beach itself did not go for miles, the boundary set for swimmers to travel wasn’t very long and the water itself did not run deep. So how did this place bowl me over with amazement? It did it with an unparalleled level of diversity that I had not seen before in my life, in a place I did not expect it to be. Stretched across the Anderson Road Public Beach were families grilling, kids playing in and out of the lake and a ton of people crowded around a short strip of Nashville beach. And this crowd ranged from Hispanic to Kenyan to Sudanese to Indian to various Middle Eastern and Caucasian ethnicities.

I grew up in a predominately Mexican suburb of Los Angeles and on paper lived amongst diversity in Honolulu and New York. But this setting struck me in a different way. The vast crowd of people did not segregate themselves by the zip codes they lived in, nor cluster in pockets with similar skin tones. On a late Sunday afternoon in Nashville I felt harmony as I sat in the lake immersed in the surrounding of families enjoying a day at the beach and not caring about the color of each other’s skin.

Now it’s true that I don’t know much about this particular neighborhood. Whether the lake occupants that day were from the immediate area or if they came from the greater Nashville area to flock to this specific small stretch of beach. But I do know that I enjoyed being in the midst of this harmony and that I wish more places in my corner of Chicago had communal places that mirrored the display of peaceful diversity that I witnessed.

It was a beautiful sight and a great experience to walk away with from Nashville. I got to meet Dave Ramsey, catch up with some awesome friends and witness a harmony among people that I thought only existed in heaven. All in all, I would say this was a very successful and happy vacation!

Friday, June 28, 2013

My Quarter End: Q2 2013

I seriously cannot believe that 2013 is already half over! I mean seriously, where does the time go? Nonetheless we are here at another quarter end and my total net worth today stands strong at $315,794.83, which equates out to an eleven thousand dollar jump from the end of last quarter. And quite frankly on paper, heading into the summer season at the beginning of the year, I expected Q2 to at the most rake in a jump of under ten thousand dollars.

I anticipated this drop off thanks to the historically proven and annual tradition otherwise known as the summer sell off season. And what a sell off it was! Bernanke opened his big stupid mouth and the market tanked for quite a few days in a row there towards the end of June. But as much as I would like to bash “Big” Ben, a lot of the drop during Q2 had little to do with what the Fed plans to do. Instead the market is reacting to rising interest rates that have been at historic lows pretty much since Obama took office. That’s almost the entire length in between Summer Olympic games that rates have been this low. I mean the Wall Street Journal reported that in December of 2007 a 15 year fixed rate mortgage on average was at around 5.85% and as of today we can get that same mortgage for well under 4%.

What I interpret happening is that lenders are starting to see an uptick in mortgage applications and approvals and with these first signs of a pulse rate from American borrowers, lenders are responding by rising their rates accordingly as they anticipate higher demand coming on the horizon. Coupled with annual profit taking and low summer trading volume and voila! We experienced a bit of a downturn on the big board to close out Q2 of 2013. I anticipate a slightly steeper slip in the market by the start of fall and at best growth will be stagnant as M&A news takes its annual summer breather.

On my personal net worth sheet we saw our real estate and equity holdings sustain a general rise over the last quarter. I made a gutsy move earlier in this very quarter as I moved assets within my 401(k) at work. The mutual fund options at my company pale in comparison to the high quality and proven winners in my ROTH and our taxable brokerage account. I can’t say there was exactly one single thing that made me make the switch from a bond fund to a few mediocre mutual funds, but fundamentally I saw that the mediocre funds were averaging a little over 7% since inception and were old enough to be out of diapers, so I kind of said, “What the hell, why not?” And finally getting out of the bond fund helped spur some of the growth we saw in our equity portfolio during Q2 even despite that brief hiccup of a downturn.

Looking forward I still don’t expect to see housing make a booming comeback. As borrowers and lenders get more confident in purchasing I firmly believe that confidence will also rise with the shadow sellers who will unleash at least 3 years’ worth of shadow inventory into the market as they see some stabilization throughout the country and in their local areas. We are not out of the woods yet but we’re getting close to ripping the Band-Aid off.

My Nashville Adventure... Part I

I’ve taken a good number of trips in my life. In my teens I was fortunate enough to have ventured to Europe and spent time in Germany, London, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium.  Across the U.S. I have lived in Los Angeles, Hawaii and New York. I’ve driven from coast to coast in the U.S., and have seen majestic sunsets in mountain and plain settings. My wife and I have together traveled to Florida, Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan, Charlotte, Charleston and the Mexican Riviera. And between you and I, they all paled in comparison to my recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

That’s right, yours truly ventured South recently to pay a visit to the man, the myth, the legend himself, Dave Ramsey, at Financial Peace Plaza.  Since our marriage has now been a debt free one for almost a year (anniversary date on July 4th!) we decided to pay Mr. Ramsey a visit to share our success with him, and take in a live recording of his radio show.

I should have known from the second we pulled into the driveway that something great was going to happen, even now it gives me chills just thinking about it. As we parked in a spot, exited our vehicle and glared in awe at the house that Ramsey built, I began to notice a man who was walking to his car, and glancing coyly at me.  After a minute or so of feeling his eyes on me, I decided to say hello, fully expecting him to ask me about where I was in the baby step process.  I then imagined in that moment we would both share that we were debt free and working towards paying cash for a house, and then we would exchange hugs fit for bros and give one another enthusiastic high-fives.  After I said hello, the man looked at me with a smile, and asked me probably the funniest question I’ve ever been asked in my life, “Aren’t you Jon Acuff?!?!” I would love to say that I rolled with it and asked him if I could sign a copy of “start” for him but instead I happily said no, but it does beg the question, is this the mug of a quitter?

As we walked through the entrance doors of Financial Peace Plaza, my wife took my hand into hers, looked into my eyes and said, “we made it.”  And she was right. We had worked our tails off for three years paying off our $80,000 of debt and said we would venture to Ramsey’s studio when we did. And we were exactly where we wanted to be in life; together, debt free, in love and happy.  So with misty eyes we walked through the entrance doors and immediately froze in our tracks, because the first person we saw as we walked in, was my personal hero himself, Dave Ramsey.

During commercial breaks Dave leaves his studio to meet with the financial pilgrim debit-fighting fans that make it to his headquarters. Yes I was as giddy as a child and yes I will remember meeting Dave for the rest of my life. I gave Dave a handshake and told him that his financial program saved my life, strengthened our marriage and that I could not thank him enough. My wife by passed a handshake and wrapped her arms around him in a big hug and I’m pretty sure she felt the same way I did. We captured the moment with this photo-op.

It was a culmination of things really that made this moment so momentous for me.  For one I don’t have many heroes as an adult, or figures that inspire me.  And to get to meet Dave and share my story, and for him to be so humble, to praise God int eh midst of it all, well meeting Dave was everything I could have imaged and then some.  But I also crossed a psychological barrier during this.  I realized, truly, how far I’ve come. I went form a clueless kid, and grew into a confident and capable financial samurai. And getting a better grip on my finances helped me learn to communicate and build my marriage into a great one, and it became the catalyst for me to become a better man. Through it I prioritize saving, live below my means, put plans in place and follow through on them, and most importantly – dream!

But that was only just the beginning of my trip to Nashville…stay tuned for part two…coming soon…

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Well Oiled Budgeting Machine

Fundamentals are the corner stone to any financial plan. And there is nothing more fundamental than the dreaded budget. From drafting it to living on it, I firmly believe that the budget is the cornerstone to gaining financial traction in your life.

Now I’ve written briefly on the budget before. But what I want to focus on today is how our household drafts our budget and how we stick to it. I have come across several posts and articles in recent weeks in which readers and writers examine their theories on the best ways to follow a budget. So here is a draft of our budget and the ways in which we follow it. No theories, just facts.

**Please note that most specific line item totals such as pay and charitable donation amounts have been amended to protect the innocent. However the budget line item titles such as utilities, church donation and the like all actually do appear on our monthly budget. So enjoy!**

First things first

My wife and I have been drafting budgets and living off of them for four years now so the process has become second nature. But when we first started this process, and even now when we make changes and re-prioritize, we set out to be in full agreement on our plan together well before the scheduled pay date hits. In general I, the nerd, prepare the budget and my wife gives her thumbs up/down and we negotiate/compromise/find 3rd alternatives until we are in agreement on our plan. Whether we are saving for taxes, travelling, how much we give or bump up the emergency fund, we are in full agreement before a single dollar from our earned income hits our account.

Pay Date #1

In our household my wife and I are both employed Full-Time (yay d.i.n.ks!) and during the course of one calendar month we receive 3 paychecks. Our goal, each and every month is to plan every one of those incoming dollars before they hit our account and agree on where those dollars are going. Ultimately income minus outgo equals zero for each and every pay period…forever! Every dollar is spent on purpose. So here is what we have on board for our July game plan before July 1st hits.

  July Payday 1
Charitable Donation
Sinking Fund for Insurances
Emergency Fund

Now since we are married we consider ourselves a team. There is no “your paycheck” or “my paycheck” everything falls into the line of “our paychecks.” So within the 1st paycheck we receive in July we will make an online charitable donation, set aside money for clothing and laundry, pay rent, set aside sinking funds to pay our annually due term and rental insurance premiums and focus disposable income to building our emergency fund.

So within this mix we do our share of being sophisticated with online transfers/payments and making cash withdrawals. Our rent, money saved for insurance premiums and charitable donation are all done automatically online. And for the record I love using sinking funds. For 12 months out of the year we set aside 1/12 of the amount due for our term life policies and renter’s insurance in a simple savings account, and when the bill comes due we withdraw the money to our checking account and pay the bill. No ifs ands or buts, like clockwork!

 We also use cash filled envelopes to have on hand for clothing purchases and laundry. Yes, we actually have envelopes that read “LAUNDRY” and “CLOTHING.” There is a card operated laundry facility in our building and when our laundry card gets low we head to the envelope for a refill. And when we feel like buying clothes we head to the envelope, it’s really painfully simple. So let’s move on.

Pay Date #2

July Payday 2

Entertainment and date night
Charitable Donations
Gym Memberships
Travel Account
Spouse #1 blow money
Emergency Fund

Our 2nd pay date in the month is the largest of the three; hence the need for more line items, but the formula stays the same. For groceries, entertainment and date nights we make cash withdrawals and place the funds into labeled envelopes accordingly. When we grocery shop we hit the envelope first and keep a running log of what we have spent grocery wise against what remains. Charitable donations, utilities and gym memberships are automatically spent from the checking account without giving a second thought. For July we are in the winding months of saving for the remainder of our 2013 travel plans, so that gets transferred to our travel account which is held in a simple savings accounts.

Spouse #1 prefers to carry their monthly blow money on their debit card so the spouse is trusted to stay within their budgeted amount. And I am a fan of having blow money budgeted monthly. Dave Ramsey says that it’s in memory of our former plan (see not paying attention) and it gives us a bit of extra cushion in case we want to spend some extra money on dining out, buying flowers or some extra groceries. And as we were in agreement on pay date #1, all disposable income is being routed to beefing up our emergency fund. This leads us to:

Pay Date #3

July Payday 3
Charitable Donation
Spouse #2 blow money
Tax Account
Give Account
Emergency Fund

With consistency we make sure again to automate what we can and be on the same page with our planning. Our last charitable donation for the month as well as saving into our tax and give accounts are automated. Our tax and give account monthly savings function as sinking funds as well. With quarterly estimated payments due for taxes, the money is there to withdraw and make payments.

The give account is a bit trickier. At the start of 2013 we set an agreed upon limit on what we would spend on gifts for family and friends’ birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and what not. From there we save 1/12 of that ceiling amount throughout the year. Now we do remain flexible on our giving. Should one of us feel lead to give more to say someone going on a missions trip, an impromptu ask is taken at our church, or we want to help someone in need, we are absolutely open and flexible with one another to make the extra give as long as we are in agreement and it is planned ahead of time before the scheduled pay period hits. For what it’s worth in addition we use disposable income in August to save, in one fell swoop, our spending limit for Christmas gifts. And of course lastly we send our disposable income to our emergency fund.

What about the rest?

For several of our monthly expenses we utilize our employers’ programs to pay pre-tax. We pay for our health & dental insurances, commuter transit passes, make 401(k) contributions, and save in our Health Savings Account using these pre-tax programs.

The Exciting Conclusion

When it all boils down we plan to do our best to have funds readily available to cover every imaginable expense we face throughout the year.  Our emergency fund takes care of the unexpected and monthly savings accounts to cover taxes, gifts and insurance premiums. And we utilize cash envelopes to hold ourselves accountable to avoid overspending. We also make sure to steadily save for retirement and annual travel plans without blinking an eye and to be intentional with our disposable income. Currently we are using our disposable income to beef up our emergency fund and once that is done we will go back to building our war chest for a future home purchase to be paid for in cash.

Purpose and intentionality are the major players when it comes to budgeting. And I know that you can excel at it too! I mean, if this Communications major who couldn’t spell finance when he was in college can do it… 

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Book Review: "The Millionaire Mind" by Thomas Stanley

In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to type out a book review. Thomas Stanley’s, “The Millionaire Mind,” is not just a must read, it is a must own and on my personal, albeit self-declared, short list of books you need to pick up and read right now. Seriously…work this book into your upcoming budgets and buy it. This book, along with Dave Ramsey’s, “The Total Money Makeover,” belong in every home that is working to climb the economic ladder.

“The Millionaire Mind” delves into the nitty gritty details of some of the top notch economic producers in this country. Stanley surveyed, studied and interviewed those who are multi-millionaires, whom have earned annual incomes of at least medium six figures, and sustained each for several decades. These were not run of the mill trust fund babies, overnight dot com millionaires or the unfortunate lottery jackpot winner. These individuals created wealth in one generation and did a lot more than just sustain it over the years. Stanley’s work focuses on common threads and trends among some of the best producers walking the Earth today, and its findings were astonishing.

My favorite part of this entire book was that the path these titans of industry blazed was not neat, clear or pretty. The average high school GPA of this group was fortunate to crack a 3.0, and their SAT scores did not raise interested eyebrows from pedigree generating private colleges. In fact, and I was extremely comforted to learn this, that some of the “best of the best” of these economic producing superstars, specifically scored below 1,000 out of 1,600 on their SAT scores! This just delighted me as I also fall into the “Under 1,000” club (and yes I realize that I’m dating myself with that info I just passed along to you). 

Most of these future multi-millionaires were often told that college was not for them and to not expect much from life. They didn’t take advanced placement courses and hop on the fast track to a top tiered school.
Instead these subjects worked their tails off to either put themselves through college or navigate their way to discovering the vocations that they would happily and lovingly pour their hearts and souls into. And through those experiences, both college and work, they honed a vital skill that would pay dividends, and then some, throughout their lives:  being able to assess the character of others.

One chapter that particularly peaked my interest was focused on the marriages of these subjects. Honesty, integrity, trust-worthiness and trusted advisor were just some of the characteristics that exist within marriages of what these super producers. In not a single case study did there exist an example where finances were divided. Both partners were on the same page, working towards the same goals and in unison on decisions and directions.

I really could go on and on. Stanley also relays, through statistics, breakdowns and real life case studies how these households buy and sell real estate, plan their investments, spend their free time, choose/find their vocation, live below their means and leverage time over resources. Stanley’s study is absolutely fascinating and had me captivated from cover to cover. I genuinely did not want the book to end.

In addition to the extra notes I took down, “The Millionaire Mind,” was further reassurance to me that Dave Ramsey’s plan has set me on the right path to economic prosperity. The similarities lined up in the way our households tax plan, value our time, put work, energy and intention to build a strong marriage, and our affinity for being cheap dates J.

On the flip side there were lots of areas in which I can improve and see in a new light. Real estate is one of them. Stanley found that his subjects placed an area’s public school system highest on its priorities when evaluating a primary residence. The school of thought is that the better the public school system, the better appreciation the home will have over decades. Multi-millionaires also by and large purchased homes in old and well established neighborhoods, not brand new subdivisions.

Another is a shift in perspective of what it means to be frugal. The subjects in the book paid extra in upfront costs for selected everyday items/tasks for the purpose of freeing up their time. A crude example lies with a self-employed lawyer. Working, the lawyer would earn hundreds of dollars an hour working in his vocation. If he took the do-it-yourself approach to say, lawn care, he would lose hours (which translates to lost dollars) tending his lawn rather than earning money. So to recoup, again by and large, multi-millionaires outsource tasks such as painting walls and mowing lawns to free up their time to either work their vocation or, and this really is more often than not, spend quality time with family and friends.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. “The Millionaire Mind” is an excellent read with real life examples that you and I can finish reading and implement into our daily lives this very moment.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Message to the High School Graduating Class of 2013

I must give credit where it is due. Today’s post was directly inspired thanks to Robert Powell over at Market Watch. Powell “penned” an open letter to his triplet sons, each a member of the high school graduating class of 2013. I find the inspiration to “pen” my own version of an open letter to this year’s high school graduates, because 2013 as a year has a bit of sentimental value to me. It was 10 years ago right around this same very time that I graduated from high school, and I will be the first to tell you that it doesn’t feel like 10 years has passed by. So without further ado:

To the class of 2013,

First and foremost let me be the next to jump in line to offer my congratulations. It is no small feat to go through high school and choose to take actions over a period of 4 years to meet your school’s graduation requirements. This achievement is the first, in what hopefully will be a consistent series of smart and intentional actions taken during your adult life.

 As noted in the open, I graduated from high school 10 years before you. And in all honesty it doesn’t feel like 10 years. I can also honestly attest that I was an average student. My GPA hovered around 3.4 and my SAT scores did not exactly win me any scholarships. It actually was not until a few years after college into my working career when I started to get my life together. Financially I made decisions to not live like everyone else and committed to living a debt free life. Following that I started on the road to healing the hurts, hang ups and paralyzing addictions that plagued me for over 2 decades.

It all boils down to the choices you and I make that determine where we go in life. A must read book (review coming soon) is Thomas Stanley’s “The Millionaire Mind.” In his study of multi-millionaire high income earners, traits and characteristics are explored and examined in depth, as are common qualities that are most prevalent among these wealth building superstars. Words like integrity, honesty, accountability, truthful and transparent pop up over and over throughout the book. But most important is that negative early life terms and labels did not deter these people from economic success.

Perfect 4.0 GPAs and sky high test scores are in fact not the norm among those profiled. In fact, and I am VERY happy to report, that those economic successes on average had a lower high school GPA than yours truly and the millionaires next door and I scored eerily close on our SAT scores.

A college degree was not a magical potion to success. A fairy tale dream job was not the ticket to economic prosperity. Instead the individuals Stanley profiled and interviewed for his book, navigated and used real world experiences and jobs they absolutely hated to (1) become aware of their talents and skills, (2) find a profitable niche market that harnessed their talents and skills, and, most importantly (3) became proficient evaluators of the character of others.

And they put everything they learned into motion with consistent and deliberate choices and actions over a long period of time. These people have the mindset of marathon runners, not sprinters. I can thoroughly relate to this. For roughly 24 years of life I was clueless when it came to matters of personal finance. I was over $20 thousand dollars in debt and floating aimlessly in my career. And at a certain point I got sick and tired of being sick and tired and opened myself up to learn everything I could about personal finance, because frankly my non-plan wasn’t working. Now I am on the path that is moving towards a vocation that will fire me up every day, I am debt free and am moving right along a trajectory to be eligible to participate in a future Thomas Stanley study!

But this particular post is not about me. It’s about you. And the best advice I can give, whether this fall you find yourself sitting in a classroom, working or enlisting in our armed forces, is that consistent and conscious decisions over the scope of your life will take you exactly where you want to be. Your GPA doesn’t matter, your test scores don’t matter and whether you took advanced placement courses doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you are a person of sound quality and character and that you live with intention and happen to life, instead of what I did, which was wander aimlessly until finding a clue at 24.

I made a ton of stupid decisions over the course of my life. And I still make mistakes to this day. But I’ve mapped out financially where I want to be in the future and choose every day to live below my means and invest in quality places with long term track records. And vocationally I’m just starting to put together the road map to an entrepreneurial endeavor that might just be 5 years down the pipeline. Your future is as bright as ever at 18, and if you learn from your mistakes and never stop learning or growing yourself as an individual, that future will look just as bright, if not even brighter, when you hit 28. And don’t wait, because 10 years can really fly by in the blink of an eye, and time is not something you can get back. #compoundinterest

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Book Review: "Proof of Heaven" by Eben Alexander, M.D.

Quite frankly I am surprised that Eben Alexander’s “Proof of Heaven,” is not more popular and being passed around in Christian circles. This is a riveting non-fiction story that is rich and captivating from beginning to end.

I will do my best to summarize without giving any particulars away. Alexander is a renowned Neurosurgeon, whom goes through an illness that leaves him in a comatose state for a week. His illness left the portions of his brain, widely considered by modern science, to be the center of thought and emotion, completely shut down.

The focus of the book is on those seven days. These were seven days that Alexander, an inferred agnostic and full blown scientist, believed that he experienced being in the midst of heaven. Eben relayed his near death experience in an unbelievably eloquent fashion and I could not put this book down.

On a personal note, as a Christian, it probably won’t come as a shock to you that I believe and am looking forward to being in heaven. So I found this story to be even more compelling that an educated man of science went through an experience that modern science AND religious circles cannot quantifiably explain. But I truly feel that Alexander did a great job of taking the reader along with him through what he experienced, even if the human vocabulary can’t perfectly capture everything J.

Yes there was some scientific jargon that I had to weed through as the story went on. But I can safely share with you that I made it through without my head exploding from not being able to understand the job functions and interconnected web that is the human brain. This is one amazing story that I highly recommend for you to check out!  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Favorite Street Fest: Midsommarfest in Andersonville

Summer is kind of sort of starting to pick up here in Chicago, and for us that means it was time for our annual adventure to one of our favorite street festivals in one of our favorite neighborhoods in this city. We spent the better part of today in Andersonville to celebrate Midsommarfest. I’m a big fan of Andersonville because of the diversity, the family friendly atmosphere and the great worldly eateries in the area. And Midsommarfest brings together all of these things together to make for a wonderful weekend event.

As a tip for those of you in the Chicago area, we found a way to circumvent the $10 a person admission fee in the last few years. Gates formally open for the street fest at 11:00 am, so we arrive in the neighborhood roughly an hour before hand and enjoy brunch at Svea, one of my favorite Scandinavian spots in the city. I’m particularly keen on the Viking breakfast, which comes with two eggs of my choice (sunny side up J), Swedish sausage, fried potatoes and Swedish pancakes with lingonberries. YUM!

Between my wife and I, with tip, our total breakfast bill came out to $26. So we bypassed paying the fest fee entrance and got an excellent breakfast at an affordable price, especially compared to the usual marked up street fest food choices. From there we gather with the crowd to take in some May pole dancing at Clark and Foster and enjoy the rest of the festival.

There’s excellent music – Chicago Samba in particular was my wife’s favorite -, great people watching, and on this particular Saturday an excellent chance to enjoy what has been a much belated showing of great weather in Chicago. While I’m not one to make impulse purchases and buy much of anything at street fests, it was nice to start getting some ideas for Father’s day which is right around the corner and see some of the latest trends that are starting to hit the street. One of which, which my wife predicted some time ago, is that local artists are starting to diversify their pieces of art from wall hangings onto coasters. Another, which we both are not particularly keen on, are the awful motel 6 curtains that women in Chicago are wearing as dresses. I know this isn't a fashion blog, but they're awful, just awful.

So from Chicago, happy belated summer to everyone out there!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Weekend Getaway to: Shelbyville, Illinois

My fondness for off season travel seems to grow more and more with each trip. Recently we found ourselves in Shelbyville, Illinois and took in a leisurely getaway from the city.  Shelbyville is roughly 4 hours downstate from where we live on the north side of Chicago and although I still find myself getting used to the flatness of the Midwest, the transition from city to country was indeed picturesque.  Going along the highway we traded skyscrapers and urban neighborhoods for rolling green pastures and a little elbow room called acres of space.

I am also happy to report that our weekend adventure ran under budget. Between our car rental, gas, lodgings, and going out money, we ran about $150 below our expected expenses, each of which were significantly cheaper downstate.

It also helps that we enjoy the simpler things on vacation J!  For the most part we had access to a full kitchen and purchased groceries, avoiding eating out for every meal.  And in Shelbyville we really took the opportunity to enjoy the scenery.  My wife’s brother-in-law’s family took us out on a speedboat to take in the views on the Lake, and the sights of the quaint town here were pretty much next to nothing! Perhaps it is my scaled down lifestyle, but I really do enjoy the simpler things, especially on vacation. Just the thought of running from event to event and item by item on an itinerary makes me exhausted. Catching my breath for a weekend and kicking my feet up sounds a lot more enticing to me these days than an event filled vacation that I need a vacation from.

The backdrop itself gave us ample time to take in some sun on the beach, hang out on our lodgings’ patio deck, take a cruising tour through town, and catch up on some most needed R&R. And if I might add, being tied up with my wife in a car for 8 hours over a weekend isn’t so bad either. It gave us a chance to catch up, share some road trip laughs, and enjoy each other’s company that we miss out on during the week.

So for some R&R, some time away from the hustle and bustle of a city, and affordability, destinations like nearby Lake Shelbyville are definitely on my horizon.