Don’t go to the fabric store again!

old curtains new chair covers the minimal geek

But MG… I have about 7 zillion projects that NEED FABRIC, where the hell am I supposed to get it from if you won’t let me go to the fabric store?

Well my little grasshopper, let me show you the way… my way… to the local thrift store…

Come on, you had to know that was going to be where we were headed at this point in the game!

Yes kids, when you need fabric for a project–I want you to first, go to a thrift store. Take yourself on a nice, romantic walk down the isle of discarded sheets, curtains, and bed spreads… there you will find a proverbial mecca of fabric in all different colors, textures, and weights! You’ll be delighted by the sights of not just the selections before you, but the PRICES.

I’ve walked through a fabric store many a time, and immediately I walked right back out. $10+ per yard of fabric? It’s a scandal! It’s an outrage! (10 points to whomever gets that reference…) I’ve been in the amateur sewing game for most of my adult life, after developing an obsession with baby-wearing when the MG kids were so tiny and so sweet and still so totally in love with me. You see, baby carriers come in all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and designs…and all of them are fabric. Some of these carriers can cost upwards of HUNDREDS of dollars–and when my kids were little, I didn’t have that kind of money to spend on a carrier, so I made my own! I couldn’t afford fabric either, and this is the part in the story where I have an epiphany as I’m folding a sheet. I held it out in front of me, gave it a tug this way and that, and immediately threw my toddler into a carry on my back via wrapping the sheet.  I walked around the house, did a little dance, a hop and a bounce and realized that this fabric was no different than the fabric used in the carriers! I immediately walked across the street to the thrift store and began perusing the sheets and fabric scraps, and came home with enough fabric to make dozens of carriers in all different kinds of cute patterns and colors.

10 years ago that day, I beat Joann at her own game.

Now that you know the thrift-store-fabric-shopping origin story, we can continue with your regularly scheduled programming.

Fast forward to this past weekend, and paint yourself a picture of MG standing in that exact same isle in her local thrift store. You see, I was hunting for curtains for my master bedroom in all truth, but came to a total stop when I found this gorgeous single panel in a soft and super dreamy sage green chenille. I knew I had to have it, and immediately my brain began searching through the multiple open tabs and back log of home projects to find something–anything I could reupholster!

Then it happened, my mind landed on our dining room chairs.

You see, Mrs MG and I just happened to be wandering around Walmart a few months ago and found an entire 6 piece dining room set marked on clearance with a whopping $35 price tag. That’s right… $35 dollars and I never had to look at the 70’s era family heirloom that was currently residing in our dining room again. Never had to sit on those hard wooden chairs, never had to push the table ends back together to close the gap in the center, never had to stub my toe on the weirdly angled legs… $35 was all that stood in the way of me and true happiness…

It went into the back of the van and ever since, I’ve been staring at those brown microfiber seats, grinding my teeth.

Ya’ll remember the one color MG hates in her house right?

No?

Guess what…

It’s brown. Yuck…

This curtain was just one panel though, but was it possible it could cover all 6 chairs? I didn’t have any measurements, I couldn’t be exact! Mrs MG god love her soul promised me the panel was plenty generous, but I didn’t believe her so I threw it down on the ground and spread it out like a picnic blanket. We each stood at one end pondering and arrived at the same conclusion… It.Would.Work!

Said curtain panel was by Restoration Hardware, if you’ve been around the home design game for a while you know that this is designer level shit, translation–expensive AF.

I googled this curtain panel and while it is discontinued now, it originally retailed for over $300/per panel. PER.FUCKING.PANEL. They better knock that shit off, right now.

I carried my priceless aptly priced treasure to the counter and I was on my way!

Sure as shooting, I had more than enough fabric on this one panel to cover all of my chairs. All you need is some super awesome fabric of your own, a screw driver, and a staple gun and you too can be rid of brown microfiber in exchange for oh-so-plush chenille.

chair seat before

Step 1, remove seats and use to measure fabric. Leave 1-2 inch overlap for stapling. 

This is the worlds most easy process, but I’ve included steps on the pictures if you are stumped. Just look at that brown… makes you want to cry, doesn’t it?

chair seat after

Staple fabric across one side of the seat, then pull tightly at opposite end and both sides. Leave corners last–fold corners over edge and smooth as much as possible. Staple. When done, trim excess fabric and re-attach seats to chairs. 

Before: drab, sad brown

After: pretty, plush sage green

Just don’t spill your wine on this! Drink wine in your tub, that way if you spill, you’ll be instantly cleaned off. Do like MG does.

new chair

Ta-da! Finished product!

Honestly, I really think that this fabric takes my chairs from  looking like $35 to looking like something that straddles the border between modern and bohemian. I think I’m legit in love… and now I can say that they’re “DESIGNER” chairs. Right?

Bonus points, because this panel is a near exact match for Sherwin Williams Acadia Haze, which is exactly what I painted my backsplash and kitchen island in.

Now the next time you get into your car and think you are headed to the fabric store, I want you to slap yourself right in your own face, and redirect to a local thrift store. Recycle, reduce, repurpose what we’ve already made. We can only reduce production by reducing consumerism, and you’ll save some big bucks too! I expect if I were to search for the same fabric I’d have spent probably a hundred dollars or more. Instead, I’m in it for about $1.25 per chair. That means, more wine money! YAY!

 

 

Advertisements

DIY Over-sized Headboard

DIY Headboard The Minimal Geek.png

Let’s talk about the idea of working with what you have… in the MG household, we call this “ingenuity” and we attempt it every day!

Do you know what the benefit is to working with what you already have?

YOU SAVE MONEY.

Yes… MG is a big fan of saving money, you might already know that though…

So now I share with you my brand new over-sized queen headboard and how it didn’t cost me a damn thing.

But let’s rewind…you see a few months ago we switched bedrooms with the kids and took the master back. After using no less than 1,000 gallons of primer, we were able to cover the crayola purple and blue that previously graced the walls and threw on my new favorite neutral paint color e-v-e-r, Sherwin Williams Alpaca…

Behold!

SW Alpaca.png

It’s not brown, it’s not grey… it lives squarely in what designers like to call “Greige” and it is amazing. 

As you may recall, MG is a big fan of shopping at the Habitat for Humanity ReStores, and yes, this is another one of those brand-spanking new $13 a gallon cans of paint I picked up there. The problem with this gorgeous, soft neutral was that it did not jive with what I had previously used as my anchor for a host of bright pinks, reds, purples, and cranberries to match the semi-Moroccan theme we had going on in our bedroom. We wanted something full of color, yet cozy, romantic, and comforting. Basically, what everyone wants for their master bedroom, am I right?

Of course I’m right… moving on.

I decided to replace the curtains as my first step. Nabbed a brand new and extremely high end set at a local thrift store for $8 a panel. After throwing in a new curtain rod from Ross, I was into my new window for a whopping $36!

I then decided that to complete my cozy and oh-so-romantic bedroom, I’d make a faux fireplace out of an old dresser mirror. (More on that to come, once it is finished!)

My next step was the bed, and I wanted it to be the focus of the room… the trouble is, I am an absolute sucker for the super tall over-sized headboards that you see floating around the depths of pinterest. The even bigger trouble with that was I had no desire to spend hundreds of dollars on one. I threw around a few ideas of DIY’ing a headboard, and ultimately decided upon finding some old front doors or shutters to make something in my self-defined style of “rustic-parisian” and put it into the back of my mind…..

For an approximate total of 4 hours, until I was walking through my garage and my eye landed on some old sliding closet doors from said bedroom.

Light bulb!

These doors were plain, white hallow-core sliding doors that were up in the master bedroom when we bought our house. When we removed the words worst-designed closet, I took the doors down to the garage, leaned them up against a wall, and never thought about them again. These doors are crazy, stupid wide–we’re talking 36″ a piece, on a wall that wasn’t much wider than the doors themselves. This resulted in only being able to access one section of the closet at a time, you’re seeing the problem here right? Turns out that problem ended up being a wonderful thing when I realized I had the full 59.5 inches I was looking for to build a headboard for my bed!

The construction of this headboard was painfully simple, anyone can do it–and I used crap I had laying around in my garage. But here is what you will need:

  • 2 Sliding Closet Doors (as wide as you’d like, my bed was 60″ and I was putting it into a corner, so I wanted it about a half inch to an inch smaller than my bed for clearance.)

*If your doors still have the sliding hardware on it, harvest the hardware. Keep the bigger sliding pieces and remove the wheels from it. What you are left with will have a hole on each end and a slight bend to the metal in the center. If you plan to mount your bed in the corner, you’ll want to use these as wall anchors like I did. If you do not want to mount your bed in a corner, skip this step.

  • 2 brackets and screws
  • 1 piece of decorative molding/trim to run along top of headboard, measured to width of headboard.
  • Paint, if desired
  • Extra-long screws for anchoring bed into wall (I used deck screws since it’s what I had on hand.)
  • 2 pieces 3/4″ square unfinished moulding/trim, measured to width of your headboard
  • 2 pieces 3/4″ square unfinished moulding/trim about 4-6 inches wide (this can be the ends of your long pieces)

*I had some of this leftover from my kitchen back-splash, it is super cheap and doesn’t have to look amazing. You’ll use this as support brackets on the back of the headboard if mounted in a corner, if mounted to the wall, skip this step.)

 

Now, here was what I did.

  • We removed about 12 inches on the outside of each door down the length. We sanded the raw edge and just pushed the new edges in towards each other so this seam ran down the center of the bed.

*Since we were mounting this in a corner, the backside of the bed was going to need more structural support. I took that left over trip and ran it from side to side and pushed a screw into each end. The inside center of these hallow-doors are hallow, but the edges are solid for hardware. I spaced these two support brackets to be just above and below the center of the bed. Think about where you lean back and push against a headboard–you’ll want your support there, where it is most important–in the middle.

  • Next, you’ll take those two small 4-6 inch pieces of trim scraps and center it on the center line of the two doors at the top and at the bottom and drill them in. This adds a little more stability and structure to the center line of the doors and will make it loads easier to move in a second.
  • Flip this big sucker around so you are on the front again.

*If you are mounting directly to a wall, go ahead and push two extra long screws into the top of each door–preferably at a stud for secure wall mounting. You can now move onto the decorative trim. It will hide your screws once it is secured to the top. 🙂

  • On the front of the head-board place the brackets on the top edge of the closet doors, one on each side and mark the location on the top of the door. Take the brackets and screw them into the backside of the trim. Your brackets will sit right on top of the door, dropping the trim across the top edge. Attach.

*If you wall-mounted, you are done! Finish with paint.

  • Placing this kind of a bed in a corner is where it gets tricky, this is a two person job of moving the headboard at various angles and placing your bed in front to see where you like it. We moved ours about 4 times, left the room for a few minutes to reset our eyes, came back in and nudged it over a bit more and we were good. There is no real art to this, just consider your foot path and how much you like the position.
  • Remember those parts I told you to harvest off your closet doors? These uniquely designed sliding components are perfect for mounting the head-board into the wall at this angle. Attach the sliding door part to the back-top side of the headboard (This will give support and structure at the top, while your bed gives support and structure to the bottom. Your brackets are in the middle and at this point, your bed isn’t going anywhere.) so that the crooked part of the top of the sliding door hardware extends forward towards the front of the headboard. It will be just wide enough to fill the gap between your headboard and the wall. Our bed was 60 inches and we cut our door down to about 59, leaving half an inch clearance on each side to sit back into the wall and for the brackets. Push those extra long screws through this hole, into an angle in the wall.
  • Give your bed a shake… if it is flopping around, you’re going to have to investigate why. At this point, it should be solid as a rock. We live in an earthquake zone and have small children and pets–everything gets anchored here.

Push bed against headboard again, decorate, and you are done! Get yourself a big ass glass of wine, sit down, and appreciate all your work.

Now, this project cost me literally nothing because I had this all laying around in my garage and I’ve got a bit of a hoarding problem when it comes to hardware and building supplies. But if you don’t happen to have any of this, these are super cheap materials. You can even use simple plywood sheathing! Check your Habitat For Humanity ReStores, or various social media groups before you hit the big box stores! Let’s please try to reduce some of the shit that ends up in landfills!

bed side view.jpg

Ahhhh, doesn’t that look inviting? 

bed.jpg

Walk right in, lay right down… 

 

I’m kind of obsessed with the clean lines of this headboard, originally we were talking about adding some depth and texture by placing custom cut wood pieces over the top… but now I’m thinking I like the minimal look and design of this. Sometimes a thing’s beauty lies in the simplicity of it. Making your own DIY headboard out of salvage and junk? Don’t forget to show MG!

 

How to Hack Your Universal Studios Vacation Planning

hack your universal vacation

As you know, MG is headed to Universal Studios in less than two weeks. You already know that MG just got back from Universal in Feb, and was at Universal Hollywood the September before that.

You probably think that I’m just about done with Universal for a while….but you’d be wrong!

As of last night, we decided to to work the Orlando Informer Meet Up into our vacation plans for next April… a blog post on that to come, but today I want to focus on our big family Christmas at Universal 2019 vacation plan and show you how to hack your planning, especially when traveling with kids and being on a budget.

Because let’s face it, if you have kids–you’re on a budget. Tell me I’m wrong and I’ll show you what I’m paying for two of my three kids currently in braces…

So if you’ve been here a moment, you’ve probably already read how we did Universal Hollywood with our kids on a Weasley budget. But that was California, today we will focus on taking our family to Universal Orlando, for 4 nights with 3 in-park days during peak season over Christmas. To date, I’ve only done trips to Universal Hollywood and Orlando during holidays because of our schedules, one of these days I swear I’m going during the off season! I swear it! Until then, let us assume you are also going on peak season, because like me, you can’t just pull your kids out of school all willy-nilly and have them miss a week of their education to run off and play. Though I’d LOVE to be this guy, I am currently drilling it into their heads that we work first, and play later. So assuming that you are like me and also planning your trip around a holiday, keep in mind that peak season = most expensive season + highest crowds. Savvy? Alright, let’s begin.

 

GETTING THERE

If you are in driving distance of Universal Orlando, this tells me you’re on the east coast. Gas is cheaper on the east coast, and I can tell you that were I in your shoes I’d be driving. If you are short on time, you can fly but driving is probably going to be a lot cheaper when you factor in the kid element.

If you are in the flying zone of vacation planning due to distance, time, and/or convenience then you are squarely in my wheelhouse. We live on the West Coast, so if we can book a non-stop we’re looking at a 6 hour flight, because we live so far away our tickets are probably going to be some of the most expensive you see. Without getting into pricing details because the point would be moot, I’ll bust a few myths instead.

  •  MYTH 1: Booking on a specific day or a specific number of days before your flight is the cheapest way to do it. This is grade A bullshit. You see, this didn’t just get made up and circle around the internet out of no-where. Once upon a time, back when airlines had no choice but to be competitive, there were secrets like this to securing a cheap ticket. I know this because I’ve been traveling since I was 5 years old. I did a lot of research on this, and tested it on 3 different cross-country trips to both a major international airport (MCO-Orlando) and a local regional airport in another state. This simply doesn’t work, and by waiting–your tickets will only go up in price.
  • MYTH 2: Discount travel booking sites are the cheapest way to buy a ticket. Again, this used to be a thing, and unless you have the time to risk 20+ hour flights with random half day layovers at airports unknown via the Priceline “Name your own price” system, there are better ways to find a cheap ticket. (Seriously, who the fuck has the time to sit in the airport for 2 days to save $300? Anyone? This system is inherently flawed, because if you could afford to miss that much time off work you wouldn’t be worried about the extra $300, would you?) So how, MG do I find the cheap tickets? Don’t worry, my little one… MG is here for you…
    • Use the flight matrix to see prices across all airlines for your travel dates and travel locations. There is an option to add airports to scan, and to see the calendar view of the cheapest dates to fly if your vacation is flexible. This is where I start my search.
    • Check Sky Scanner and set yourself fare price alerts for your flight dates and destination. If you have some time and want to watch the prices, Sky Scanner will send you alerts on the price changes be it up or down.
    • Check budget airlines directly. I used to fly Southwest quite a bit but they’ve become astronomically expensive in recent years, and I can fly cheaper on “name brand” airlines. I have a limited number of budget airlines being on the west coast, with the other option being Spirit. Compare the budget airlines directly against the results you’ll get on Sky Scanner and the Flight Matrix to see which option is cheapest. If you are near a major airport that serves as a hub for one of these discount airlines, you may want to consider following them on social media and/or subscribing to their sale alerts. Sometimes you can get a good deal! Just remember–all airlines charge differently for baggage depending on what fare class you are in, and your seat assignments. When comparing tickets against each other, keep that end cost in mind.
    • Buy your tickets as early as you are able. They will not get cheaper as you get closer.
    • Consider flying out of another airport if you have multiple airports close to you. The Seattle-Tacoma airport is the closest to me at 1.5 hours away, but Portland is only 2 hours away. When we went to Hollywood, we saved 2 thousand dollars by flying out of Portland instead of Seattle on a budget airline-Spirit. Different airports may offer different airlines and provide lower prices.

 

PARK TICKETS

Alright, let’s revisit my post on becoming a Universal Orlando Pass Holder.  Did you read it? No? Go read it and come back to this post.

Now that you’ve read that, you know that you can become a pass holder using the “Flex Pay” program with no credit check and only paying half down. Super cheap monthly payments after that. I used the Flex Pay option to buy the Preferred Annual Passes for myself, Mrs. MG, and Sister MG. (Why did MG buy a pass for her sister, you might be wondering? Well, MG and Sister MG have been in a nearly lifelong battle of competitive spoiling, and I bought her annual pass winning there by winning the last round. Ha!)

Now, let’s discuss 1st–approaching the park with Annual Passes.

  • If you are traveling to the parks during holidays, you’ll want to keep in mind that the lower two passes (Seasonal and Power) have peak season black out dates. The third pass (Preferred) has black out dates for early entry…but this is negated by staying at an onsite hotel or booking an offsite partner hotel through a Universal Package. The top level pass (Premier) has no black out dates on entry or on early park entry and is a favorite for people who stay off site.
  • If you feel like the idea of at least having one person be a pass holder to use the discounts and unlock exclusive pass holder rates to the onsite hotels, consider just registering one adult. The pass holder can then use their pass to purchase multi-day park tickets at the gate for a discount. (Seasonal=10%, Power, Preferred and Premier =15% on up to 6 guests per transaction.) The prices are slightly more expensive at the gate than buying online. If you use this option, I recommend building yourself time the day before your actual park days to stop by the gate and pick up your kids tickets.

Now, lets say you’ve decided park passes aren’t for you.

  • Traveling during peak season? Avoid deals like “buy two days, get two days free.” All though you are not required to use all these days in the same trip, your free days come with black out dates attached and this includes the Christmas holiday. Read the fine print on promotions like this carefully.
  • Discounting ticket avenues: a lot of people use and encourage the use of these avenues. I personally don’t like them because they worry me. I feel that if you are making this level of investment in a vacation, it’s safer to just go straight to the source. Because I don’t like them, I’m not going to recommend any, but if you have access to Tickets at Work through your employer, they offer some slightly lower prices and have been reported to be reputable. Likewise, AAA supposedly offers a discount, but I compared them side by side and it was the exact same price as the Universal website. Apparently, AAA FL members have access to special discount offers to the park.  That being said, I’ve only ever purchased all my tickets directly through Universal.

UNIVERSAL VACATION PACKAGES

A note on packages. I recommend against booking these packages for on-site hotels, unless you wish to utilize the two alternative methods of paying for your vacation.

  • Method 1: With a minimum credit score of 500, paying a 11% down payment, and 10% monthly interest rate, you can use the external “Uplift” financing system and make monthly payments on your trip. For frugality reasons alone, I do not recommend this.
  • Method 2: For pure convenience alone, you can book your entire package and ONLY pay a deposit. The package I played with was a Harry Potter package that included:  4 nights on site, and 3 in park days with 3 “juniors” 2-park, park to park tickets plus a 3 day photo package and all the other “bonus” items that are (not) “free” with the package, and it only asked for a $300 deposit. It allows you to split payments for your package over multiple cards, and allows you to set up an auto-debit at a date of your choosing to pull the remaining balance of your trip up to roughly a month before you go. *Pro hack: I confirmed with Universal that you can call into the reservations line and make “payments” on your trip. This allows you to skip the external financing company and save yourself the interest and credit check!

WHERE TO STAY

To stay on-site or off-site, that is the question.

  • The answer? That depends on your budget and your access to a car. If you are not a pass holder and have access to car, you might find it more economic to stay off-site. There are hotels right by the park, but remember–you’ll pay for parking each time you go to the park and that adds up every day. By in large, off-site hotels are not only cheaper, but offer free breakfast (keep in mind, this may be well after the hour of early park entry) and other special perks. If you need to stay off-site due to budget, I strongly encourage you to look for one with a park shuttle. This way, you won’t have to pay for parking at Universal! But remember, you’ll only get early park admission by booking an off-site partner hotel through a Universal Package. *Pro-hack: Have your park purchases sent to the front gate so you don’t have to carry them around all day. It’s free and easy! Just pick up as you leave!
  • On-site is more expensive, especially during peak season and/or if you do not have access to a pass holder hotel discount. (Pass holder hotel discounts vary from 15% to 30% depending on rooms to fill at each hotel during that time of year. They are limited, and often difficult to find.) You won’t get a free breakfast and you’ll still have to pay to park at the hotel (much less than the park garage) but once you are at the resort, you are there! If you are flying in, I recommend skipping the rental car (Use a Lyft to get to the resort for around $30-that’s less than the airport transfers) and putting that money to use by staying on-site instead! All resort hotels provide transportation from the hotel to the park, additionally you can access amenities at all the other resort hotels. *Pro-hack: Want to have the complete Universal experience, but can’t afford one more day in the park? Build in a day to pool hop at the resort hotels! It won’t cost you anything to do this and your family will still have a blast.

 

Alright, now that we’ve gotten the meat of all of these bigger issues settled, it is time to get into the actual planning of my vacation.

Now, you know how I just said not to buy a package? Why would MG say this to you when there are so many free perks? Well, my little ones… those perks that are built into your package aren’t even free. WHAT?! I crunched the numbers by comparing the cost of the hotel with a harry potter package to booking the on-site hotel directly through universal. The cost of my hotel in the package was almost $400 more than booking without the package. I then calculated the difference and determined that not only was I paying for the Shutterbutton’s session, but also determined that the two days of “free” breakfasts for my party added up to about $17.10 per person, which is more expensive than the actual $16.99/adult and $12.59/kids breakfast plates.

Now, I’ll fully confess, I used the package when we went to Hollywood, and when we went in February with just the adults. When we stayed off-site, the package appeared to be a good value and it gave us access to the off-site partner hotels that granted us early park admission. Running the scenario with an on-site hotel however, the numbers don’t jive.

 

Step 1: Book an on-site hotel through Universal Orlando Resort.

3 Adults (MG, Mrs MG, Sister MG) 

3 Kids (11, 13, 14 years) 

4 Nights On-Site Hotel, with 3 In-Park Days

Now, because I have 6 people in my party, I actually have a few options for family suites at the various hotels across the resort. Coming 2019 and 2020 are two new “value” hotels for Universal’s “Endless Summer” resort brand.  These hotels are designed to be around $100 a night and built to suit larger family groups so those on a budget can have the complete universal experience! My hats off to universal for thinking about this and making a plan to accommodate families like this.

A family suite at the new Endless Summer Value Resort, the Surfside Inn and Suites is a 2 bedroom room designed to sleep six, with a kitchenette. I’ve selected this, and am asked to pay only a deposit equal to one night. During the holiday season, this value resort is $243.10 a night, giving me a total with tax of $1093.95. *Pro Hack: Pass holders can check back frequently for pass holder rates during their time of travel and simply change their reservation and get the lower rate.

Step 2: Park Tickets

Since I’m a Preferred Pass Holder, I’ll get a 15% discount by buying the kids tickets at the gate. If I purchase online, I’ll save $30 from gate prices. I estimate that’s an additional $10 a head at the gate. This would put my cost online at $942.51, but my pass holder discount is the greater savings, allowing me to pay only $826.63, and save a total of $145.88. By making sure my flight get’s in a little early on our arrival day, I can just pop over to the park after we check into our hotel and grab the tickets for the kids, then my valuable early park entry time won’t be eaten up by long ticketing lines.

Step 3: Food

I’ve just written an in depth post on how to eat at Universal on a budget. (<– *Pro-hacks abound!) I highly recommend you check it out, as I’ve addressed all the ways to save without feeling like you’re giving up part of the experience. While I get a 10% pass holder discount on food for all in my party, I think that I will have a greater savings for my omnivore children by purchasing them the Universal Quick Service Dining Plan. I can purchase this at the same time I grab those tickets, and it is $23.99/adult (ages 10+) per day. This will provide them one quick service meal and beverage, 1 additional beverage, and 1 snack. My children eat a lot, they enjoy soda, and they tend to pick more expensive menu items so this plan will save me a lot more money than my discount. This will cost $71.97/per day for 3 adult meal plans at a total of $215.91 for our 3 in-park days.

Step 4: Souvenirs

  • Universal isn’t overly expensive and they offer a lot of souvenir items at a range of prices.  For the ultimate low end of the budget, you can grab a “1st visit” park pin at guest services, or a park map for free. You can also do pressed pennies at various locations in the park. We are going to be giving our children their souvenir budget on a gift card. We’ve also requested “park spending money” from family in advance in lieu of sending birthday and Christmas gifts. We’re encouraging the children to start saving their money now so they’ll have more to spend at the park. You can buy park gift cards online and have them mailed right to you.
  • Pictures are free, and now and days most everyone has access to a smart phone. When on a strict budget, consider assigning children different areas of the park to photograph, and making a scrap book once you are home.
  • Buy before you go! Purchase park lanyards and any special t-shirts (minions, jurassic park, harry potter, transformers, etc.) in advance online. I purchased wands for the kids, and their harry potter house shirts on amazon for our Hollywood trip and spent less than the cost of 1 t-shirt in the park. This is also where I purchased my park lanyards which you’ll want if you have park-to-park passes.
  • There are also various facebook groups online dedicated to leaving prizes and gifts inside the park. These generous individuals will post photos of their “drop area” and/or riddles of where to find them. There is also a Universal Rocks page, where painted rocks are left at the park to find and keep, or re-hide.

Step 5: Non-Park Activities

  • Staying on-site grants you access to all kinds of free activities you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. My favorite, is resort pool hopping! If you need to shave some money off of your trip budget, replace a day in the park with a day of pools.
    • Portifino Bay: 3 pools, the Vila, Hillside, and Beach, including 1 with a grotto
    • Hard Rock: Hot Tubs, a Beach, and a Waterslide. Music plays in the guitar shaped pool and can be heard underwater.
    • Sapphire Falls: Tropical pool with a water slide.
    • Royal Pacific: Pool and hot tub
    • Cabana Bay: Pool with lazy river. *Pro-hack: Order your own cheap floats on amazon and pack them in your luggage. Cabana bay will fill for free. The floats at the hotel must be purchased separately.
  • Tour the streets of Italy at the Portifino Bay.
  • Ride the water taxis.
  • Watch the Torch Lighting Ceremony in the evenings at the Royal Pacific.
  • “Drive-in” style pool movies at Cabana Bay and Adventura.
  • Find the Berlin Wall at the Hard Rock.
  • Pack some marshmallows and visit one of the resort fire pits.
  • Visit the “three beaches” of Italy, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean at the resort hotels.
  • Visit the CityWalk Splash Pad.
  • Check out various live entertainment at CityWalk.

Excluding the cost of airfare, which for me is generally around $3000 from Seattle to Orlando, I’m currently at $2136.49 for the 3 kids tickets, our hotel for 6 people, and 3 meal plans. I’m building in a budget of roughly $30 a day/each for Mrs MG and I to eat on (we are vegetarians, don’t drink soda, and often share a kids meal or eat from sides on the menu), and another $15/per child to eat dinner for a total of $225 in additional food cost, bringing me up to $2361.49. We like to build our special “snacks” into our souvenir budget and provide roughly a $20 buffer into that for each child, for things like a Lard Lad Donut or a Butterbeer. Otherwise, we will be purchasing the refillable popcorn bucket for our children because, honestly I don’t think that they have a more favorite snack. Maybe it’s because I was so afraid that genetically modified shit would fuck up my kids for so long that they didn’t have it. You know, it’s like one of those forbidden pleasures for them now. Anyway, I digress…. for one flat price, we have our bucket for the entire trip, and can refill it for $2 whenever they want more. Otherwise, we always carry Clif bars, trail mix, and applesauce packets as well as our own water bottles when we’re in the park. Since our room will have a kitchenette and will likely use it to eat oatmeal and/or cereal in the mornings before setting out. This is not something I worry about when it is just the adults, but a definite must for traveling with kids on a budget! (*Pro-hack: if you are on a strict budget, have some groceries delivered to your resort hotel, and return to your room for lunches. Make your big resort meal once a day instead of 2 or 3.)

 

Getting to the parks is probably the most expensive part, then paying for the park entry is right behind it. Even though I pay monthly for our 3 annual passes, I enjoy that factor of not having to worry about our tickets when we go. If we were staying any longer than 3 days in the park, we’d invest in annual passes for our kids as well because it really is a great value when you plan to be there 5 days or longer. Plus, the discounts that come with the passes can sometimes pay for themselves!

When you have to pay for a vacation in one lump sum, it can seem impossible when the cost is this high, but if you know far enough in advance that this is something you want to do, I recommend tackling one thing at a time. Since we are a cash only, no debt family who are sadly not millionaires or the recipients of substantial inheritance from mystery relatives,  we have to plan our trips as far out in advance as possible so we can build them into our regular budget. We book our hotel first and pay that first night deposit. Then we buy our plane tickets. We will next build into our budget the total cost of the hotel, and pay for that once we have it in advance. After that, we worry about any additional park tickets we may need to buy and set that aside. Then we just save for the food and extras we want to do. This way is a lot more manageable, and makes me feel like I’m moving our trip forward with each thing I check off our list. If I were interested in paying more, I’d just bundle everything together into a package and simply phone into the reservation line to make payments when I had them–but this is MG we are talking about here. I won’t pay $0.20 more for something that I know cost $0.20 less.

Now for the big disclosure, because I’m sure you are wondering how we can afford multiple trips in a year to the park. It took us years to get to this point, years of working our way up in entry level jobs, making hard sacrifices and major commitments to living the lifestyle we live. A lifestyle of frugality and minimalism. But I don’t get anything for free for the tips and tricks I post here. This is all just a summary of my endless research because I’m looking for the best way to provide these experiences within the means that we have!

I hope this helps you have the vacation of your dreams on the budget that you can afford!

 

Universal Orlando Resort Affordable Eating Guide

eat on a budget universal orlando

You’re welcome.

What are we welcome for, MG?

For this guide I’m about to share with you. I’ve actually spent countless hours scouring the internet for this information and have come up with no blog content like this. I decided that since it didn’t exist, I’d create it and share it with you my good people. All 3 of you who follow me.

In my searches I’ve read countless “how to save money at Universal” posts. They’re by in large–fucking ridiculous. And honestly, most of them are just copy and pasting bullshit they read from someone else and regurgitating it as their own “exclusive” inside information to you. I’ve said it before, but I really enjoy how absolutely clueless people are when they write content about “saving money” and include comments like “we got all this for free because my sister’s husbands, brother runs this resort,” or “I happened to get a discounted/free room during the off season so I could blog at you about why you should go all-in on vacation at “x” location,” and my personal favorite, “my parent’s gifted this to us so their grandchildren could have this experience.”

Raise your hand if this shit just plain doesn’t jive with normal people living normal lives.

*MG’s hand is up in the air*

Just know that when I offer you my resources on saving money, they’re actually realistic.

In those “how to save money” posts I’ve stumbled across so much bad information, it made me cringe. I ask the blogging world gods one question… if you are telling me to SPEND money… in some cases, HUNDREDS of dollars on express passes that do nothing besides move me through a line quicker, how in the hell is that actually SAVING me money? If I had a dollar for every time I saw that in a “ways to save” post I could have paid for half my upcoming trip to the studios.

So, just what is this post going to focus on then if I’m not pushing the park’s express passes onto you as part of the “free night stay” blogger package? Well, we’re going to talk about FOOD, and only FOOD. We’ve already addressed the best way to save money on the tickets, and that is absolutely without a doubt to become a pass holder, but did you know that by being a pass holder you can save 10 to 15% off the cost of your FOOD in the park, depending on what level pass you purchase? (There are 4 pass levels, the lower 3 will get you 10%, while the top pass gets you 15%.) Yeah.. you can bet this is going to come up into our discussion. So, without further adieu… let’s begin.

I’m going to the parks for 8 nights over the Christmas holiday. Mrs. MG and I are finally celebrating our belated honeymoon. 3 years belated to be exact.

But why so late, MG?

Because MG couldn’t afford it 3 years ago. And MG has priorities, during that time it was about feeding our family and keeping our roof over our heads. It took a long time to get here, but here we are. I’ve calculated out our anticipated dining expenses for this trip and came to a staggering $800 for the week.  This is double what MG spends to feed her family of five for a month. 

I anticipated that 3 meals in the park a day would run a little over $16 a meal with the breakfast options being the most expensive at $16.99 in the Wizarding World. This led me to a nice round number of $50 per person per day, which is $800 for the time that we are there at $100 a day. This is just 3 meals a day, no “snacks” like Lard Lad Donuts and Butterbeer! I deliberately excluded our 10% Pass Holder discount as a way to build in cushion if any of our meals went over $16. Holy shit, right? This is what birthed the post you are getting today.

Now this budget is fairly low, given that Mrs. MG and I do not drink soda except for on rare occasion, and while we drink alcohol we don’t generally purchase it at restaurants as it is marked up and watered down. We also don’t eat meat, so our meals tend to be cheaper than the average omnivore. Now I was getting anxious about building snacks into the budget, or if I should take them out of my “souvenir” budget because MG will drink butterbeer until she barfs… you can count on that. This is where I began researching and looking for ways to trim this budget down because while I could afford it, $800 is just fucking nuts. So I read through the deepest, darkest cracks of the Universal world and managed to find some great tips and tricks I am most anxious to try–none of which involve returning to my room twice a day to eat crappy sandwiches from bread and peanut butter I had to order from amazon prime now, or bringing a crock pot and having it “cook a meal for me” in my hotel room while I am at the park (I shit you not, I’ve read countless people pack their crock pots and instant pots into their luggage and do this… I’m going to pass.)

  • Quick Service Meal Plan. $23.99 (+ I believe 6.5% tax) is a good option if you are a meat eater and/or love soda. This plan provides you with 1 quick service meal + a soda, 1 extra soda, and 1 snack. Depending on which areas of the park you use this (it is limited and all items will be marked with a UD) you can actually save money using this plan. I did this in FEB because we had 4 adults and no idea what to expect in cost. We stuck inside the Wizarding World with this and it saved us money, considering a butterbeer is $7 and considered a “snack” on the plan. On average we saved about $5 per person. This will get you a basic fountain soda, not a freestyle soda or you can use it to get bottled water. There are no pass holder discounts for this and if you want to just “pay for your meals in advance” this is a good option. Being vegetarian pass holders, this plan does not save us money so we skipped it, but it is worth mentioning.
  • SODA- skip it. Do you know how hot FL is? You need to stay hydrated and you need to do that with water. If you can’t skip it, there are two other ways to approach this habit you have. Option A: You can purchase a Freestyle Cup, which is about $16 to buy out right. You’d have to drink 5 cups of soda in a day to break even on day 1 with this cup. Once you’ve purchased the cup you get free refills every 10 minutes for the rest of the day. Each day thereafter you pay a reduced price to “reactivate” your cup, which is generally around $8 leaving you at another 3 cups of soda a day to break even. A lot of people will opt to buy one cup, and share it among a family by pouring the soda into another cup then refilling it 10 minutes later with a new flavor. If you are on a tight budget and like soda- this is a good option. Option B: Buy a “Souvenir Cup” these cups are generally shaped like a characters head, they cost roughly $16 and the first fill is included with that price. Refills there after are discounted to just over a buck. You do not have to pay to “reactivate” these cups like the freestyle cups.  *Pro-tip, check eBay for your freestyle cups before you go to the park. I’ve found them in 3 cup bulk lots for as little as $5 a cup. If the cup doesn’t work when you reactivate it, the park will swap it at no cost. A little planning will save you big time with those cups! And don’t toss them when you leave, bring them back on future trips!
  • WATER. Boy was I unprepared for water in Florida. Let’s talk about this. First and foremost as someone who likes to reduce their waste, I carry a water bottle with me everywhere. Sometimes I have two in my bag, and I always have a huge Coleman water jug in the car at all times. I went to Universal with one of my standard water bottles expecting to just fill them at the fountains like I did at Universal Hollywood. Now, FL does have fountains but the water is beyond disgusting. FL water is nasty as fuck. Don’t drink that shit. This led to me essentially wasting all of my “soda” credits on my meal plan to get bottles of water. In FL cups of water are free (it’s a law!) at all restaurants and stands, so you can get your cups or your water bottles filled up with ice and ice cold water at no cost; however, the confirmation on if this is tap water or filtered water tends to be hit or miss. I highly recommend purchasing a Brita water bottle with the built in filter. An expert local park goer recommended this to me and promises it filters out the nasty taste! I purchased a bulk pack of 3 in the “camo” color on Amazon for under $30 as they were the cheapest option. Just know, you do not have to pay for bottled water if you don’t mind getting the cups of water that may or may not be from the tap from any food stand/restaurant. (If you buy your Universal Passes with an AMEX you can get access to the AMEX Pass Holders lounge where there are free bottles of water. You have to buy your pass with an AMEX though. I’ve heard that you can hack this by simply loading a pre-paid AMEX logo card with the money for the passes and use that to buy your passes with. Boom, you’re in the club and no credit card debt to show for it.)
  • BRING YOUR OWN SNACKS: Universal lets you bring in just about anything as long as it is cold and/or you have a special dietary restriction. We bring our own Clif Bars, applesauce pouches and trail mix to eat as snacks in between our meals. Saves us a fortune and keeps us feeling good with not eating junk every time we’re hungry. And since we eat small meals all day long, we are always fucking hungry. We pack ours in our suitcase and check 1 bag for the two of us. It’s cheaper for me to buy and bring them from here, than to order from a delivery service in FL. Honestly! Did this for California and it was a lifesaver with 3 kids. *It doesn’t hurt to have extra snacks in your hotel room when you are feeling peckish, and consider bringing some instant oatmeal packets for a quick pre-park breakfast! Pour into a coffee cup and heat water in your basic resort room with your coffee pot. Instant oatmeal packets can be purchased in bulk for super cheap on Amazon before you go!
  • SHARE A MEAL: Seriously, if you and your traveling companion may want the same thing, split a meal. The portions in the resort are large and more than enough for two people with average appetites. Mrs MG and I share almost everything because we eat small meals more frequently.
  • ORDER THE KIDS MEAL: I saw a side-by-side comparison photo recently taken inside the Wizarding World at the Three Broomsticks of an adult sized and kid sized Full English Breakfast. They were nearly identical, with the kid sized plate missing 1 piece of meat and possibly 1 vegetable. And insanely enough, the kid size plate was still large enough I believe that Mrs MG and I could share it! We’re going to test this hack on our trip and report back with photos. 😉
  • ORDER APPS: Look at the appetizer menu first, and consider ordering that instead of a meal. I was astonished when I ordered the hummus appetizer at one of the resort restaurants and it was big enough for four adults to eat from and still had food left over. It was half the cost of my dinner plate and I was almost too full from eating that delicious hummus and pillowy pita bread to even eat my meal once it arrived! If you’re in doubt about your appetite, order the appetizer first, eat that… and if still hungry-go ahead and request to see the menu again.
  • CONSIDER SIDES: As a vegetarian, sometimes the “SIDES” menu is the first place I look. It is generally where I can find items that don’t have meat in them. More times than once I’ve made myself a “meal” out of the side options and each side is generally around $3-$5.
  • KEEP YOUR LEFTOVERS: Take your leftovers back to your hotel. Stay on-site my friends and you can just walk this right over, pop it in your mini-fridge, and head back to the park. You’ll be happy they are there later when you are looking for a late night snack before bed! If you aren’t staying on site, don’t be that guy who is lugging around hot, soggy leftovers and stinking up the 3D ride with it.
  • CITY WALK IS CHEAPER: If you can pull yourself away from the parks, the food options at City Walk are cheaper than inside the park. You’re still on the resort property, your pass holder discount still works, most places accept the dining plan, and there are a lot more options that are friendlier to the budget without the huge lines in the park. During one especially frustrating afternoon inside Studios in Feb,  we wandered from place to place inside the park searching for one location that didn’t have a 2 year long line for food. It was not pleasant. 2 out of 4 of us went full hangry-bitch by the time we arrived at the third failed location.  Had I known this hack I would have taken full advantage and snarled less at my traveling group.
    • Bread Box has sandwiches as low as $7.99 and they come with a side of fries or tots. Soup is only $4.99, and there are 3 vegetarian sandwich options here!
    • Hot Dog Hall of Fame start at $8.99 and come with fries. There is supposed to be a veggie dog option here but I won’t be able to confirm that until my December trip.
    • Red Oven Pizza Bakery has pizzas for between $13-$14 and I hear they are large enough for more than 2 people to eat off of.
    • Antojitos Authentic Mexican has kids options for only $6.99 and is a great way to save at this more expensive option in City Walk. I am also equally impressed with their sides on their regular dinner menu. I could easily build a meal out of the black beans, roasted vegetables, and plantains for $3.50 each and at $10.50 for my whole meal still spend less than the cost of a dinner plate. *While pricey, I hear the table-side guac is to die-for and an experience worth splurging on.
    • NBC Sports Grill & Brew has long been a favorite to park goers on a budget. They have modestly priced items with humongous portions. I saw a picture of their soft pretzel recently ($12.95) and it could easily provide a snack to 4 people! The equally priced Grilled Vegetable Pasta could easily feed two people, making that $6.50 a person when you share. Don’t want to share there? Check out the kids menu, it is all priced at $6.99 a plate.
    • The Cowfish also offers $6.99 kids meal bento boxes, and on the adult end the $17 and $18 priced bento boxes appear to be a great value to also share, offering a burger and sushi along with several other sides.
    • Bob Marley also delivers with large portions, I was recently impressed by a photo of the stuffed peppers that could easily be shared. While some of their menu is limited (like the kids options and sides) there are a few low budget gems on there. You can grab either the vegetable patties or the beef patties for only $9.95. If you are looking to splurge, I hear the stuffed peppers are divine-and for only a dollar more, you’ll get two peppers stuffed to the brim with veggies and rice, a side of greens, and a side of vegetables.
  • REFILLABLE POPCORN BUCKET: There is no cheaper snack in the park than the park popcorn via the refillable souvenir bucket. It will run you about $10, then refills of hot, buttery popcorn will cost you less than $2 after that. If you’ve got a bunch of kids, or you feel really passionate about popcorn this is your best value. You can bring these buckets back to the parks over and over again (just like your cups.)
  • PARK SNACKS MAKE GREAT BREAKFASTS: Skip that crazy line at Voodoo donuts and go straight to Springfield USA in Universal Studios Florida. Grab yourself a nice, pink Lard Lad Donut. These things are the size of small-ish to medium sized pizzas, they’re absolutely enormous and completely delicious! These will set you back around $6… and while you could share it, I don’t think you’ll want to. If I am honest, the MG family each devoured their own and three of us hate donuts. They’re that good. Sometimes when I’m at work, I stare into my computer screen thinking about the first bite I took out of one of these bad boys. #trueconfession
  • STARBUCKS BENTO BOXES: We all have a Starbucks near us if we’re living in the USA. And if you’ve ever been inside one you know that they have delightful cold food options in the form of their bento boxes. Consider grabbing one at City Walk or inside Islands of Adventure/Universal Studios Florida for a lunch on the go while you are walking through the park. They aren’t big enough to share but they’re about half the price of a meal in the park for lunch. This is a great option to munch on if you are standing in a long ride line. #multitasking
  • CHEAP FOOD inside UNIVERSAL STUDIOS FLORIDA:
    • The Leaky Cauldron has a lot to offer in terms of huge shareable portions. Personally, I prefer the breakfast offerings in the Wizarding World more than the lunch/dinner options. If you have to pick one meal to eat there, I strongly recommend making it your breakfast option. An adult breakfast plate is $16.99 but that splurge will get you a butterbeer as an option for your included beverage! I love the oatmeal apple flan but the full english is a great option to share. Since my family is a mixture of vegetarians and omnivores, we like to order the full english and pass off the items we don’t want to others in our group. Sister MG and the MG kids generally pass us their beans and mushrooms, while we give them our meat. It’s a win win and everyone is happy. If you go with lunch or dinner, go with an appetite and consider the Plougman’s platter which was designed to feed 2 for $21.99 but could actually reasonably feed 4.
    • London Taxi Hut (at the London Waterfront-little green building) is home of the famous “jacket potato” and all it’s varieties. They feature two vegetarian options like beans and cheese and broccoli and cheese, and two meat options with the shepherds pie and loaded. These potatoes are rumored to keep you full all day for only $8!
    • Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck will net you 2 tacos and a side of chips for $9.99 and from what I hear the servings are large. You won’t find vegetarian options here however, but I’ll be asking to see if they can modify something for us on our upcoming trip.
    • Krusty Burger’s prices are all over the place, but you can find the vegetarian black bean “Mother Nature” burger or the 1/3 pound “Krusty Burger” platter for $11.49 and each comes with a side of Kurly fries. This is probably your cheapest “burger” option in the park.
    • Louie’s Italian Restaurant is also reported to have large portions good to share. But beware, their pizzas can skyrocket to $38! Stick to the soup at $5 a cup, or consider their pasta dishes. They are certainly more middle of the road in price, ranging from $12.29 for the vegan spaghetti featuring Gardein meatless crumbles (a new and exciting option that graced the menus late 2018) to the Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken at only $10.79, and both options include a breadstick (breadstick not vegan).
    • Luigi’s Pizza is the cheapest place for pizza inside this park, with options from $10.99 to their most expensive at $15.49. You could certainly share a pizza here and feel no strain to the budget.
  • CHEAP FOOD inside ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE:
    • Croissant Moon Bakery is arguably the cheapest place to grab breakfast on your way into the parks. Grab a croissant for only $2.59 or splurge on a chocolate croissant for a whopping $3.19. Looking for something more substantial? Choose the “on the run” breakfast and get a fruit cup, your choice of a danish or muffin, and a “breakfast drink” for only $6.29. *Their Port of Call sandwiches make them a great option for a shareable lunch that includes potato salad, a muffin, and fresh fruit for only $12.49!
    • Three Broomsticks is home to the “GREAT FEAST,” get your wallets out for this one though, because this will set you back $59.99. It is said to be enough to feed four people, but the 3 MG children and Sister MG could not finish it. I think this could reasonably feed closer to 6 people than 4 and with a larger group going family style on this platter, it is a better bargain.
    • Confisco Grille has a robust appetizer menu that ranges in price from $7.49-$11.99 for it’s most expensive item- a whole pizza. Here, eating off the appetizer menu is sure to save you some money without leaving you feeling wanting.
    • Thunderfalls Terrace has an excellent selection of cheap side items to build a meal out of. Items are priced from $1.79 to $4.99 for it’s most expensive option- a soup. You could put together the white rice with cilantro and lime, the black beans, and the fresh roasted corn for a full meal and only spend $7.57! That is less than ten bucks for an entire meal made out of sides. Plenty of options there…. remember, MG just told you to consider SIDES first.
    • Doc Sugrue’s Desert Kebab House is probably the best bang for your buck inside IOA. You can choose from a selection of vegetarian and meat kebabs $10.49-$12.49, or grab the super popular hummus snack which comes with pita bread, celery and carrots for only $4.99.

And until I return from my December trip, I’m done for now. Loads of options to choose from at every price point, and I didn’t even bother with the more expensive eateries in the park where an average meal will set you back around $16. I’ve always been impressed with the size of the portions, the quality of the food, and the value you are getting inside Universal so I think that it is safe to say that eating on a budget inside Universal can be done, and without feeling strained or like you are giving up too much!

Now you’ve made it through an entire post of affordable in park eating options without being told to go back to your room and eat the worlds saddest fucking PB&J’s or risk burning down the resort when your pressure cooker malfunctions and explodes. Remember, if you are a pass holder (and you should be…) always ask for the pass holder discount and flash your pass. Some places legitimately don’t take it… and some will tell you they don’t by mistake. If this happens or you forget to ask, save your receipts! On your way out of the park, hit guest services and they’ll refund you your discount!!! When you walk out of guest services with your refund, be sure to let the mic drop as the door slams behind you.

Stay tuned for even more tips and tricks after our vacation and a post on exactly how much it cost us to go to Universal Studios for a week, and stay on site for 8 nights during their peak time of year, including details on how much it cost us to eat at the park (no sad sandwiches for us) and what we spent on souvenirs! I’ll answer all of your burning “but how much did it cost” questions when we get back in that post!

Cheapest way to get Universal Studios Orlando park tickets! UOAP!

 

uoap secret.png

Maybe you’re a little bit like me. On a scale of 1 to 10, your obsession with Harry Potter is 9 3/4. Hogwarts is your home. Butterbeer is your favorite beverage. The happy, flitting sounds of music from the Harry Potter opening scenes bring a tear to your eye.

If you’re like me, besides diving into the books or becoming absorbed into the movies, where do you go to celebrate your love? How do you get home again?

You go to Universal Studios.

Now if you’ve been around for a minute or two, you know that I’ve recently been to both the Hollywood and Orlando locations. I’ve written my thoughts on it, how much it cost my family, and how we approached each trip to be able to afford it and manage spending while there. You also know that we’re not rich! We don’t live in debt, and we do not use credit cards.

This year, MG took on a new job, that created a serious bump in pay.  (Still not rich!) This began making the option of going to Universal more than once in a lifetime a very real possibility. Because I knew that this was my goal, and that Mrs. MG and I have both agreed to make Universal our regular vacation spot, I began preparing for this by researching how to make any of this even be possible. The first thing I did was begin researching a way to earn airline miles without the use of credit cards. Once I opened my Delta Skymiles Debit account, linked it with my Delta miles account, and began earning miles I knew we’d get a lot of help there with the cost of airfare. I then began looking into how to make my second biggest expense more manageable.

Park Tickets.

Park tickets are in fact, the second biggest expense to anyone who is flying in. They can easily cost as much as air fare, and more than your hotel by double. The longer you want to be in the parks, the higher your cost goes. With my new job, I have access to a discount ticketing website, but their tickets cap out at 5 days. I joined a few groups on Facebook and began reading the tips and tricks from long time park goers when I saw one very common theme of opinion on park tickets.

There is a rule of thumb, and that is that if you are going to do the park for a week or longer, it is cheaper to buy an annual pass. 

This doesn’t just mean a week at a time, this can mean people who want to go on multiple trips that would equal 7 in park days. This is precisely where I began to do the math. Universal passes are exclusive to each park, this means Hollywood’s pass only works in Hollywood, and Orlando’s pass only works in Orlando. So I immediately removed my Hollywood trip from this equation and began factoring Orlando. We were there for 3 days in March, we wanted to go back this December. We’re going for 8 days total (including travel days) which leaves us with 6 full in park days. I didn’t think we’d be able to afford the tickets so I was trying to limit our trip to another 3-4 day visit. This already came out at the “week or longer” rule of thumb. I knew that it would be a long time before I could buy two year passes but decided to check out the pricing anyway. I was in for a surprise!

First, there are two ways to pay for your tickets. You can either pay for them up front at once, or use Universals Flex Pay program. With Flex Pay you pay for half the pass as a down payment, then finance the rest at 0% interest, no credit check by making  monthly payments spread out over the 12 months of your pass. Your pass doesnt activate until you use it for the first time, and from there your 12 month count down of pass use begins. This means if you buy the pass in June, you start paying for it in June, but if you don’t travel until December, your 12 months USAGE starts in December.

I did the math, I could stretch and pay for it all up front, or I could use the flex pay system and work it into my budget. My pay had gone up recently, so I could afford the monthly payment. I would even earn miles on it every month with my Delta card instead of maxing out my miles for that month (4k miles a month on the delta debit card) with this purchase and missing out on all my other purchases. No credit check and no interest? I went for the Flex Pay option.

Before I get into the cost of that, I want to touch on the fact that there are 4 different levels of passes for Universal Studios. It is VERY IMPORTANT to carefully read each pass before picking one. We went with Preferred. This is the 3rd from the top. Since we generally travel around holidays, we did not want to be restricted to block out dates. Universal has a series of block out dates that sync up with holidays due to their special holiday events. The two lower level passes: Power and Annual have block out dates. Originally I was looking at the premier pass, because it offers a 15% in park merch and dining discount (restrictions apply) as opposed to the 10% offered by the other 3 passes. I then decided that the math didn’t jive, as my spending on the cost of the pass, would never equal the 15% savings. I would also never use the free valet parking, we probably will never go to HHN (Halloween Horror Nights) which offers 1 admission in the premier pass, and we didn’t care about the free express passes after 4pm since we’re not major ride people.  (You can get 2 days of express passes included for the cost of 1 night at 3 of the premier level onsite hotels should you choose to stay there, and this is a hack that many people employ as it often costs less than buying the passes during peak times.)

Preferred has no black out dates on entry, but has black out dates on early park admission. So if you are staying off site, this would be a concern. We considered it and because I’m a cheap skate by nature I kept trying to talk myself into staying off park to save half the cost of our hotel on our upcoming holiday honeymoon. That quickly went away when I remembered why I feel so strongly about staying on site. You’re going to pay more by staying on site during peak season, but the convenience and the perks that come with on site access is WORTH IT.  And since we stay on site, we get early park entry anyway so we don’t have to worry about those black out dates.

Ultimately, I felt that for the kind of Universal travelers we are, that Preferred was the best option and the best price.

Universal’s website isn’t the easiest to navigate, but all of the information can be found there on their section about their Annual Passes. Pay close attention also to if you are purchasing a 2 park or 3 park pass. Their 3 park pass includes their new water park, Volcano Bay. We aren’t water park people- we’re Harry Potter People. We went with the 2 park pass, if we decide we ever do want to go to Volcano Bay, we can buy a discounted 1 day pass to that park at the gate with our Annual Passes. 🙂

The 2 Park Preferred passes I purchased for myself, Mrs. MG, and sister MG (we’re bringing her for the last 3 days of our honeymoon this Christmas as her Christmas gift) cost $394.99 each. With the flex pay option, I paid $631.02 down on our passes, and will only pay $57.37 a month for the next 12 months. That’s right, less than $58 a month for THREE ANNUAL PASSES! What’s better, is that right now–Universal Studios has thrown in an extra SIX MONTHS FREE until April 2019. Be advised, the lower two passes only offer 3 months, while they upper two passes give you 6 months.

Purchase and activate by Apr. 4, 2019. Restrictions apply.

I got 18 months for each of us, at the $394 price a year on each 2 park preferred pass. That gives you tickets at $1.51 a DAY for 597 days!

Here is a summary of what we’re getting with our pass:

  • Unlimited Park to Park Admission to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure with no blocked out dates. 
  • Free self parking *after first visit.
  • Early Park Admission has block out dates on this pass, but this doesn’t apply if you stay ON SITE.
  • Discounted food, merch, and specialty items in the parks and in City Walk–10% (Discount will be limited inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter due to licensing restrictions but the rule is to always flash your pass and ask.)
  • On-site hotel room discounts. (These discounts are limited and vary up to 30%, with highest discount generally available in off season only, and at specific hotels the park is looking to fill.)
  • Admission to select special events and concerts (ie: Mardi Gras, but not HHN.)
  • Discounts on theme park and special events tickets. (Example: discounted tickets to HHN, or Volcano Bay, and additional tickets purchased at the gate for non-pass holder members of your party.)

Honestly, I feel that $400 for 12 months is a steal, considering it would cost me that for 1 person to go for longer than 3 days. These passes are also “park to park” tickets, meaning you can ride the Hogwarts Express between Islands and Studios, a feature that is an an extra cost on standard tickets. Universal also offers a once a year “Pass Holders Appreciation” Month with all sorts of special extras. (This year was August, we weren’t pass holders yet but they shut the park down to pass holders only at a time during this special month, and in the past have offered discounts on meal plans and other vacation add-on items.) You can also get special pass holder only buttons at guest services when visiting the park, so bonus points for free souvenirs!

hp uoap.jpg

Now I just need to decide which UOAP decal I want to put on my minivan. I’m thinking this Harry Potter version would go nicely with my Hogwarts House Crests Family.

 

Another top secret special tip I can offer you is that if you are booking your on-site hotel far enough in advance through the Universal website, you’ll be asked to pay the rate of 1 night as a deposit on your hotel, and you can then either finance your vacation through their outside agency (at a steep interest rate) or make payments on your hotel up to a certain date before your travel in which it would be paid off at no additional cost to you. I stumbled across this while planning our 2019 big family holiday vacation.

You can also sometimes get better rates on a hotel plus other freebies by “booking” a package, but removing the park ticket. Keep in mind, that Universal also offers a special pass holder phone number for booking Pass Holder Vacation Packages with all sorts of added extras!

 

This is now how we’re able to afford Universal for an 8 day vacation this December, and a big family vacation in 2019. Any extra time in between will be a big bonus! In the 3 months that I’ve had my Suntrust Delta Debit account, I’ve already earned roughly 10,000 miles! I haven’t even booked our tickets for our upcoming trip yet which will be 2 miles for every 1 dollar spent on Delta flights! After a while, I’ll be able to use miles for travel and once I’ve hit medallion status, I’ll get unlimited free upgrades from Delta and access to their lounge.

 

Universal doesn’t make it clear that these resources are there, but I’m happy to find them and share them with everyone. Family vacations are precious things, that I am honored to share in with my children and my family. Growing up, I never had these experiences, and my children think they are common place. It is possible, with the right planning, and the right resources it can be done. Memory making shouldn’t come at such an outrageous cost. As I get closer to planning my big family 2019 holiday vacation at Universal, I’ll lay out all the details on how I approached it, and how I paid for 3 adults and 3 children (with possibly 2 more adults in the form of grandma and grandpa coming along as well) with a lot of careful planning, research, and money saving tips and tricks.

 

My $200 Bathroom Remodel

Don’t you just hate it when you are cruising around Pinterest looking for budget remodel ideas and you see these things that are just absolutely CRAZY?! Something like a brand new jacuzzi tub, moved walls, brand new hexagon flooring, and a comment in the post along the lines of “well my dad is a general contractor and my husband owns a home improvement store so we got the work for free and the materials at cost…but really this bathroom would cost anyone else $20,000.”

*Insert eye roll here*

I see that a lot online. I also see a lot of “we refinanced our home for ‘x’ remodel project” and “someone died and I came into some money.” As always, you will never get that here folks. I believe a budget remodel should be true to it’s word. Goods found at a discount, labor done by yours truly, and no debt required.

Since MG believes in living as debt free as possible, we live without credit cards, we don’t finance things (unless there is an extraordinary circumstance–like when Mrs. MG’s back was being murdered by our old bed, and we couldn’t afford to buy a new one up front. We find a 0% same as cash financing program at a local mattress shop and bought a $800 bed. Said bed is amazing, we paid off the bed in 3 months, and were no worse for wear.), and we would never take out a line of credit on our home to be able to afford to do something purely cosmetic to it.

Enter my new master bathroom. Not new in that it never existed, it has always been there. But new in that we recently switched bedrooms which meant switching bathrooms. When the MG family moved in, we gave the “master” bedroom (in this case, master = biggest room in the house) to the girls as they were sharing. We took the smallest room downstairs along with it’s corresponding bathroom next door. Split levels are tricky houses, but they’re great for families! We have two bedrooms, 1 common bathroom upstairs, and 1 bedroom with a common bathroom downstairs. This means that this house has no en suite master bath. We plan to change this in a few years by walling off the current entry, and moving a door to a wall within the master bedroom. This will help our resale by a LOT without costing us a heck of a lot of money. That still leaves the bathroom downstairs for the other two bedrooms and guests to use. No harm, no foul.

Now that MG child #1 is staying with her dad this school year and only home roughly 2 weekends a month, MG child #2 was having a hard time adjusting to this. They’d been together always for the entire 12 years of child #2’s life so it wasn’t easy for her to suddenly only see her sister on a handful of weekends at her dad’s house. We asked her if she’d like to switch bedrooms with us and gave her free range to change the decor and design of her room as she pleased. (Before/After of Master Bedroom coming soon in a later post.) She said yes and that afternoon, totes were being carried up and down the stairs for everyone involved! That meant that we relocated to the upstairs bathroom and took it over as our own.

I’ve said before, that our house is not terribly old. It is probably the most basic, plainly built Craftsman style split-level ever made in 2003. From searching around the internet I did manage to find some original condition photos from the previous owner and yikes. I didn’t know that it could be worse than all brown walls and sculpted foam trim in the worlds shittiest white paint, but all yellow walls, with cherry wood floors was NOT an improvement. Let me tell you. Anyway, I digress–my point here is that this house is NOT old, but through blood sweat and tears I find myself trying to bring it into modern times because every original feature was just so darn “blah.” This house is 1/2 our home and 1/2 an investment. We will be leaving the country when our youngest child graduates, so we need to make intelligent decisions about renovation in this house while considering how unique our neighborhood is at the same time.

I find that the more I do to this house, the more layers of fucked-up-ness I find. Just bad construction, and cut corners. I am never sure if I am blaming the investor who flipped our house after it sat abandoned for so many years, or the original builder. It’s a fun little game we like to play in our house called, “Who fucked this up?” The bathroom was no exception. In addition to our not straight walls — builder, we find that someone tiled over holes in the wall without bothering to put in patches — builder or investor? Then there is my favorite-a giant soap/shampoo/conditioner vessel that was attached to the shower stall with silicone caulking! W-T-F? Who does that? But nothing could prepare me for the giant mirror that was attached to the wall with liquid nails. I did a serious face palm when I began trying to pull that thing down. Since the walls were originally yellow, and the paint behind the mirror was brown, the blame goes to the investor on this one! Same guy who covered up the tile around the fireplace with a “mantle” made completely of various pieces of trim that was caulked and glued together.  (Fireplace is also another future project.)

This house is an onion, ya’ll.  The deeper I go on cosmetic updating, the more structural things I find that need correcting. I am not living here forever, but I won’t do things half-assed at the expense of the future owner.

Alright, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

The only thing left untouched in this bathroom was the original marble floors (which actually work in this room now!) and the bathtub/shower stall. We replaced or refinished the following:

  • Light Fixture
  • Wall Paint
  • Vanity
  • Counter Top
  • Added Built-in Shelving
  • Added Tile
  • Added Open Shelving

I’ll post totals on each item below and how I found my amazing deals. But let’s get into the before and after pictures, shall we?

IMG_4425

Actual Listing Photo, BEFORE

 

So here is our illustrious bathroom before. As you can see, it functions, but it needs to be brought into the current times. Can I just tell you that I have a crazy relationship with brown? When I built my first house, I apparently had an obsession I was not aware of. I became painfully aware of it when I began moving in and started opening boxes. I had my walls painted brown, brown carpet, brown cabinets, brown blinds, and then realized I also moved in brown furniture, brown rugs, brown throw pillows, and brown lamps. I had a serious problem with brown! When I bought my second house, I vowed to never have brown stuff again. Queue the new house of brown exterior, brown interior, and light brown hardwoods. In the three years I’ve lived here and stared at these brown walls, I’ve developed some deep loathing. The brown had to go.

First things first! I began removing the circa 2003 builder grade 4/4 white tile. Upon removing this tile, I discovered not 1, but 3 areas of MISSING DRY WALL AND/OR HOLES that the builder just tiled over. No big deal right? Between this and the mirror that had been attached to the walls with LIQUID NAILS, I was fit to be tied. It is basically 1st winter here, and patching dry wall in a bathroom with no direct heating did not bode well with me. There was a week of dry wall patching before we could move forward. MG was not amused. Don’t you just love that light fixture? Hello,the 70’s called, they want their lighting back.

While I worked on willing the drywall patches to dry, I decided to create a template for my tile wall and begin cutting it all down. I had a large cardboard box from my $35 Walmart Clearance Special Dining Room Set (Yeah…baby!) that I carefully measured and drew out the lines for the wall space between my vanity and the ceiling in my bathroom. I used this as my template for cutting my tile down to size. I did not have a wet tile saw, but a tile breaker. I removed a piece of the tile breaker that is meant to help stabilize big solid pieces, and found that it worked great to break off these mini pieces of tile. I saved every single piece, even the little half pieces that I cut off. When I was done, I had a clear visual of what my wall was going to look like, so I threw my new light fixture on top to make sure it was appropriate to size. I do this in a very official design way, which involves me literally eye-balling it and determining if I like it or not.  The light fixture, is actually upside down from its intended design, because I liked it better this way. Besides, when you’ve got lights with globes like this–and you point them up, all the dust and dirt is going to settle inside the light fixture, and what a pain in the ass that is to clean!

And now we can talk about how I got two of the new materials for my bathroom at an amazing deal!

Tile

The tile is a very mini-subway tile. We found these at Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. MG LOVES HfH because they’re like a thrift store for home supplies and materials, as well as furniture. They have also recently introduced a great rewards program that earns you money off future purchases. Now, our store has a history of putting outrageous prices on things and I honestly suspect this is an attempt at staff to “save” things that they actually want by marking it up so no one will buy it. Otherwise, other things are very reasonably priced. This includes my tile. This tile is probably between $10-25 a sheet, just knowing average prices on high-end tile. I couldn’t find a brand name on the tile to research and I couldn’t find this exact tile online which is smaller than the ones I did find. My HfH store had it at $6 a sheet, but I came in on a day when there was an additional 25% off tile so I bought it all! I spent $75 after tax on this tile and a bag of white mortar/grout.

The light fixture is by Thomasville, and is part of their Crescent Heights collection. It’s supposed to be inspired by Hollywood glamour and the glass finish is opal. It is very pretty, but I liked that they looked appropriate to a Craftsman style home. I found them in boxes unopened at a community yard sale for $5 each. These light fixtures cost over $100 brand new. I got one for each bathroom, what a deal!

Then came the actual tiling. You’ll see here that I cut out a giant chunk of the drywall. Why did I do this? Storage! Our house isn’t huge, so I’ve try to become very creative in my approach to storage here. While the MG family is minimalist by nature, we know that most American families are not. We want this house to show the average American family that there IS enough space here. Buy it! Let us leave the country and enjoy our hard work on this home! Built in shelving is also very authentic to the Craftsman home. I’ve got a theme here, and I’m running with it! I cut a chunk of the wall out, and relocated the electric outlet about a half inch back so it would be “sunken” into the built-in. Things got fun when I got to the gigantic round hole in the wall for my light fixture. It is actually a titch too big for my new fixture (and any fixture really!) because some idiot had to use the biggest size in the wall for a bathroom light. (Blame – Builder!) So I had to get creative with my tile. We had to remove pieces one by one to allow for the tile to set over the hole, then I had to put that tile up one by one until it was finished. The hole can still be accessed, but the tile runs right to the edge. And since nothing is center in this house (Don’t get me started on the dining room light fixture) I had to shift the new fixture over to the right as far as I could possibly go. I would have just cut the dry wall and actually relocated it, but the electrician didn’t leave any slack in the line as it was run to the upstairs floor so I had to work with what I had. My light still isn’t centered to the vanity, but it looks better. Cutting my tile to a template was super handy because I could just throw the sheets right up there. At the bottom, I realized my counter wasn’t even so I had to make some last minute cuts to the tile. This was frustrating, but the gap was filled with caulk and no one’s the wiser.

My house has a funny thing about studs. We’re convinced this house is just being held together by drywall, nails, and maybe 5 studs total. There are no studs where there should be studs, and random studs where there shouldn’t be any. Luckily, when I opened this wall, I found studs exactly where I wanted them. Instead of building a box to fit into the stud, I made the stud part of my cabinet. This is a narrow gap, about 14.5 inches and I didn’t want to lose even more space by inserting a box. I stained the stud, and used pocket holes to insert the shelving. You can see that the back of the cabinet is wood, where before it was dry wall. These studs are 2 inches wide, so how did I do that you might be wondering? Well–this is the part I am the very most proud of. INGENUITY!

Remember when I remodeled my kitchen? I took out a peninsula cabinet. MG is a supplies hoarder. Every nut, bolt, screw, nail, and piece of wood gets tucked away into the garage. My grandfather did this, his father did this. Why am I going to throw something away when I might need it later? I knew that I needed a thin wood veneer to go along that dry wall, but didn’t want to spend the money on that, so I went digging through my wood pile and found my old cabinet doors. I separated the edges from the face of the cabinet door and voila! I had wood veneer, just the right thickness to be placed along the back. We stained it and used liquid nails (appropriately in this instance) to affix it to the dry wall so no nails came out the other side into our new closet. I had some left over veneer to make the box of wood that went around the electrical outlet to close it in. I could have left the space above it open, but I didn’t feel comfortable with things “sitting on top” of an electrical outlet. We plan to use that space to place our sonic toothbrush chargers so that was enough for me.

I trimmed the dry wall edges with some Hemlock trim from the home store, this stuff was just under $2 a foot, not cheap and not super easy to work with. Hemlock splinters easily and I do need to replace my saw blade. I used a combination of liquid nails and counter sunk screws to attach it to the wall. I had a phobia of it popping off if it was just liquid nails alone so I added the screws after the fact, then filled in the holes with wood putty.

IMG_4331 Now we’re looking at the bathroom counter. I saw where someone turned their old laminate counter into faux soapstone and wanted to give it a shot. Her’s turned out amazing! Mine did not. I ripped off the laminate easy enough, and was left with this pocked surface to mimic the texture of the stone. The original poster said to use chalkboard paint so I made my own (which I’ve done before) with some black and white acrylic paint and my grout. Thing is, I believe she meant to say CHALK paint, which is a different beast entirely. Now I’ve got this rough surface that is snagging our clothes so I’ve got to refinish it. I’ll post pictures of that once it is finished, for now we’re just living with what we have. You’ll see here that I stained the cabinet box on the vanity. I just used the Minwax Gel Stain in Coffee that I had left over from the kitchen, and my left over Minwax Poly-Acrylic Top Coat in Semi-gloss. I like things to match, and this meant I didn’t spend any money. I did heavily sand most of the cabinet, but was completely unable to sand off the paint from the cabinet doors. So I settled for scuffing up the surface and staining. Looks great, and you could never tell! I left the inside of the box white because who cares?

My final step was to paint the whole room. Which admittedly, this was my first step. I used Sherwin Williams Silver Peony, also found at my HfH store for only $13! My entire house is now done in Sherwin Williams because of HfH! MG and Mrs. MG felt this color went with the Craftsman theme of light pastels, and very nicely complimented our other colors in the rest of the home. Plus, we fucking LOVE Sherwin Williams and now will not use any other brand of paint. Can we just talk about how gorgeous this color is for a minute?

silver peony paint

Is it purple? Is it grey? It’s like the two colors had a beautiful baby and now that baby is on my walls.

This project took almost 3 weeks to complete. Between waiting on the various dry wall patches to dry, waiting on the gel stain to dry, grouting and cleaning the tile, and touch up painting it was a longer process than I would have liked. BUT it has been SO worth it! The after just give the strong effect of a stately elegance. A bathroom that looks like it is supposed to be in a Craftsman style home, clean, polished, and not too much. Here are your after photos!

IMG_4419

 

This is not the same bathroom, right?! And anyone can do this. Literally anyone. Let’s add up my project so we can all see how this stunning transformation came in around $200.

  • Light Fixture: $5.00
  • Wall Paint: $13.00
  • Vanity: leftover gel stain and top coat $0.00
  • Counter Top: acrylic paint on hand $0.00
  • Added Built-in Shelving: shelf lumber and backing already on hand, purchased trim. 9 feet at $1.91/linear ft $17.19
  • Added Tile: $75.00
  • Added Open Shelving: Shelving and hardware x 3, $60.00
  • Mirror: $32.00 on Amazon

Total of $202.19 for a total bathroom remodel! The shelves were a splurge but making them from scratch wasn’t going to be any more cost effective and take even more time.

There you have it! A start to finish project that didn’t break the bank, didn’t involve any handy parents, or insider sources for cheap materials. Just blood, sweat, and tears. (I did actually give myself two blood blisters on the inside of my finger after an unfortunate wall anchor accident.) And I am just obsessed with it!

Join the Airline Miles Game without Credit Cards!

airline miles.png

Yes, folks…that is right. I said WITHOUT credit cards. Who would have even thought it was possible? Until recently, I didn’t think it was either.

“But MG, how did you even figure this out?”

Well, my fair readers…if you’ve been following along for a minute or two, you know by now that I am absolutely crazy obsessed with Harry Potter and I kind of have a love affair with Universal Studio’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Recently, I took on a new job which is really giving us the opportunity to change our lives financially, allowing us to consider purchasing season park passes so we can get our Butter Beer fix whenever we have available time off. I knew that this would work more in our favor, if we could get some kind of airline miles deal. The MG household does not use any form of credit, so credit cards were immediately out. I began googling until low and behold, I stumbled across my favorite airline’s debit card!

After doing a little more research, I found that there are a few other airline miles earning debit cards out there, and I have them all here for you to break down so you too can join the airline miles earning club! I have four different airlines to offer you: Delta, United, American Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines* so fasten your seat-belts and enjoy the ride! I have ranked the cards in order of how valuable I feel they are from best to least.

 

  1. Delta SkyMiles World Debit Card by Suntrust Bank

This card comes with the most substantial fees, but I feel it is also the most lucrative miles earning debit card available. This card was designed to reward the rich for being rich, so bearing that in mind it does come with a large $75 a year annual fee and a $25 a month minimum balance fee. You can bypass this fee by maintaining a balance of $25k in the account, but if you’ve got that kind of money you probably don’t need a debit card to earn miles–do you? Moving on, I will say I chose this card. Why did I, Queen Cheapskate, chose the card with the highest fees? Because after doing the math I felt it was worth it…and it allows me to earn with my FAVORITE AIRLINE. MG <3’s Delta. So here is the breakdown:

  • $75 Annual Fee + $25 Monthly Minimum Balance Fee ($300/Year) = $375 a year to have this card.
  • Earn 1 mile for every $1 you spend via pin based purchases or signature purchases! (This is important, because a lot of these cards will only give you miles on their idea of a “qualifying” purchase, or on a signature purchase. Always read the fine print!)
  • Earn 2 miles for every $1 you spend on ALL DELTA PURCHASES. That $600 plane ticket gets you 1,200 miles when you buy it with this card! This also includes in flight meals and snacks and upgrades! If you prefer to fly Delta, like I do…this is worth it’s weight in gold considering you’ll earn double miles for every Delta flight you buy.
  • 5,000 BONUS MILES WITH FIRST PURCHASE.
  • Miles earning caps at 4,000 miles a month. This card has the highest amount of miles you can earn per month of the four.
  • Offers mobile app, direct deposit, and the whole banking kit and caboodle.
  • $50 minimum opening deposit, can be done online in under 15 minutes.

So here was my logic for choosing this card with the highest yearly cost. At least once a year, we fly to see family, and with our desire to become pass holders at Universal Studios, we can expect to head to Orlando possibly four times per year. After playing around with some different flight dates in my Delta app, I discovered that a roundtrip ticket to Orlando for one person can cost anywhere from 30k to 80k miles. If I spend 4k a month on this card to earn the maximum miles, I will earn 48,000 miles for the year. That is well within the window of 1 round trip ticket to Orlando. This doesn’t include any double miles for Delta flight purchases, or my actual miles traveled via Delta’s free miles program. You can also buy extra miles for a pretty low cost if you are short on your redemption. Say I use my 48k miles for 1 round trip ticket, that ticket only cost me $375. Can you find a flight round trip across the country for that price? I consider the monthly fee an investment in a plane ticket, so it isn’t money that I am loosing completely. Make sense?

2. United Airlines Prepaid Card by Netspend

This card seems to be the most straight forward with a relatively low fee. This is not a checking account based card, it is prepaid; however, aren’t all of our checking account debit cards prepaid in a sense? The money is either there–or it isn’t. This is the life of NOT using credit, there is no grey area when it comes to money availability. I think that the “prepaid” word in the title of this card may be a bit off putting, but don’t let it be! This card doesn’t require some weird reloading in the middle of a grocery store. It also offers you a direct deposit option like all the big banks debit cards and a banking app to go along with your card. Most importantly, it doesn’t have “PREPAID” stamped all over the front of it, it has the “debit VISA” logo so you can use it like any debit card. Here is what you get with United’s non-credit airline miles card:

  • A choice of use fees. Either $85 flat fee per year, or $5.95 a month. Paying by the month appears cheaper as it will only cost you $71.40/year in fees, however the United card gets you on your miles earning depending on which fee plan you select.
  • Earn 1 mile for every $1 you spend on the $85 yearly fee plan.
  • Earn 1 mile for every $2 you spend on the $5.95 a month plan.
  • Your earning miles will cap at 2,500 a month no matter which plan you choose, but remember how I said that the monthly fee only looks cheaper? That is because at a 1:1 mile earning rate, on the yearly plan your 2,500 miles per month will only cost you $2,500, whereas on the monthly plan’s 1:2 earning, those same 2,500 miles will actually cost you $5,000 in spending! Yikes!
  • On this card, you’ll earn 30,000 miles a year when you meet the earning cap. Not too shabby!

This card isn’t a bad option for a single person or a college student who travels maybe once or twice a year by plane and doesn’t mind being restricted to United. Unfortunately, this card doesn’t offer any special perks for United specific purchases.

 

3. American Airlines Debit Card by UFB Direct

I am still on the fence with this particular card.  While it appears to be the least lucrative with the lowest miles earned per dollar spent, it also seems to be the card with the lowest fees. This is perhaps what you are trading the money saved on fees for. This card has the highest miles earning cap per year, but those miles will cost you a small fortune. Here is how this particular card works:

  • There appears to be no fee, and no minimum monthly balance requirement.
  • You’ll earn 1 mile for every $3 spent.
  • Instead of a monthly mile earning cap, there is a yearly cap of 120,000. If you were to hit that cap, it would translate to $360,000.00 spent. That is insane!!! So to air on the side of reality, let’s look at a more realistic miles number of 30,000, which will still cost you a cool 90 grand.
  • No special American Airlines purchase perks for this card, but they do say they have “Free purchase rewards.” MG was unable to discern what these rewards were, as this bank doesn’t seem to be as straight forward with the black and white details of this particular program.
  • This bank gives you an app, direct deposit and the whole banking deal…along with a few other freebies like Quicken’s FinanceWorks and free person-to-person money transfers with Popmoney.

Ultimately, this card is a bit of a let down. You’ll earn miles on purchases, but the likelyhood you’ll be able to redeem those miles for anything is low. I was also unable to tell if your miles expire, again–this particular card doesn’t appear to give you all the details up front. That makes me nervous, so I would personally avoid this card. I do have an alternative way to earn  miles through American Airlines which is what led me to rank this option #3 out of #4.

Sometimes, though we prefer to fly Delta we get stuck with American Airlines when flying back to West Virginia. The airport we fly into there is a small regional that is literally perched on the side of a mountain. You have to connect at a larger airport and take a smaller plane with a more experienced pilot into this airport as a result. American Airlines appears to pretty much own that airport, by offering the most flights into and out of that location. They have more flight time choices than Delta, so unfortunately they usually end up being more convenient than Delta when we fly there. As a result, I am both a Delta SkyMiles member and an American AAdvantage member. Both airlines offer free miles programs for your flight miles, but American has taken it one step further with a totally free, not card based Survey for Miles program.

3b. Miles for Opinions Survey Program for American Airlines

This program is pretty simple and straight forward, and it really does work. I created an account at the end of June and connected it with my AAdvantage number. You earn miles for every survey you complete which is credited to your account within “4-6 weeks”. I have checked the app directly for my survey miles to see how fast they actually load, and they do load a heck of a lot quicker than what they say. I already have miles on my account posted from surveys I took less than 2 weeks ago. Here is how this non-bank account, non-card based free program works:

  • Create an account and enter your AAdvantage miles number. You must have this number to use this program. You can sign up for free through American at any time.
  • Create your profile–this part is incredibly time consuming but it helps the site know which surveys to offer you so it will save you time in the end.
  • The system will then offer you surveys, and tell you what category they fall into and approximately how long it will take you to complete it. It also tells you what each survey is worth in terms of miles, and you’ll find the longest surveys are worth the most miles.
  • There is a section in both your account through the site, and in your AAdvantage miles account on the app that tells you what your earning history has been.
  • If you start a survey but it has ended or you are not a good candidate for it, you’ll still get a few miles out of it for trying.
  • You can redeem your AAdvantage miles for flights, upgrades, vacations, car rentals, hotels, and other retail products.  In the past I have cashed in my miles for magazine subscriptions too.
  • Since June, I’ve earned 378 miles through this program. When I have some free time, I’ll do a few quick surveys. Since we often fly AA when we go to WV, it is worth the time and effort to earn miles with this particular airline.

This is a great option for people who do  not want to use the American Airlines miles earning debit card due to its low spending to miles earning rate, but would still like to earn American Airlines miles. You can also use this in conjunction with the card if you decide to get the card anyway.

 

4. Hawaiian Airlines Debit Card by Bank of Hawaii* 
(To be eligible for this card, you must be a Hawaii resident with a physical address in Hawaii. This restriction is why this card is last on my list, but I didn’t want to exclude it for people who may be able to get an account with this bank.)

I found this card by accident while I was trying to determine if an old Bank of America debit card for Alaskan Airlines still existed. Unfortunately, as of 2014 that program ended…but for residents of Hawaii, they can get the Hawaiian Airlines card through Bank of Hawaii. This card is pretty straight forward, and has a pretty low fee, but it also has a low monthly miles cap. Here is how this Hawaii resident exclusive card works:

  • Must be a resident of Hawaii. This is a condition to becoming a member of Bank of Hawaii.
  • This card offers a $3 per month fee which will only cost you $36 for the entire year.
  • You’ll earn 1 mile for every $2 you spend on “qualifying” purchases. Unfortunately, I was unable to determine what this bank felt a qualifying purchase was.
  • Miles earning caps at 1,000 miles per month.
  • Your miles will allow you to travel via Hawaiian Airlines, or its airline partners in Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, American Samoa, Philippines, Australia, and Tahiti.

In all, you’ll earn a maximum of 12,000 miles a year which may be ok if making plane hops from one island to another or helping to consolidate costs on coming to the mainland West Coast, but those 12,000 miles will cost you $24,000. As I do not live in Hawaii, I can’t speak to the value of these miles or the cost. I know it is a very expensive state and flying is inevitable if you wish to leave it. At the end of the day, having 12k spare miles can’t hurt–especially if you are earning them for purchases you’d already be making anyway.

 

While I was researching these cards, I did see a few other articles floating around the internet offering various other ways to earn airline miles, such as making online purchases through that particular airlines portal, and other survey sites, or what appeared to be gimmicks. I tried to stick just to the debit card mile earning options since it is the easiest way to earn miles passively. I hope that this will help all of you who want to be part of this game, but do not want the debt that is associated with credit and/or those of you who do not qualify for credit cards. Now, anyone can earn miles no matter what their financial past has been.

I am happy to report that I am expecting my Delta card to arrive any day now and have already decided to put my fuel and food costs on that account to earn miles for possible future trips to Orlando. Disney may be the “happiest” place on earn, but Universal is the most magical…and even though it has only been five months I can not wait to go back.

Delta take me away!

 

 

DIY Sandwich Wraps

NO SEW WRAPS.png

 

So here is MG, listening to the big new world of Podcasts on her commute. MG is currently loving By The Book, a podcast about two girls who live by a self help book for two weeks and discuss it afterward. It is insightful, funny, and interesting as they consider a wide range of these books.  They recently did Zero Waste Home, which really had MG thinking…was the MG household able to improve a bit?

In case you missed it, I am MG and I’ve got a wife, three children ranging from ages 9-13, two large dogs, and a cat. I am a huge fan of recycling, I support electric cars and have been wishing like crazy that one day someone will release an electric MINIVAN…(Hello??? Market to the eco-moms, ya’ll!) … and I’m even planning a future compost bin build to reduce our food waste being thrown into landfills.

Now, let me start this with the following disclaimer… the Zero Waste method makes me feel like a gigantic sack of shit. I haven’t even read the book, and feel major guilt just from what was discussed on the pod-cast. I’m not in any way going to commit 100% to the Zero Waste lifestyle, but I did like a lot of the ideas. My family already does a lot to help the environment, but there are always areas where we could be less lazy and help a bit more.

Next disclaimer, I was very frustrated upon reading up on these Zero Waste ideas. Many years ago Mrs. MG told me to write a book with all my little frugal tips and tricks. I scoffed at her, waved it away, and said, “No one will read that.” That’s an exact quote folks. I guess I was wrong. Zero Waste really utilizes a lot of things I’ve already been doing for years…and now, in reflection of these things, I am wondering if perhaps I was someone who lived in the great depression in a past life.

Moving on…because this post isn’t about the Zero Waste life and it isn’t to promote their book or etiology, it’s about me being cheap.

After I started looking into every plastic filled corner of my home like it was a monster in a horror movie, I really began thinking about what I could commit to and where I could invest on some products for reuse-ability.

Currently, I buy in bulk (because I’m cheap), I hoard glass jars from any kind of food product for use to store food items, soups, broths, etc (because I’m cheap), I save ALL the rubber bands that I find on my produce (because I’m cheap), I save gift bags and extra party supplies in a cardboard box I call “The party box” to use in the future (because I’m cheap), and I even save my produce scraps to make my own vegetable broth…. are you getting the big picture here?

So here I am, browsing Amazon on a lazy holiday carefully adding items to my shopping cart. Our family has been slowly moving away from the use of Ziploc bags, and with a few trial and errors we are nearly there. We have gotten away from using cellophane or “plastic wrap” entirely, but there are times where I miss having it around. We have stopped using paper towels all together (For a few years now! YAY US!), and I’m trying to figure out a way to stop using aluminum foil. But back to that cellophane…I can’t tell you how often I have half an onion that I need to either put in a plastic bag or wrap in plastic wrap, or half a watermelon, or some other piece of produce that needs to be saved for another meal. I was intrigued by the wax wrapped pieces of fabric to create reusable and sealing food wrap, but didn’t like the idea that it used bee’s wax, (Yes, there are ways to DIY a non-bees wax wrap…which I will do in the future) but I didn’t really need something that created such a tight seal. This took me to food wraps, they are basically just pieces of tough plastic that are used to wrap up sandwiches, cookies, apple slices… you name it… and they either fasten with a strap and a button, or velcro. They looked to be just what I needed, but were ten dollars a piece.

A PIECE. TEN DOLLARS…. FOR A ROUND PIECE OF PLASTIC.

MG is too cheap for that. MG was frustrated. MG was pouting. MG was questioning fighting plastic with… more plastic? MG sulked so hard she had a thought…MG IS the re-incarnated soul of a woman who lived through the great depression, because MG carefully tucked away some items to make her own reusable bags on a rainy day.

 

After racing down the stairs, and throwing open the pantry door, I dug until I found these items and ran back up the stairs with a huge, self-satisfied grin on my face. It was ingenuity time! I had tucked away a piece of vinyl that I had already raided to remove the “no-slip” matting on the back for another project. I thought the vinyl would make a good shopping bag… I had also tucked away a rice sack from our last depleted bag. It has a series of woven plastic fibers on the front and back to create the sack that stores rice. I thought this too would make a good shopping bag. Once I laid them out on the island, i realized they were in fact PERFECT to make sandwich wraps out of! I found my largest dinner plate, a pair of scissors, and a permanent marker and I was on my way. Here is what I did.

IMG_3568.jpg

  1. Lay out the plate and use it to trace a circle with your marker.

IMG_3571.jpg    2. Cut circle out.

 

Done.

Ha! So easy right?!?

Instead of worrying about putting velcro on (which can trap food particles, hair, and all sorts of other grossness) or sewing in a strap and a button, I just decided to use my handy-dandy rubber-bands. I mean, why else do I save them? I can use one of these over and over until it breaks, then I’m on to my next free rubber-band!

 

This method involved no complicated patterns, no sewing, no gluing, just some awesome tracing skills and serious scissor work.  I got five round wraps out of the vinyl, and 4 rectangle wraps out of the old rice bag to use for odd shaped items.

Once you are all done, give them a good wash and drying. They will be stiff at first as they haven’t been folded into the shape you will be folding them into. This is normal, do not curse MG, give your stuff time to bend and be conditioned. This is apparently also normal with the wraps that you can buy for an arm and a leg. Once they are ready for use, I’ve just wrapped them all within each other, wrapped in a rubber band and stored. Done!

MG saves $90 and spreads the wealth of info to you! Even better… we’ve up-cycled something and kept it out of a landfill. Show me your DIY wraps!

Cinemark Movie Club Review

movie club

 

Welcome to the Pacific Northwest… land of shit weather. It rains here at least 9 months out of the year, and for the other 3 it is so blistering hot that you can’t stand to be outside. It wasn’t always this way, but that “non-existent” climate change has really twisted up the weather patterns here making this place one of the worst areas to find things to do as a family.

We are overwhelmed with an abundance of nature, where you can either explore it in the cold, windy rain, or the scorching, blistering heat. There is no in the middle… unless you happen to get lucky with Fall. Ohh, Fall… it is the best time of year to be in the PNW–unless you don’t get Fall like 2017 where Fall gave us the finger and went to the Bahamas.

Now lets talk about how expensive everything is here, I think I’ve touched on this before…but basically in a nut shell, everything here costs money. If you have a family of five like we do, you are getting into the triple digits for a night of entertainment. If your family is nerdy like ours, there is even less to do. Oh we have our favorite game stores where we are welcome to sit inside and play games at no cost for as long as we want–but that shit gets old really fast when your two little lions both think they’re Alpha and are competing for dominance. This does not make for a fun game night. This makes for screaming, name calling, and hurt feelings while Mrs. MG and I work on our co-dependence on alcohol that is seemingly required to raise decent miniature human peoples.

Are you exhausted? I am. On.a.daily.basis.

Moving on…

We like the movies. If we aren’t playing a board game, the movies is where it is at for our family. Going out to the movies is damned expensive though, and until recently it was reserved as a “desperate measure” when we were pushed to the point of “budget be damned!”

Right after we moved here, we tested a few local theaters until we settled on our favorite. It was always clean, the staff was always friendly, they had (comfy) recliners (yes, there is such a thing as an uncomfortable movie recliner!) and seats you could reserve in advance, in addition to a huge selection of movie concessions at reasonable prices! We were hooked, but since the little lions spend their weekends with dad, it really limited our ability to see movies with them on weeknights. Hello, prime time movie ticket cost!

A few of these for opening geek movies and we were feeling the burn. OUCH.

This is where the Cinemark Movie Club came into light. You know those previews that you don’t really pay attention to before the movie previews actually come on? They kept running this spot talking about the club. Here is what the club is all about:

  • You subscribe to an auto-payment for $8.99 a month to get 1 movie ticket. You can use this  movie ticket for any time showing.
  • You can add additional movie tickets for $8.99 each.
  • You get 20% off your concessions.
  • You can buy your tickets via the app and not have to pay for fees like on the other movie apps.
  • You earn points to redeem for movie merch purchases via the app.

We did the math and decided that it wasn’t worth it for us to commit. We thought we’d both have to subscribe then still buy the kids tickets at $8.99. Though it might save us a few bucks, we decided it wasn’t worth it in the long run. We talked ourselves out of it, unable to make the numbers work.

Then late Spring 2018 began, and the geek gods opened the proverbial flood gates of nerd heaven via the box office. We knew we were going to have to pick and choose, and it was going to be a stretch to make family trips work out. There were so many movies to see and it was too hard to just pick one!  I went back to looking more seriously at the movie club. Here is what I learned:

  • I thought that if you didn’t use your $8.99 movie ticket each month, it expired. WRONG. They roll over if they are unused and never expire! Don’t want to see anything for two months? You’ll have those movie credits saved!
  • I thought that all tickets would cost $8.99 when added on. WRONG. They always honor the lowest ticket price, then adjust the highest price down to the $8.99. This means that our kids tickets which are normally $7.75 during prime movie rates stay that price! We save the money on the other adult priced tickets!
  • I didn’t realize how much money we were spending on online fees via apps like Fandago to purchase our tickets, until I wasn’t paying for them anymore.
  • Not to mention, the Cinemark app is easier to use in my opinion. It lets me set my favorite movie theater and shows me all they are playing at a glance, and what is coming soon. When I select a movie, it allows me to see all the showings in every format for the day, and to easily scroll through the days.
  • Last, I thought that we’d both have to have the membership. The cost of two memberships vs. buying an add on ticket all comes out in the wash. I did one subscription, sure I’m not having an opportunity for “unused” tickets to roll over, but we just buy them as we need them through the one subscription. Two would have been redundant, and since tickets via the subscription, and add on tickets are the same price there was no point to subscribe twice. You tracking?

We really like the concessions at our theater, they offer a really great Snack Pack for kids that has a small popcorn, a fruit snack, and any drink which can be a Freestyle soda or an Icee. And it’s less than SIX BUCKS A PIECE! Even our 13 year old doesn’t complain when we order her one. The pretzel bites are great, and they even offer FOOD such as hot dogs and pizza, in addition to Starbucks coffees and ice cream. Now we get 20% off every single concessions purchase we make, no more cringing and crying when they check us out.

Yeah… our theater is kind of a big deal. I’m obsessed with it.

We subscribed in May of this year. Since then we’ve seen:

  • Solo: A Star Wars Story x 5 tickets
  • Deadpool 2 x 2 tickets
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom x 5 tickets
  • Incredibles 2 x 3 tickets

That is 15 tickets for less than $130 with the club. And honestly, I tried to go through my bank statements to calculate our savings on concessions, but I got lost in the chaos–cried a little–then gave up. Just trust me when I say we save! I used to always treat myself to a large Freestyle Coke Lime… mmm, my favorite soda. It is delicious, it is refreshing as hell, and not fucking easy to find. It’s also ass expensive.

So you basically just buy your tickets via the app, it automatically applies any withstanding credits, then reduces your highest ticket prices down to the $8.99. You select your seats, then punch in the confirmation to the kiosk at the theater and it prints your passes. If your theater is using the digital scanners, they can just use the bar code on your phone. It even gives you an option to save your tickets to the Apple Wallet app.

When you want to use it at concessions, you just have them scan your movie club code. Done. Easy.

Once in the theater, turn on Cinemode and leave it on during the movie. This auto-mutes your phone and dims your screen. When the movie is over, turn it off and you get 10 points for every movie you use it on.

Points? What?

Yes, you also earn points on all your purchases and the use of Cinemode!

You can then redeem these points to enter contests, or get movie merch. If you are a geek like MG- you want the Deadpool 2 shirt, or the Jurassic World backpack, right?

So far, we’ve earned 115 points, and some coupons for money off concessions. With concessions as cheap as they are at our favorite theater, this adds even more savings we can combine with that 20% discount! We can also redeem our rewards for FREE concessions.

Right now I’m stock piling my points until something amazing comes out, helllooo Christmas presents!

So if your favorite theater is a Cinemark theater, and you like going to the movies, I highly recommend this app. If you aren’t going to a Cinemark theater, I dare you to check one out and see if you ever want to leave it.

Save yourself some money! This one is WORTH IT.

 

 

 

 

Making Liquid Gold From Trash

save kitchen trash

Let’s talk about the fucking cost of vegetable broth. Why is it so high? Why is there so much sodium in it? Why are the containers so small?

This is the thought process of MG when she used to buy broth, furiously frowning at the price while placing 6 cartons into the buggy.

MG doesn’t buy broth anymore, and today MG is going to share how to make your own broth with your #1 highest kitchen waste item–produce scraps.

Yes, we all know I am cheap…I’m not quite digging thrown-out produce from the bins behind grocery stores, but I am cheap enough to save my vegetable scraps. For a long time, I thought that if you didn’t compost scraps, or know someone with pigs, you just had to throw them out. Then I was back to the grocery store buying broth on a bi-monthly basis.

I had a few problems with buying broth:

  1. The sodium content is through the roof. We consume too much sodium in our diets, and as a kidney patient I have to watch how much I take in. Our family isn’t entirely sodium free (because that can be unhealthy) but we limit our intake as much as possible. Unless you like swelling up like Aunt Marge? 
  2. You are basically paying for vegetable flavored water, and who in the hell wants to pay a premium price for something so damned basic?
  3. I used so much of it in my cooking that it was eating up an ever increasing portion of my grocery budget. Especially because I had my favorite brand (Pacific Foods) and I had to go all the way to another town 45 minutes away to buy it at a reasonable price.

 

My world was changed in an electric pressure cooking group when a friend told me he had been saving his scraps to make broth. My mind was BLOWN! It was so simple, so silly, but I had never really thought about making my own vegetable broth before! Now, MG highly recommends investing in an electric pressure cooker (if you haven’t already) because they will change your life and save you so much money it will make you cry.

  • Are you a meat-eater on a tight budget? Say hello to the tough basic cuts of meat… the pressure cooker will get you thinking that flank steak is so tender you can cut it with the edge of your fork. One Christmas (When we were still eating meat) we made a faux-prime rib in the pressure cooker with a $20 cut of beef we picked up at the local meat market. Seriously, the world is your oyster with one of these bad boys- don’t spend big bucks on premium cuts anymore!
  • Want to food prep a big chicken at once and not heat up your house? Throw that thing in the pressure cooker with some water. Shred the meat and freeze it. BOOM…you’ve just processed 6-8lbs of chicken for the week AND got about 4 mason jars of FREE broth out of it. You’re welcome!
  • Want to make beans but forgot to soak them? Not a damn problem now, throw those dry S.O.B.’s into the pressure cooker with some water and 30 minutes later you are on your way to bean-topia where the sky is the limit.
  • Want to make soups in a fraction of the time and use half as much liquid? (Or broth as you are…..) PRESSURE COOKER! Pressure cookers don’t allow liquid to boil off and escape like cooking on a stove/crock-pot does, so you reduce your liquids by half and bob is your uncle! That complicated as shit 8 hour slow cooker soup recipe you got from your grandma? Dinner is ready in 30 with your pressure cooker.
  • Want to make your own broth? Well…just keep reading…

Now, you can buy any pressure cooker you want. This isn’t a sponsored post, but I will tell you I got the Power Pressure XL at Costco for a song about two years ago and this thing is still chugging right along with near daily use. Most people I know have the InstaPot, and there are a few other brands out there. I really don’t think it matters, just go with what is on sale and get it done!

So here is the secret, it is really complicated and difficult… so be ready for it.

Save your vegetable scraps. The ends of onions, the frustrating shit garlic lives inside, the ends of your celery, the peels of your carrots and potatoes, the stems of your fennel, mushroom stems, the list literally goes on and on. Save them in whatever you want to save them in. I’ve tried paper bags (grab them for free out of the bulk mushroom bins on your next grocery trip), mason jars, plastic containers, and plastic bags…use whatever works for you.

*I used paper bags for a long time but couldn’t recycle the bag after because it was gross. I tried mason jars and I’m sure a big one would be great but my quart size jars filled up too quickly and was taking up space in my fridge. I then started using plain old ziploc bags, I wash them and reuse them and generally only have 2 full to make a batch of broth. This is working for us. What works for you is a different animal.

Once I shove my scraps into a bag, squish the air out, then toss back into the fridge. We are plant based eaters so we generate a ton of scraps. I usually go two weeks between broth batches. My fridge keeps the scraps fresh a good, long while but if anything gets a little too gross looking I just toss it when I am getting my scraps ready for broth.

When you are ready for broth, just throw the scraps into your pressure cooker and fill it 3/4 of the way with water. Be sure not to overfill your pot. Now, you can set it to cook a few different ways. My cooker has a slow cook feature that I seldom ever use. I’ve cooked broth anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. I find that there is no real difference between 1 and 2 hours so I just do an hour. At 30 minutes you’ll have broth, but the flavors aren’t quite as rich yet–it will do if you are in a hurry.  I put this thing on soup for 1 hour and let it go. Because there is a lot of liquid in here, I let it natural release before I take off the lid. This avoids boiling sprays of broth into your face, on your walls, and against your newly gel-stained kitchen cabinets.

Once my broth is done, I use tongs to remove the big scraps and toss them. I then strain the rest of the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a big cooking pot. I cover it with a lid and let it cool a few hours before I transfer the liquid. This will give you a wonderfully rich broth that is free of particulates and ready to cook with!

For a good long time, I was storing my broth in quart mason jars. This works really well if you want to store the broth for about a month or so. When I put it into jars, I transfer it in while it is still pretty hot then screw the lid on. This heat contracts the seal and creates a tighter than usual seal which helps the broth last a big longer in the fridge. Be warned, this method takes up a fair amount of space in your fridge. Now, unless I need the broth to last a little longer, I just pour it into a big glass container with a lid. One batch gets me two of these large containers in the fridge and I just pour out what I need as I cook. We make about everything we eat from scratch, from soups to sauces there is always a use for broth. By the time we are running out, our scraps are ready to make another batch again!

Words of caution: Please be sure you’ve washed your scraps before removing them from the vegetable and using for broth. You do not want dirt broth, do you? If you do… kudos, you go hard in the paint. I don’t go that hard.

Once I started making my own broth, my grocery budget has recovered! Bonus: No more expensive cartons! No more waste from said cartons! No more unnecessary sodium!