Ten Tips for Road Trips on a Budget

Grand Canyon

Road trips. With a family. On a budget. If you’re living on a shoe-string you might think driving across country and sharing new, exciting experiences with your family is just the stuff dreams are made of. Well, as a family of five living on one income we have the attitude that staying home is not an option. We are road warriors through and through – sometimes to our detriment –  but over the years we’ve roughed our way across the country, survived some crazy circumstances (Ahem. Broken air conditioner. Kansas. Heat wave.) but brought back a bevy of fun and wonderful memories. And we haven’t broken the bank!

So here are some of our road trip tips to not only make road tripping affordable, but fun, too!

  1. Pick your destination. This one seems obvious, but yes, decide on a place you’d like to see and find it on a map. Grand Canyon? New York City? Figure out the distance you’ll have to drive to get there.
  2. Decide how many stops you’ll need to make along the way. For us, 8 or 9 hours is about enough, but we’ve done longer. I have to say it’s more enjoyable to stop along the way and do a little site seeing if you can (we once spent an afternoon in a museum in Arkansas, and while it wasn’t the most exciting thing I’ve ever done, it broke up the trip and we learned about all the famous people who are from there… which is actually a lot!) If you’re crunched for time, though, it’s probably better to power through to maximize the time at your ultimate destination.
  3. Price it out. Calculate your gas costs – there are apps that can help you with this if math is not your thing. Gas prices can change, particularly in the heavy traveling months like June and July or around the holidays, so err on the higher side when calculating gas costs.
  4. Will you stay in hotels or camp or both? My family likes to mix it up. When visiting National Parks we camp because it’s cheap (around $30 a night) and we don’t have to waste any time driving to the park every day if we were staying outside the park. You can also have some unique views and experiences that way – Mule deer hanging out in the woods by your campsite at the Grand Canyon and shooting stars racing across the night sky in Mesa Verde.On our way to our destinations, however, we usually stay in hotels (and I’m not too proud to say we’ve Motel 6’d it a time or two). In smaller towns, especially, beggars can’t be choosers so we’ll find the most reasonably priced hotel that has the best reviews using sites like Hotwire.com and Priceline.com. And if it’s bad, we tough it out. It’s only for a night and we’ll know not to stay there again.
  5. See if you can use any hotel points to pay for your stay. My husband travels some (not a ton) for his job and has a few points we use to cut our hotel costs. He tries to stay in hotels that give him points (Marriott has one of the best programs right now) to help for future road trips. We’ve also used Visa gift cards that we’ve gotten as gifts to pay for hotels. We look at it this way: you can always buy more stuff, but you can’t buy the time to make memories with your family. Stuff fades. Memories last a lifetime.
  6. We get asked a lot if we RV or tent camp. An RV would be nice sometimes (you can even rent them, though that’s quite expensive), but that is not in our budget. So we have invested in an “easy up” tent from Coleman like this one that literally pops up in two minutes. We love it. Ours is roomy enough for one twin and two queen air mattresses, perfect for the 5 of us. My husband used some birthday money to purchase it for about $250 and we have never been sorry. The only downside is that it’s bulky. We have to strap it to the roof of our minivan, so if you have a small car that might be an issue. Then again, if you have a small car, you probably have a small family and don’t need a huge tent!S'more
  7. Calculate food costs. This is a tough one, especially with a larger family. It’s always, always, ALWAYS more expensive than you think it will be to eat out. When you eat out, unless you’re just pulling through the drive-through – and who wants to do that for a week or two at a time – there are all these temptations. You add a salad, order a drink instead of water, the kids want dessert… Unless you are a champion of will power, you’re gonna go over. So… what about bringing your food and (gasp!) cooking in your hotel room?!?! Craziness I know, but it can be done. We have done it. My name is Susan and I have cooked dinner in my hotel room.

    And not crappy food either, good stuff like fajitas, bbq, spaghetti, chili. What I do is prepare as much of the meal as I can before we leave for the trip, seal it in freezer bags and freeze. Then I put the meals in our cooler and when we get to our hotel (or campsite) I pull out the mostly cooked meal and reheat in on our Coleman stove and voila! A yummy, healthy dinner that I haven’t paid an arm and a leg for.If you don’t have a stove, you could use a crock-pot. Plug it into a plug adapter in your car and your dinner can be heating as you drive. I know that sounds like a joke, as in… you might be a redneck if you cook your dinner in your car, lol. But if it saves me money and allows me to take trips of a lifetime with my kiddos, this girl ain’t too proud.

    I’m also looking into an Instant Pot. They are kind of pricey so I don’t know if I’ll have one for this year’s trip, but I hear that they heat things ultra fast (like 10 minutes!) and could be a good solution if you don’t like the idea of having a crockpot bubbling a way while you drive.

  8. We also have our kids save any allowance or gift money to buy their own souvenirs. That may sound tough, but it’s actually fun for them to pick and choose what they want. And since it’s their money we don’t mind if they buy five stuffed animals or other random trinkets.
  9. Use washable cups and plates, especially on long road trips. Also, we have a small drink cooler and fill it with water or powdered lemonade mix. Saves on space (no individual cans or bottles) and cost. Other little cost savers… buy a small box of ice cream sandwiches to enjoy in your room or campsite instead of going out for $3 and $4 a piece cones.  And visit restaurant.com for restaurant discounts if you’d like to eat out on your trip.
  10. Buy a National Park Pass if you plan to see several parks. And while you’re there, take advantage of all the free activities they offer, like the Junior Ranger program for kids (kids fill out a little workbook while you tour the park and when they’re done they are “sworn in” as Junior Rangers and get a free park pin – it’s a souvenir and fun all wrapped into one!)

So there you go. Those are our main money-saving tips for making road trips a reality. I’ll be posting about our upcoming trip soon… how does Chicago, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park sound? Like the stuff of dreams? If you plan ahead and are wiling to give up a little luxury you can do it too!

Wishing you blessings and happy trails!

Susan

How to Make Small Gift Packages With Scrapbook Paper

Small Gift Packages

Small Gift PackagesGood things come in small packages (yes, they do!) and you probably have at least some of the items to make these small gift packages on hand already.

Here is what you need:

12 x 12 Scrapbook Paper 
Hot glue gun
Hole punch
Coordinating ribbon

These small gift packages are perfect for those little gifts like jewelry or socks that are hard to wrap. I had bought some boot socks for my niece online and they came in a very unattractive plastic baggie. Since I didn’t have a box and wanted something nicer than a gift bag, I pulled out my bin of craft paper and my glue gun and this is the result. These look like little clutch purses to me.

Small Gift Packages

Even if you aren’t “crafty” I’m betting you can whip one of these up and impress everyone with your beautiful little packages. Here’s how.

Turn your paper over, printed side down. Fold each of the long sides of the paper in about a quarter inch.

Small Gift PackagesIf you want an exact measurement it was between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch.

Next, I folded the paper in half and glued the folded sides together with a bead of hot glue.

Small Gift PackagesI wrapped the socks with tissue paper and placed it inside.

Small Gift PackagesThen I folded over the open end (about 1/2 inch down) and punched two holes in the middle of the fold about 1/4 inch apart.

Small Gift Packages

I inserted the ribbon and tied into a bow then trimmed the ends.

Small Gift PackagesAdd a gift tag or use your glue gun to give it a little more bling with any embellishments. Have fun with this. It’s a cheap, easy and fun way to wrap a small gift!

To create a gift holder for a smaller item like jewelry, I cut the scrap paper exactly in half and then followed the same instructions.

Small Gift Packages

Make sure you turn your paper the right side up if your pattern has a right side – the party hats on this package are upside down, lol.

I went ahead and made a few of these to have on hand for birthdays, etc.

Small Gift Packages

If you need scrapbook paper, here are some packs of paper that are similar to what I used.

This pretty floral pattern

Floral Craft Paper

 

And this more bold pattern would be fun, too.

Bold Craft Paper

I hope this inspires you to make some fun packaging for your friends and family.

Blessings!

Susan

From Scratch Light Sour Cream Enchiladas

Love sour cream? Chicken? Cheese? How does creamy, delicious, all from scratch enchiladas that won’t break your fat and calorie budget sound?

I’ve been a Weight Watchers Lifetime member for many, many years now, but while I can eat kale salads, chicken breast and sweet potatoes all day, my three boys and husband cannot. So I’m on a mission to collect some tasty, lower calorie staple recipes that will satisfy my needs with their ravenous, fat-loving appetites.

And I went looking for a creamy “white” enchilada recipe, but only found recipes with canned cream of chicken soup. And I just have a hard time feeding that stuff to my kids.

So I made my own sauce which isn’t nearly as much trouble as you’d think. Here is what you do:

Combine in a saucepan:
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup skim milk (or non-dairy milk)

Bring to a low boil. In the meantime, whisk together 3/4 cup flour with 1 cup of milk and seasonings of choice (salt, pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp. onion powder etc.). Turn the heat down to medium-low and slowly whisk in flour mixture. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until thickened. Set aside.

So that’s the cream of chicken soup. Easy peasy? Yep.

Here’s the enchilada part:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Ingredients:

8 oz light cream cheese
5 cups shredded chicken breast (I used rotisserie chicken)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
16 oz light sour cream
8 oz light cheddar cheese
10 whole wheat tortillas

Use a mixer to combine cream cheese and seasonings. Fold in chicken. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. Divide chicken mixture evenly between the 10 tortillas, roll up and place in dish. Whisk the light sour cream into the cream of chicken soup. Pour over the wrapped tortillas. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling. I served with broccoli, but you could do any veggie or a tex-mex salad with lettuce, black beans, tomato and avocado and my favorite light dressing, Bolthouse Avocado Dressing.

 

My “Fixer Upper” Style Remodeling Plan

My Fixer Upper-Style Remodeling PlanAs a realtor I spend a lot of time in other people’s houses, so my mind does a lot of mental redecorating and remodeling – it’s one of my favorite things about real estate. One house I’ve been trying to sell in particular has been sitting on the market a while which is bad news for houses – they are like the wallflowers at the dance, skimmed over and easily forgotten. This house is like that, like your plain Jane friend that you swear with just a little mascara, a curling iron and a better fitting pair of jeans, would be a total knockout.

Well, houses take a little more work and money than that, but I’d give anything for the budget to buy this baby and pull a “Fixer Upper” on it. Since I don’t, I’ve been having a little fun finding ideas that would work “a la Joanna Gaines” and I’m sharing them in this post! Ready to have a little fun?

Front Door – Before

The current front door has beautiful windows all around it, but the door itself is covered by an etched glass storm door and the actual door is just a basic black. Front Door Redo

After

I would remove the storm door and bring in a beautiful wood door like the one below with new black hardware for a clean classic look. (Welcome decal is by Custom Vinyl By Design on Etsy). Two urns with flowers would add a welcoming pop of color.

Front Door - After

Dining Room – Before 

This room has “beautiful bones” as they say. The light fixture is really formal, though, as is the wallpaper.

Dining Room - Before

After

It would just take a simple, soft rug (like this one from Waverly.com), a gorgeous French country dining table and a simplified, yet elegant light fixture – all from the playbook of our home girl Joanna Gaines.

Dining Room - After

The Kitchen – Before

This kitchen is big with tons of cabinets, a huge island and a window over the sink, but the stain on the cabinets is outdated as is the florescent light.

Kitchen - Before

After

Pulling more inspiration from Joanna Gaines, you could enlarge the island either using butcher block or change all the granite to a pretty gray marble if you had the budget. It would be easy to replace the florescent light with glass pendant lights, as well as add subway tile and paint the cabinets a creamy white.

Kitchen - After

Before – Sunroom

The sunroom is a bonus space the owners added on. It’s bright and light and only needs a little refreshing.
Sunroom - Before

After

I would remove the shelving around the top of the windows as well as the window treatments and paint a neutral taupe or gray. I think you could even reuse the furnishings, but just updated the seat seat cushions. Taking down the arbor over the patio would also allow in more light.

Sunroom -After

And if I had a pie in the sky budget I would replace the tile with beautiful brick in a herringbone pattern just like this.

Brick Floor

Before – Master Bedroom

The last thing I would tackle would be the master bedroom. It’s a clean slate, so you could really do anything with this space and the dark hardwood makes a beautiful backdrop.

Master Bedroom

After

The picture above doesn’t show it but there are two windows on the far left wall, so the bed could fit in between like the one below. I love the soft, luxe look of the bedding and chairs. A cozy rug, an elegant chandelier and soft drapery would complete the look.

Bedroom - After

I hope you enjoyed this little mental makeover! It’s fun to play Joanna Gaines and dream a little, get ideas so that maybe one day we’ll have the opportunity to do a real makeover for ourselves. If you like these looks, be sure to check out my Pinterest board A La Fixer Upper for more ideas and inspiration.

Blessings!

Susan

Daily Dish Weight Watchers Eating Plan

Hello and welcome to another Daily Dish! It’s another day of healthy eating today, though if I am honest, the chocolate has been calling my name today. Ugh! I think it’s the weather. Well, aside from that I feel pretty good about today and I’m about to embark on a 30 minute exercise video, so hopefully that will burn off some of those chocolate calories.

DAILY DISH

My meals today started with one of my standards – egg and toast with avocado. I wake up excited for this meal. I don’t know what it is… maybe the crispiness of the toast with the drippy egg and then the savory avocado. Yyyyyyummmm! And of course, hot tea on the side. It’s just the perfect hot breakfast for me.

Lunch was a tuna melt, albeit a skinny one. Then yes, there was some chocolate this afternoon. But dinner is the what I’m most excited for – Lasagna Soup! Skinnytaste.com has lots of delicious recipes and this is a family favorite. I also get a ton of ideas off of Skinnymom.com (are you seeing a theme here?). My husband has liked almost every recipe I’ve made from that site so far – they offer lightened versions of the things you might normally eat, so it satisfies him and allows me to stay on track.

So without further ado and because I’ve got to get to my workout before dinner, here’s today’s Daily Dish!

Breakfast
Fried egg cooked in olive oil cooking spray on a slice of toast with a tbs of avocado.

Total: 5 points

Snack
1 banana

Lunch
4 oz tuna mixed (1 point!) with 2 tbs Bolthouse avocado dressing (2 points) on a sandwich thin. I toasted it 3with a couple tomato slices and chopped up a lite string cheese to melt on top. Really good! The dressing was a perfect substitute for mayo and more flavorful.
1 apple

Total: 7 points

Snack
2 white cheddar rice cakes (2 points)
1 block Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate bar (3 points)

Total: 5 points

Dinner
Lasagna Soup from Skinnytaste.com

Total: 9 points

I’ll have 4 points leftover for the day, so maybe I’ll spend them on chocolate or maybe a few white cheddar rice cakes or maybe for an extra scoop of ricotta cheese in my lasagna soup. I weigh in tomorrow and I’ve been doing pretty well with the eating, so I’m hoping for a good report. Till then, best of luck with your daily eating and thanks for taking the time to read the Daily Dish!

Blessings!

Susan

Daily Dish Weight Watchers Eating Plan

Welcome to my second Daily Dish, part of my accountability plan for weight loss this year, along with tracking my food and regular weigh ins at Weight Watchers.

DAILY DISH

I’ve been holding steady at the top of my weight range for about a year now and I finally set my goal a little higher (about 8 pounds) than my original Lifetime goal weight. I honestly just wanted to stop paying for maintaining and my leader said it was fine. But I’m tired of this weight and more importantly I think my body is tired of the weight, too – my knees are creakier and I don’t have as much energy. So this is the year I want to get back to my original goal weight and then some and I’m hoping writing down my goals (and posting them online for all to see!) in the Daily Dish will help me. I’d like to be able to run without my knees hurting and do some 5Ks. I’d also like this new muffin top thing I’ve got going on to go away – whoever said 40 was the new 30 was not really 40.

And that’s why I decided to do the Daily Dish of what I’m eating – to help myself and maybe others, too. So here’s what I dished up today:

Breakfast

1/4 cup oats, cooked with 14 chopped almonds, plus a chopped apple, cinnamon and some stevia. (4 points)
1 light cheese stick (1 point)
Green tea
Total: 5 points

Lunch

Chicken panini made with a sandwich thin (3 points), 3 oz chicken breast (2 points), 1 light cheese stick (1 point), 1 tbs pesto (2 points), sliced tomato and some spinach for some extra vitamins.
Weight Watchers zero point veggie soup (0 points)
1 orange
Green tea
Total: 8 points
Chicken Panini and Soup

Dinner

Philly Cheese steak made with thin sliced top sirloin from Aldi (if you don’t have an Aldi, a very lean beef cut or even lean roast beef from the deli would work) (4 points), 1 hoagie roll from Aldi (5 points), 1 slice provolone cheese (3 points), grilled onion and peppers.
Side of steamed broccoli
Probably green tea!
Total: 12 points

That leaves me 4 points leftover which I will likely use on a square of a Hershey’s Giant Special Dark Chocolate bar or if I’m not full at dinner, a little extra meat or cheese.

I wasn’t tempted do much snacking this afternoon, though the frozen yogurt in my freezer did call out my name after lunch. I resisted though – that stuff is 8 points for only half a cup! It’s delicious, but definitely only for when you have extra smart points left which I do not.

I kept pretty busy because my boys were all home today (snow day) and I really needed to straighten up downstairs and clean my kitchen. I’m planning on cleaning out my pantry tonight so that will hopefully cut back on any temptations to just sit and mindlessly munch while I watch TV, something I am notoriously guilty of. Tomorrow will be a busy day at the office (a few days a week I don my Realtor hat and sell real estate), so it will be pretty easy to stay on track.

I hope this helps someone out there – you can do it!

Blessings!

Susan