SIGH. I have recently been thinking about my financial situation. As I wrote in “The Poor but Happy Club,” I am much happier—and much poorer—than I was when I worked at my corporate job. The financial prospects look pretty bleak. After all, I’m freelancing and getting a degree that will never get me a job offer. Plus, I married for love, and I married a teacher—enough said. I’ve accepted reality. I can’t spin straw into gold a la Rumpelstiltskin, so I have decided to become more thrifty.
On Saturday, I was paying my credit card bills online and feeling utterly depressed about the balances that I can never seem to whittle away. Then, I noticed a section on my billing statement called “Rewards.” I hadn’t explored credit card rewards since I’d opened my account with this particular bank. I clicked the blue link expecting to get new pair of socks or some other paltry prize. Instead, I saw that I had enough reward points to get a hotel room. For two nights. At the Hilton.
Credit card debt does have its upsides.
My mother-in-law is coming for a week in August, and I had been dreaming up ways to afford a family trip. Last year, we crowded into a cheap hotel room in Brattleboro, Vermont, during her visit. We didn’t have enough pillows, so I slept with a chair cushion under my head. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep. This year, I wanted to do better. Then came my auspicious free hotel room. That was enough to get us some free accommodations in Freeport, Maine.
Now, what to do about the rest of the trip?
I logged into my favorite trip app, TripIt, which allows you to create an itinerary of your trips online. You can then access the destinations via your mobile phone and obtain maps of and directions to the places on your itinerary from wherever you are. TripIt had an ad for a Living Social coupon in Yarmouth, Maine. Twenty dollars for $40 worth of credit at an Italian restaurant. Then, they had a Groupon ad for a sailing trip in Camden, Maine, that was ridiculously cheap. I question the morals of these group deal websites sometimes because I wonder if they’re good for small businesses. This time, I decided to be selfish, ditch my social conscience and hook myself up with some deals.
I have a book called Day Trips New England that had a section on Portland, Maine, and the surrounding area, including Freeport. I found some tasty restaurant suggestions with a “$” instead of a “$$$” beside them and put them into TripIt. I also found some state parks to visit that were either free or dirt cheap.
Voila. A mini-vacation that we can afford, even if I won’t be living it up at the L.L. Bean store this year.
I’ve downloaded a new app called DebtFree that helps you to come up with a plan for paying off your cards, so I at least have a plan. Also, thanks to the generosity of a couple of friends, Sam has a free Size 7 wardrobe that will last for the next few seasons. In the meantime, I am down for any suggestions that you have for living on the cheap. I don’t have a lot of time to bargain hunt or to do time-consuming things like bake my own bread, but I am definitely open to tweaks that will make life a little easier—and a lot cheaper.