Traveling with less than $500

I am the queen of attempting to cancel trips when they are already booked and flights are paid for. The reason is, I get freaked out by the idea I may not be able to do everything that my friends will want to do or I will run out of spending money before the trip ends. Here’s how I made a weekend in San Francisco happen with $500:

  1. Find an awesome group to travel with. This is something that kind of is trial-and-error because you really don’t know what people will be like while traveling. I’ve found it’s important to talk about trips beforehand and know you all have a common goal of wanting to have a great time without breaking the bank. Also, it’s important to have a group that knows (and is respectful enough) to split things evenly. That goes for cab rides, rounds of drinks, excursions, or other adventures–make sure you are with people pulling their own weight. I had a great time with my friends from high school in San Francisco and we kept everything even with the amount we all spent on Ubers or rounds of drinks.
  2. Book flights on promos! I once had a flight attendant friend who said the Tuesday three weeks before you fly is the best time to buy flights. I don’t know if that is necessarily true, but I do keep up with checking websites and get e-mails from Southwest whenever they have discounted flights! I just love flying Southwest because you get two free bags, can choose where you sit, and you can get smokin’ deals. My flight round trip to San Francisco was about $160.
  3. Try staying at a Hostel! I have expert travelers as best friends, and they encourage me to step out of the box when it comes to ways of travel. We stayed at a hostel in downtown San Francisco for about $40 a night. Because there were four of us traveling, we were able to get our own room at the hostel which relieved some of the anxiety I had about staying in a hostel. If you aren’t traveling in a group, I noticed that if you’re in a room with four bunks, they have lockers that you can lock underneath the bunks that will fit a suitcase or a bag checking system at the front desk. That was one of my main concerns knowing that its a dorm-like hotel situation. We had no issues with our bags being stored with the front desk or in our room. Our hostel included breakfast and had a full service kitchen available most of the day, as well. That was very convenient as we were able to save the money on the first meal of the day. The trip was short and we didn’t get to use the kitchen, but it would have been useful if we weren’t doing so many touristy things. As great as it was, it wasn’t the easiest stay either. The hardest thing about staying at a hostel was finding the perfect timing with the closest available shower. We, again, lucked out and had a bathroom right outside our room that was rather large so we could share as if the four of us had just stayed in our own private hotel, but it did pose as a difficulty when we were in a rush getting ready for our friends wedding. But, once the showering was done we were able to share a couple small mirrors and finish our hair and makeup. All in all, it was a great experience. The thing I was most skeptical about ended up being the one thing we didn’t have to worry about at all.
  4. You don’t have to do it all in one trip. It’s so exciting arriving to a new place and getting into the vacation mode, so I tend to over do it. That wasn’t the case for this trip, though. We took things into our own hands when it came to seeing the city and walked around a ton! We went to North Beach, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Coit Tower to name a few. I definitely wouldn’t recommend the walk from downtown to Coit Tower, but it’s just a short cab ride away. We, also, had lunch at the Boudin Bakery & Cafe to have some of their famous clam chowder in a sour dough bread bowl. It was really the simple things and the views that made this trip spectacular.
  5. Ask the locals where to go! As a group of extroverts, it was easy striking up conversations with locals we encountered to get recommendations on where to go and what to do. If anyone knows about affordable nightlife, it’s the bartenders who work and go out in that area. We found some really interesting bars hidden on steep alleyways and met some very fun and interesting people along the way.

Overall, I spent $80 on a hostel, $160 on airfair, and about $60 on Ubers. With all of that I had about $200 in spending money, which was more than enough! Yes, it was a short trip, but there was nothing that I missed out on because of my tight budget.

I love to travel, but I can’t take a five star vacation every time there is an occasion to travel. Hopefully, these tips will enable you all to enjoy yourself without breaking the bank the next time you’re able to get away.

What are your favorite vacation spots? How do you save money while traveling?

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

XO,

Sonja

How do I save without being too frugal?

So recently I’ve began getting into saving a ton. At the same time, I’m trying to pay off debt and I️ have so many vacations planned it’s hard to think that savings is an option!–especially being a bartender with an unpredictable income.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to make my savings account grow and grow the last two months, and it’s (mostly) the same process that helped me save $6000 before starting college:

  1. Know what your bills are every month and how much you are spending with disposable income. I️ have an excel workbook that I️ have documented my finances in the last 5 years that has held me accountable/make me realize when I’ve been going overboard with spending.
  2. What you’re spending shouldn’t match what you’re makingI’ve cut costs down when I️ realize I’ve gone over my “going out” budget or spent a little too much Black Friday shopping. Also, if you’re spending more than you’re making (yes, I’m talking about that Capital One with amazing cash back) notice and realize you do have to pay back on your debt. That’s something I️ didn’t have to worry about in my teens but do now in my twenties.
  3. Not all debt is bad! I️ mentioned the cash back Capital One card because that is one I️ have and it’s helped me so much when in a pinch or traveling and has treated me so well with cash back opportunities! Use your credit cards when you know you’ll still be able to pay more than the minimum balance to pay it off!
  4. Budget/plan for bills to be higher than expected. Utilities and cell phone bills can bounce up and down from month to month, so it’s better to plan for the bill to be on the higher side. And, hey, if it ends up being lower you can take yourself out for a cocktail or even transfer the extra to savings!
  5. Save WHILE you pay off debt! The two processes are not mutually exclusive. I️ try to put half of what I️ make in savings, but that’s not always realistic. After moving back in with my parents, I️ re-budgeted and realized that I️ could save more… or I️ could pay off more debt. I️ upped my payments on–well–everything to ensure I️’m molding my credit into a homeowner-with-a-good-interest-rate’s credit. If that hinders the amount I’m saving, it’ll still be beneficial in the long run.
  6. Need only apply to service industry workers… I️ said I️ put half of the money I️ make into savings. That means after a long day of work, I️ schlep over to the bank and deposit money into my account and transfer half into savings (if I️ can). Yes, big things come up or you’ve got a cash flow issue—I️ just write it down to remind myself I️ owe my savings that extra $78. Now, to avoid this, it helps to have a couple hundred un-spoken for dollars in your checking account for just-in-case situations. Also, on the off chance you get a paycheck on top of your tips, throw that (or at least a portion) into your savings as well–you weren’t expecting that money anyway!
  7. Hold yourself accountable to your savings! I️ realize half of a persons income is not going to be realistic for every person to do, so find a specific amount or percentage that you think is reasonable. For the last year and a half, I️ predicted my income and estimated all of my bills and realized it was only reasonable for me to save 30% of my income because bills were higher. Don’t make your finances so tight you can’t enjoy a night out or a weekend away. Aka, treat yoself!
  8. Know when to bring out the savings. I’ve had so many unexpected things come up this year that you will hear about in future blogs. Anyway, its hard to plan for a large hospital bill, a car repair, or needing time off work for any reason. This is where your savings comes in handy. I’ve been trying to save for a house, but at the same time I’ve had to take time off work for an injury, I’ve had to take trips on a short notice, I’ve been hospitalized for strep twice, and I’ve moved. All of this happened in the last two months and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dip into my savings to keep things afloat as everything seemed to happen at once. In other words, savings are useful for emergencies!
  9. Decide what you are saving for! Obviously, you want to grow a cash cushion for emergencies, but you also have other things that you have to budget for. Whether it be a trip to Europe, a new car, a new house, or a new business opportunity, there is some place you are allotting that money. Define your goal, find out exactly how much you need of cold hard cash to reach your goal, and that number can be your financial savings goal.
  10. What’s a cushion? I’m not talking about furniture. I’m talking about how much you can realistically have there in case something catastrophic were to happen. A lot of people have a credit line for this purpose, but it’s always better to have the cash in an emergency than to borrow it. My mom has always said that you should have six months of living costs in savings while in your twenties in case anything comes up–and eighteen months if you have a family. Again, not always realistic and many people have other resources. It’s just your safest bet to make sure you have yourself covered before buying that new sports car.

What kind of projects and adventures are you saving for? How has saving money helped you reach your personal goals?

Would love to hear your feedback on this piece! It’s worked for me so hopefully it will help any of you!

XO,

Sonja

Practical Gift Giving on a Practical Budget

I’ve seen so many blog posts about how to gift during the holiday season… but none of them really appeal to my sense of efficiency and generosity. I️ want to spoil everyone! At the same time, I’m paying off debt, saving for a house, and getting ready for a tight budget (January through March are very tight for those of us in the service industry).

That being said, I️ don’t want to gift anything to someone they may or may not use. I️ recently moved and found a bag of Christmas presents that remained untouched since last year. Many of them were white elephant gifts or parts of gift baskets—don’t get me wrong, they were all items I could have found a use for but didn’t somehow. So this got me thinking… this year I️ only want to gift things that I️ know will be used!

Usually I’d go for a big extravagant gift basket that includes those items from above. And I️ love nothing more than watching people I️ love opening something they really enjoy! However, this year I’m taking a different approach.

I’m one of 6 children and my siblings are my best friends. This year with a new niece or nephew on the way and the first grandchild turning one as well as everyone moving and new adventures beginning, we’ve talked about a gift exchange that works for all of us. It’s simple: drawing names. This way we could each only buy one present that suits the person we are buying it for and is something we actually want. Just an idea so that we don’t end up overspending.

Now, what I really want to get into are gifts that I’m very excited to give this year!

  1. Buy services that you know someone will love. My close friends and I️ are doing the name drawing process I mentioned. We did this last year and it was an absolute success! Now, what I️ love to do is buy a handful of massage certificates. It’s that time of year where everyone is thinking of everyone else and staying up longer or working longer hours to make they’re holidays the most special. People tend to put themselves on the back burner and what better than a massage to bring them back to life with the new year! My massage place does a two day special where they do hour massage certificates at an extremely discounted rate! I️ LOVE THIS OPPORTUNITY! I️ get to spoil my friends without breaking the bank. Other things exchanged for services were nail certificates for a manicure/pedicure, waxing certificates, lash services, and facials/spa days. Now the massage is still my favorite because it’s great for any gender, but I can tell you that all of those services were absolutely used!
  2. Wine and gift card pairs! Obviously, know your audience. If a friend or family member wouldn’t drink wine, no need to worry! I’ve done a bottle of Cabernet with a Starbucks gift card or a bottle of Breckenridge Bourbon with a Ted’s gift certificate. You can pair these in nice creative ways and easily tie them together with a bow. It’s so fun and the better you know the person and get them something specific to what they love, the better use it is to them! Obviously, it depends on how much each item costs but this gift pairing will usually cost between $50 to $100.
  3. Amazon electronics! Now these are easier to buy when Amazon has their amazing promotions, but a fire stick, echo dot, speakers, or head phones are all extremely useful things that I’ve found to have used in my life! Not to mention I’ve found all of these on Amazon for under $40! I️n today’s techie era, these gifts are received well and are a practical luxury item your friends and family might want but not actually buy for themselves!
  4. Over useful gag gifts! I️ have a close friend who always asks for ChapStick so I️ went and bought and absurd amount of ChapStick and wrapped it up nicely to make her laugh, but she still is never without ChapStick currently! So it was a perfect gift!
  5. Something sentimental! This is my favorite kind of gift to give because it’s something that says, “you are worth my time AND my effort.” I️ took one of my moms book titles two years ago and made it into a painting that I based on a picture of her on the beach the year she survived a freak health issue. I️ get it, not everyone is artsy or has a background as specific to go off nor the actual time to do something like that, but that same year I️ gifted my dad a blown up and framed picture that is the only picture of my parents and the whole Six Pack (we love Kenny Rodgers). He loved it and hung it up on his wall at his shop. Again, something that he could do himself but now doesn’t have to AND he gets to see all of our faces everyday he walks into work!
If you try any of these out, comment how it turned out! What are your favorite gifting ideas? And who are you struggling to buy for this year?
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
XO,
Sonja

Welcome to Simply Sonja

Hello, everyone!

Thanks for taking a minute to join me in this new blogging adventure! My name is Sonja Hoff. Currently, I live in Parker, CO and am working as a bartender. I’ve lived here since 2004 and have had such a great time learning about and living in the Centennial state. In an attempt to reach some of my goals, I’ve decided to start a blog about my day to day life and my overview of small victories becoming greater adventures!

Goal 1: create a blog! ✔️ Stay tuned for some comedy and how-to’s!

XO,

Sonja

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