When Things Got Financially Real

 

Check out why the Frugality household had to face the financial music.  Plus stories from 27 other phenomenal personal finance bloggers.

I’ve always been pretty financially responsible.  I don’t spend more than I can afford.  I chose not to go to college the traditional route because of the debilitating debt it would have put me in.

But that’s not to say things have always been peachy.  For a long time, my lack of a post-secondary degree held me back.  I had to work in order to live, but wasn’t making enough to afford school.  I reached a certain point where I was flat out resigned to my fate.  Making barely above minimum wage, working weird hours.  I had a great credit score, but no assets to speak of.  At one point I had wanted to save for retirement.  At one point I had wanted to own a home.  But at some point, I had given up.

And then I took a pregnancy test.  And things got financially real.  Real fast.  My boyfriend (now husband) and I were making enough to support ourselves, but not enough to raise a family.  We crunched some numbers and figured out we couldn’t live on one income long-term, but if I continued my employment I’d be doing it purely to put our one child at the time in day care.  (Plus I think we were going to owe something like $24 on top of that.)

So my kids forced me to get financially real.  They also opened up the doors to grants and scholarships I wasn’t eligible for prior to having children.  I was able to return to school not only debt-free, but after the difference between tuition and financial awards, I was getting paid to do it.

The next couple of years were a struggle financially.  I look back now and wouldn’t know how we did it, except I have this blog to document much of that journey.  Now I’m in my field, and while my career is still young, I’m making enough to give my husband the time to go back to school, too.

This is likely one of the most stressful periods of our lives.  School.  Work.  Young children.  Their school.  We are working insanely hard.  And we’re just starting to see the fruit of the labor we put in in those early days.  But we’re seeing it.  It wouldn’t have evidenced itself today if we hadn’t gotten started yesterday.  I’m hoping the results we see five years from now will allow us to finally slow down and enjoy all the things we are working hard now to achieve.

I’m now contributing to a retirement plan.  We’re saving for a home.  I’m working in something I can call a “career” rather than a job, and my husband is studying to do the same.  When things get financially real, you can fall into despondency or work your tail off to make things better.  We’re living proof that the latter is better.  It’s hard work up front, but seeing it pay off is one of the most rewarding things we’ve done.

The most rewarding thing far and away has been becoming parents, with all the ups and downs that come along with that uncompensated, 24/7 job.  Or maybe it’s a career?

Either way, we owe 100% of where we are today to them, the motivation they lit underneath us, and the opportunities that they opened for us that allowed us to progress not only to where we are today, but where we will be when the front-end work of establishing new, higher-earning careers is over.

This post is a part of The Financial Literacy Awareness Carnival.  Head over to The Heavy Purse to find contributions from other fabulous personal finance bloggers!

 

Our Essential Travel Tech Gear and How to Save On It

Our family's essential gadgets for road trips, along with tips on how to get them without going broke.

Road trip season is so close I can smell it.  I know of at least one that we’ll be taking.  It’s pretty major, and I’m pretty excited.  But I’ll get into that in another post.  Hopefully there will be some spur of the moment trips, too.  And we’ll probably make it to Upstate NY at least a couple times.

Things have changed for us since the days we were childless, though.  While we used to just be able to pack up a few essentials and hit the road, now we have to do things like plan, wash, and prepare.  A major thing that’s helping make this process a whole lot easier is technology.  We have three essentials in our travel tech gear arsenal that usually make for exciting trips, but not-so-exciting car rides.  (Which is a good thing when you have toddlers, believe it or not.)

1. A Simple Wire

A little while ago, we had to get a new-to-us car.  It’s not the latest model year, but it is less ancient than the vehicle that was its predecessor.  I discovered an audio jack in this car.  I found out I could hook my phone up to it.

I entered the twenty-first century.

Soon thereafter I figured out I could create free playlists on YouTube.  And then hook my phone up to my car.  And listen to whatever music I wanted to for free.  While the husband is still hanging on to some CDs, most of them are scratched up anyways.  And I don’t have time to burn mixes.

So you know we’ve got some cruising music for when the kiddos are passed out.  And a separate Yo Gabba Gabba playlist for when the exact opposite happens.

We were able to get the wire for $6.  Best investment ever, and so far I’ve only used it for my commute.  Road trip, here we come.

2.  iPads

Seriously.  Games.  Books.  Everything I had for entertainment when I was a kid in one device.  Less bags need to be packed.  Less, “Are we there yets?”  Less cleaning up the car after we’ve actually arrived.

But iPads are ridiculously expensive.  To save money on them, the best deals I’ve been able to find are on used ones via sites like Craigslist.  (For my Australian readers, you can do the same thing by getting an iPad from Gumtree.  You can also get other travel tech gear there such as cameras and unlocked phones.)  There are a couple of things to take into consideration before buying one used, though.  Things like:

  • Is the warranty still good on it?  If it is, there’s a justification to higher prices.  Ask the seller for the serial number before you agree to purchase so you can call up Apple and check.
  • Is it WiFi only or WiFi plus Cellular?  If it’s WiFi only, it’s going to be cheaper, but you’re going to have a hard time using it on road trips.  Also, if it’s used, you want to check to make sure you’ll be able to make it compatible with whichever service you’re going to be using to provide internet access.  It gets a little more complicated once it’s been established by the initial user.
  • Is activation lock on?  Now that iOS7 is out, you can keep thieves from wiping and reactivating your iPad, which makes it untrackable.  That’s good for theft-protection, but bad for the second owner of a used iPad.  Before you purchase, check to make sure its activation lock is turned off.  This is much easier done before purchase is made.  Then you can wipe and reactivate so the device will truly be yours, and the previous owner won’t be stalking you.

3.  Dork Machines

That’s what my husband loving calls my GPS device.  We’ve used it to go geocaching all around the country.  I purchased it before you could get the fancy app on your cell phone, but essentially what it does is allow you to plug in coordinates and go on a treasure hunt.  You find a “cache” in the middle of nature (though there are urban caches) and then trade treasures (think McDonald’s toy quality) inside.  You can read more about the sport here.

If you don’t already have a GPS device, downloading the app is both cheaper and more user friendly.  It runs you $10, and brings up nearby caches no matter where you are, updating as you travel.  It’s great for stretching your legs along the journey, or discovering new, off-the-beaten path locations once you’re at your destination.

 

What are your travel tech gear musts?  Are you heading anywhere soon?

 

 

*This post is in collaboration with Gumtree Australia.*

Current AncestryDNA Discount 4/24/15-4/27/15



Last fall, in an effort to discover part of my children’s heritage, we took a DNA test.  An AncestryDNA test to be specific.  It was so incredibly cool.  To see how our results came out, genetic map and all, you can view this post I wrote about the experience.

We actually went back and did it again for another branch of the family, and that branch was more shocking than the first.  We found out there were some ancestors that most likely immigrated and emigrated as their culture rose to power and then fell, and they gently intermingled with the local people while they were there.

It also gave us confirmation of an ethnicity of genetic concern that they always ask you about when you’re filling out those initial pregnancy questionnaires at the doctor’s.  I’d always write in, “Maybe???” to which my doctors said, “WTH?” But if I ever go through that again,  I’ll be able to answer with a resounding “YES.”  Which isn’t really a good thing as far as genetic disorders are concerned, but it is good to go in with your eyes wide open.  And learning where you ancestors came from is crazy interesting just from an identity perspective.

Current AncestryDNA Discount

I know a lot of you really showed interest in this, so I signed up to be an affiliate, which allows me to get news about the newest and greatest deals to pass on to you.  (When you buy through these links, you support this blog and save yourself some money—thank you!)  Many of you have already tried it.  If so, would love if you shared your experience in the comments!

If you’ve been putting it off, or are like us and want to try another one, there’s some great news for you today.  For DNA Day, Ancestry is offering 20% off of all kits.  That’s a pretty steep discount as far as these kits are concerned.  And the time frame to get this discount is limited; you can only get it through 4/27, so don’t put it off too long!

You can get your 20% off discount here.

Want to see exactly what you’re getting into first?  Check out how our first experience went and why we went through it.  It truly is amazing what you can discover, finding out how you fit into history, and knowing what diseases you may be susceptible to because of your genetic makeup.

Health Care Sharing Ministries: An Affordable Alternative to Health Insurance

Unable to get your hands on health insurance but afraid of the tax penalties?  Health Care Sharing Ministries may be a great way for you to get access to the medical care you need, cheaper.  Without the tax penalties.

Nothing in this world is black and white.  

I’m not too big on organized religion.  It’s a personal opinion that I don’t want to force on anyone else.  For me, there were so many negatives.  But I can’t ignore all the good that it does for its membership.  Helping someone through a hard time.  Building a sense of community.  Or, as I recently found out, offering Health Care Sharing Ministries.  

A blogger friend I hold in high esteem, Mel from brokeGIRLrich, left a comment on a recent post about what to do if you find yourself uninsured and in need of an ER. She was talking about her exploration into Health Care Sharing Ministries, something I had never heard of before.  It was something that sounded like it could help a lot of readers, though, in light of difficultly obtaining health insurance, and increased penalties next tax season if you don’t have it.  She was generous enough to write this post.  If organized religion is your cup of tea, particularly of the Christian persuasion, pull up a chair, because this may just blow your mind and restore your budget.

Some might say the Affordable Care Act leaves a lot to be desired… I’m one of those some, and you can check out those opinions right here. Additionally, as a freelance stage manager I’m unlikely to wind up with employer sponsored coverage anytime soon.

So what’s a girl to do?

Well, this girl has been looking more and more into Health Care Sharing Ministries and I like what I see.

Health Care Sharing Ministries are a cost sharing agreement among a group of people of the same faith. The members of the ministry pay in a certain amount each month and then that money is redistributed to those with medical bills among the group.

Starting in the 1960s with, no surprise here, the Amish, Health Care Sharing Ministries have been growing steadily ever since. They encourage the Christian (and I’m sure other faiths as well) mentality of sharing one another’s burdens and taking care of one another.  Health Care Sharing Ministries operate under the premise of Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” and Acts 2:44-45: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”

How does it work on a practical level?

When you wind up with a medical bill, you submit the information to the Ministry. The Ministry then reimburses you out of its coffers.

If it can afford the entire amount, that’s the amount they send (imagine a doctor’s visit, a few lab tests, or even a broken ankle emergency room visit), if the amount is staggering, it will provide as much coverage as it can and alert the community of Ministry members to your need. They will then either pay out over the next few months as money comes into the Ministry, or members of the Ministry that are able may decide to contribute more that month to help you pay the bill.

Members of the Ministry are updated on the groups medical bills via a digest that is published monthly. Clearly there are many who may not want their medical bills made so public, in which case this is just not a group for you. The transparency is part of the accountability of the group and informs participants about where the money is going.

Keeping in mind that this is also a Christian ministry, it keeps members informed so they can pray for one another as well. Sharing a burden is often more than just a financial calling.

Similar to insurance, different Health Care Sharing Ministries have different limitations or requirements. Some of them require you to pay a co-pay for doctor’s visits, some have Annual Household Portions (the equivalent of a deductible) that you must meet first before submitting any bills, some have limits on the amount that can be paid out per medical incident.

Be sure to carefully read the restrictions and research different Health Care Sharing Ministries thoroughly before joining any.

When is their open enrollment?

ALL THE TIME. You can join a Health Care Sharing Ministry at any time of year, regardless of any sort of “qualifying event.”

What about tax penalties for healthcare?

In many states Health Care Sharing Ministries operate under “safe harbor laws.” Those states have statutes that specifically recognize the ministries and exempt them from insurance code penalties.

Health Care Sharing Ministries are active in all fifty states, even in states without specific safe harbor laws. They are recognized by the Federal government and do not result in a tax-penalty.

If you get coverage partially through the year though, the penalty may be pro-rated for the months you were not a member of the Health Care Sharing Ministry.

Ready to join?

As I mentioned above, each Health Care Sharing Ministry has slightly different guidelines on how to join, but most require you submit a written testimony of your relationship with Jesus Christ, along with a promise to live a Christian lifestyle that includes abstaining from drugs, drinking in moderations, not smoking and abstaining from sex outside of marriage.

If you lie and ever have medical issues related to those catalysts, they will not be covered.

Several Ministries require a signed letter from your pastor before you can be considered.

Additionally, some Ministries will not accept people with any pre-existing conditions or who are in poor health. On the plus side, if you can qualify for those Ministries, they often seem to be the ones with the lower monthly payments. If you do have a pre-existing condition, there are still plenty of Health Care Sharing Ministries that will admit you.

There is a new member fee that seems to be between $100-300 (my research is by no means exhaustive, this is based off of the several I’ve personally been looking at).

Monthly payments for a single person can range anywhere from $21-$400 – pre-existing conditions are taken into consideration when calculating this. Families range from $100-800.

Those interested in learning more can check out the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries,Medi-Share and Samaritan Ministries – the last two are rather large Health Care Sharing Ministries.

 

 

Summer Ready Feet and an iPad Mini #Giveaway

Today’s post is almost wholly removed from personal finance, but when the great Dani from Cloudy with a Chance of Wine asked if I wanted to participate in an iPad mini giveaway, I knew I couldn’t deny you all that opportunity!  It’s brought to you by Skoother®, which I’m incredibly excited to try out.   While I’m still trying to build up specific, feminine-looking callouses so I can finally wear high heels without crying post-pregnancy, the husband has some pretty gnarly ones.  Ones that tear through socks.  And going through socks at the rate he does is not in anyway frugal.  Not only will they be solving the sock-leak in our budget, but we’ve all teamed up to bring you this awesome, summer-themed giveaway to get your season started right.  

Spring has (finally!) sprung, and I’m teaming up with The Invention Brothers to give you a chance to win a fabulous new beauty exfoliator called The Skoother® Skin Smoother, as well as an iPad Mini!

If you suffer from dry, cracked heels, the 'Get Ready for Summer Giveaway' is for you! Enter today for your chance to win an iPad Mini, a Skoother Skin Smoother to help cure your cracked heels, or a Margarator giant party blender. With 25 prizes to be won, you don't want to miss out!

Have you heard of the Skoother?

It’s the most effective way to quickly and easily smooth rough skin and calluses on your feet, heels, elbows and hands, and it’s unique design makes it much more effective than pumice stones, emery pads, metal graters (ouch!), motorized sanders, and other skin-smoothing gimmicks.

If you suffer from dry, cracked heels, the 'Get Ready for Summer Giveaway' is for you! Enter today for your chance to win an iPad Mini, a Skoother Skin Smoother to help cure your cracked heels, or a Margarator giant party blender. With 25 prizes to be won, you don't want to miss out!

It’s easy to hold.

It conforms to your body, making it quick and easy to use.

It doesn’t require batteries.

The Micro-Abrasive Screen is rough enough to remove stubborn calluses on your heels, but gentle enough also lightly smooth the skin on more delicate areas like your hands and knees.

It has been medically-tested by a team of doctors at the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor.

It’s easy to clean.

And by entering the Rafflecopter form below, you will have a chance to win one (1) of 20 Skoothers to get your skin ready for summer.

But wait – it gets better!

We’re also giving away 4 Margarators® (1 Gallon Party Blender) and one (1) grand prize of an iPad Mini!

What a great way to kick off the warm weather!

All you have to do is complete the form below to enter between April 20, 2015 at 12:00 am EST and April 30, 2015 at 11:59 pm EST.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And if you don’t win but would still like to be one of the first to experience the Skoother, simply sign up using THIS FORM between May 1, 2015 and June 14, 2015. The Launch Day Special for a Skoother is only $12 + free shipping. We will contact you through your email sign-up to give you more details!

Good luck!

For complete contest rules and regulations, CLICK HERE.

Femme Frugality received no compensation for sponsoring this event, and is not responsible for the delivery of the prize. Prize delivery is the sole responsibility of The Invention Brothers / Comstock Studios Inc. Twenty-five (25) winners will be drawn randomly and notified by email. The winners will have 48 hours to respond in order to claim their prize. If they do not respond within the 48 hours, they will forfeit the prize and an alternate winner will be chosen. This post may contain affiliate links.

French Pronunciation: Fall in Love With Souls, Not Dollar Signs

Lessons we learn in relationships

Kay and I have something in common.  Neither of our husbands has a firm grasp on the French language, but they both know about this blog.  When they talk about it, they refer to me as “Femmy Frugality” or simply “Femmy.”  When hers does it, it makes sense.  I blog anonymously, so he refers to me as my pen name.

When mine does it, it’s kind of weird.

So Kay suggested a post on French pronunciation.  I’m all about it.  And while we’re at it, I’ll touch on some other things my husband has learned over the years since we’ve been together.

The “e” is silent.

In French, when you have the same consonant doubled before a the e, where e is the final letter, you don’t pronounce the e.  “Femme” means woman, and other examples are “homme” (man,) “bonne” (good, where the noun it is describing is feminine,) and “fille” (which can mean either daughter or girl.)

Another time you’ll see a silent “e” is when a word can be male or female.  The male versions will simply end with a consonant, while the female version will end with an e.  This does not mean you pronounce the e.  But it does make the final consonant voiced.

For example, if you take the word “bon” and it is describing a masculine noun, you say it like this.  If the noun is feminine, “bon” changes to “bonne” and you actually say the n.  Just not the e.  Here’s an example of that.

There are exceptions to all rules in grammar in almost any language.  I’m not fluent enough to go into a diatribe about those right now (though I once was,) so I’ll leave it at telling you that our husbands can just call me “Fem” when saying it out loud.  Though if Kay’s husband is anything like mine, he probably won’t even after he knows.

Because that would be no fun.

Being a stay-at-home parent is intense.

When I was in school, most of my classes were very early morning or night.  In between, I was doing the stay-at-home mom gig.  It was draining.  Some mothers think that going to work and then coming home is draining. And it is.  But staying at home is just as rough on the psyche.  No matter which way you look at it, having children leaves you exhausted at the end of the day.  And the next morning.  And I’m hoping not forever, but that might be in vain.

So my husband would come home after work, look around the place, and be like, “What did you do all day?”  In that tone of voice that says I worked hard, and you just let children trash our house.  Yes, there were epic fights around those comments, and he learned to keep his opinions to himself.

But he doesn’t think that way anymore.

Because now he functions as a stay-at-home dad during the week.

And then he goes to school at night.  And then he works mostly on the weekends.  At one point I suggested him quitting because things were going okay financially, and it’s a lot of stress.  But he didn’t want to give up  his job.  I couldn’t get to the heart of it, but I’m pretty sure it’s because regularly getting out of the house is really good for anyone mentally when they’re taking care of young children full-time.

A few weeks ago I came home from work.  There were dishes in the sink.  Toys all over the room.  He was trying to pick Cheerios out of the carpet, for the seventieth time that day, I’m sure.  I set my stuff down, he looked at me with this really serious face and said, “You will never hear me saying anything about stay-at-home moms again.  This is the hardest job in the world.”

(P.S. He’s an awesome dad, dirty dishes aside.)

You don’t need money to make me love you.

While this won’t hold true for all women (or men for that matter,) it was true for me.  The husband was actually really good with his money before he met me.  And he is now.  But when we first started dating, I guess he felt this massive need to impress me.  To pay for everything.  The first few times I wouldn’t let him; I could pay for my own food.  I could pay for my own ticket.  I could pay for my own gum.  (How simple our purchases were pre-children!)

But time went on and he wore me down.  I started letting him pay when he insisted.  (Which was pretty much all the time.)  We went on tons of dates and did tons of fun stuff.  We rented movies and went out with friends.  He paid for all of it.  It wasn’t until later I learned that he was putting it on a credit card.  A credit card he had never held a balance on before.

He felt like he needed to do these things to impress me.  He didn’t.  I fall in love with souls, not dollar bills.  Some of my favorite dates with him were sitting home watching Seinfeld.  Or laying out in a field looking up at the stars.  I didn’t care what we were doing, as long as I was with him, I was happy.  He paid that card off years and years ago, and his viewpoints on money, and relationships has changed.  Score for bucking gender norms.

What I’ve Learned from Being With Him

I think anytime you’re in a relationship you learn a lot.  About that individual, but also how you yourself can be a better person and relate in different ways to the world around you.

Our lessons haven’t been one-sided.  He’s taught me a lot.  In the realm of personal finance, he’s taught me not to be so uptight about everything.  While I would save every penny if I could, denying myself every creature comfort, squeezing every last drop of shampoo out of the bottle if I didn’t have it budgeted for in the name of some higher goal, he’s taught me that it’s okay to enjoy the here and now.  That money isn’t something to be 100% responsible with all the time.  He’s taught me that life is for living, not always preparing.  And that when we do it responsibly (without credit cards and with budgets,) all that stress my Type A personality puts me under can, in fact, be alleviated.

He also taught me that I’m pretty unbeatable at Tekken.

 

What have you learned from your relationships, romantic or non?

  *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, A Disease Called Debt and Shoeaholic No More*

Paying Estimated Quarterly Taxes: A Reflection

Freelancing has its perks, but it also has its drawbacks.  Why are quarterly taxes so convoluted?

This is the first year I’m paying estimated quarterly taxes for my writing income.

Actually, I don’t think I even really have to pay it.  At least not at the federal level.  Because we get a return every year, my taxes would probably just cut into how much we got back.

But here’s the thing.  In writing, and both the husband’s and my day job, our income is variable. So what I’m guessing we’ll make this year is totally that:  a guess.  It might be less.  It might be more.  I’m fairly confident the numbers won’t line up at all with last year’s, though.  So my best projections are better than returning to 2014.

When I do those projections, it doesn’t look like we’ll end up owing a thing.  In fact, we’ll probably get a pretty nice sized refund.  But what if I’m wrong?  What if we cross over that cusp, and we end up owing?  What if the tax laws change?  (I’m particularly concerned with the apparent volatility of all things ACA.)  What if I’m making a blunder by assuming we’ll receive all the credits I’m counting on?

Pros of Paying the Taxes Anyways

The way I see it, if I pay the taxes anyways, the worst that can happen is I’ll get a fatter refund.  If I’m totally off-base and we end up owing, I won’t be hit with any penalties or late fees because I played it safe and paid as I went along.

Cons of Paying the Taxes Anyways

If I am right, and we don’t owe, and I get all that money back, I’ve essentially given the government an interest free loan.  If I keep that money in my savings account (which I will, because it’s not going anywhere until I’m sure Uncle Sam has no claim to it,) it could be garnering interest in my favor.  (That I’d have to pay more taxes on, as an interesting side note.)  But the account I keep my tax money in has an interest rate that’s near non-existent.  So if I take the gamble and don’t pay, and turn out to be wrong, the interest I gain has a very high likelihood of being far less than the amount I’ll be hit with in penalties and fees.

So I’m Paying Estimated Quarterly Taxes.

But why does it have to be so darn complicated?  Why do I have to project?  Why do I have to fill out two worksheets just to figure out if I’ll even have to pay them at all?  Conceptually, it seems like this should all be very simple math.  But both the IRS and state of Pennsylvania seem to think otherwise.

When I finally got to my local quarterly tax form, it was like a breath of fresh air.  The City of Pittsburgh makes it real simple, real logical, and not at all convoluted like the federal and state forms.  They have you figure out how much you made this quarter.  Then they give you one multiplication problem to do to figure out how much tax you’ll owe.  Then they have you subtract how much you’ve had withheld from other sources of income to date this year.  That’s your number.  That’s how much you owe.  Because that will be the difference between what you should have paid and what you actually did for this quarter.  You can do it all right on the voucher you mail in with your check.  You don’t need two pages of worksheets with math that will make your head explode.

I still did the math for state and federal. My head didn’t explode, but it sure felt like it was getting close.  I was afraid I was missing something big.  So I followed instructions.  (Except for the part where they said I didn’t have to send any money.  Playing it safe for reasons above.)

Does anyone smarter than me know why this entire process has to be so dang complicated?  It really seems to me like upper elementary math should be able to solve this equation, but instead I felt like I was doing calculus armed with my best guesses, which may end up being wholly inaccurate when I enter my hard numbers into a 1040 next year.  I know how to do calculus, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

Around the World in 80 Books: Spain

Welcome to the next installment in my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge!  It’s exactly what it sounds like: I’m trying to read 80 books from 80 different countries/cultures around the world, and to add a frugal spin, I’m trying to do it all for under $20.

Here’s my running tally so far:
$0- Library books: Russia, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Sierra Leone
$0- Free eBooks: Scotland, England
$0- Gift: Turkey
$0- Won in a Giveaway: Jerusalem
_
______________________________________

Grand Total: $0 

Today’s book was also a library book, so I’m sitting pretty at $0.  And after today’s post I’ll have logged 10 books, meaning I’m 1/8 of the way through my journey.

Today’s book was actually a part of a read-a-long from the challenge organizer, Tanya at Mom’s Small Victories.  It’s the first time I participated in one, and I’m really glad I did.

Spain

I usually shy away from bestsellers, at least in the fiction genre.  Every time I’ve read one it’s been like going to a movie that has a lot of hype around it; it might have been a good movie to go in and see blind, but because of all the expectations, you’re just left with a “meh” feeling by the time you walk out.

That was not the case with this book.  I’d classify it as a gothic novel set in post-Civil War Barcelona.  Initially from the description I thought it might have similar themes to Fahrenheit 451, but it’s really not that kind of message.  While the reader can’t help but take note of Zafon’s love of novels, they serve as a springboard for the plot rather than being the plot itself.

What is it, then?  A mystery.  A love story (or three.)  A coming of age tale.  And possibly a political commentary that I don’t fully understand.  To be honest, I had never even heard of the Spanish Civil War, which took place in the 1930′s.  I had assumed most major European powers took part in WWII, but it turns out Spain stayed officially neutral (as I found out in the Twitter chat where all of us who read caught up with each other.)  While the Civil War leaves its marks all over the story line, World War II touches it but once, and in a minor, passing conversation.

While I found quotes that I loved throughout the story, the first half of the book was full of them.  There was a lot of introspection on the part of the narrator in the first half, and then, while he remains contemplative, the plot and action picks up heavily in the second half.  Honestly, I loved both halves, but some of the people I’ve talked to have preferred one over the other.

While we’re on quotes, here’s some money food-for-thought from the book itself:

“Making money isn’t hard in itself,” he [Moliner] complained.  “What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.”

Tanya let me in on the fact that there are multiple sequels, so I’ll be coming back for more once this challenge is over, much like Sweden.  Maybe I secretly love mystery novels?  See, I’m not only learning about the world, I’m learning about myself.

On Deck

I know what you’re thinking:  same country, idiot.  But Zafon himself mentions people speaking Basque in Spain, and where there is an independent language, there is an independent culture.  So next I’ll be exploring the Basque culture through their legends and folklore.  Stay tuned!

Have any recommendations for me?  I’m looking for any countries/cultures not already on this queue, or not touched on above in the completed reading tally.

Canada: The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be by Farley Mowat recommeded by Messy Money
Afghanistan: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg recommended by Savvy Working Gal
Nigeria: I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani recommended by Guiltless Reader
Philippines: May Day Eve and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin recommended by Guiltless Reader
Iceland: Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget
Sudan: The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih recommended by Kate Wilson
Kenya: Out of Africa by Karen Blixen recommended by Christine from The Wallet Diet
China:  Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang
JapanTotto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi recommended by Suburban Finance
EthiopiaThe God Who Begat a Jakal by Nega Mezlekia recommended by Based On a True Story
French Antilles: Victoire: My Mother’s Mother by Maryse Conde recommended by Based on A True Story
SurinameThe Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod recommended by Based On A True Story
Costa Rica: The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica

 

Favorite Pittsburgh Hangout

My favorite place in Pittsburgh to hangout with kids.  Plus tips to save on your next visit.

If you had told me ten years ago I’d be spending a lot of time in Northside, there’s no way I’d believe you.  It was a dangerous neighborhood with a couple cool museums and sporting events, but it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to hang out.

Fast forward a decade and here I am, taking my kids there regularly.  While I still wouldn’t walk around most of the neighborhood alone at night, during the day it’s an urban wonderland full of amazing events and attractions.

When I talk about Northside, I’m admittedly including the North Shore and Allegheny Center.  These three areas combined are host to Heinz Field, PNC Park, Carnegie Science Center, a 5k Color Run, The Mattress Factory, the Warhol Museum, the National Aviary, and so many other attractions and events.  And then there’s my personal Pittsburgh favorite:  the Children’s Museum.

Obviously it’s a really fun museum for kids.  It’s part science, part art, part play, and all interactive.  There’s a room that rotates between displays; the last time we went it was all about balls, but we’ve also been when they had Clifford, a huge bouncy tunnel, and a display themed around love just to name a few.

If you’re making a visit during business hours, I of course have a few frugal tips.  When parking, try to find a spot to parallel park on street that approaches the museum.  It’s metered parking, which means you’ll have to pay, but it’s never been as expensive for us as paying the $5 fee to park in one of the museum’s lots.  And on Sundays, you don’t even have to feed the meter.  Yay for free parking!

Admission discounts are available, too.  If you are receiving some type of state assistance or have a disabled child who has Medicaid, be sure to bring your ACCESS card with you.  That, along with proof of residence (like your drivers’ license) for all adults in your party, reduces your admission to $1/each, which is quite the savings.

Also, if you join their free Birthday Club your kiddo gets 50% off admission during their birthday month on top of some other fun freebies and discounts.

On top of being a fun place for kids everyday, they also host special events.  Our writer, Katie, got married there on Pi Day.  My friend Chaton went to their New Year’s Eve bash, which I’m seriously considering next year as it solves our dilemma over how to celebrate the holiday with young children.  Their most recent upcoming event is to benefit Beverly’s Birthdays, an organization that provides birthday parties to homeless children in the Pittsburgh area.

As a young-ish adult, bars and art scenes may be popping, but a place that allows me to have an amazing time with my children while making it exciting and new each visit will always top my list.

If you’re trying to find fun, cool things to do in your area, be sure to check out Eventbrite.  I’ve been to more than a few events they’ve ticketed, and they’ve all been a good time.  Browsing their site is a great way to discover new things that are happening in your area, and find your own local hangout.  Or, if you’re organizing an event, look into their ticketing services.

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