Author Archives: femmefrugality

Frugal Time Travel: Make Genealogy Come to Life

This is so cool. Inspired me to plan a frugal trip to help make my own genealogy come to life.

Back in my day, we didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have access to a world of information at our fingertips. If we wanted to learn more about a topic, we had to get familiar with the Dewey decimal system. If we wanted to learn a new language, we had to hire a tutor or take a course in school.

If we wanted to look over historical records, documents weren’t scanned into a database which we could access through our handheld computers. We had to either hit up LDS microfiche, or head to the actual historical site to view the tangible documents.

So that’s what we did. I grew up the millennial child of a baby boomer history major who had a deep interest in genealogy. Instead of weekend trips to nearby amusement parks or campsites, we’d take trips to cemeteries and historical societies.

My sibling and I would play in the kids’ room at the library while my mom flipped through baptismal records from the Catholic church. At one point, we got so bored at a cemetery where we couldn’t find our ancestors that we started digging up a sparkly rock for our collection. It turned out to be a headstone that had been grown over by grass. The headstone of one of our ancestors.

I’ve since learned that overgrown headstones, while devastating when discovered by descendants, aren’t uncommon. There’s a Civil War-era section of the Allegheny Cemetery that is constantly growing over, no matter how many times my husband and I go back to literally uncover his own ancestors.

The Boy in Athens

We recently took a nice, long trip to Florida. Parts of it were frugal, while others were decidedly not. I’ll get more into that aspect of it over the next week or so.

We drove, which meant we would be passing through Georgia. It’s not a state we visit often—even if we’re only talking rest stop bathrooms.

I was reminded of a story of a family member. He was a Spanish American War soldier mustered in Athens. The night before they were supposed to deploy, everyone got nice and drunk. Unsurprisingly, a fight broke out. My great-great-times-however-many-greats uncle jumped in to break it up.

There was another soldier who used a different strategy to meet the same end. His way of breaking up the cacophony was to shoot into the crowd. I’m pretty sure he was drunk, too. It’s the only explanation I can come up with for his logic.

The bullet ended up hitting my uncle. He died within 24 hours.

He was 19 years old.

The shooter was more than remorseful. The incident followed him the rest of his life. As far as I can tell, there was no hatred expressed or grudges held.

But a 19-year-old boy still died unnecessarily, before even seeing the war he had volunteered to help fight.

Hold on While I Get Woo-Woo

A lot of times, when we research our family tree, we think only of our direct ancestors. My mother was more inclusive than that, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. While he still lived on in family lore, she uncovered details about his life and death that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

If someone has no kids, there are no direct descendants. The likelihood of their life being remembered erodes with time.

I’m not a religious person. But I do believe that some part of our soul actively lives on as long as we are remembered. As long as our stories are not forgotten. The stories that lie dormant don’t hold dead souls, necessarily—without each and every human story, our planet would not look the way it does today.

A 19-year-old boy got shot, and a butterfly fluttered its wings.

But when we do remember, we pay honor to the people who came before us. We affirm that their lives are worth not forgetting. Whether they procreated or not.

Carrying on a Genealogical Tradition

Athens was at my attention, but I had no idea where it was. Because I now have access to one of those fancy, handheld computers, I pulled up Google instead of a physical map. It was right in the middle of the state, and altering our route to stay there the night over Charlotte would only prolong our trip by one hour.

I still wasn’t sure. There was only a plaque by City Hall to commemorate the collective force that spent time in Athens. The historical society was closed the two days we’d be there. And I’d have to switch hotels.

It nagged at me, though. So I did a little more digging. The camp where my uncle died was now a massive intersection. Well, massive in an incredibly suburban way.

Intersection in Athens, Georgia

I pulled up the intersection’s street view, and lo and behold, there was a hotel at one of its four corners. I called them up, unsure if they’d be more affordable than what I’d already booked. They were literally the exact same price. It was meant to be.

On our way home, we stopped in Athens. The hotel was insanely beautiful for a chain of its price range. There was a Zaxby’s across the street—which used to be my guilty pleasure when I lived in the South. There were Pokestops everywhere for the kids. The situation was ideal.

But it was also the place where that 19-year-old boy had died trying to do the right thing. He didn’t sit by and wait for someone else to step up. He saw something awry and acted. And at this busy intersection, he lost his life.

We took some time to remember him. To imagine what the place would have looked like when he was stationed there. To pay honor to his memory.

And it didn’t cost a cent more to do it.

Revealing Your Family’s Stories

It’s one thing to read a name off a census record. It’s a totally different experience to go and visit your own family’s historical sites.

But in order to find out where they are, you have to do a little research first. Today you don’t have to flip through physical papers trying to read old cursive from an era when spelling wasn’t standardized. #RealLifeGenealogyProblems

Instead, you can do a quick search of pre-indexed records on your phone.

My favorite database to do this is Ancestry. Their records are extensive and well worth the membership price, but if you want to give it a whirl before you commit, get a free 14-day trial.

I do have other branches of my family where stories are extremely difficult to uncover. War, multiple emigrations and unfortunate accidents have destroyed records and separated us from our history. But we did take the AncestryDNA test, which showed us a ton of surprising data about where our family came from.

In cases where you can’t get records, this is a nice way to be able to plan a trip to the places your family once lived. While you’re there, you might even be able to uncover more about their stories.

Right now through Father’s Day, AncestryDNA is 20% off.

Have you ever traveled to pay respects to your family or learn more about their history? Would love to hear your stories in the comments!

22 Free Things to Do in #Pittsburgh This Summer

I have literally never heard of 90% of these and I'm a native yinzer. We're going to have a fun summer with this article!

Summer break is so close I can taste it. While those long, summer days are some of the funnest all year, they can also be some of the most expensive if you’re not careful.

Luckily, if you’re in Pittsburgh there are a ton of F-R-E-E options to keep you occupied until the end of August. We’re not going to cover the super obvious ones like, “Hang out at the Point!” You can read more about these in our Ultimate Frugal Pittsburgh Guide & Ultimate Frugal Pittsburgh Guide Part 2.

Here are 22 of my favorite (unique!) things to stay occupied in the Steel City this summer:

Free Things to Do in Pittsburgh for Kids and Families

Let’s kick our list off with free things for families. Entertaining your child through those long summer months can be a challenge, or it can be an amazingly frugal adventure.

Help feed Pittsburgh's children by spreading awareness of the GrubUp program, becoming a sponsor site, or contacting your legislative representative to expand summer meal programs across America.

1. GrubUpPGH

GrubUpPGH is a program that provides no-cost breakfasts and lunches at a litany of locations across the city. While the intent of the program is to provide meals for kids who use the lunch program during the school year, there is no income limit for this program. This is done to remove the stigma that might otherwise keep kids away when they truly need it.

2. OpenStreetsPGH

This is an event that will take place twice more over the summer. Essentially, certain streets across the city are shut down to cars in order to open them up to pedestrian traffic. The car-less roads will host a ton of different physical activities like rock climbing, basketball and more. There’s also a sensory space for some cool down time if your kiddo needs it.

The next date you can attend is June 25th.

3. Kids Play at Market Square

Especially for the pre-K crowd, this twice-per-week event is a great way to get your kiddos out of the house and involved in the community. They’ll get to do fun crafts, meet guest speakers on different topics, and sit for story time. They’ll also get to participate in unique activities, like planting a tree, touch a firetruck and learn how cartoons are made.

You can catch Kids Play at Market Square starting June 13th. The event will be held Tuesdays from 10:00-11:30 and Saturdays from 10:00-1:00.

4. Free Pool Entrance

If you child is 15 years old or younger, they can get free entry to any Citiparks pool all summer long by signing up for a Citiparks Rec Center membership. Parents do have to pay, but if there’s an ACCESS card in your household, you can apply to get 50% off your pool tag. That brings the price down to $15 for one adult all summer long.

5. Spray Parks

If you’re parenting solo and you have more than one kid who can’t swim, the pool is stressful as all get out. In moments like these, I prefer to head to the spray park. Pittsburgh has six of themSIX!

They’re beautiful, well-kept and dynamic. They don’t only help your little ones stay cool; they also encourage imagination and discovery. Oh, and they’re 100% FREE.

They’re currently open on the weekends, but they’ll be open daily from 11a to 8p all summer long starting June 13th.

Catch storytime with Belle at Learning Express Bakery Square.

6. Classes at Learning Express

Learning Express in Bakery Square hosts a bunch of free classes for kids. From Disney princess storytime to music lessons to Pokemon trading hour, their Facebook events page is something you’ll want to hit up when boredom strikes.

7. Father’s Day at the Zoo

Going to the zoo can be a little bit expensive, but on Father’s Day, the costs come down. On June 18th, dads get in free when accompanied by their children. This includes adult children.

8. Ussie Summer Games

A major component to a working police force is establishing trust within the community. The fact that this trust has eroded nationwide is no secret.

Which is why I think the Ussie Summer Games are so great. Pittsburgh Police officers compete on teams with community members (and one celebrity leader) in events like tug of war, three-legged races, and dodgeball. You can join a team, come as a spectator, or enjoy all the fun activities going on in the background like music, face painting and other activities from vendors and sponsors.

The June 24th festivities will be free no matter how you choose to participate.

9. Library Programs

Don’t skip over this one!

Yes, we all know we can get books at our libraries. For free. All the time. We know this because we don’t live under a rock.

But libraries also offer a litany of free classes and programs. Your child can learn a foreign language, learn about a different culture, indulge in some scientific fun, or even just attend story time. If you hear, “I’m bored!” once this summer, send your kid to CLPgh’s website and tell them to find something.

Even if you can’t leave the house, the library also provides free games and learning programs that your kiddos can use on any device.

There are programs and learning programs for adults, too. Which brings us to our next section…

Free Things to Do in Pittsburgh for Everyone

The free-ness isn’t just for the kids. It’s for everyone. Whether you have a teen, have a date, or are just looking to get out with some friends, here are a bunch of ways to have free fun this summer in the Burgh without busting the bank.

Looking for free fun in Pittsburgh? Tour Space at 1010 at the Allegheny Inn to get a taste of some amazing local artists. Tours are 100% free.

Local artists are featured at Space at 1010.

10. Space at 1010

Space at 1010 is a really cool concept. The Allegheny Inn now hosts local artists on wall space in their entry, parlor, dining room, and second-floor hallway. Viewing is 100% free–just make sure to place a reservation first. While you’re there, you can also schedule a free tour of the Inn itself. The owner, who will take you on the tour, is such a warm, funny, inviting host.

11. Movies in the Park

Cinema in the Park kicked off yesterday! For the rest of summer, you’ll be able to catch a movie at one city park or another seven days a week.

12. Summer Fridays at the Frick

If you’re looking for something to do on a Friday night, check out the Frick. From 5-8p, the first floor of the Clayton house will be open to all visitors for free. There will also be weekly performances at 6:30, and family-friendly activities for the duration.

Summer Fridays at the Frick start June 23rd and run through September 8th.

13. Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District

There are typically four of these per year. They’re all gloriously free. The summer edition will be happening July 7th from 5:00-10:00p.

14. Tour the Cathedral of Learning

You probably know that you can tour the culture rooms at the Cathedral of Learning for a fun day out. But did you know that if you want to visit the rooms without a guide, you can do it for free? We had a great time doing this a few months ago.

15. Tour the Old County Jail

You may know it as the Family Division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, but until 1995, the imposing stone building served as a jailhouse. There is now a museum dedicated to its long history–dating back to 1886–which you can tour for zero dollars.

16. Posner Center

Located on CMU’s campus, the Posner Center is an interesting museum that flies low on the radar. The Posner family left their rare book and art collection to be made available to the public. You can visit the collection between 1-4pm Monday through Friday.  To top it all off, there’s a really cool art installation on the roof. Numbers adorn a huge bench in the middle of a labyrinth. I’m not sure if their arrangement has any meaning, but it’s definitely a great place to go for conversation, studying or introspection.

17. Tour One of the Greenest Buildings in the World

Want to see one of the greenest buildings in the world? The Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps runs free tours when you schedule ahead. If you’re dropping in last minute, you can spend some time in their beautiful courtyard or on the living roof. Both are free and open to the public.

18. Tour the Pittsburgh Glass Center

Touring the Pittsburgh Glass Center is free when you go the self-guided route, though you can also pay a small fee to take a guided tour. It’s a working center, so you’re likely to see classes and artists at work. If you’re lucky, you may just get to see an entire glass blowing demonstration!

19. Visit SPACE

SPACE is an open art gallery downtown. It hosts one exhibition at a time with five or six exhibitions per year. Right now you can check out Non-Punk Pittsburgh, and later in the summer you’ll be able to view Wall Paintings: Storytellers. It’s an interesting project that also has a heavy emphasis on local artists.

SPACE is always free and open during the day Wednesday through Sunday.

20. The Drop-In Studio at Contemporary Craft

Contemporary Craft is essentially a working arts & crafts gallery. Their exhibitions, open Monday through Saturday, are free and open to the public. They have a ton of hands-on workshops, too, but those do cost money.

The Drop-In Studio, however, does not. At this studio, an artist has created a tie-in craft for you to make which is related to the current exhibition. This particular project is free to anyone who is visiting.

The Thaw Telescope in Pittsburgh was used to proof other astronomer's theories through the late 90s. See it on a free tour.

Thaw Telescope

21. Free Tours of the Allegheny Observatory

While science is definitely a big deal at the Allegheny Observatory, history buffs will probably get the biggest kick out of the observatory’s weekly free tours. You learn a lot about the history of Pittsburgh, including who the heck Brashear was and what a huge role Pittsburgh played in astronomic studies. Plus once it gets dark you’ll have an opportunity to view far away celestial bodies through one of their telescopes.

22. Picklesburgh

An event like this would do well in Pittsburgh! On July 28-29, join the masses on the Clemente Bridge for a festival celebrating pickling. There will be demonstrations of the art of pickling from whiskey to kimchee to, well, pickles. There will also be live music and entertainment plus a kids’ center. There will be vendors there, but you’re not obligated to spend any money.

 

Know of something free and fun in the Burgh this summer that we missed? Tell us in the comments and we’ll add it to the list!

Summer Reading #Giveaway Extravaganza

Those of you following the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge know that it is possible to read on a crazy tight budget. Saving money on books isn’t the only thing to be concerned with, though. Reading enriches our lives by expanding our viewpoints and challenging our beliefs. It helps us learn academically and empathetically.

My good friend Meredith runs a monthly virtual book club, and every year I partner with her and a bunch of other fab bloggers by compiling a kick-off to summer book list, including why we think you’ll love each tome.

In addition to sharing our picks, we celebrate the start of summer reading in a big way–with a fantastic giveaway for a $250 Amazon gift card and SEVEN free books! So tune in below for the 20 Best Summer Books List and then make sure to enter the Rafflecopter at the end for your chance to score big. And this year we have a fun bonus–WE ARE GIVING AWAY 100 COPIES OF THE BOOK CLUB’S TOP ALL-TIME PICK, too! 

It's here! The annual list of the 20 best summer books! All come highly recommended and are perfect reads to kick back with this summer! Plus, check out this incredible giveaway--100 copies of ONE book, a $250 Amazon giftcard and a bunch of new beach reads? Enter now!!

20 Best Summer Books:

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Femme Frugality: “Psychology, philosophy and theology have a way of blending together. In this book, psychologist Viktor Frankl relates his experiences as a prisoner in Hitler’s concentration camps, using it as a way to underpin his philosophy that man can get through anything if he assigns meaning to life. Great for anyone going through a difficult time, or anyone who has detached from organized religion but is still seeking the meaning of life.”
  2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Lindsay of See Mom Click: “If you’ve ever felt like the days are slipping by and you’re just trudging along, The Happiness Project is a must-read. Rubin’s writing really speaks to me, the perfect balance of hard facts and science combined with practical wisdom about proactively making yourself happier and living in the now.”
  3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. Wendy of ABCs and Garden Peas: “An inspiring, food-filled story of the Kingsolver family’s adventure as they move to a farm in southern Appalachia and begin living their lives in a way that works with the local food chain. This year’s 10th Anniversary Edition also gives readers a glimpse into how their family has carried their inspiring “real food” journey with them throughout the next decade.
  4. A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. Mikaela Fleisher of Iris and Honey: “Christina Baker Kline brings an artist and his muse to life in this novel that blends fact and fiction. Based on Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, Kline gives readers a truly beautiful glimpse into the life of the woman behind the painting.
  5. Red Water by Kristen Mae. Kristen Mae of Abandoning Pretense: “An Amazon best seller, Red Water will slither under your skin and stick there. Erotic, raw, and disturbing, and with deeply flawed but relatable characters, Mae’s sophomore novel is a dark, unflinching examination of the psychology of self-loathing and the secret, unspeakable lust for depravity that lies dormant within us all.”
  6. My Lame Life: Queen of the Misfits by Jen Mann. Jen Mann of People I Want to Punch in the Throat: “My Lame Life is a great summer read for teens and adults because it’s a funny and endearing book that is entirely relatable!”
  7. Famished by Meghan O’Flynn. Meghan O’Flynn: “Famished is a bestselling psychological thriller that explores the darkest parts of the human psyche. Hailed as “Thrilling, emotional and depraved,” this novel is one you won’t want to put down.”
  8. Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. Stephanie of When Crazy Meets Exhaustion: “While not a new publication, Jenny is every one of us: frazzled Mama juggling parenthood and work. When she realizes a family meal is the best shot at quality time with her husband and kids, so begins her journey to make it happen. It’s part cookbook (fabulous, EASY recipes) and part narrative. Witty, relate-able, and educational (I learned how to cook things, you guys!) I was went through Jenny-withdrawal when I finished the book!”
  9. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Shari of Adore Them pick: “Jon Ronson is an incredible author who combines objective observations with his own take on these experiences. For this book he spent years meeting people who had been subject to public shaming. It is fascinating (& horrible) to see how one tweet could ruin someone’s life.”
  10. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. Kim Bongiorno of Let Me Start By Saying: “The story is told in alternating voices of three best friends as they begin their senior year: one knowing she is OUTTA THERE, one being OK with staying exactly where he is because he has his stories to escape into, and one not feeling like he can or is deserving of going anywhere but right where his father’s crimes put him. I felt so many things while I read this, but mostly that I will now read literally anything this author writes from now on.”
  11. The Most Beautiful by Mayte Garcia. Suzanne of Toulouse & Tonic: “I devoured this book about Prince by his ex-wife Mayte Garcia. At first I was afraid it would be exploitive but after reading reviews carefully, I gave it a try. It was so worth it. A great portion of the book is the story of HER life. It’s interesting and insightful. The parts of her life she shared with Prince are handled in a respectful but honest way. I feel like I actually know something about this enigmatic man now. I still miss him but 4 me, it brought a little peace.”
  12. Redemption Road by John Hart. Lydia of Cluttered Genius: “Redemption Road caught me from page one and had me guessing the entire way through. I don’t generally choose murder mysteries or thrillers, but Hart’s novel has me wanting to find the rest of his books to read more!”
  13. Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center. Natalie of a Turtle’s Life for Me: “Everyone is Beautiful is a heartwarming and humorous look at one woman’s journey through marriage and motherhood as she tries to find small moments of personal fulfillment. The epiphanies and insights she gains along the way are told in a light-hearted manner, but resonate deeply in a way that will have you thinking about it months later. I read this with my book club and we found we were bringing it up again even a year later, because it struck such a deep chord with us.”
  14. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Dani of Meraki Lane: “I loved this book. It explores so many emotionally sensitive topics – infertility, adoption, motherhood, and interracial marriage – and the author did such an amazing job of jumping back and forth between the United States and India. She described each with such vivid detail, and the story truly encapsulated the meaning of the word ‘family.’ It was an easy, yet complex read, and the ending brought me to tears. I highly recommend this one!”
  15. The Twelves Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. Jana of Jana Says: “I LOVED this book. Dark and twisted and violent and a thriller complimented with a father/daughter/coming of age story told between alternating POV and bouncing back and forth in time until it all catches up to itself. It’s so well done and well written and I cannot recommend it enough.”
  16. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Kimberly of Red Shutters: “It’s the story of a family, torn apart by slavery. One branch of the family aids in the slave trade in Ghana, later becoming involved in conflict with the British, and finally finding their way to America. The other side of the family is sold into slavery and generations later experience an America of incarceration, poverty, and drug abuse. Despite its challenging subject matter, Homegoing is captivating, an extraordinary story about hope, connection, and loss. I couldn’t put it down, and when it did end, I was disappointed–I wanted more. That’s the sign of an extraordinary book!”
  17. The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles. Janine of Confessions of a Mommyaholic: “This is the beginning of a supernatural, romance YA series that struck all the right notes for me. Honestly, think it could be in the leagues of Twilight or even Harry Potter as the writing was superb. Plus, the storyline was unique, fast moving and heart tugging, as well. Therefore, recommend as the perfect summer vacation read.”
  18. The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian. Rabia of The Lieber Family: “Lianna’s mom has disappeared. The most plausible explanation is that her frequent sleepwalking took her over a bridge to her death. But on closer inspection, that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. And the good looking detective assigned to the case is trying to help, isn’t he? So what really happened? I can’t wait to find out!”
  19. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman. Anne of Once Upon a Mom: “I haven’t read this one yet but it looks amazing! It’s a story about a quirky kid with an even quirkier grandma who, after her death, leaves a a series of letters apologizing to people. I’m looking forward to finding out about all of Grandmother’s secrets!”
  20. City Mouse by Stacey Lender. Carrie of Normal Level of Crazy and Meredith of The Mom of the Year: “This defines a beach read for me! So relatable to our own lives as it is all about mom trying to find out exactly where she fits in the in the scheme of suburbia–all that goes along with it. Plus, when a book is described as ‘The Stepford Wives meets Bad Moms’, how can you go wrong?”

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It's here! The annual list of the 20 best summer books! All come highly recommended and are perfect reads to kick back with this summer! Plus, check out this incredible giveaway--100 copies of ONE book, a $250 Amazon giftcard and a bunch of new beach reads? Enter now!!

And that’s it, friends! Our list of the 20 Best Summer Books you need to kick back with during all the sun-soaked days ahead of us! As promised, the giveaway for a $250 AMAZON GIFT CARD and copies of some of the titles on this list (Red Water, Famished, My Lame Life: Queen of the Misfits, The Sleepwalker, Homegoing and Redemption Road) is below!

UPDATE: BONUS! You’ll also win a copy of my fave: Man’s Search for Meaning!

No better way to keep your reading stash well stocked and you can use the gift card to grab some other titles that are on your own wish list. Sweet!

As long as you are 18 or older, live in the continental United States, and enter before June 16, 2017 at 5:30am EST, you are eligible to win!

It's here! The annual list of the 20 best summer books! All come highly recommended and are perfect reads to kick back with this summer! Plus, check out this incredible giveaway--100 copies of ONE book, a $250 Amazon giftcard and a bunch of new beach reads? Enter now!!

Also as promised, we are tickled to be giving away 100 COPIES of the favorite title our book club has ever read, This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel! Read the whole post HERE to find out why it is such an exceptional book, and then hop over quickly to enter the giveaway! Thanks to the generosity of Flatiron Books, copies will be sent to the first 100 people who enter the giveaway* (The grand prize winner included! The same giveaway deadline and rules as above apply.) We could go on and on about This Is How It Always Is, but to put it simply: it is important, life-changing, and beautiful. This isn’t just a book you want to read, it’s a book you need to read.

*Note: remember each person can gain multiple entries, so don’t assume that all 100 copies have been claimed when the entries total goes over 100! Meredith will be updating on social media how many copies are left if you want to check in on this as the giveaway progresses!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Thanks for joining us in this kick-off to summer reading celebration with this list of the 20 best summer books! Happy summer and happy reading, friends!

It's here! The annual list of the 20 best summer books! All come highly recommended and are perfect reads to kick back with this summer! Plus, check out this incredible giveaway--100 copies of ONE book, a $250 Amazon giftcard and a bunch of new beach reads? Enter now!!

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***Thank you to Flatiron Books, Jen Mann, Kristen Mae, Meghan O’Flynn, Macmillan Publishers, Anchor Books, and Vintage Books for providing copies of the books for the giveaway. All opinions are entirely our own.***

Book photo in second graphic: depositphotos.com, Image ID:9056658, Copyright:belchonock

Last image credit: depositphotos.com, Image ID:13362963, Copyright:coolfonk

 

Free Services & Experiences for Military Families

These are some huge freebies for military families. Busch Gardens, anyone?

I grew up in a military family. Then I grew up and was in another military family. There are some fun things about the culture: you get to travel (AKA moving every few years,) you learn to establish deep friendships quickly and you get discounts just about everywhere you go.

Then there are more serious things. You have to move every few years—you get no say in the matter. You put up with weird spousal schedules as duties rotate.

You say goodbye to family and friends when they deploy, always trying to squelch the seed of fear that sits in your belly, because you’ve known and loved people who haven’t returned, but you cannot allow that seed to grow. Its far-reaching vines would consume you, and right now you need to be strong.

Today I want to remember all those serious things. I want to remember all the sacrifices that military families are currently making. I don’t know if I could do it again, but I’m so grateful that they are.

In that spirit of gratitude, I’m going to do what I do best: find free stuff. The below experiences and services are 100% free to active-duty military and their families. Go out there and have fun. And stash all the money you’ll be saving in your TSP!

Free Tax Filing

I know, I know. I’m a little late on this one. But you can get your taxes filed for free on base every year. Just keep in mind that being a tax preparer is often a seasonally-assigned duty—make sure the supervisor checks your preparer’s numbers!

PenFed Credit Union Membership

PenFed is a national credit union that has a field of membership open to active-duty miliary (and retired) families to join. They offer great rates, and stand behind their commitment to the military, not only through their programs and financial services, but also through their charitable arm The PenFed Foundation – which offers programs for the military like The Military Heroes Fund, The Asset Recovery Kit (ARK) and the Dream Makers Program.

Join today.

Free YMCA Membership

Active duty military members and their families get free membership at the local Y. To join, request an eligibility form from Military OneSource.

Free Wedding Dress

If you or your spouse-to-be has been deployed in the past five years, or has a deployment around the corner, you’ll want to head to a Brides Across America exhibition. At these events, active duty women or soon-to-be military spouses are given free wedding dresses for the big day.

This year there are still events scheduled in Colorado and Florida. There were also events in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia in 2017.

Want to show your appreciation to military families? Donate a dress here.

Free Family Portrait

Sometimes you aren’t home very long before you’re gone again. Those moments are precious, and so are the memories that go along with them. Operation: Love Reunited is a network of photographers spread across the country who provide their services to military families for free.

If you’re a photographer and want to join their ranks, you can do so here.

Free Entrance to National Parks

The National Park Service and Federal Recreational Lands do not charge active-duty military for annual passes.  Just show your military ID at any of these sites and they will issue you one for free.

If you’re not in the military, you can get into National Parks for free on designated days. Find out when they are.

Free Access to Select NJ Beaches

Apparently you have to have a badge to go to the beach in New Jersey. Fortunately for military families, these badges are issued to you for free in many, though not all, municipalities.

Free Admission to George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum

Located in Dallas, Texas, active-duty military and up to five of their family members get free admission to this unique museum.

Free Admission to MoMA

Active-duty military members and their families get into this iconic museum for free. All the time.

Free Admission to the San Diego Zoo

My biggest regret about my trip to San Diego last fall is that I missed the zoo. Military families don’t have to, though. Active-duty members get in for free, and if you talk to your MWR on base before you leave, they may be able to get you heavily discounted tickets for the rest of your family, too.

Free Admission to Amazing Theme Parks

Under the Waves for Honor program, active-duty military families can go to the following theme parks for free, as long as they register online before they go:

  • Sea World—San Antonio, San Diego and Orlando locations only.
  • Busch Gardens—Tampa & Williamsburg locations only.
  • Sesame Place—This is a Sesame Street theme park outside of Philly.

Vet Tix

Vet Tix is a platform where people donate tickets to various concerts and events to have them claimed (for free) by active-duty military and veterans. You can check out the current selection here.

 

*This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. The views expressed in the article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. PenFed Credit Union is an Equal Housing Lender and is federally insured by the NCUA.*

New York City for Under $100 Per Day

I guess a trip to New York City really is possible on a frugal budget! Love the tips she used to do it for under $100/day--including her hotel!

This past month I took a super frugal trip to New York. I was in town for a conference, and was initially a little worried about the budget. But it turns out, even in one of the most expensive cities on Earth, there are always affordable ways to travel.

Accommodations- $181

The first thing I looked at when I was deciding if this sojourn was even going to be possible was accommodations. The conference was happening at a hotel in Times Square, and even the discounted conference rate was oppressive.

I decided to turn to Airbnb. It’s an option I’ve been reluctant to use in the past. Sleeping in a stranger’s house seemed, well, scary. But when we went to Canada we tried it out for the first time and had a stellar experience. Stellar as in these were the views from the private apartment we rented:

This is why we used Airbnb in Calgary.

I’ve learned from personal experience and from watching others use the platform that reading reviews is critical. You want a place with lots of reviews to scroll through, and you want the vast majority of those reviews to be glowing. I applied this same method to NYC and found a place in the heart of Times Square for a grand total of $181– for three nights.

The place I stayed was set up similar to a hostel. Initially, I had planned to keep to myself and get a lot of work done. But as soon as I got there, I was bombarded with invitations to go grab some food, check out nightlife or just chat.

I took the offers I could within the conference schedule, and I’m so glad I did. I made new friends, learned amazing stories from new acquaintances, and saw far more of the area than I would have if left to my own devices. It felt like going away to summer camp, except your bunk mates were these amazing women from around the world.

I highly endorse Airbnb for budget travel. It’s saved me a ton of money over a hotel multiple times, and, after carefully reading the reviews, has felt incredibly safe and led to amazing experiences I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t rented space from a local. If you want to try it out, too, you can get a $40 travel credit by signing up here.

Transit- $81.00

I found a Megabus ticket from Pittsburgh to NYC for $72 roundtrip. That included reserving seats, which was an optional add-on. (My favorite was on the top in the front of the bus.)

It was my first time using them. Wifi was spotty, which I expected. It was nonexistent on my way in, but on my way home I was able to knock a lot of work out. I had heard the buses were “dirty,” but I didn’t have that experience. Maybe I’m just too used to PAT buses, which can be pretty gross sometimes. Everything’s relative.

While in New York, I bought three subway tickets. I had a really easy time using it on the way in, and spent $3 on a one-time pass. But I got confused while heading to catch the Megabus out, so I ended up having to buy two one-time tickets for a total of $6.

Food- $84.00

I had some amazing eats while in the city. One day while I was in town, the conference provided free lunch and breakfast. Another day, my mom’s cousin was generous enough to treat me to lunch at Thalia. It was the first time each of us were trying the restaurant, and it was amazing.

With friends from the Airbnb, I tried some Indian, and old-school diner and an Irish pub. One night we grabbed a drink at Hard Rock, too.

Grand total: $84.00

The Conference: THINK17

My friends at CO-OP invited me to check out their annual conference: THINK17. I wasn’t able to stay for the entire thing because of prior obligations that week, but I’m so glad I made it for the two days I did. It was the most interesting and dynamic conference I’ve ever been to.

We listened to speakers who challenged the norm, spoke with credit union reps who were completely dedicated to making their members’ experiences beyond spectacular, and got to hear from some of the winners of their THINK17 prize, which invited innovation in the digital financial experience for those 50+.

Inspirational youth who won the THINK Prize 2017.

Aside from the awesome financial nerd discussions and inspirational speakers, we also were privy to some top notch entertainment, including a sampler of Hamilton during opening:

Fun times seeing a Hamilton Sampler in NYC.

And a Cirque-esque performance at our first night’s party:

Entertainment: $0

I didn’t spend a lot going to shows or anything of the like while I was in NYC. I found that walking around in the evening brought enough free entertainment that I didn’t have to pay for it. Just walking around Times Square my Airbnb friends and I were able to see some great performances, including a talented break dancing troupe.

The above video is in 360. Best viewed through your VR headset, but you can also look around by clicking and dragging to change your perspective with your mouse.

I did learn, however, that if you want to go see a show, you can purchase any leftover tickets at the TKTS booth in the middle of Times Square. You have to be flexible in what you’re willing to see, but you’ll score a great deal.

New York City on a Budget

If doing NYC for four days under $350 is possible, you can do anywhere on a budget of less than $100/day. I wouldn’t trade my frugal experiences for the world—whether we’re talking about the new friends I made or the new ideas and experiences I have in my tool belt for work.

What destinations have you done for cheap? Share your story in the comments! 

 

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