We Saved Over $1,000 on Our Disney World Vacation – And So Can You!

Back in November, Grant and I celebrated our first anniversary at the happiest place on Earth – Disney World! We’ve had the opportunity to go three times together (2015, 2016, and 2018), and each time it gets even better! This was our second time with the “Free Dining” promotion, and this time, we tracked all of our spending to see if it actually saved us money. And after tallying every dollar spent on our resort, tickets, and food, the grand total was over $1,000 in savings compared to if we had paid for every thing at full cost! And if you include our flights that we paid for with points and a gift card, that total goes up to nearly $1,400 that we saved!

So, how did we do it? Unlike grocery shopping or online shopping where you can use a myriad of coupons or promo codes to get some great deals, Disney itself really only has a few ways for you to save on a vacation: a room discount, package discount/special offer, or by using your Disney Visa card rewards. But there are a few other tips and tricks to save and stretch every dollar for your next Disney vacation!

Here are the steps we took to build up these amazing savings:

  • Free Dining” Promotion – The first time we took advantage of the “Free Dining” promotion was in 2016, and we stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort. We stumbled upon the promotion when were were planning our trip and were lucky enough to snag a reservation with the offer. This time, we knew to be on the lookout for it, especially since it’s historically been offered for the same time of year (promo becomes available in late April for bookings in the fall/early winter; I like to keep track of historical promos here). We managed to book at Coronado Springs this time for a few days after Thanksgiving, the best time in my opinion to get in the Christmas spirit and go during a cooler time of year. TLB Tip – there are rumors that “Free Dining” will be going away after Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge opens. BUT if you are looking to plan a Disney vacation this summer, they have “Free Dining” available July-September, so book while you can! The promotion nearly always sells out, but make sure it’s the right choice for you and your family:
    • Ticket Requirements – There are ticket requirements (Park Hopper and typically at least 4 days) and you aren’t able to bundle with other offers, so sometimes a room only discount can be better (deluxe resorts sometimes have discounts up to 35%!). For us, we knew we wanted the Park Hopper option and planned to be there 5 days and 4 nights, so the promotion fit perfectly for our vacation. When looking at the room only discount for the same time period, a 20% discount at Coronado Springs would only save us about $200, so we opted for the free dining package instead.
    • Different Meal Plans Included – Only the Deluxe resorts get the full Disney Dining Plan (1 quick service, 1 table service, 2 snacks per person per night); Values and Moderates get the Quick Service Plan (2 quick service, 2 snacks per person per night). With this trip being an anniversary trip, we definitely wanted to make sure we had some table service options. Although we were staying at a Moderate resort, Disney allows you to upgrade your meal plan for the difference in cost, which was well worth it to us! This way, it basically feels like an all-inclusive vacation (aside from tips). If we hadn’t had free dining this trip, it still would have been worth it for us – we would have saved a couple hundred dollars by purchasing the meal plan this trip.
    • Make Dining Reservations Early! I cannot emphasize this one enough, especially for the Disney Dining Plan with table service restaurants. Disney opens the booking window 180 days out for dining reservations, and if you are staying on property, you can make reservations for all days of your vacation at that 180 day mark. And if you want to eat at some of the most popular restaurants like Be Our Guest, you’ll want to be on the computer right at 6 AM EST to book those! Keep in mind that the cost of the Disney Dining Plan is $75.49 per person per night, so if you really want to maximize the benefits of “free dining,” you’ll want to look at menus and plan to try to spend over $5 per snack, $18 per quick service meal, and $41 per table service meal (the break even amounts if you paid for the plan out of pocket). We highly recommend Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club (all you can eat crab legs!) and Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for some of our favorite table service meals. And Be Our Guest is the only quick service location that requires reservations for breakfast and lunch, so we love being able to plan for a great meal for less time than a typical table service meal.
    • So. Much. Food. So would we really eat this much food if we weren’t on the dining plan? Probably not. The two snacks per person each day was a bit aggressive, and we ended up using quite a few on our last day with the Goofy candy to take home. But it was great to be able to try some new restaurants and food that we wouldn’t normally order. TLB Tip – Starbucks drinks count as a snack credit, so go ahead and order that $7 Venti Frappuccino that you know you can’t resist! And new to the 2018 (and still for 2019) dining plan was the addition of a specialty beverage with each meal. It made every meal feel like a special treat, and definitely not what we would have done if we were paying a la carte!
  • Sam’s Club Gift Cards – One of our top travel hacks for planning and paying for this trip was purchasing discounted Disney gift cards from Sam’s Club. When you make your initial reservation, Disney only requires a $200 deposit that is refundable up until 30 days from your check-in date, which gives you a ton of time to save along the way and pay as you go. Sam’s Club currently offers discounted gift cards that save you about $7 every $150 in gift cards you purchase. When we paid with our Discover card, there was a 5% cash back bonus for purchases at club stores, so we were able to save even more! We booked our trip in April, so we had about 7 months to save and purchase gift cards along the way. Disney’s website makes it very easy to use gift cards and make payments along the way, with only a $20 minimum on payments.
  • Disney Chase Visa Card – While definitely not the best card in terms of the cash back (1% on all purchases), cardholders sometimes get access to longer promotion windows or other perks. We put some of our work and personal expenses on this card and pay it off every month, so over the past few years it accumulated to a nice amount for our souvenir and extra expense bucket. Cardholders also enjoy 0% APR on Disney vacations booked with your Disney Visa for 6 months.
  • Airline Points – Orlando is a fairly easy drive from Atlanta, but still would take up a good bit of our vacation just in traveling back and forth. With some of our work travel over the past year, we were able to accumulate enough points to book Southwest flights for our trip – about $400 if we had paid out of pocket. With just an hour flight between the cities and having access to Disney’s Magical Express, transportation was a breeze and at no additional cost to us!

Interested in seeing our cost breakdown? We would have spent a whopping $3,400 if we paid out of pocket for everything included in our last trip (resort, tickets, food costs)! Here’s how things broke out if we were to pay completely out of pocket with a meal plan and no discounts versus a room only discount versus what we actually paid:

Cost completely out of pocket$3,433
Cost with no discounts & Disney Dining Plan$2,969
Cost with 25% room only discount & Disney Dining Plan$2,708
Actual costs (with “free dining” & all savings)$2,263

So what are your favorite ways to save for your Disney vacation? Comment below for any other ones we should consider for our next trip!  

Thanks for reading more tips and tricks from our Disney trip to come! Be sure to check out our Instagram for more: www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells.

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Reflecting on 2018 Goals

Wow, it’s hard to believe that we have closed out another year and it’s on to 2019! In some ways, it’s felt like it went by so quickly, but on the other hand it feels like there was so much crammed into 2018 that it couldn’t possibly have been just one year. In one of our very first blog posts, we wrote about our goals for 2018 (take a look at the full post here). To be completely honest, it wasn’t something that we talked much about on a regular basis throughout the year, but we kept the list posted on our fridge as a constant reminder of what we were working towards.

So how did we do? I was a little nervous pulling that sheet of paper off the fridge to evaluate whether we had achieved our goals or had fallen short. Here’s a quick snapshot of how we did:

  1. Exercising 30 minutes at least 3 times per week Yes! Overall, I’d say we did a pretty good job on this one during a typical work week. I workout with my mom and sister twice a week, which holds me accountable, and the gym is on my way home for at least one more workout each week. Grant stops by the gym most days after work when he’s not traveling and we try to have at least one weekend workout together as well. I’m hoping we can keep this positive momentum rolling in 2019!
  2. Cook dinner at home at least 4 nights per week – Yes! Another one I am really proud of us for achieving! Not only do we save a significant amount of money eating in, but it gives us healthier options and more time to spend together. Another habit from 2018 that we are hoping to continue. And if you have any great recipes, send them my way – we are constantly looking for new easy meals to try.
  3. Save enough money for a house down payment by October – YES! By far my proudest accomplishment from 2018. We began our home search in May, a bit earlier than we had originally planned. By early June, we were under contract for a house and set to close in August. It took a lot of discipline to save and watch our spending those first 7-9 months of marriage, (and a lot of meals at home with chicken) but it paid off! We are incredibly blessed to have found a home that we can grow into in an area that we love.
  4. Max out 401K – Kinda. Grant and I both have employer sponsored 401K accounts and each have a separate Roth IRA account. We both continued to contribute to our employer accounts in order to get the full employer match, but are still working up to maxing out our Roth contributions for the year. Automating these contributions and our savings in general will help us to hopefully get closer with this in 2019.
  5. Less than $10,000 student loan debt and car loan – No. This is one where it would have been beneficial to track this progress more closely throughout the year because we were really close. We ended the year at about $12,500 left on student loans and car payments, so we were just shy of meeting our goal. When I checked the accounts and saw we were so close yet didn’t meet that goal, I felt disappointed and a little dejected. And sometimes that’s how you feel when you don’t meet a goal – you focus on what you didn’t accomplish rather than what you did. So I looked at what we were able to do in 2018 and I found that we paid off nearly $15,000 in student loans and car payments! That is incredible!! Yes, we fell short of our goal, but we should be proud of what we accomplished in 2018 and keep pushing forward in 2019 to officially be debt free (minus our mortgage).
  6. Use every vacation day – In progressWe are still working on this one, but we each took some time off around Thanksgiving and between Christmas and New Years to spend time with family and friends and relax and recharge before heading back to work. Both Grant and I value quality time together more than anything else, so we’re working to make it a priority to use our vacation/PTO time. And more to come, but we have officially booked a 12 day trip to Italy in May! 
  7. Plan a first anniversary trip in November – Yes! We actually were overachievers when it came to this goal – we had a mini stay-cation for one night at Chateau Elan the weekend of our actual anniversary and then planned our big anniversary trip to Disney World after Thanksgiving. We had an incredible time there and will be sharing some tips and tricks soon on ways we made the most of our time and saved money (TLB tip – we booked a free dining offer and Disney is currently offering it again for July-September here! If you want recommendations or have questions, we are happy to share our experience.) 

So there you go. We didn’t achieve all of our goals, but rather than feeling disappointed by what we didn’t do, we are celebrating all we were able to accomplish this year and know that 2019 holds even more exciting times!

Thanks for following along and happy new year to everyone! We are excited for all that is to come in 2019, so be sure to check out our Instagram

Looking Back on Our First Year of Marriage

This post is a little overdue, but Grant and I celebrated our first anniversary last month on November 11! Even as I type this, it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that we have been husband and wife for an entire year. There is so much buildup and celebratory events during the engagement period, that I expected life to slow down after the actual wedding. But thinking back over the past year, it’s been incredible to reflect on everything we’ve experienced and accomplished together in such a short time. Here are some of our favorite parts of the past year:

  1. Honeymoon: We obviously have to start with our amazing honeymoon trip to Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla (read our full review here)! The beginning of our journey as a married couple and the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy after the whirlwind of wedding week. This was the longest trip that Grant and I had taken with just the two of us, so it was really nice to truly enjoy making our own plans or just having no plans at all. While our wedding was so amazing and we loved being surrounded by our families and friends, we both needed this time together to start our marriage with the focus on our new family of two. If you’re on the fence about having a honeymoon right after your wedding or waiting a few months, I would highly recommend at least taking a few days right after the wedding for that mental and physical rest after the wedding and use that time to celebrate with your new spouse.
  2. Apartment Living and Buying a Home: This one is two-part because I truly believe that we gained something from both of our living situations. Before we got married, Grant and I knew that we would need to spend at least a little time in an apartment to save money for a house down payment. Luckily, we found a great location and knowing that the apartment was only temporary, it served us well for the 10+ months we lived there. We learned how to live with each other in a pretty small space, but it was where we made our first home together. Granted, when the AC and fridge started having issues, we were definitely glad to be moving out! I would put the whole home buying process about on par with the excitement and stress of wedding planning, but both turn out to be completely worth it. After almost a year of apartment living, I know we have a new appreciation for the space we have in our house and really understand the hard work and discipline it took to officially sign all of the papers and get the keys. (Check out our full home buying post here)
  3. Establishing a Routine: As silly as this one sounds, it’s been really nice to establish new routines that work for us in our marriage. In college, we had to manage a long distance relationship and didn’t live with each other in Atlanta until after we got married, so we always had to plan our time wisely. Now, it’s great to be in the same place, but we both leave the house super early and only have a few hours together in the evenings during the work week, so you have to make the most of your time. When Grant isn’t traveling for work, we both try to get to the gym for some “me time” after work, and then I get dinner started when I get home. Eating at home has saved us so much money and given us better quality time together, and we save our eating out for the weekends when we can actually enjoy and appreciate it. It’s been a balancing act with work, home, and family events, but continuing to have open communication has really helped us prioritize.
  4. New Experiences: 2018 has been quite a year for us so far! We have gotten the chance to travel (with more ahead!), we’ve gone to numerous Broadway shows, tried new restaurants, volunteered at charity events, became an aunt and uncle, and spent time with the ones we love. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but Grant and I both know that enjoying experiences is more fulfilling to us than having stuff. Which is probably why we still haven’t prioritized buying dining room furniture…but that’s a whole other story! And while I haven’t kept up with writing as much as I’d hoped, it’s been a fun journey to document some of our first year through this blog.
  5. Excitement for What’s Ahead: While I’ve been trying to ground myself in the present and enjoy life as it happens now, there’s something to be said about the anticipation and excitement around something you are looking forward to. Especially at this time of year with the holidays and new year, it’s hard not to be excited! I love that our anniversary will kick off this wonderful season each year. But even during the everyday weeks, it’s nice to have something to look forward to as a couple. Whether it’s the tickets we bought for a show at the Fox four months in advance or something as little as our Friday night date nights, you learn to celebrate both the big and the small. Just because you are married doesn’t mean you stop dating your spouse – there are even more opportunities to do something new together and continue learning more from and about one another.

So thank you to all of you that have followed along with us so far this year! It has certainly been a packed year, and it’s hard to think how 2019 and year 2 of marriage can top this one. Be sure to follow along our Instagram for more posts and photos – www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells

So We Didn’t Win the Lottery…But Here’s Why We Still Feel Luckier Than Ever

Last night’s historic Mega Millions $1.6 billion prize had the country in a lottery frenzy! And while the odds were most definitely not in our favor with a nearly impossible chance of picking the right numbers, we couldn’t help but join in with all of the other dreamers by purchasing a ticket. For just $2, we slipped into the “what ifs” and daydreaming of what we would do with that type of money. And you know what? So many of the things on our list were things we were already working towards or things that were totally attainable with hard work and discipline. Here are a few of the items we had on our list:

  • Pay off student loans
  • Pay off car loan/get cars fixed
  • Pay off mortgage
  • Buy dining room furniture and a new living room couch
  • Fund our future kids’ college education
  • Travel more extensively
  • Donate both money and time to our favorite causes
  • Focus on our passions
  • Set up trusts for our families to be financially free

We had a few other selfishly fun and more extravagant things too (some crazy expensive Traeger grill for Grant, Disney Vacation Club for me), but what we realized was that at the end of the day, we love the life we share together with each other and our friends and family. Sure, an unexpected windfall could alleviate some financial pressure, but when we think back to what we’ve already accomplished, I know we have been so blessed and should take time to celebrate what we have rather than focusing on what we are missing out on.

One of my favorite quotes is, “You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything.” I think it’s so powerful that anything is within your reach with hard work and a plan, but you have to prioritize and figure out what is most important to you first. If you told me at college graduation that in less than 5 years I would buy a car and almost have it paid off, get engaged, plan and pay for a wedding to the love of my life, pay off 85% of my student loans, and save 20% for our first home down payment, I would tell you that you were crazy and it couldn’t be done! But when I think about all that we’ve been able to accomplish, there is no reason we shouldn’t continue to dream big and work towards our goals, even if they may seem unattainable now. Breaking things down into smaller steps day by day may not seem like you make fast progress, but it adds up over time.

So while we aren’t newfound billionaires or millionaires, we have so much to be thankful for. Loving families, a beautiful home, food on our table, our health, and the ability to continue to chase our dreams. And if you are still feeling bummed about not having the winning ticket, hopefully you get a little laugh from the picture below!

lotto

Follow along with us on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells

Behind the Scenes at Porsche – CHOA’s Rolling for a Reason

A few weeks ago, we had a chance to go behind the scenes at the Porsche Driving Experience for a charity event benefiting the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. We’ve said this before, but Children’s holds a place near and dear to our hearts, so we are always grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at these events and bring awareness to such an amazing cause. This night was nothing short of spectacular, and we’re sharing some behind the scenes photos from this incredible event!

The new facility was opened in 2015 and is located just south of Atlanta right next to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The best way to describe the Porsche Driving Experience is a real life “Test Track” for car enthusiasts. From the history of Porsche, to their wall of paint colors, to the driver development track, this place is a car lover’s dream!

If you are looking to go on a drive, we heard rumors that the blue car was the fastest!

Our evening started with a cocktail reception on their patio, which overlooks their test course and has views of the planes taking off and landing next door at the airport. Combine that with a gorgeous sunset, and it’s hard to find a view that will beat this one! The CHOA VIP attendees had the opportunity to go for a ride around the test course in one of the many Porsche models. While we didn’t get to fulfill our need for speed this time, the Porsche Experience Center offers a variety of different driving experiences here. Prices vary depending on which experience you choose, but still are a bit out of the Local Bells’ budget – guess we’ll have to make do with getting our fast car fix at Test Track this November! (Stay tuned for our tips and tricks on how we saved hundreds on our Disney vacation!)

When the sun went down, the games began and the stakes were high! You had your pick from whatever your game was – whether that was roulette or blackjack, craps or Texas hold’em. Everyone started out with $1,000 worth of chips to gamble as you pleased. For some, they went big but didn’t have to go home early thanks to a donation buy-in that let them stay in the game. Midway through the evening, we heard a moving speech from the Blythes, the honored patient family this evening, about their son’s battle against cancer and the love and support they’ve received from the Aflac Cancer Center and CHOA. Hearing those stories and knowing that the proceeds from this evening go to real people like the Blythe family truly puts everything into perspective.

Shout-out to ONEHOPE Wine for the amazing wine this evening! They donate to a different cause with the purchase of every bottle of wine – a winning combination in our book!

At the end of the evening, we traded in our chips for raffle tickets for some amazing prizes – if you’ve ever been to a CHOA event, you know the silent auctions and raffles are outstanding! Let’s just say Grant and I shouldn’t quit our day jobs to play blackjack professionally…

If you are interested in ways to support Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, we invite you to check out their website, www.choa.org. There are so many ways to give back, whether through amazing events like this or volunteering in their hospitals. For one of their exciting events coming this October, be sure to check out Polo in the Pines at the Atlanta Regional Polo Center! Two days of polo, delicious food, fantastic silent auction prizes, and supporting a great cause. We hope to see you there!

Follow us on Instagram for more of our fall fun to come – www.instagram.com/thelocalbells!

Why We Love Horseback Riding at Barnsley Gardens

By now, you’ve seen some of our posts about our love for trying new things and exploring new places. Barnsley Gardens continues to top our list for one of our favorite closeby places to visit. In case you missed our first post about Barnsley and how much we love it here, check out our post from earlier in the spring here. Last Christmas, my parents gave a horseback riding trail ride to Grant and I along with my sister and brother-in-law. After a crazy first half of the year and a hot summer, we finally booked our trail ride at Barnsley Gardens this past weekend.

My sister, Morgan, and I grew up riding English and have been comfortable around horses for most of our lives, with our horses even living at home for part of our time growing up. Grant has always helped out with the horses, whether it was hauling hay from Mr. Gantt’s feed store down the street or going to visit Dakota with me and bring his favorite treats. We went on our first ride together last fall at Brasstown Valley Resort, so he was excited for this ride at Barnsley. Morgan’s husband, Stephen, had never ridden a horse, so we had quite a range of experience and comfort levels with horses going into the day’s trail ride.

Here are our top 5 things we loved about our experience at Barnsley:

  1. Amazing horses – Barnsley truly has the most incredible horses! Such sweet dispositions and manners make the trail ride enjoyable for any rider – regardless of past experience. They also have some great names. Grant’s personal favorite was his horse, Mr. Deeds. I think he might have tried to take him home with us if we lived closer (and actually had grass in the backyard)!
  2. Fantastic staff – Growing up riding, I was always taught that for every hour you spent riding, you spent two taking care of your horse. It was a special treat to have the amazing Barnsley trail guides that saddled our horses and had everything ready to go for us. The trail guides were so personable and informative during our ride, and they had a story about each of the horses. It made it feel like it truly was a little family and community, rather than just a job and a paycheck.
  3. Trail route – Barnsley offers several different trail ride options that include a one hour ride, a 90 minute ride, and a history ride. Their trail rides are an awesome way to see the property before exploring on your own. With the trail heavily wooded, it was a nice reprieve from the hot sun even this early in the morning! About halfway through the ride, we also rode past some of the immaculate holes of their Jim Fazio golf course. The end of the ride concluded with a ride down the lawn, starting at the Woodlands Grill back past the ruins.
  4. Other animals by the stables – So if you didn’t know already, we are huge animal lovers. And one of us in particular (Grant) absolutely loves pigs! On our last visit to Barnsley, we discovered their new porky buddies, so we were excited to visit them again. We also saw goats, llamas, miniature horses, and chickens. They are all super friendly and makes us want our own little herd of farm animals!
  5. Getting to make a day trip – With Barnsley less than 60 miles away, it’s the perfect day trip that makes you feel like you’ve left the real world behind. We only wish we had more time to explore and enjoy! We had a great lunch at the Woodlands Grill, but still have yet to spend the night at the new Inn. With cooler weather ahead, we just might have to plan a weekend trip back to take advantage of their cabins and fireplaces and s’mores in the evening!

Looking for a fall escape? We highly recommend Barnsley Gardens and be sure to stop by the stables to visit some of our favorite friends! Be sure to follow along for more fall adventures on our Instagram www.instagram.com/thelocalbells

We Bought a House! – How We Did It and What We Wish We Knew

Our big announcement from this summer is that we are officially homeowners! We went under contract in early June, but didn’t close until mid-August, so it was a pretty quiet summer for us in terms of travel and eating out. We had a goal after signing our apartment lease back in October 2017 to find a house to make a home before that lease ended in November 2018 (check out our 2018 goals here). Between planning a wedding, adjusting to married life, and knowing that we needed to save aggressively if we were buying a house in 2018, it has been a whirlwind of the past 9 months. We had an awesome real estate team, mortgage lender, and support from our families during the process, so we’d like to pass along some tips on how we planned/paid for a wedding and saved for a house in less than a year along with some things we wish we had known before starting the home search process.

What were we looking for in a house?

  1. Move-in-ready Home: For the most part, Grant and I were on the same page with what we wanted in a house. We knew we preferred a single family home that our family could grow into over the next several years, but we were open to townhomes as well. Even though Grant is very handy and has a background in construction, we wanted to find a place that we could move into right away rather than having to do substantial and probably costly renovations to right off the bat. During the home search process, we saw quite a few fixer-uppers that we weren’t quite ready to tackle in a first home!
  2. Open Kitchen: We usually cook at home every Sunday through Thursday, so having a big, updated kitchen was very important to us. There were a lot of quirks in our old apartment, like no pantry, having the laundry “room” (more like a closet) in the kitchen, and cabinets that were too small to fit even regular sized dishware. We joked that we should have brought a plate and a wine glass with us when looking at houses to double check that the cabinets were big enough! We never really got the chance to entertain at our apartment either, so having an open space where our friends and family could gather was really important to us – especially as football season kicks off!
  3. Outdoor Space: For Grant, having a backyard and a place to grill was at the top of his list. With the fire hazard of having grills at apartment complexes, Grant’s grill has been at my parents’ house for the time being. Eventually, we also want to have a dog, so having a nice outdoor space was important long-term.
  4. Room to Grow: We were really grateful to have decided on a 2 bedroom apartment as opposed to a one bedroom, but after the better part of a year, we were ready to have room to unpack completely and grow. A lot of our wedding presents were still packed up since we had limited space, so we wanted to have the room to not feel cramped. We didn’t have a particular square footage in mind when looking at homes, but we knew we wanted to find a place that we could grow into as our family (hopefully!) grows in the future.

How did we do it?

  1. Planning in Advance: We knew that our first apartment was just temporary and already planned that we wouldn’t renew our lease before we even signed the initial one! With that in mind, we knew that the biggest hurdle we had to face was being disciplined and diligent in our saving for a down payment. We knew a lot of homes go on the market in the summer time and the area we wanted to live and at our price point was a hot market. We did some preliminary research with our mortgage lender, explaining how much we felt comfortable spending monthly and were able to determine our price range along with anticipated costs of putting 20% and closing costs. After that, we reached out to our awesome team of realtors (thanks, Mary Beth and Liz!) in late April and started looking at several homes on and off over a 6 week period.
  2. Automated Savings: To be perfectly honest, we were pretty easygoing with our budget post wedding. We do eat at home a lot, which saves considerably over the course of a month. Neither of us are big “stuff” people and prefer more to spend money on experiences. During our “extreme home closing budget” period, we did have to cut back some on the experiences, but were grateful to have some gift cards leftover from our wedding presents and some credit card cash back money to splurge along the way. The easiest way for us to save was to set up automated payments to our savings account on payday, so we never really had to think about saving. Each paycheck, Grant and I had roughly 15% of our paycheck automatically transferred to savings, so it started to add up quickly.
  3. Lots of chicken and eating at home: Once we were under contract, we did cut back considerably on our discretionary spend, with the big one being only eating out dinner once per week (thanks, La Parilla!). We had to get creative with our recipes and continued to bring lunch from home instead of eating out during the work week. Sunday was our day to plan out our meals for the week, and making a grocery list helped us stick to just what we needed rather than filling up the cart with impulse purchases. We typically shopped at Costco to get our meats in bulk and Kroger to take advantage of some of their Kroger Plus discounts and coupons. We are also extremely grateful for our friends and family that had us over for meals during our “cut back” time.

What do we wish we knew at the beginning of the process?

  1. Save more than you think. Having enough saved for the down payment is not enough – you need to think about closing costs as well as what your emergency fund looks like. You’ll have a few smaller payments along the way for the earnest money deposit, inspection, and appraisal. This goes back to one of the first steps in the home-buying process – while you may be approved for a much higher value house, really think about how much you can budget each month. Because of this, we actually found that we were able to make our budget work with a slightly higher monthly payment for a 15 year mortgage versus the traditional 30 year, which will save us tens of thousands of dollars in interest over the course of the loan. Big thanks to Eric at Supreme Lending for answering all of our questions throughout the process!
  2. In some cases, you’ll have to make a decision very quickly. I think Grant would agree with me that we both like to take our time when making decisions to weigh all of the options and do our research. Unfortunately, in a hot housing market, you often don’t have the luxury of time on your side. We looked at our now home on a Wednesday evening, made an offer the next morning, and found out it had been accepted by lunchtime. It blows my mind that we made such a huge life decision in less than 24 – and then, we had 67 days until closing! So while some parts of the process are very quick, you may also hit some slow parts leading up to closing.
  3. Once you move out of an apartment, you should never move yourself again. I was very fortunate that Grant, his brother, my uncle, mom, and countless other family members helped out so much on the big day of the move. Grant and I worked for several days after closing to move some of our more breakable things and anything that wasn’t furniture, so that only furniture was moved on the day we rented the Uhaul. We have already agreed that this will be the last time we move ourselves. The whole home-buying process can be stressful, but the move is definitely the most strenuous, especially when it comes to furniture. With more space than we had in the apartment, we’ll likely add more furniture over the years, and when it comes time to move again, we will be bringing in the professionals! TLB Fun Fact: We did not purchase a single moving box for this move! 
  4. Closing was actually very easy! The wire transfer was the worst part – you see so many warnings about wire transfer fraud and just hope that it all goes okay until you get the confirmation from the closing attorney. The actual transfer at the bank is pretty anti-climactic (until you see your bank account after it), and once that is done, you are basically in the home stretch to getting your keys. The whole closing process took just under an hour, and I’m not certain we could have done it any quicker! The closing attorney briefly explained all of the documents we signed, we practiced our autographs on about 25,762 different papers, and then we got the keys and a stack of paperwork! The best feeling was driving up to our house after the closing, knowing all of the hard work and stress was finally worth it.

We are so thrilled about this next chapter in our lives! For anyone considering buying a home, we hope our experience helps you plan and encourages you to keep working hard towards your goals.

With fall and football season just ahead, be sure to check out our Instagram to keep up with what’s next for the Local Bells! www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells

Tiki House Beach Getaway Part 2 – Food

You can’t go to the beach without enjoying some amazing seafood, so we made it our mission to find some great places for dinner the three nights we were on our beach vacation last month.

One of the best parts of visiting the beaches on the Florida Panhandle is the distance from Atlanta. We made the trip down Thursday morning, and arrived before lunchtime to explore the Rosemary Beach area before checking into the Airbnb. Our first stop was  the Havana Beach Rooftop Lounge at The Pearl hotel. With the breathtaking view of the Gulf Coast, it was the perfect spot to toast to the start of vacation! They have a great happy hour starting at noon ($5 glasses of wine and $5 beers), but their food menu was quite pricey.

We continued our quest for seafood the first evening by visiting Pompano Joe’s Seafood House at Pier Park. The Pier Park area is home to a variety of different restaurants and shops – perfect if you’re not sure what you want to do that evening! The best part is that it’s right across from the beach. We had a nice table outside, away from the loud hustle and bustle inside the restaurant. We had a reservation at 5:45, and it was already slammed by the time we got there! While slightly more expensive than your typical beach dive, Pompano Joe’s had great portion sizes. With a fish entree, you got vegetables, another side like rice and beans, and hush puppies.

Our second night, we went for the views at Barefoot on the Beach, rather than solely food. We sat outside on their huge patio with an awesome view of the beach and ocean. The service here was a little sub-par, but if you are there to just relax and take in the views, it’s a nice place to still enjoy the beach without being on the beach and covered in sunscreen. They had a few Happy Hour drink specials and a good selection of seafood options on the menu. We highly recommend doing one of their seafood baskets, either blackened or fried. You start off with a side salad, get a large portion of shrimp, and another side, so you definitely won’t leave here hungry!

Our best dinner hands down was at the Saltwater Grill. Unlike most places that typically only had Happy Hour drink specials, Saltwater Grill also had specials on some of their most popular entrees before 6 PM. And best of all, your order just had to be in by 6 to get the deal. The food was so good that we honestly didn’t snap too many pictures before digging in! We recommend the Creole Redfish, the Prime Rib, or the Seafood Cappellini if you are there for their early bird specials – and you end up saving up to $10! They also had some great drink specials, with $6 martinis, $5 glasses of wine, and $4 mixed drinks. And while this restaurant wasn’t on the beach, they had a huge aquarium that wrapped around the bar area, so you still got the tropical feel of being at the beach.

And to end our vacation, we couldn’t leave without visiting Thomas’ Donuts for some of the most incredible donuts! Well worth the long wait in the sun to dig into these.

Any places we missed this trip that we should put on our “must visit” list for next time in the Panama City Beach area? Share with us below in the comments! 

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Tiki House Beach Getaway Part 1 – Accommodations

After a very busy May and most of June, we are back from a much-needed beach trip for some rest, relaxation, and vitamin “sea.” Grant and I had talked about taking a trip to the beach this summer for a few days, but initially ran into issues because most beach rentals only rent by the week during peak summer season. After scouring VRBO and Airbnb, we finally found a house that checked all the boxes for our group of 6: 3+ bedrooms, walking distance to the beach, and budget-friendly for a 3 night stay. And best of all, the owners didn’t have weekly rental restrictions, so we booked it and waited with anticipation for the trip to finally arrive!

TLB Tip: Airbnb now has a rental split feature that allows you to divide the cost of the rental across all people in your party. It makes it so easy to get everything paid for without the hassle of Venmo requests. If you are a new user, be sure to use our link to sign up and get a $40 travel credit!  

After a quick lunch and trip to Publix, we finally arrived at the Airbnb, fondly dubbed the “Tiki House of PCB.” In actuality, the house set in between Panama City Beach and Rosemary in the quieter Laguna Beach area. The Airbnb hosts, Jeff and Ana, were there to greet us and give us a quick tour of the house. We were impressed by how clean the house was, and Jeff let us know he had just finished cleaning the pool as well. For a ranch, the house was surprisingly big with 4 bedrooms sleeping up to 11 total people. A major plus was the fact that there were two King beds and two Queen beds – we’d had a hard time finding homes that had this many “normal” size beds! The house was decorated in a “tiki” Polynesian style, with the garage converted to a Tiki game room and the outside pool shed also incorporating many of those island vibes as well.

Having a pool in the backyard was an awesome addition to the property. When it started to get too hot at the beach around 3 o’clock, it was the perfect spot to come back to. And if you ask Grant, his favorite part was the color changing pool lights for the evening swims! It was great to have access to a beach cart and beach chairs through the Airbnb, which helped considerably to tote everything to the beach. For $150 a week, the hosts also had a golf cart if you preferred a faster mode of transportation. TLB Tip: If you prefer to sit in the shade, be sure to bring your own umbrella! We only lasted a few hours at a time in the direct sun, so an umbrella would have helped tremendously.

The location was great, just a 10 minute walk to public beach access. We got down to the beach around 10 every morning and never had a problem finding a spot, even at the peak of summer. The house was only a few miles away from the Pier Park dining and shopping – but be warned – traffic could make the short 5 miles take 30-45 minutes during the dinner rush.

All in all, we had a great stay at the Tiki house! Size, location, cleanliness, access to a full kitchen, private pool, beach chairs, and keyless entry were huge positives. A minor inconvenience was a problem with the water and septic in the Master bedroom, so we had to make due with only one bathroom and shower for the entire weekend. Additionally, while it was great to have access to a full kitchen, there was kind of a hodge-podge cookware. If you need a frying pan for eggs, we recommend bringing your own! And be sure to pick up a bag of ice on your way in, as the freezer didn’t have a working ice maker. Check-out seemed a little early too (10 AM), which made it tough if you wanted to enjoy a little more beach time before heading home. Other than that, we would definitely recommend this home for groups that are looking to have a low-key vacation with all the comforts of home just a short distance to some of the most picturesque waters and delicious seafood.

To see the full Airbnb posting for the Tiki house, take a look here.

Stay tuned for more about some of the great food we had at the beach! Follow along with us on Instagram at www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells

6 Things I’ve Learned in 6 Months of Marriage

This month, Grant and I celebrated our first 6 months of marriage! I can’t speak for him, but the first six months have been some of the best. We’ve been communicating better than ever, settled into our lives as husband and wife, and had some fun times along the way! Reflecting back on the time that has flown by, here are the top 6 things I’ve learned in our first 6 months.

  1. Marriage is not 50-50; it is 100-100. This is an interesting one. Both Grant and I have full-time jobs, so we both are away from home starting at 6 AM until sometimes 7 or 8 PM each evening. That makes for a long day, especially when there are still things like cooking, cleaning, and laundry to be done! I typically cook for us during the week nights, and I honestly enjoy that time to unwind from the day and watch Wheel of Fortune. Now, if we decided it was only fair that we split the cooking during the week, I imagine that would cause more fights (and hungry stomachs!) than the system that works for us now. Grant has been the “designated” dish washer and trash taker-outer, which I’ve really appreciated. It’s sometimes the small gestures like that that can mean the most. For example, we try to carpool on Fridays since both of our offices are within a mile of each other. I am not the biggest fan of driving, so it’s a special treat when he drives and I get to just go along for the ride!
  2. It’s okay to do your own thing and not do everything together. This is one that I want us to keep pushing each other to remember. While we have a lot of similar interests, it’s okay to take some time for yourself and do what you want to! If Grant wants to go to a concert with a band I’m not into, go for it! We had our own friends and interests before we met and dated, and it’s an important piece of your identity to do the things that fulfill you personally. I’m very grateful that we have a lot of similar interests too and have learned to appreciate each other’s unique interests, but marriage doesn’t mean the end of your “you” time.

    One of Grant’s stipulations before we got married was that I had to watch all of the Star Wars movies – and turns out, I actually ended up liking them!

  3. Not combining finances makes you feel like more of a roommate than a partner. For the first few months after marriage, Grant and I kept all of our accounts separate for no reason other than we just hadn’t found time to combine our accounts. But around month 3, it started feeling like every transaction had to be analyzed – if I bought groceries, then that meant Grant bought dinner. We’d always been open with our spending habits and both have comparable salaries, so we finally made the leap to combine everything into a joint account. Since then, finances have actually felt less stressful. We talk to each other more, especially for purchases that are the “nice to haves” (new running shoes for me, concert tickets for Grant), and have enjoyed the transparency that comes with sharing this part of our marriage.
  4. A healthy life starts with a healthy body and mind soul. Getting married, you gain a new, permanent roommate. Schedules get busy and some days it seems like there are just not enough hours in the day to mark everything off the to-do list. But we were given one body to take care of in this lifetime, so we’ve tried to focus on exercising and eating healthy over the past few months. We’ve established good habits of eating at home most weeknights and typically kick off our Saturday with a trip to the gym. And beyond just the physical benefits, it’s a time to decompress and relieve stress rather than taking out the stress on each other.

    Lucky to have this man running with me at the RaceTrac 5K!

  5. You learn a lot about someone when you use the self check-out line at the grocery store. This is one that needs to be added to all of the “100 Things You Should Talk About/Do Before You Get Engaged/Married” books! This may be a silly one on the list, but you learn to have patience with your spouse and to not get irritated or upset by the little things. If I had only counted the number of times we’ve gotten the “please wait for assistance” flashing screen during our weekly grocery trips! Neither you nor your spouse are perfect. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll have little quirks that annoy the other person, and sometimes you’ll just have an off day. But it’s learning to no sweat the small stuff that will bring you closer together, rather than focusing on all of the tiny insignificant things.
  6. It’s not about the quantity of time; it’s about the quality of time. You would think that once you are married, you’ll get to spend so much more time with your significant other compared to when you were dating and only saw each other on the weekends. News Flash: we actually don’t see each other that much more with our long days. I’m pretty sure the majority of time we spend together is when we are both asleep! But the time we do spend together now is spent talking about our goals and still learning more about one another (rather than the non-stop wedding planning talk of 2017!). Some of my favorite memories these past few months have been our honeymoon trip and our Park City trip because we truly got a chance to explore new places together, relax, and have fun! We’ve really come to value the mental breaks from work and the time to let go when you are on vacation, so don’t let those precious vacation days go to waste!

    Flashback to snorkeling on the honeymoon and wishing we could go back!

Bonus: Comparison is the thief of joy. I feel like this one is applicable at any stage of life, but it’s been one that we’ve been challenging ourselves to remember. Once you’re married, there is no perfect timeline of when to buy a house or when to have kids. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of comparison with others who having seemingly nicer houses or take more frequent vacations, but you have to take a step back and remember that everyone has different priorities. You can’t have everything you want, but you can have anything you want if you put a plan in place to tackle one goal at a time. 

We’d love to hear from any other newlyweds and some of the things you’ve learned or experienced during your first few months as well!

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