2019 Goals – Better Late Than Never!

So I mentioned in our previous blog post that 2019 has been off to a very busy start – hence, why we are just now getting around to talking about our 2019 goals! Grant and I sat down at the beginning of January reflecting on what all we accomplished in 2018 and how we wanted to build off of that in 2019. One of the big realizations I had wrapping up 2018 was that it can be so easy to focus on the goals you fall short on and don’t accomplish, rather than celebrating everything you were able to do. For 2019, our focuses will be about celebrating life’s little wins and having gratitude every day, even if it may seem like we’re not making as big of a dent in our long-term goals.

Without further ado, here are our goals for 2019:

  1. Eliminate all debt – With the exception of our mortgage, our goal is to be completely debt free by the end of 2019. That means no more car payments and no more student loan debt. We have just over $10,000 left, which feels a little daunting to tackle in less than 10 months. But with only 4 more car payments left and continuing to automate our payments each month, we are so close to marking this one off the list! One thing that has really helped has been making weekly additional payments on my student loans – you don’t miss an extra $50 when it lines up with payday, but it contributes a lot to decreasing that balance by the end of the month.
  2. Less mindless snacking – We are both guilty of “treating yourself” a little too often. We did a great job in 2018 with exercising and eating at home, but we also grew accustomed to having an evening snack after dinner while watching TV. I don’t even think I was hungry most of the time! It was just mindless while we watched TV or talked. In 2019, we’re trying to be more mindful of what we choose to eat. That’s not to say that we are cutting out snacks forever, just that we are trying to be smarter about weekday snacking.
  3. Be more intentional and present with our time – Technology is such a gift but it can also be the biggest distraction. It’s amazing that we’ve conditioned ourselves to treat moments of silence or boredom with the opportunity to just scroll mindlessly through social media. With our work schedules, we only get maybe 2-3 hours to spend together each week day before it’s time for bed and that decreases even more when Grant travels for work. While quantity of time isn’t the most important, quality is. For us, that means putting down the phones when we are together and trying to be more in the moment. We’re looking forward especially to the opportunity to disconnect even more when we go on our Italy trip!
  4. Read more – For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to read. But as your day gets filled with more and more responsibilities, things like reading fall by the wayside. It’s always after a vacation full of reading that I realize how much I miss this, but it shouldn’t have to be reserved for that vacation time. It’s a great way to keep you thinking and to unwind after a long day, so it’s on my personal list to pick up a book at least a few times a week for 30 minutes or more.
  5. Anniversary trip – Although we have a big trip planned to Italy, we still want to continue the tradition of celebrating our marriage around the time of our anniversary. Quality time is both of our love languages so having that opportunity to just be together is so important. With quite a few other financial goals that we are trying to tackle this year, TBD on what this trip could turn into! In the meantime, we are hoping that Grant’s extensive traveling will result in some extra Delta Sky Miles (fingers crossed!).
  6. New living room couch – So maybe this one is more of a nice to have/want to have than an actual goal for 2019. Over the past few months, we’ve felt our house turn into a home as we’ve made it our own. The addition (finally!) of the dining room table really helped us feel the place come together, and the final big thing on our list for the downstairs entertaining area is a new couch. Hopefully in time for football season, but we will see!
  7. Be more spontaneous and spend time with friends – Once you leave college and everyone has different jobs and schedules and lives in different areas, it gets harder and harder to spend time with friends like you used to. After college, there is no set timeline either, so everyone is at a different stage in their lives. But you realize the importance of and how much you appreciate the people that are always there for you. So in 2019, we want to continue to try new things, visit new places, and spend time with the ones we love.
  8. 1 big date night per month – Perhaps “big” date night isn’t the right wording for this one. Basically, this is to force us out of the Friday night Mexican restaurant routine at least once a month to try something new. So far, we’ve been to the High Museum for Infinity Mirrors and to see Les Miserables. Our next date night that I’m super excited about is going to see Cinderella at the Fox! If you have any other suggestions for unique date night ideas, definitely let us know. So there you go! 2019 is already in full swing, and we are excited to see what all this year holds. Follow us on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells for more.

Planning for Italy – Tips, Tricks, & Recommendations

If you can’t tell from the lack of blog posts so far this year, 2019 has been off to an incredibly busy start for both of us. Work has been crazy and somehow we are already at the end of February! Some days it’s hard to make time for the things we want to do opposed to the things we need to do, so having a vacation on the not-so-distant horizon is keeping us excited for the days ahead. I’d mentioned previously that we are planning a trip to Italy in May, so I wanted to share some of our tips and tricks that we’ve used in planning so far.

  1. Be flexible on the time of year: Italy has been on Grant and I’s travel bucket list for some time. 11 years ago, we met on our first Europe trip through a high school study abroad program to Italy and Greece in April and the weather was great – not too hot or cold and right before the peak of tourist season. We credit that trip with the start of our friendship, relationship, and now marriage, so we knew we had to go back someday! When starting to plan for our trip together this year, we researched and found that we needed to book flights at least 3 months out, so the earliest we could go was March. With our work vacation day schedule, I knew I needed to use days before the end of May so that gave us about a 3 month window of when we would want to go. After researching several blogs on the cheapest time to visit Italy, looking at historical weather information, and comparing flight prices across multiple time periods, we decided that May checked all the boxes for us. TLB Tip: Google flights is a great tool to track flight prices across multiple airlines and Skyscanner is a fantastic tool if you are flexible on where to go or what time of year.
  2. Consider all forms of transportation: It goes without saying that the only way to get from Atlanta to Italy is to fly (or take a very long boat ride). Our trip is unique in that we will start our vacation in one city and end in another – which can make it a little complicated when booking flights. When we started looking at flights, some one way trips can cost more than a round trip, so try to book round trip or a multi-city flight all at once whenever you can! We knew we wanted to try and maximize the Delta SkyMile points we had, so it took some careful planning and being flexible with our travel plans, but in the end we spent just over $1,000 on our airfare. If we had paid out of pocket for our flights we used miles for, the one way legs would have been upwards of $3,000 each! To get to each of the cities we’ll be visiting, we will be taking trains as opposed to driving or flying. Total cost for trains was under $200 and will be significantly easier and take less time than if we were to fly to each location. TLB Tip: Buying your train tickets online was very easy and much less stressful than purchasing in person at the train station. Plus, you can get a better discount the further in advance you book!
  3. Look beyond hotels: Traveling to a foreign country can be intimidating when you don’t speak the local language, so it’s easy to default to hotels when looking for accommodations. Before we started our search, Grant and I agreed on a maximum price per night that we felt comfortable spending for a hotel and realized we could get so much more and a more authentic experience by staying at Airbnbs. Not only will we stay off the beaten path, but we’ll enjoy some additional benefits of being able to have a kitchen to cook some meals and a place to do laundry. Plus, these places have some INCREDIBLE views! Stay tuned for our full reviews of each location after our trip! TLB Tip: If you are new to Airbnb, use our link to sign up and receive a discount on your first stay!
  4. Try something new: While this isn’t our first time to Italy, it will be our first time to some of these cities and our first visit as a married couple. We are excited to visit some of the tourist attractions in each city like the art mueseums, but we are also looking forward to experiences that immerse ourselves into the Italian culture. We’re talking hole-in-the-wall restaurants and places that only the locals know about. We also plan to do at least one type of local activity in each city – our first one planned is pizza making in Sorrento and then a wine tasting in Tuscany! Any other suggestions for Florence and Venice?
  5. Plan early for savings: It is never too early to start saving for a big trip, whether it’s vacation days or money. By giving ourselves over 5 months to plan, we have the ability to split up our payments and not have everything due at the same time. Most Airbnb listings allow you to pay half or the full amount at booking too, which was a great way for us to book the places we wanted and spread out our costs. And along the way with our usual day to day spending, we’re earning cash back that we can put towards food and activities while we are in Italy. TLB Tip: Be sure to check the terms of your credit and debit cards to see what their international usage policies are and be sure to updates your banks before you go so your card isn’t frozen!

Do you have any tips or suggestions for us to consider before our trip in May? Any must-do activities in Sorrento, Florence, or Venice? Share with us below in the comments!

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

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.

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

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

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

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!

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

Sushi Making Class – Everything You Need to Know

Meagan here to tell you all about our awesome sushi making experience at the Cooking School at Irwin Street! Grant gave me the class as a Christmas present, and we finally had the opportunity to book a class. One of our goals as a couple in 2018 was to cook at home and together as much as possible. We’ve made pretty good on that so far, though we sometimes get in a rut of making the same things every week. We were really excited to try something new at cooking class and settled on sushi making – something neither of us have done before. But since we love eating sushi, we figured it would be the perfect class for us!

Living in Alpharetta, we typically only venture ITP for work or special events. We quickly remembered why we love suburbia life when there was no parking at the cooking school and Grant had to put his parallel parking skills into action. Luckily, it turned out to be a nice day, so the short walk wasn’t bad. The Cooking School at Irwin Street is located in the Irwin Street Market, right down the street to Krog Street Market and the Beltline.

We waited in the market for class to begin, then were brought back to the kitchen by Chef Mihoko. Other than us, there were only another 9 people, which made it great to follow along with the Chef’s instructions and ask questions along the way. Each pair was given their own station complete with all the prepped ingredients. We had sushi rice, nori (seaweed), fresh salmon, crab, shrimp, avocado, peppers, cucumber, and asparagus.

The Chef showed us first how to make the “inside out roll” with the rice on the outside, as opposed to the traditional method with the nori outside. We started by placing our nori on the bamboo mat (covered in plastic wrap to prevent any sticking), then spreading a thin layer of rice across it. TLB Tip: Make sure to dip your fingers in water before ever touching the sushi rice – this is very sticky rice and you’ll end up with more of it stuck to your hands then to the nori! Once you get an even layer of rice, you flip the nori and rice layer over and can start adding your fresh ingredients for the center of your roll.

After placing the ingredients about an inch away from the edge, then slowly rolling it up with the bamboo mat. Once it’s completely rolled, you use the bamboo mat to squeeze it a little more to make sure everything is locked in. Then voila! You have a perfect California roll!

Once we made our California rolls, we had the chance to do whatever we wanted. The whole process is fun and relatively easy once you get the hang of it! You do realize that less rice is more – it goes a lot further than you think. Grant and I each made our second roll, then realized we didn’t have much rice left to do anymore. Luckily, the wonderful Chef shared some of her rice (and salmon) with us so we could make one more!

From instruction to eating, the class took less than an hour and a half. We had no idea how simple it was to make your own sushi and it was delicious when we got to enjoy our own creations! TLB Tip: Most classes are BYOB (with the exception of their knife skills classes), so it would be the perfect date night or activity with a group of friends.

After class ended, the ice cream shop that shares space with the cooking school gave everyone a free scoop of ice cream! Needless to say, we were absolutely stuffed afterwards! We ended our adventure with a short walk down the Beltline, mainly looking for cute puppies.

We are really excited to put our new skills to the test! Next stop for us will be the Buford Farmers Market or H Mart to get all of our sushi making ingredients. We would highly recommend the Cooking School at Irwin Street and will be keeping an eye on their future classes. TLB Tip: They sometimes offer a Groupon which can be a substantial savings! However, classes book up quickly and not all are eligible for the Groupon offer. (New to Groupon? Sign up here!)

Hope you all check out the classes they offer on their website: https://www.irwinstreetcooks.com/ We had an awesome time, and you realize how fun it is to try something completely new. When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Keep following along with us on Instagram at Instagram.com/thelocalbells

Where To Next?

Back in January, we shared our goals for 2018. So far, we’ve been staying on track with exercising and eating at home, and we are making progress on our financial goals after officially combining our accounts (not as hard as we expected!). However, the one area we want to start planning more is our travel and vacation plans for the year. With both of us working traditional 9 to 5 jobs, we have a finite amount of time to escape the work grind and want to use this first year of marriage to visit new places. So where to next?

That appears to be the million dollar question.

Between the two of us, Grant tends to be more spontaneous and ready to try new things while Meagan prefers to plan every last detail and stick with the tried and true. We started brainstorming some ideas for this year and ended up with with too many options and no decisions! So what’s stopping us?

  • Do we take one big vacation or several smaller ones? In 2017, our honeymoon was our big trip of the year (and definitely worth it – see our full review here!). Now that we aren’t planning a wedding, we have more vacation time to spread out throughout the course of the year. In a study cited by the New York Times, research has found that several smaller vacation per year rather than one big one boosts overall happiness more than when taking one long vacation. And even more than that, the actual planning and anticipation of a vacation boosts happiness for up to 8 weeks! With that in mind, we lean more towards planning several smaller trips this year. Ideally, we’d like to plan a few long weekend trips, a short summer trip, an anniversary trip in November, and take some time off around Christmas and New Years. South Africa, Europe, and somewhere in the South Pacific are still on the bucket list for some of those longer trip options in the future though!
  • How much should we budget for our vacation fund? There are mixed options about how much to spend on travel each year. Forbes reports that Americans spend 10% of their annual incomes on vacations. While we aren’t paying for a wedding this year, we are working hard to pay down student and car loans as well as saving for a down payment for a house. Planning domestic trips and ones that are driving distances instead of flying will help us keep our vacation costs lower. For our trip this week, we are staying at a condo through Airbnb, which was over 50% less than staying at a hotel resort. (If you are new to Airbnb, use this link to save $40 on your first stay) We also plan to utilize any of our credit card perks or cash back this year to help with some vacation costs. With Meagan being a planner, we have time to research, save, and hopefully get the best deals!
  • Where should we go? We are all over the place on this one and could definitely use some inspiration and suggestions! We’ve talked about Hilton Head or Destin for a beach trip, as they’re both about 6 hours away driving distance. There are some great Airbnb rental options and we both could use a good dose of “vitamin sea!” We’ve never been to Savannah or Asheville together and would love to explore the historic sites along the river or experience the Biltmore Estate. For our anniversary, we’ve looked into New York City, the Florida Keys, or Disney World – planning to splurge the most on this trip this year. We loved our relaxing honeymoon in paradise, but are looking for adventure in our first anniversary trip. Ultimately, we are looking to plan 4-5 smaller trips this year within the domestic U.S., ideally spending around $1,000-$1,500 per trip.

We are off to Park City, Utah for our first trip of the year this week – stay tuned for our post next week! In the meantime, we welcome any and all suggestions on other places to go this year, as well as any tips for planning and saving money along the way. Be sure to follow along with our Instagram at www.instagram.com/thelocalbells

2018 Goals

2017 will be a hard year to top for us after so many exciting life events and adventures together! Moving into 2018, we are so excited for what lies ahead. As a couple, we put together a few goals that go back to what is most important to us: spending time with each other and working towards creating a happy and healthy life together.

  1. Exercise at least 30 minutes 3x per week. A happy couple is a healthy couple!
  2. Cook dinner at home at least 4 nights per week. Think of how much we will save by not eating out!
  3. Save enough money for a house down payment by October. Our current lease ends in November, so we are working hard to hopefully becoming homeowners by the end of the year.
  4. Max out our 401K accounts. You don’t miss the money if you don’t see it, so setting up automatic transfers will help us remain accountable.
  5. Pay off student loans and car loan to less than $10,000 by the end of the year. 4 years ago, total debt equaled nearly $70,000.
  6. Use every vacation day and completely disconnect from work. Take some time to relax and recharge and enjoy being in the moment!
  7. Plan a 1st anniversary trip together in November! Where will we go? Stay tuned!

Cheers to an incredible 2018 ahead! If you’re in the mood for some bubbly and want to support a great cause, check out our new favorite brut from ONEHOPE wines. A portion of every sale goes his different amazing charity (this one funds meals to end hunger).

Are any of these your goals too?

How do you stay motivated and energized to accomplish them as the year goes on?

Any suggestions for us – especially vacation locations?