Must Sees & Eats in Sorrento

It’s been about a month since we returned from our incredible Italian adventure, and we wanted to share some of our favorite things to do and places to eat from our travels. Our first stop of the trip was to Sorrento, a small, cliff-side town on the Amalfi coast. Located about an hour south of Naples, we ended up taking a shared van shuttle to the city. Another alternative is taking the bus or the train, but we agreed that the simplicity of having a shuttle and time it saved was worth the additional cost. TLB Tip: Check out Viator or Get Your Guide for some shared transfer options that are affordable and easy to book! Before we started our trip, we knew we wanted to see authentic Italy, so we decided to book all of our accommodations at Airbnbs to live in more local areas and get tips from our hosts (New to Airbnb? Sign up with our link to get a discount on your first stay here!). Our Airbnb in Sorrento was nothing short of spectacular with views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius from the porch, a block from the train station, and easy walking distance to everywhere in Sorrento.

To see more views of our Airbnb, check out Rossella’s listing here

Sorrento is home of limoncello, has incredible Neopolitan pizza, and is convenient to other cities along the Amalfi coast like Positano, Amalfi, and Capri. With only 3 nights in Sorrento, we wanted to make sure we did as much as possible to immerse ourselves into the culture of Sorrento. See some of our favorites and tips below for what to do and what to eat while you are in Sorrento!

Must Sees

  • Lemons – Sorrento is home of limoncello, so there is no shortage of lemons around the city! Be sure to stop by the public lemon gardens to see the hundreds of lemons the size of grapefruits or take a stroll down Corsa Italia to visit the many different limoncello shops. Our favorite by far was Limonoro. They had such a wide variety of limoncello, ranging from classic lemon and creamy lemon to melon or even pistachio flavored limoncello and other local treats. And the best part? They offered multiple samples right in the store, so we knew we would love what we bought! If you are planning to visit, let us know – we would like to place an order for some limoncello and they only take orders in-person from the store!
  • Marinas – Sorrento has two marinas – Marina Piccola and Marina Grande. Marina Piccola is the port of Sorrento, where ferries and cruise ships come into the city. It also has has a small beach and suntanning areas. The path down to Marina Piccola is not for those afraid of heights with its winding staircase down! But for about 2 Euro, you can take a short elevator ride down to the shoreline and back up again. The other marine, Marina Grande, is the fisherman village and home of some great seafood! About a 10-15 minute walk from Piazza Tasso, you find yourself strolling down a cobblestone pathway before emerging and overlooking one of the most beautiful views in Sorrento. And if you time your visit right, you’ll see the most amazing sunset with Vesuvius in the background. We spent two evenings in Marina Grande, so needless to say, it’s a must visit!
  • Amalfi Coast Boat Tour – With Sorrento’s proximity to so many incredible cities along the Amalfi coast, we knew we wanted to take a day trip to explore more. We did our research and decided that a boat tour sounded more fun than a bus tour (especially with those twisty, windy roads!). Most boat tours only take 10-15 guests per tour, so we took a gamble and booked our tour in advance of getting to Sorrento and kept our fingers crossed for good weather. Fortunately, we had a perfect day – a beautiful, sunny day and smooth water! Typically, boat tours offer two options – Capri or Positano and Amalfi. We both were looking forward to seeing as much as we could during our tour and enjoying our time on the boat, so we chose to visit Positano and Amalif (1.5 hours in each city) as opposed to the entire time at Capri (4 hours). We had a great experience with Capitano Ago’s tour! We were picked up in Piazza Tasso and on the boat by 9 AM. Once we “set sail”, our captain and skipper gave us some of the history of the coast and sites as we made our way around the coastline. We enjoyed some Peroni and a delicious Caprese sandwich before exploring our first city – Amalfi. The white houses create a stunning contrast with the rich blue Mediterranean, and we had a great time exploring some of the beautiful streets of Amalfi.
  • Our next stop was Positano, which was our favorite part of the day! The city of Positano is a true beach town, with the colorful buildings emerging out of the mist of the low clouds as we came into the harbor. We wandered along the beach with the quintessential Amalfi coast beverage – Aperol spritz! We loved climbing the {many} steps up to view the town from higher up and soaking in the Italian sunshine before our journey back to Sorrento. 10/10 recommend a boat tour of the Amalfi coast and next time, maybe we will get a chance to go to Capri as well!
  • Pizza Making Class – With Sorrento so close to Naples, the home of Neapolitan pizza, it was a requirement that we enjoyed pizza while we were here, and what better way to enjoy pizza than taking a pizza making class from Italian experts? We had a great time at Il Tirabuscio for our pizza making class! We learned how to make dough from scratch and that dough should rest for 24 hours before baking it (or else the yeast will continue to rise in your stomach and make you more full), and got to assemble our own pies before putting them into the oven. By far the best pizza we had in Italy (not to toot our own horns!), and we got to finish our meal by making homemade tiramisu and enjoying a refreshing limoncello.

Must Eats

  • Porta Marina Seafood – By far the best seafood we had our entire 12 day trip was here! Porta Marina Seafood is located in Marina Grande which overlooks the fishing village. We had heard about this restaurant and knew we had to check it out not only for the food, but also for the incredible sunset views. We arrived around 7:30 and were able to get a table outside overlooking the harbor where we could watch the fishermen bringing in their catch of the day and wait for the sunset. Despite Sorrento being a tourist town, Porta Marina had great prices – about 50 euros for a liter of wine, mussels and clams, and two grilled seafood entrees. If we could go back to Italy for one meal, this would be where we went!
  • Pizzeria da Franco – Our first meal in Italy was at Franco’s Pizza! Our Airbnb host recommended this local restaurant to us and luckily it was right down the street. While not a fancy place per se (think plastic silverware and pizzas served on metal trays), the food was delicious! There was a good mix of locals and tourists and plenty of different pizza options on the menu.
  • Torna a Sorriento Trattoria – This was one of the locations we had on our list to try while in Sorrento based on reviews that it offered a truly authentic Italian dinner experience and we were not disappointed! After walking {running} through a torrential downpour our first night, we arrived at Torna a Sorriento around 7:30. When we walked in, we saw that there was only 6 or so tables in the entire restaurant! The owner greeted us and asked if we had a reservation. We didn’t but he was able to make a table for us as long as we were able to be done by 9 PM. This was the perfect first dinner in Sorrento and some of the most reasonable prices – liter of house wine, prosciutto and mozzarella, bruschetta, lasagna, and two frutti di mare pasta for under 50 euros! The owner and his mother were so kind and inviting, making our first night in Sorrento a great start to our trip.

There is so much more to see, do, and eat while in Sorrento, and we wish we had more time to explore all this magical city has to offer! Are there any places we should add to our list for next time? Let us know in the comments below.

Stay tuned for more posts about our Italian adventure and follow us on Instagram at www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells

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Our Spontaneous Trip to Clayton, GA

2019 has been flying by in a whirlwind, and we decided we needed a quick break to decompress at the end of March. We wanted to go just for a night and be somewhere that was fairly close yet felt far away. We narrowed it down to a few options and finally decided on the Beechwood Inn in Clayton, GA. About 2 hours outside of Atlanta right near the Tennessee line, the bed and breakfast is home to some of the best food we’ve ever had and one of our favorite vineyards nearby. So we packed our bags Thursday night, and hit the road after work on Friday.

With just 10 rooms, the inn is small enough that you get personal attention but relaxed enough to enjoy your time the way you want to. The innkeepers, David and Gayle, host daily “Wine Thirty” happy hours with guests and are quick to offer suggestions for activities and restaurants. Downtown Clayton is just a short walk away with some great little restaurants like Fortify and Fortify Pi. We learned that Clayton is best known for their “farm to table” food options, so you’ll find local produce, meat, and cheeses at almost every place you visit. The Beechwood Inn is no exception, hosting several farm to table dinner events on Saturdays each month.

While we didn’t get to enjoy one of their wonderful dinners this time, our breakfast Saturday morning was incredible! A full two course breakfast is included with your room rate, and the inn chef prepares your meal fresh that morning when you wake up and come down to the dining room. Grant has a tree nut allergy and they were very helpful to accommodate that as well. We started off with coffee and fresh squeezed peach juice before beginning our first course of baked apples and a chocolate chip cherry scone. The second course was french toast, thick cut bacon, and fresh food. I think it’s safe to say we didn’t leave the table hungry!

Not only is Clayton known for their farm to table food, but they also have a small but growing population of vineyards and wineries nearby. Grant and I’s personal favorite is Tiger Mountain Vineyards. The vineyard was started by the Ezzard and McMullen families in 1995, with an emphasis on European varietals and 100% of grapes grown on property. Most other Georgia vineyards import certain grape varietals in from other local vineyards or even from California, so it’s unique to find a winery that grows and uses only their own grapes. And even more than that, Tiger Mountain wines are by far our favorite Georgia based wine! And even the critics agree with us, with the vineyard accumulating over 195 awards for their wines over the years.

They have a wine tasting option offered daily ($10), which is a great way to sample many of their different varietals. Our favorites are the Mountain Cyn and the Rabun Red, made with the Norton grape that is the only grape indigenous to North America. The vineyard often has live music on the weekends with light bites of local cheese and crackers to enjoy with your wine. If you are looking for more of a meal, their Red Barn Cafe has lunch options that include your wine tasting for free! While I wasn’t able to convince Grant to sign up for the Tigerwine Tasters wine club (this time), they have a great wine club option if you want to get some great wine at an great discount. Most of their bottles are under the $30 price point to begin with, but wine club members get free tastings and an additional 20% off all wine purchases. You do have to commit to purchasing 2 cases of wine in a 2 year period, but purchases can be made in increments instead of all at once. It’s probably a good thing the vineyard is a 2 hour drive for us or we might be in trouble!

So there you go! If you are looking for a quiet getaway outside of Atlanta with some of the most authentic food and wine options, consider Clayton for your next mini trip. And if you can’t get to Clayton and still want to try the Tiger Mountain wines, the Atlanta area Whole Foods stores carry an assortment of some of their top varietals. Have any other great weekend trips from Atlanta that we should consider for the summer? Let us know below in the comments!

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

Top 5 Tips for Planning the Best Disney World Vacation

Late last year, Grant and I took our third trip together to Disney World, and it may have been our best visit yet! In a previous post, we talked about our tips for saving big money on your trip (read how we saved over $1,000 here!), and now we’re going to share some of our best Disney planning tips. It may be a bit cheesy, but the planning of a Disney trip and the anticipation is one of my favorite parts besides the vacation itself! My Monday-Friday job is in market research/consumer insights, so researching and organizing are some of my strongest skills – and ones that are put to good use when planning our Disney vacations! Here are some of the tips and tricks I use when we start our planning process:

  1. Decide when you want to go: Everyone has their own opinion on when to visit Disney World, and now with their variable ticket pricing, it’s more important than ever to decide what works best for your vacation and budget. The past two visits, we’ve decided to go right after Thanksgiving to take advantage of a free dining promotion and experience Disney World during the early part of the Christmas season. The weather is typically great and crowds are definitely thinner than the peak times of year, so it’s been one of our favorite times to visit. If you are undecided or just overwhelmed with when to visit, I have a few great resources that I use (especially in other aspects of planning). Mousesavers has a great collection of the different Disney room rates and tracks promotional offers if you are searching for the best deal. If you are more concerned with visiting when it’s not as busy, I love the crowd calendars at WDW Prep School – they are especially helpful when you get to the point of planning your FastPass+ selections. One of the best parts of booking a Disney vacation is being able to spread out the payments. They only require a $200 deposit upon booking, and trips must be paid in full 30 days prior to your trip. If you plan a year in advance for a $3000 trip, you spend only about $250 a month to pay for your trip. TLB tip: If at all possible, try to plan your Disney World trip at least 180 days out to take full advantage of all of the planning resources. If you are making a room only reservation, you can do that up to 499 days in advance!
  2. Research dining options and be ready to make reservations: Coming from the wife and husband that can barely decide where to eat dinner on the weekend, it seems crazy that we pick where to eat at Disney 6 months in advance! There are over 130 restaurants around Disney World, Disney Springs, and the resorts, and many don’t take walk-ups during the busy season. If you have your heart set on popular favorites like Cinderella’s Royal Table, O’hana, or Be Our Guest, you better be ready at that 180 day mark! TLB Tip: When you book a vacation package with Disney, you are able to make your dining reservations for your entire stay (up to 10 days) on the 180 mark. Basically, this gives you the flexibility to book all of your reservations at one time, rather than having to book each day of your vacation separately on the 180 day mark. TLB Tip: Reservations open online at 6 AM EST, so be ready with your list ahead of time! If you can’t get the times or restaurants you want right away, don’t give up hope! MouseDining’s dining reservation tracker will alert you when a reservation frees up for your specified time.
  3. Plan for FastPass+: This can make or break a Disney vacation, especially during peak crowd times! Each day that you have a park ticket, you are allotted 3 FastPass selections at one park. Guests staying on property can select rides or attractions that they’d like to visit 60 days in advance (those off property have 30 days advance) starting at 7 AM EST. FastPass+ will give you a designated time to visit and bypass the main line – almost like a reservation! For popular rides like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Avatar Flight of Passage, this is a huge time-saver! Be forewarned, all parks except for Magic Kingdom have a tiered FastPass selection process, so you won’t be able to select FastPasses for all the big ticket attractions (for example, Soarin’ and Test Track are both Tier 1, so you’d have to choose between those two). Disney’s website has additional details about FastPass+ here. TLB Tip: Once you have used your first 3 Fastpasses, you are able to add another Fastpass one at a time for the remainder of the day! As soon as you scan into your third attraction, go ahead and open up your My Disney Experience app to see what is available – you never know, you may find an ellusive Slinky Dog Coaster Fastpass!
  4. Consider special ticketed events: There are two big special, ticketed events that happen at Disney each year – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (August – October) and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (November – December). While we’ve only been to the Christmas party, we’ve heard great things about the Halloween celebration too! The parties can be a little pricey, but you have access to Magic Kingdom beginning at 4 PM on the day of the party (no other park ticket required). By 7 PM when the party officially begins, crowds will start to clear out and you get to enjoy significantly shorter wait times for all of your favorite rides! Plus, there are some great snacks and character meet and greets included with the party, and it’s a great way to get excited about the holiday season.
  5. Double check park hours and confirmations: Once you get about 2 weeks out from your trip, it’s time to double check all of your information! I like to keep an Excel spreadsheet with everything we need (FastPass selections, park hours, dining reservations). A few weeks before your vacation, Disney will finalize park hours on the app and website. I like to check these especially when we have early breakfast reservations to see when parks officially open. I also typically call the dining reservation line to make sure that any allergies or celebrations have been noted on our reservations before we get there. TLB Tip: If you have a dietary restriction or allergy, Disney is incredible at accommodating and providing options! Just let your waiter know when you sit down, and most restaurants have an allergy friendly menu guide which makes it so simple, even for buffets!
Planning spreadsheet example with our dining plan allotments, reservations, and FastPass+

So there you go – our top 5 tips to planning the best Disney World vacation! We are already counting down to our next visit, which is TBD! Any other tips that you recommend for our next trip? Keep up with us on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells

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

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

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

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