Friday, May 25, 2012

Cheapskates at Disney: Getting ready to hit the road

Our semi-annual vacation began today.  We get two vacations a year: one at Christmas, usually a week, and one at the very end of the school year, for two weeks.  Today was our last work day, and vacation has officially started.
We leave tomorrow around 5:00 am, Lord willing, to begin the trek to Orlando for two weeks.
We kicked off our vacation with dinner at Panda Express, which was free for us.  We were able to use gift cards to pay, so it was a no-out-of-pocket treat. 
We put gas in the car, and we used a $50 gas card we previously bought at Publix for $40.  It was as though we paid $2.74 a gallon. 
Since we used gift cards for everything, it feels as though everything was free.  I like that.  I like using gift cards.  They're already paid for, so it seems so painless.  We have several Disney gift cards to use as well as a few more BP cards. 
Bring on the cheapskate road trip!  We have almost every room cleaned (enough) and packed for the trip.  I need to grab my bathing suit and through it in the suitcase.  In the morning, I'll pack the cooler with several items I've prepped for meals for the week.  I'll be off to bed soon; I hope I can get to sleep in spite of my excitement!

Monday, May 21, 2012

May Mission: Day 6

Oops, I sort of forgot this mission.  We've done pretty well, though.  We have gone out to eat three times since May 10.  We ate dinner at McDonald's one night - about $15.  We ate at the concession area of Sam's Club one night - about $11.  We ate dinner at Panda Express on it's opening day - about $22.  While I acknowledge that these meals cost much more than meals prepared at home would cost, I think we really ate out cheaply.  We could easily spend $40 after tax and tip for a nice dinner. 
(HMMMM, just noticing that we ate out 3 times in 11 days.  I don't guess that's good, after all.  It really does feel to me like I'm cooking ALL the TIME.  I am always preparing something in the kitchen or cleaning up a mess.)
Tonight we are having Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Shells from  This meal has been very easy to prepare, and this is coming from someone who is notoriously slow in the kitchen, especially with new recipes.  It's an easy-to-freeze recipe, so I have one pan ready to go in the oven now (as soon as the garlic bread comes out) and one pan in the freezer to give to a family with a new baby. 

In other news, we are just 4 days away from leaving for our long-awaited summer vacation.  We've been planning and counting down for MONTHS and it's almost here!  I have a lot to do around the house to get ready, and school is still in session for another 2 1/2 days.  In just a few days, I'll say one last goodbye to my beloved sixth graders, pack and clean up my classroom for the summer, and fly around the house getting things ready.  It'll be hectic, chaotic, stressful.  I may get emotional.  I edge toward breakdowns when the pressure's on.  But, one way or the other, it'll be over, and I'll be headed to Disney World!
While on vacation, we will eat out at least one meal per day.  On travel days, we will eat out more often.  I plan to post about our meals.  I'll post about the cheapskate meals I make and about how we make eating out as cheapskate-ly as possible while at Disney.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

May Mission: Day 5, part 1

Just a quick post this morning.  I'm really hungry, and I want McDonalds.  Or Whataburger.  Or Subway.  I thought I might feel better this morning and be able to make my smoothie (and be happy about it) if I just vented my wishes to eat something bad for the diet and for the wallet.  (Oh, how I love a juicy hamburger from Whataburger for breakfast. So very yummy.)
I do feel better now.
Okay, now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'll go help my son brush his teeth, help my daughter fix her hair, and make my strawberry or raspberry smoothie.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Mission: Day 4

This mission is zooming by.  I can't believe we're already on day 4.  I wish we could say that we hadn't eaten out at all during that time, but we did just drop a chunk of money taking those college girls out for dinner.  No regrets, though.  They loved it, and it was a great time of fellowship.

Really feeling the pressure of looming deadlines at school and with the vacation coming up.  In my past life (2 years ago), I would have asked my hubby to take us out to dinner because I just couldn't handle the thought of having to cook and clean on top of all my other teacher and mom duties.  I'm a little proud of myself that I not only made dinner tonight, but also am making a soup to freeze for future meals. 

Breakfast: Flat Belly Diet Smoothie (the kids had a fruit-and-cereal bar)

Lunch: baked beef and bean burritos from school

Dinner: beef and bean taco rice (Today's meals don't have much variety or imagination, but that's okay. )  Dinner was super easy, thanks to the crockpot.

The soup in the crockpot is tomato-black bean from Delicious Meliscious.  I love the stuff, and I figure it's about the healthiest soup I know how to make. 

Tomorrow's dinner is Moroccan Beef with rice. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May Mission: Day 3

Today feels like a contradiction, but it's kinda not.  I forgot when I got all inspired to do a May Mission that my family had planned to take out to dinner our college student girls that we've kind of adopted into our family.  So, we're headed out for Mexican food tonight.  Yes, I'm breaking my mission today, but it's something I had planned to do for a while now and forgot to mention at the outset of this mission.

Here's how the rest of the day went (pretty boring, really):

Breakfast: I had a strawberry smoothie, a la Flat Belly Diet.  And I did a really amazing job on making the smoothie today.  It was the best ever.  The kiddos had a banana and yogurt.  (Much more healthfully balanced than yesterday's Pop Tarts!)

Lunch: I had a slice of turkey and a roll from the cafeteria, along with about 1/2 cup of vanilla pudding with raisins.  (Ha! I just had to correct "pudding" from "yogurt".  I guess I either have healthy food choices on the brain or I secretly didn't want you to know that I ate pudding and yogurt sounded so diet-approved.)

Dinner: I don't know what I'll have, but I'm not planning to be super diet-conscious.  Chips and salsa for sure.  Either water or Diet Coke.  Something cheesy, probably.  I refuse to feel guilty.  Either from the diet front or the mission front.  We have no plans to eat out for the rest of the month until vacation, so I don't think it's an awful thing to do this one time.  If this is the only time we eat out this week, we are in WAY better shape when it comes to this kind of mission than we were 2 years ago.

Tomorrow is one of our favorite menu days: We are having beef and bean taco rice.  I make this really great beef and bean mix in the crockpot, and we eat some of it on one Wednesday, freeze the leftovers, and reheat the next week.  We're on the leftovers tomorrow night.  We just love it.  And I love how easy it is.

Monday, May 7, 2012

May Mission: Day 2

Well, I'm off to a good start on my Mission for the month.  I made a Flat Belly Diet smoothie for myself for breakfast, and the kids had Pop Tarts. (What a contradiction!) 

I had a couple of Flat Belly Diet-style snacks: turkey sausage (like slim-jims) and mozzarella cheese sticks.  Lots of protein, and only 140 calories for 2 sausage sticks and a cheese stick.

I had beef soft tacos for lunch, courtesy of the excellent food service department at the Academy. 

Dinner is Chicken Tikka Masala from Delicious Meliscious with rice.  I wish I had time to make this naan to go with it, but then we'd be eating dinner after bedtime!

My goals for this evening:
1. Brown and bag ground beef to freeze for a vacation meal.
2. Make spaghetti sauce.
3.  Make salsa.
4.  Make a big batch of tomato-black bean soup.
5.  Grade a set of school papers.
6.  Work on a school project.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

May Mission: Day 1 (Day 6?)

A couple of years ago, I did a March Mission designed to help my family eat out less, eat in more, and save a bundle.  While we don't eat out nearly as much as we did back in those days (2 years ago), we still tend to eat out frequently, especially just after pay day.  For example, this month, we've eaten at Whataburger, Zaxby's, and Red Robin.  And it's only the 6th. 
I'm creating a new mission for myself: to eat in for the rest of the month (until vacation).  So, for the next 20 days, my goal is to cook all our breakfasts, dinners, and weekend lunches.  (We get our weekday lunches provided by school/work ministry we are involved with.) 

Here's my meal plan for the week of May 6, 2012:

Sunday, May 6:
Breakfast: leftover biscuits with bacon and cheese
Lunch: at my mom and dad's
Dinner: Pizza

Monday, May 7:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: chicken tikka masala

Tuesday, May 8:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: pork ribs in the crockpot

Wednesday, May 9:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: beef/bean taco rice

Thursday, May 10:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: Moroccan beef with rice

Friday, May 11:
Breakfast: smoothies
Dinner: chili

Saturday, May 12:
Breakfast: smoothies
Lunch: pizza muffins
Dinner: Potato bacon soup with breadsticks

Okay, I know  that it looks like I have no imagination at all when it comes to breakfast, but my husband and I are trying the flat belly diet.  The smoothie for breakfast is delicious and filling.  It is homemade, not from a powdered mix, so I am still making breakfast. 

Well, there it is, the plan for my new May Mission.  I'll consider today Day 1, even though it's the 6th of the month.  I'll end this mission on May 25, the day before we head out for vacation.  I'll do my best to post a daily report on how we're doing on our mission.

Cheapskates at Disney - Lodgings, Part 4

Our home resort: Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (Kidani Village 1 Bedroom Villa shown)

In just about 4 weeks, we will be checking in for 5 nights at Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Our villa will be very much like the one pictured.  The entrance door/hallway is just out of sight on the right of the picture.  There will be a full bathroom located off that hallway.  The kitchen has full-sized appliances and comes equipped to create many standard meals. (I'll be bringing my crockpot along, and that's about all I need to add to this kitchen.)  The bedroom has a king-sized bed, storage, a nice big wall-mounted TV, a balcony, and a full bathroom.  The living room has a sofa-bed couch (I've slept on one of these couches, and it was the most comfortable sofa-bed ever.), a chair that is a twin-sized pullout bed, storage, and another flat-screen TV, as well as a sliding glass door to the balcony shared with the master bedroom.   The size of this villa is really quite significant; the one-bedroom we have reserved is 807 square feet, so about half the size of our house.  We have reserved a standard view, which, to be honest, may not be spectacular at all.  Last time we had a standard view, we could see a bit of the parking area, the bus queu area, and a field.  It was not fabulous, but it was fine.  Of course, the savannah view rooms do offer those spectacular views.  Several years ago, we had a savannah view where 3 giraffes tended to hang out, as well as ostrich and zebra.  Each morning the wild red hogs would zoom by on their way to their morning destination.   

Doesn't this kid's water park area look like fun? Not only does Kidani Village have its own highly-themed pool area, it also has a super-fun water park area that I just know my kids will adore.  I can't wait for them to try it.  Maybe after half an hour at the water park, they will sit quietly on the bench while the grown ups enjoy the hot tub for 10 minutes? (Yeah, maybe if we add the privilege of playing Angry Birds on our phones while they sit!)

So, with a sticker price of $580 per night, how can I call this my way to do Disney the Cheapskate way? Five years ago, we joined the Disney Vacation Club.  As Disney vacationers, it was the best vacation-related decision we could ever have made.  It does require a hefty initial investment, about $17,000.  After that, there is a yearly dues payment which amounts to several hundred dollars.  We financed our membership, and our monthly payments for the year for both the membership and the dues is a bit more than the published price of this one vacation.  Our membership is valid through 2057.  That means that, once we pay off our membership, we'll have years and years and years and years of vacations that will only cost us the annual dues.  We could never have afforded to stay in such beautiful, spacious, luxurious accomodations without DVC.  If you think you might want to visit Disney World annually with your family, the DVC is a cost-efficient accomodation choice you should look into.  Even if you think you might only vacation at Disney once every 3 years, you might want to think about how much you could save on a really top-notch vacation by joining DVC.  You could easily stay for a week in a 2-bedroom villa or even in a 3-bedroom Grand Villa with a three-year-bundle of points, depending on the season you travel. 
Being DVC members saves us money in another way, too.  Because we have a full kitchen, we will cook most of our meals ourselves instead of paying the premium Disney prices.  We are planning to eat our lunches in the parks, but I'll make breakfast and dinner (hooray, crockpot!) each day.  I figure that, even with purchasing groceries, we can save at least $100 over the course of the 5 days.  I made my menu and shopping list weeks ago and I've been stocking up on the shelf-stable items when they go on sale.  I've knocked several dollars off my grocery budget this way. (I'm on track to save at least $18 out of the budget I set for vacation grocery shopping. Yes! I'm getting a Dole Whip!)
DVC makes our vacation what it is.  We enjoy our room; we enjoy the resort.  If you have interest in DVC, stop by one of the many DVC kiosks throughout the parks or resorts and request an open house.  Disney provides the transportation, and you might even get to see some of the behind-the-scenes areas. (We got to see the backside of several of the country pavilions in Epcot. Our driver was very knowledgeable about how the city-unto-itself that is Disney World functions.) You'll get to tour some amazing model rooms and get a walk-through of the Club's point system and pricing.  There really is absolutely no pressure at all to purchase. (The salesmen don't have to rely on pressure to sell; the product will sell itself to you if you're willing!)  Once you're done, you and your kiddos can enjoy a free ice cream sundae before Disney provides your transportation back to where ever you want to go.  Let your sales rep know that Talani and Barbie Tupua of Pensacola, Florida, referred you.  We do get a kickback if you join and name us as your referral.