Friday, May 27, 2011

Tallying up the cost: Time and Money

I've been working my way through Getting Things Done, by David Allen and my first exercise was to write down something that was nagging on my mind. My choice was this awesome trip we're planning. I was told to write down what a successful completion of this project would look like and what my "Next Action" would be. My answer: calculate the cost in time and money. According to Google Maps the route we're taking south is roughly 3,351miles long and would take 2 days and 6 hours to complete. The trip back is roughly 4000 miles and would take 2 days 17 hours. These are all without stops, etc. and taking highways. Good to know if we needed to get back for a family emergency or something. Knowing that it would take us 7 days or so (stopping once or twice) to get there and back gives us 9 weeks of time! Super exciting.

Cost in gas will be figured in a car that gets 30mpg at $5 a gallon just to be safe. A 15 gallon tank at $5 a gallon is $75 dollars a tank. 1 Tank goes roughly 450 miles. 8 tanks of gas. $558 on the way out, and closer to $700 on the way back (again straight through without stops or scenic routes factored in). Good to know.  That's a rough estimate, anyway!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oh the places we'll go...

While reading through the Route 66 section of Road Trip USA, we have added Sandia Crest, NM to our route.
Tinkertown, that's why.  Motto: we did all this while you were watching TV.

Travel books and your recommendations

I just got out of the Library with a collection of guidebooks and essays. I'm excited to sit down with Emily over the next couple of weeks and read through these while we plan our big adventure!  What are your favorite travel books, and what novels, essays, guidebooks do you recommend we look at for this trip? Leave a comment with your reading list.

On the bookshelf
Roads : Driving America's Great Highways
Frommer's National Parks with Kids
A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways

Not looking for the fastest route

I'll admit that planning the trip can be just as (sometimes more) exciting than actually doing the driving, stopping, seeing, preparing, planning, and panicking which are so common on long road trips. I like maps, I like guide books, I especially like using trip maker tools like AAA Travel Planning application because Google Maps tends to be less effective and you can't put as many stops in as I'd like to! AAA doesn't care, so I just go there and fiddle with the route, since we're not trying to find the fastest route.

If you've never seen the movie Cars, then you may or may not understand why we're looking to avoid the "fastest route" for this particular excursion. Why cut off ten minutes of driving, when you could see something truly worthwhile or edifying just off the highway. Try explaining that to Google or AAA, though, and you get the computer's version of rolling its eyes at you: WARNING! THAT ROUTE WILL TAKE TWO EXTRA MINUTES flashes underneath my neatly edited map, reminding me that I am making a monumental mistake by not taking the interstate highways that were so nicely paid for by our taxes so many years ago.

I've always been the Destination over Journey person in my family. Even as a kid, I had to sit in the front seat (even the uncomfortable front-middle in the station wagon) to see the road that was coming, watch for the exit, read the map, follow the fastest (read: less interesting) route because the alternative (usually my dad's idea) was the "scenic route" that ended up adding precious hours to our drive--as though getting to the destination would satisfy me any more than being in the car would! I've worked very hard to overcome that person and this trip has been really good for me. I can think in terms of destinations (what park/site do we want to see), and how we'll get there the prettiest, most interesting way. Right now I'm trying to tell AAA that I want to drive down Skyline Drive and that I want to take the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way to the Great Smokies. Next I'll argue with it about the best routes across Tennessee and Arkansas.

This effort put in early is worth it to me, because it keeps me motivated. I can see the prize in store. I know every turn of the way. Now we just need the funds to do it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To Wall or not to Wall?

We're having so much fun planning this trip!  Caleb especially has been marking up the atlas trying to figure out the best way to see all the thing we want to see.
We're having trouble figuring out the plains, however. After Yellowstone, it's a tough call.  Should we do the Badlands or go back to Rte 2?  We're thinking about seeing the Ingalls homestead in DeSmet, SD as well as the Corn Palace in Mitchell.  Or, if we do the Badlands, do we skip Wall Drug or is it a must see?
And how can we get back to NY without going through Chicago?  Choices choices choices.

Ok, having just looked into the Ingalls Homestead, we officially have to go.

We will also go to Hannibal, MO.  It has been decided.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Big Picture

I spent some time this afternoon while the girls (didn't really) nap and pinpointed areas along our route to show the general direction and plan of the trip. Get excited by this one, people! This is our trip mapped out (sans a couple of locations due to Google only being able to do so many destinations at a time) in full from Cambridge to Columbus (though the assumption would be that we get back to Cambridge after a stop off to pay our respects at OSU).

We'll be taking a circuitous route south and across during the earlier part of the summer and then the northern route will happen as the weather gets hotter. We thought it best to avoid driving through the desert in August.

Along the route you can see the highlighted spots:
A) Cambridge, NY [home base]
B) Home of FDR in Hyde Park, NY [first stop] off the Taconic PKWY
C) Delaware River Gap [NRA] and then follow Rte 209 to
D) Gettysburg Battleground
E) Front Royal, VA is the opening to Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park
F) After Skyline Drive we'll make our way south to H) the Great Smokies via the Blue Ridge PKWY (G)
I) Brentwood, TN to shout "WE'RE DEBT FREE"
J) Hotsprings, AR to relax and "take the water" at an old hotsprings resort!
K) Oklahoma city where we plan to pick up and follow Historic Rte 66 across to
L) Amarillo, TX; M) Santa Fe, NM; N) and Flagstaff, AZ before turning north to
O) Grand Canyon National Park.
From there we travel north to P) Zion National Park in Utah and head towards
Q) Las Vegas, NV to be pampered in a silly tourist destination.
R) Yosemite National Park for several days of sightseeing and then north on US-101 towards
S) Redwood National Park and T) Olympic National Park from which we turn back East to
U) Mt. St Helens, V) Glacier National Park or W) Yellowstone National Park, and then V) The Badlands
X) Rounding off our trip east will be a stop in Columbus for said homage to the Buckeyes and then home!

Hope to see you on the road somewhere!

You can come too!

If you read our previous posts and thought:
 - That sounds like fun!
 - I've always wanted to do something like that.
 - I wish we could be debt free by then.
 - How is it even possible to do that?
.... or something along those lines, here is your answer.

You can do it!  You can come too!

In order to join us on our road trip, you need to be willing to do the following:
- Pay off all your debt (except for a mortgage) and never take out another loan or use another credit card ever in your entire life.
- Save up enough money to pay for the whole trip and any supplies you need to buy in cash.

We learned how to do this by attending Financial Peace University, which we highly recommend, but it's not really necessary.  You can get any of Dave Ramsey's books, or Larry Burkett's books from your local library and use the forms they provide.

The first thing we did was build a little Emergency Fund of $1000, and put it in a savings account that we can only access with an ATM card with a $300 limit.  We have used this to pay for new car tires (when we ran over a screw), fixing the washing machine, buying a working refrigerator, emergency room bills, and living expenses while unemployed.  Every time we use it, we immediately fill it up again as quickly as possible.  We've been going for almost two years with this plan and have yet to completely drain the fund. Because we have this fund, we don't have to carry a credit card for emergencies.

Then we began paying down our debt using the Debt Snowball.  So far we paid off (and closed) two credit cards, various medical expenses, and our car.  We are currently working on (ahem, doing battle with) Emily's student loans and have Caleb's student loans waiting in the wings.

To do this, we have been sitting down every month to do our budget together.  This is probably the most important part of our plan.  When we do our budget we talk through all the different things that we spend money on.  We can think of ways to reduce our expenses and talk about where we need to spend more this month.  By talking through it and working on it together, we know where our money is going and why. Of course, this is often the hardest part.  While we have gotten used to sitting down and crunching numbers each month, we need to do better about tracking our actual expenses and adjusting for those things that pop up mid month that we didn't budget for.

Like anything worth doing, it's worth working hard to get it right.  We've found that we're better able to work together and take control of other areas of our life too, like keeping the house clean, reading and praying together, planning meals, disciplining the girls, etc.

Want to know more?  Read about Dave Ramsey's Envelope system, which will help you use cash (instead of a debit card) and keep your budget in check.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Trip Outline

Our dream for the Great American Road Trip is to see and enjoy as much of America's great outdoors as we can.  In order to do this we will:
- Avoid interstate highways as much as possible.
- Camp and picnic as much as we can.
- Avoid national food chains when stopping to eat.
- Stop in small towns, just because.
- Avoid heavily populated areas and large cities, with a few exceptions.
- Visit as many National Parks, Points of Interest, Historical Monuments, and Local Oddities as we can.
- Talk to the locals.

As we dream and scheme at this point, our trip will consist of the following legs:
1) Cambridge, NY to Nashville, TN via the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smokies.
 - In Nashville we plan to visit Financial Peace Plaza, (well, it's actually in Brentwood, which is just south of  Nashville).
2) TN to Santa Fe, NM via Hot Springs, AR and Historic Route 66
3) Santa Fe, NM to Las Vegas, NV via various national parks such as Petrified Forest, Zion, Canyon Lands, etc.
 - We may splurge in Vegas and spend a night or two in a hotel with an indoor pyramid or something, just to be different.
4) Vegas to Olympia, WA via Death Valley, Yosemite, Rte 101 and Mt. St. Helens
 - We'll spend some time in Olympic National Park before heading East.
5) WA to the plains via either Yellowstone or Glacier, TBD.
6) The plains to NY via the Lincoln Highway and anything but I-80/90.

We plan to spend at least 4-5 days on each leg, meaning that the whole trip will easily take a month just to drive.  As Caleb is a teacher and we have most of June, July and August to do this, we aren't worried about time at all.  We hope that you'll be able to clear your schedule for at least some of the summer and come join us, wherever we are!

Who We Are And Why We Want To Take This Trip

We are the Shoemakers.  At the moment, we number four: Caleb and Emily (the parents), Anastasia and Zoe (the kids).  Caleb and Emily have been married for three years.  When we got married we made $40k a year and were $84k in debt.  In the summer of 2009 we attended Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University and realized that it was time to grow up, take responsibility for ourselves and our finances, and get out of debt as fast as possible.  We started off well, but suffered a major set back when Caleb lost his job in March of 2010.  In the fall of 2010 Caleb found a new job and with two little girls in tow we moved to the little town of Cambridge, NY so that Caleb could begin his new job teaching at Augustine Classical Academy.  We were very excited to take the position even though ACA was still in its beginnings and unable to pay its teachers a full salary.  We have continued to chip away at our debt and as of today we owe approximately $64k.
As one might expect, it has been difficult to continue paying off debt over the past year.  Emotionally, we've felt extremely justified in stopping for ice cream, ordering Chinese, buying something nice for the house and otherwise busting our carefully constructed budgets.  While we continue to strive towards our goal, we need something to help spur us along, to give us the "Gazelle Intensity" that Dave Ramsey talks about.
We are dreamers and we have always loved to paint beautiful pictures in the air about what our lives will be like once we are debt free; what we could do when we're debt free; the amazing things we might be able to accomplish when we are debt free.
Well, we're tired of dreaming, so we're going to make it happen.  We're making a plan and we're going to stick to it.
We want to be debt free by the end of 2013 (when Caleb turns 31).  And, in the Summer of 2014, we will take Our Great American Debt Free Road Trip.
AND, as if that alone wasn't enough, we want to invite you to come with us.  If you're debt free, or will work to become debt free by the summer of 2014, we want you to join us for some (or all) of Our Great American Debt Free Road Trip.