Last Week’s $70 Grocery Budget + Menu Plan


September 1, 2019 | Crystal Paine


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Want to see what we bought for this week’s $70 grocery budget? I’m currently challenging myself to stick with a $70 budget for our family of five. This includes almost all of our breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners + most household products (toiletries, laundry soap, etc.).

For live updates, be sure to follow my Instagram Stories. See all posts on my $70 Grocery Budget here.

I’ve been finding a LOT of random markdowns at Kroger recently, so my shopping trips this week were mostly made up of those!

Kroger Shopping Trip #1

  • Kroger Eggs — marked down to $1.29
  • Cinnamon Raisin Bread — marked down to $1.29
  • 2 cans of canned Pineapple — marked down to $0.49 each
  • JIF peanut butter — marked down to $0.99 each
  • Kettle cooked chips — marked down to $0.79
  • Kroger sour cream — $1.39
  • Deli chicken — marked down to $2.39
  • Elbow macaroni — marked down to $0.39
  • 1 bag of peppers/squash — marked down to $0.99
  • Kroger peanuts — marked down to $0.89
  • Sirloin Steak — marked down to $4.40
  • 1 bag of cucumbers — marked down to $0.99
  • Strawberries — $1.50
  • 2 cans of Kroger soup — $0.79 each
  • 1 bag of lemons — marked down to $0.99
  • Bananas — marked down to $0.39/lb. = $0.71
  • Tyson Frozen Chicken — $6.99
  • 2 cans of salmon — marked down to $1.99 each
  • Package of Kind Breakfast Bars — marked down to $0.99
  • 2 cans of green beans — marked down to $0.29 each
  • Simple Truth organic seltzer water — marked down to $0.99 each
  • 2 boxes of Rice-a-Roni — marked down to $0.49 each
  • Kroger taco seasoning — marked down to $0.19
  • Total with tax: $41.96

I was excited about the Weekend Deals at Kroger this week and am going back to hit some of the others on Monday!

Kroger Shopping Trip #2

  • Salad Kit — $1.99
  • Nature Valley Granola Bar — marked down to $0.69
  • Kroger eggs — marked down to $1.29
  • Annie’s Mac & Cheese — marked down to $0.59 each
  • Capri Sun — marked down to $0.69
  • JIF Peanut Butter — marked down to $0.89
  • 3 packages of Smithfield Bacon — $2.99 each with Weekend Deals
  • Kind bar — Free with Free Friday coupon
  • Creamed Corn — $0.99
  • Kroger Green Beans — $0.59
  • 5 Lara Bars — $0.50 each with Weekend Deals
  • Franks Red Hot Sauce — Well, I thought this was supposed to be $0.99 with the Kroger Weekend Deals but as I was typing this up, I realized that I think I actually paid $2.99 for this!! Now I’m trying to decide whether it’s worth taking back to the store. Probably not? But I kind of surprised that I didn’t catch that I overpaid for this. 🙁 I usually am really good at carefully checking everything. Here’s another good reason why you should check your receipt really thoroughly before leaving the store!
  • Lettuce — $1.79
  • Total with tax: $26.18

What We Ate This Past Week

Note: When you see the meals below, please remember this: I buy ahead often. Which means that when I find a great deal on something I know we’ll use, I buy as much as I can afford in our budget to have on hand.

This means that you aren’t going to see all of the groceries my shopping trip that I used to make all of the meals we ate.

Please also remember that I’m putting this out there and it’s not a perfectly balanced menu. This is just really what we ate — and I hope that it encourages you to see the real-ness and lack of perfection here.

Breakfasts:

  • Cereal, Toast, Oatmeal, Peanut Butter & Honey Sandwiches (Silas and Kaitlynn have been loving this for breakfast recently!), Eggs

Lunches:

  • Ham Sandwiches, Granola Bars, Yogurt, Capri Sun, Salad, Leftovers, Fruit

Snacks:

  • Cookies, Popcorn, Ice Cream, Go-Gurts, Apple Crisp, Fruit, Veggies

Dinners:

Total spent on groceries: $68.14

Cashback earned this week: 50 points for submitting my receipts to Fetch rewards


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7 Simple Ways to Save Money When You Have a Kid


Life gets busy, especially with a kid under 5.

You go from sleepless nights to messy mealtimes to curious toddlers to, suddenly, tiny humans who talk and have (very strong) opinions. Then, before you know it, they’re in school.

At this point, you definitely know how expensive kids are — we don’t have to tell you that. But we wanted to check in: How are you feeling financially? As your kid gets older, you’ll face even more expenses (e.g. school activities, clothes, food, etc., etc.).

Before you get too overwhelmed, make these seven smart money moves before your kid turns 5. Heck, you can do many of these by the end of today!

1. Secure $1 Million in Life Insurance for Just $5/Month

Have you thought about how your family would manage without your income?

“The biggest mistake I see millennials making is being duped by insurance salesmen,” says Andy Yadro, a financial planner with Googins Advisors in Madison, Wisconsin. “Everyone needs insurance, but a very small subset of young people need the insurance that is sold by most ‘financial advisors.’”

You might still consider a basic life insurance policy, which can be useful if you have loved ones who rely on your income — a significant other, a child or even a relative you help out financially.

If you’re under the age of 54 and want to get a fast life insurance quote without the medical exam, pushy sales calls or even getting up from the couch, check out Bestow. The company is built around one concept — helping you get the term life insurance policy you want, simply and fast.

It just takes five minutes to answer some basic lifestyle questions, and you can get quotes for up to $1 million in coverage without a medical exam. If you’re approved, you can personalize your coverage to fit your budget. You can change or cancel your plan at any time.

2. Get Free Gift Cards When You Load up on Groceries

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As your kid gets older, you’ll probably notice your grocery bill go up and up. They’re growing fast and need the fuel. Plus you’ve got to plan for their school lunches — every parents favorite chore, right?

But what if you could turn your grocery receipts into free gift cards? That’s be nice, right?

It might sound too good to be true, but a free app called Fetch Rewards will turn your grocery receipts into gift cards. It partners with tons of brands to give you points for every grocery receipt you share. Then you can exchange the points for gift cards to places like Amazon, Walmart, Chipotle and dozens of other retailers. 

And it’s perfect for those of us who don’t want to put a ton of work into this. All you have to do is send Fetch a photo of your receipt, and it does everything for you. No scanning barcodes or searching for offers — and you can use it with any grocery receipt.

When you download the app, use the code PENNY to automatically earn 2,000 points when you scan your first receipt — you’ll be well on your way to your first gift card.

So next time you’re packing lunch for your kid, think about all the things you can buy with an Amazon gift card.

3. Pad Your Emergency Fund

We all know kids can be a bit reckless. They think jumping off the jungle gym is a great idea… until they break their arm. Or maybe you look away for literally two seconds and they’ve burned themselves on the stove. How did they even reach that high?! 

You never know what’s going to happen, so it’s best to be prepared for unexpected accidents with an emergency fund.

If you need some help getting started — or padding your existing one — try banking with Chime. This free online bank gives you the option to put 10% of your direct-deposit paycheck away into your savings. The money adds up quickly, and it’s completely automatic.

We talked to Samuel Demeny who was able to save up $1,250 — without even thinking about it.

Opening a Chime bank account takes five minutes, and you get access to its checking and savings accounts.

You can’t always prevent your kid from making a reckless decision, but you can at least be prepared financially.

4. Check in With Your Budget

At this point, you know how expensive it is to raise a kid. Yes, it’s totally worth it (ahem, most of the time), but it’s important to keep tabs on your budget, especially because, as your kid grows, your expenses likely will, too. (Think: After-school activities, clothes and sports)

Keep tabs on these new expenses as they pop up so you can keep your budget updated accordingly. And if you don’t already have a budget? We like the 50/20/30 budgeting method. It’s super simple.

Here’s how you’ll allot your income:

  • 50% goes toward essentials — yup, that’s your kid stuff.
  • 20% goes toward financial goals — think: that emergency fund.
  • 30% goes toward personal spending — this is basically your catch-all category.

5. Don’t Forget About Retirement… 

We get it. Retirement seems so far away, especially when you’re just trying to get through the day-to-day. However, once your kid is out of the house, you’re going to start counting down until retirement.

Don’t let it slip!

If you have a 401(k), kudos for that… but is it doing what you need it to?

If you’re like most people, you have no idea whether your 401(k) is on pace for your retirement or just sputtering along.

Chances are, your 401(k) could be doing a lot better. Take control with help from Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm that can optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you and keep it speeding toward retirement.

It just takes a few minutes to get a free 401(k) analysis that will show you whether your investments are allocated properly and whether you’re losing money paying hidden investment fees. It’ll even tell you just how much more money your account could earn by the time you want to retire. 

After that, if you sign up, it’s just $10 per month to have Blooom monitor and maximize your 401(k). Bonus: Penny Hoarders get a special rate of $99 per year with the code REEETIRE.

6. Finally Pay off Lingering Credit Card Debt

Feeling like you’ll be stuck forever with credit card debt? We get it: Those insane rates are no fun, but now that your kid is growing up, it’s time to break free from the cycle.

Luckily, a website called Credible knows how to get you a better deal — and you could have your credit card paid off by tomorrow.

Here’s how it works: Credible will match you with a loan that’ll cover your credit card tab. Use that loan to pay off your debt, then make monthly payments to repay the loan. It could lower your monthly payments and help you pay off that debt a lot faster.

Credible won’t make you stand in line or call a bank. And if you’re worried you won’t qualify, it’s free to check online. It takes just two minutes, and it could save you thousands of dollars. Totally worth it.

Now you can finally breathe a little easier!

7. Stop Giving Your Car Insurance Company Extra Money

If you need to free up some money in your budget but those monthly bills keep holding you back, look into simple ways to lower the tabs. One of the easiest bills to save on? Car insurance.

If you really want to get the best price on car insurance, experts say you should be shopping twice a year.

OK, we can hear you laughing from here. Who has time to do all that?

But seriously, insurance companies take a lot of factors into consideration, and they change all the time. Ipso facto — you’re paying too much.

Thankfully, a free website called The Zebra will do the shopping for you — in just two minutes. 

All you have to do is enter basic information about your car and driving history, then The Zebra compares prices from more than 100 companies to find you the best price.

The Zebra says it saves its users up to $670 a year.

If you find a policy you like, you can sign up online instantly.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.



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14 Ways to Save Money When Dining Out With Kids at Family-Friendly Restaurants


Although you may once have been able to fit eating out into your budget comfortably, once you have kids, that flies out the window. One of the many realities of parenthood is that almost everything, from housing to grocery shopping to gas for your car, suddenly costs exponentially more than it used to.

According to 2015 statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the cost of raising kids averages $12,980 annually, per child, for a middle-income family. And food is a huge budget buster, second only to housing. But while reducing how often your family eats out may be important or even necessary to stretch your family’s dollars, it’s hardly much fun.

Moreover, a lack of time and sheer exhaustion have led to increased spending on convenience. Some nights, it just seems easier to relax at a restaurant than make a meal yourself. The recent explosion of home delivery services, from meal kits to DoorDash, attests to how much weary parents simply don’t want to cook, even when eating out may cost three, four, or even five times what cooking from scratch does.

In fact, even though 49% of Americans responded in a 2016 survey that cheaper prices at restaurants would make them dine out more often, revenue for the restaurant industry continues to expand. The USDA found that Americans spend as much as one-third of their food dollars on dining out.

Americans love eating out and aren’t likely to stop. And if it’s something you truly enjoy doing with your family, there may be room for it in your budget. After all, part of raising kids involves creating fun experiences and shared memories, and eating out on occasion can be one way – though certainly not the only way – your family does that.

Ways to Save on Eating Out With Kids

If eating out once in a while is a pleasure you’d like to hang onto, here are some tips for making it more manageable for your household budget.

1. Save Any Restaurant Coupons You Get in the Mail

Even if you hate junk mail, resist the urge to throw it away immediately. Sort through your local value pack or the pile of paper flyers that come in the mail. Both can be goldmines for finding coupons to local restaurants. You might even find some kid-specific coupons. That’s especially true for fast food establishments such as Wendy’s or McDonald’s, but sometimes, full-service restaurants offer them as well.

It can be difficult, however, to keep track of all those paper coupons, and losing them means losing your savings. I know I’ve found myself out at a restaurant only to suddenly remember I left the coupon I needed at home on the kitchen counter. To solve this problem, I’ve started keeping an envelope of coupons in the glove compartment of my car. Since we always take the family car when we go out to eat, this ensures I always have coupons on hand.

2. Search for Coupons Online

A simple Google search of your desired restaurant plus the word “coupon” can reveal any number of websites offering printable or downloadable coupons. You’ll likely find several usable coupons for your meal, potentially including coupons for deals on kids meals. For that matter, it’s always worth doing a coupon search before you go anywhere or buy anything. It takes minimal effort and can help you find ways to save.

3. Check Deal Sites

Sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial, Travelzoo, and Restaurant.com can yield some great deals on restaurants. Also, make sure you have the Rakuten (formerly Ebates) extension installed on your browser before you make your purchase. Using Rakuten is like doubling down on a deal; not only will you be able to dine at a discounted price by purchasing from the deal site, but you’ll also potentially get anywhere from 4% to 10% cash back through Rakuten.

4. Use Coupon Apps

In addition to searching for coupons online, there are a number of smartphone apps that will give you restaurant coupons on your phone. That makes saving on dining out convenient if you’ve forgotten your paper coupons at home or failed to plan ahead by searching for printable coupons online. Restaurant coupon apps include:

  • Ibotta. Should mom or dad desire a glass of wine or a pint of beer with their meal, the Ibotta app can help bring the cost down. The same app that gives you rebates on items you buy at the grocery store also gives you rebates on alcohol at restaurants. Ibotta offers rebates of up to $2 for any single glass of wine or beer at any restaurant and up to $3 for hard liquor.
  • RetailMeNot. With this app, you’ll find more than just deals for retail stores; they also have deals for any number of restaurants, though they’re typically limited to chain restaurants. If you’re not sure where you want to eat, RetailMeNot uses your location to show you a list of all the available deals in your area – meaning wherever you are at the moment of your search.
  • Coupon Sherpa. Like RetailMeNot, Coupon Sherpa offers a wide variety of coupons for both retail stores and dozens of chain restaurants. Additionally, their smartphone app uses GPS to find discounts for restaurants in whatever area you find yourself in, so you can see what deals are around before you make your final decision on where to eat.
  • Valpak. That envelope that often comes in the mail filled with paper coupons for local establishments also has an app version. So if, like me, you frequently forget your coupons when it matters, you can simply use an electronic version of the very same coupon you sorted out of your mail – which means that maybe you can cancel your junk mail after all.
  • Spotluck. This app makes dining out into a game that helps you discover new restaurants in your area. Spin the wheel for a surprise discount at a local restaurant. None of the options will be chains, which makes the app great for adventurous families who enjoy discovering new things. You might even end up finding a new family favorite.
  • Restaurant.com. Not only does Restaurant.com have a deal site on the Web, but it also offers an app for your phone that helps you find deals wherever and whenever, even if you’re already at a restaurant. Even better, it requires no printing, unlike its Web counterpart. Though it only gives deals for local restaurants, not chains, it features reviews from diners that you can check out before you try a deal. You can also access menus through the app, which lets you plan ahead in case you have a picky eater or a child with food allergies or special dietary restrictions.

5. Sign Up for Restaurant Rewards Programs & Apps

Almost every restaurant has a loyalty program these days, especially chain restaurants, which are beloved as easy, fun, and convenient places for family dining. Be sure to sign up for any rewards cards, email subscriptions, text messages, and smartphone apps, especially if your family has a few top favorite restaurants. Though it doesn’t take many sign-ups for email subscriptions to quickly clutter your inbox, it can be worth it for the regular blasts of coupons, deals, and even news about special events.

Many restaurant rewards programs offer more than just the traditional free entrée on your birthday; it’s now common to regularly get coupons for other deals. As restaurants scramble to compete with each other for your loyalty and repeat business, offering a slew of deals in return for sign-ups has become the norm.

For example, Red Robin releases new coupons every two weeks for everything from half-price burgers to BOGO burgers to free desserts and appetizers. You can get a free burger on your birthday, of course, but Red Robin also allows you to sign up each of your kids for free burgers on their birthdays. And you can earn rewards and freebies for your purchases, such as a free burger or entrée after the purchase of nine burgers or entrées.

Don’t sign up for emails only, though. Even though many restaurants now link their loyalty programs across platforms – email, smartphone app, text message, and so on – you can often discover different deals on different platforms. For example, you may get a coupon on your smartphone app but not in your email. Moreover, most restaurants give you freebies just for downloading their apps. Red Lobster, for example, offers a free appetizer or dessert simply for downloading theirs.

6. Purchase Discounted Gift Cards

If there’s a restaurant your family frequents often or one you know you’ll be visiting, you can buy discounted gift cards ahead of time from Raise. Raise is like eBay for gift cards; it allows sellers to post their unwanted gift cards for sale, offering them at a discounted price in exchange for cash.

Alternatively, you can buy gift cards for restaurants at any number of regional grocery store chains that offer fuel perks. Although you’ll pay face value for the gift card, your restaurant meal will help knock some cash off your gas bill, and what mom or dad couldn’t use that?

A third idea is to stock up on gift cards during the holidays. Most restaurants offer bonus cash during the holiday season for purchasing gift cards, and if you buy from a restaurant you frequent often, you can keep the gift cards to pay for your own meals and get the bonus cash too.

7. Plan Ahead

Many of these tips for saving money on family dining involve planning ahead, whether that’s clipping coupons, buying gift cards, or shopping deal sites. But you can also help your family budget by planning what you’ll eat when you get to the restaurant and discussing those expectations with your kids.

For example, if you plan to attend a restaurant that offers meals at a range of prices, you may want to stick to a certain threshold. If that’s the case, let your kids know ahead of time what is and isn’t an acceptable price range for an entrée. Similarly, if you prefer to skip appetizers, drinks, or desserts as a way to save money, make sure you discuss this ahead of time to avoid any confusion and hurt feelings.

If you have younger children who don’t yet understand prices and limits, it never hurts to take a look ahead at the menu and figure out what menu items are within the family budget. That way, when you get to the restaurant, you’ll already know exactly what to order to stay within your set limit.

And finally, if you’re planning to eat at a restaurant you’ve never been to before, be sure to check the price ranges for menu items ahead of time so that there are no surprises when you arrive. I’ve eaten out with my family at restaurants we expected to be priced as casual, only to find prices that were closer to those for fine dining. At boutique restaurants, a gourmet grass-fed burger can cost double what a burger at a casual chain restaurant does.

8. Split Meals

Restaurant meals are notoriously huge; their portions for “one” can often easily feed two or more. Thus, it can pay to get creative with various ways to split meals. For example, if you have a child who’s under five, they may rarely eat more than a few bites of a kids meal. So you can easily shave $5 to $7 off your restaurant bill by simply sharing your meal with your little one. If you ask, you server will likely even bring you an extra plate so your child can still feel as if they’re getting their “own” meal. We did this for several years with our son.

Another option is to order a couple of entrées to be shared by the whole table family-style. Many times, my family has ordered two entrées to be shared by three or four people. We especially like to do this at Chinese food restaurants, where the food often comes on separate plates and bowls than the ones you eat on, which is a perfect setup for sharing.

You can also try splitting one adult entrée between two kids, ordering a la carte and sharing sides, or splitting appetizers and desserts. Any way you can share food will help pare down the total bill as well as eliminate waste.

9. Order a Kids Meal If You’re an Adult

Although some restaurants won’t allow you to do this, it’s worth asking. Because restaurant portions are so large, kids meals are usually an adequate amount of food, even for grownups. More importantly, they typically cost half as much.

Keep in mind that the kids menu is likely to have much less variety than the regular menu, but depending on where you’re eating, it might be a feasible option.

10. Order Appetizers Instead of Entrées

Appetizers usually cost less than entrées but can often be a fairly substantial size. I’m a huge fan of nachos, for example, and have ordered them as my meal many times. Not only do I get all the food groups covered, including meat and veggies, but I’ve never managed to finish a plate. You can save significantly by ordering appetizers during happy hour when they’re often half-price and splitting them with at least one other family member.

And nachos aren’t the only bargain off the appetizer menu. I’ve been to plenty of restaurants that offer what might be considered “complete meals” as appetizers. Buffalo wings that come with veggies are one example, and some restaurants even serve their appetizer chicken tenders with fries.

11. Avoid “Extras” (Or Split Them)

If you want to keep down the total cost of your bill, skip all the “extras.” Nothing will drive up the final price like ordering a bunch of drinks, appetizers, and desserts. More than once, my family has gone out to eat with a “free entrée” coupon in hand, expecting to get a cheap dinner, only to be shocked when the check came at how much drinks hiked up our total bill.

It’s the same with appetizers and desserts. But if you really want these courses, try splitting them with another family member. Appetizers are made to be shared, and restaurant desserts can be thousands of calories, not to mention generously sized. You can save your waistline and your wallet by splitting them two or more ways.

12. Sneak in a “Freebie”

I discovered this tip entirely by accident after struggling with an indecisive toddler who repeatedly insists at restaurants that he wants French fries, only to burst into tears later when the server doesn’t bring him applesauce. Kids meals often come as a package deal; you get to choose between one entrée, one or two sides, a drink, and maybe a dessert, all for one price. That means if the meal comes with one side and we order French fries, we can’t add in applesauce without incurring an extra charge – at least, in theory.

I have been to many a restaurant with my little one and asked for the server to throw in an extra side, fully expecting to pay for it, only to discover they gave it to us for free. I’ve heard the same story from others. So although you can’t necessarily expect it, and no restaurant will technically guarantee it, it may not hurt to ask for an additional side.

13. Look for “Kids Eat Free” Deals

Restaurants typically make most of their money serving adult meals since kids meals are generally already discounted. But that’s precisely why you’re likely to find many restaurants offering further discounted or even free kids meals. Like doorbusters on Black Friday, the aim is to rope customers in with free kids meals and then make money selling adult entrées. But if you’re planning on eating out anyway, a free kids meal is a win for you too.

Here’s a list of just some of the restaurants with “kids eat free” days. Keep in mind that these are most often offered on weekdays as restaurants are most inclined to try to draw customers in on their slow days. But if you look hard enough, it’s not impossible to find some restaurants that offer free kids meals on weekends as well.

Offers vary by location and can change at any time, so be sure to call ahead to confirm the deal. And finally, in many cases, you can’t combine “kids eat free” deals with coupons or other promotions.

  • Applebee’s. Kids 12 and under eat free on Tuesdays with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Back Yard Burgers. Kids 12 and under eat free on Tuesdays from 4pm to close with the purchase of an adult combo meal.
  • Baja Fresh. Kids 12 and under get a free kids meal on Sundays with the purchase of an entrée and a drink.
  • Bennigan’s. Kids 12 and under eat free on Tuesdays from 4pm to close with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Bob Evans. Kids 12 and under eat free from 4pm to 9pm on Tuesdays with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Cicis Pizza. Kids under 3 eat free every day with an adult purchase.
  • Chili’s. Kids 12 and under eat free on Mondays with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Firehouse Subs. Kids 12 and under get a free kids meal on Sundays with each adult purchase.
  • Golden Corral. Kids under 3 eat free every day with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • IHOP. Kids 12 and under eat free every day from 4pm to 9pm with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • IKEA. Kids 12 and under eat free on Tuesdays, plus you can get free organic baby food for your smallest eaters.
  • Logan’s Roadhouse. Kids 12 and under get a free kids meal on Wednesdays when you purchase an adult entrée.
  • Lone Star Steakhouse. Get two kids meals for free every Tuesday with each adult entrée purchased.
  • Margaritas Mexican Restaurant. Kids 12 and under get a free kids meal on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Moe’s Southwest Grill. Kids 12 and under get a free kids meal from 4pm to close on Sundays with an adult purchase.
  • O’Charley’s. Kids 12 and under get a free kids meal every day with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Perkins Restaurant & Bakery. Kids 12 and under eat free every day with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Qdoba Mexican Grill. Kids 12 and under get a free kids meal on Wednesdays and Sundays with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Red Robin. Kids 10 and under eat free all day on Mondays with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Kids 12 and under get a free kids meal on Mondays and Tuesdays with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Ruby Tuesday. Kids 12 and under eat free every Tuesday from 5pm to close with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Shoney’s. Kids 4 and under get a free kids meal on Fridays with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Smashburger. Get a free kids meal with the purchase of a regular burger or salad after 4pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays (varies by location).
  • Souper Salad. Kids 4 and under eat free on Sundays with an adult purchase. Kids 5 to 12 eat for $2.49 apiece.
  • Steak ‘n Shake. Get one free kids meal on Saturdays and Sundays with an adult purchase of at least $9.
  • TGI Friday’s. Kids 12 and under eat free on Mondays and Tuesdays with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Tony Roma’s. Kids 12 and under get a free kids meal on Sundays with the purchase of an adult entrée.
  • Uno Pizzeria and Grill. Kids 12 and under eat free on Tuesdays with the purchase of an adult entrée.

14. Rethink Why You’re Eating Out

If you find yourself defaulting to eating out several times per month, and it’s wreaking havoc on your budget, saving significant amounts of money might be as simple as rethinking why you’re eating out so often.

Is It for Convenience?

All parents struggle with periods of exhaustion and a lack of time. And when we’re coming home from work after a long, hard day, the last thing many of us want to do is cook. So why not leave the cooking, serving, and cleanup to someone else?

The Washington Post reports that a lack of time is the No. 1 reason parents don’t cook more often. Dual-income households where both parents each work one or more jobs have led to a decline in home-cooked meals. Stress is another significant factor, according to Reuters.

Many Americans are eating out simply for convenience; it’s just so much easier than going through the effort of making a home-cooked meal. The problem is that convenience is costing the average American about $3,000 per year, USA Today reports. And 2015 data reported by Bloomberg shows that Americans now spend more money on restaurants than on groceries.

So if convenience is the reason behind your spending, you can save tremendously by simply finding ways to make cooking at home easier. Though they’re not a significantly better alternative in terms of cost, meal kit subscription services can make cooking at home more convenient and enjoyable. Survey data from Priceonomics shows that while meal kits cost, on average, three times more than cooking from scratch, that’s still a savings over restaurants, which can cost five times as much or more.

Even better, though, would be just to make your own home-cooked meals. Being a parent isn’t an easy job; it’s fraught with stress, exhaustion, and a general lack of time. But you can mitigate at least one hardship – the financial one – by finding ways that work within your schedule and budget to make home cooking easier.

For example, I make use of my slow cooker multiple times per week. After a long, stressful day, there’s nothing quite like coming home to a dinner that’s already basically done. If you tend to forget to dump something into the slow cooker before you leave for work in the morning, a pressure cooker may be just the thing to turn dinner-making into something more doable.

Is It for Entertainment?

On the other hand, eating out for you and your family may not be about convenience. After all, it can take at least an hour to sit through a meal at a restaurant and 20 minutes or more to wait on takeout or delivery.

It may be that your family eats out simply for fun. Dining at a restaurant can be an enjoyable activity; your family gets to experience a change of pace while also getting some uninterrupted family time when you can focus on each other exclusively, free from the many distractions at home. Further, many Americans dine out on the weekends when a restaurant meal can set the tone for a fun and relaxing end to the work or school week.

Eating out can also be a way to create cherished memories. Whenever families spend quality time together engaging in enjoyable activities, it builds stronger family bonds, according to the American College of Pediatricians. If you can afford to work regular restaurant meals into your budget without neglecting important savings categories, and this is one of the ways your family spends quality time together, it may not be such a bad thing to go out to eat once in a while. After all, kids grow up fast, and if you put off doing fun things together in an effort to save every penny, before you know it, they’ll be grown and out of the house.

Further, if eating out is something you and your family genuinely enjoy, and it’s financially doable for you, it’s also worth remembering that every budget needs a little room for some fun. Money is a tool for creating the life you desire, and that means finding your own right balance between saving for the future and enjoying life now.

Keep in mind, though, that there are also other, cheaper ways to create quality family time, especially if you’re not able to comfortably afford eating out. For example, you could have a board game or movie night at home or, if the weather is nice, play Frisbee in the park. Even a few rounds of miniature golf or bowling can be a lot of fun and create some wonderful memories for less than the cost of a restaurant meal.

Final Word

If you’d like to keep eating out in your family’s schedule of activities, but you’re worried about its impact on your family budget, be sure to try one or more of these tips for saving money on family dining. Even though food may be one of the biggest expenses for families, there are plenty of ways to help mitigate the costs.

If nothing else, you can also try cutting back on the number of times your family goes out to eat, saving it as an activity you do only once in a while or only on special occasions. Simply cutting back can significantly affect your family’s monthly and yearly budget without having to eliminate eating out entirely. Plus, you might decide to put away everything you save on eating out toward something even more fun, such as a vacation.

Though it’s certainly important to respect your family’s finances, in the end, money is a tool to help you get the most enjoyment out of life. And if that’s eating out for you, you don’t necessarily have to eliminate it from your family activities entirely. You may just have to think carefully about the best ways to balance your budget and your financial goals with the pleasurable activities you feel are important to hang onto.

Have you tried one or more of these methods for saving on eating out with your family? Do you have any tips or tricks you’d add to this list?



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Eleven Cookbooks I Keep on My Shelf – And Why


Jamie writes in:

What cookbooks do you recommend for someone who is just starting out on their own?

I’ve made no secret over the years that I love cookbooks, to the point that family and friends often just find interesting cookbooks (particularly ones focused on more obscure topics) to give to me as a gift. Earlier this year, in fact, I had a friend text me a picture of several cookbooks she bought for me for $0.50 apiece at a yard sale where the person had a ton of cookbooks; she went through and found some unusual ones that she thought I’d like. It took $3.50 to put a huge smile on my face.

Part of the reason that I love cookbooks so much is that I love making food items and beverage items at home. I love being able to customize them and make them the way I want, from the ingredients I want. It saves a ton of money and often results in much better food.

There are times when I’ll devote whole weekend days to making foodstuffs, but most of the time, I’m really practical with cooking. I have three kids that are in upper elementary and middle school, which means that our life schedules are entering a phase where simply having a family dinner together can be like threading a needle sometimes. I want to be able to make low-cost home-cooked meals, sometimes in very small timeframes, so that we can eat dinner together as often as possible.

What this means is that several times a week, if you peek in our house, you’ll see me or Sarah in the kitchen with a cookbook flopped open on the table as we attempt to prepare some meal. Maybe it’s me on the weekend trying to figure out how to make some strange fermented food, or on a weeknight trying to put together a casserole that can be on the table at precisely 5:45 so that we have time to eat and our two oldest ones can be on their way to practices by 6:15. Maybe you’ll see Sarah loading something in the slow cooker in the morning or trying to bake a cake on a Saturday afternoon.

I enjoy using cookbooks. I enjoy sitting down and just reading them, looking for new ideas and techniques. I enjoy having them around for reference, too.

The question that is really being asked here is this: what cookbooks do I consider to be the essential ones on my shelf, particularly ones that are useful for someone relatively new to preparing food at home?

I went through our cookbook collection and came up with a handful.

It’s worth noting that when I’m discussing these cookbooks, I strongly encourage you to check them out from the library rather than just buying them. Borrow these for a few weeks, read through some of the material in them, and try using them for a few recipes and techniques. Decide for yourself if this book works for you or not. Then, if it does click, look for it on discount. You’d be surprised how many of these can be found at used bookstores, for example, or at library book sales.

First, however, let me talk a bit about how I chose these.

What Makes a Good Cookbook?

There are really four things I look for in a cookbook.

First of all, it needs to have a technique focus. I shouldn’t be in a situation where I read a recipe and wonder, “How on earth do I do this?” If it’s a new technique that isn’t a super-common one, there should be a technique section in that cookbook or enough of an explanation right there that I’m not lost. Techniques are the key. I don’t mind it if I don’t quite understand the technique from reading it, but it should be named and identified clearly enough that I can turn to Youtube for more visual instruction, as it can be hard to describe some techniques with words and pictures. Tell me enough and show me enough that I can either figure it out with just that book or I can figure it out with a Youtube search.

Second, the recipes need to have at least something of a low cost focus with reasonably accessible ingredients. A cookbook that contains lots of ingredients that I can’t find within a twenty mile radius of my home is not very useful to me. I need to be able to find almost all ingredients in the cookbook at local grocery stores and food co-ops and ethnic groceries. There are several of these around here, but some cookbooks end up talking about things that you can seemingly only find if you know a monk in rural Indonesia, and that’s basically useless to me. The ingredients for the average recipe in the book shouldn’t cost me a lot.

Third: at least some of the recipes need to be reasonably quick or reasonably hands-free. I like having some cookbooks and some recipes that are very time and focus and effort intensive, but a good reference cookbook for general use should have a lot of quicker recipes that people can actually prepare on a weeknight evening.

Another thing: it needs to be able to physically lay flat on a table. If a cookbook can’t do this, I’m frustrated with it. This isn’t an absolute do-or-die rule, but I have passed on cookbooks that couldn’t lay flat on a table. This is important because I often have them in the kitchen, open on a table before me, and I don’t want to deal with cookbooks that won’t stay open. Spiral binding is good, as are most thick hardbacks. Paperbacks and some thin hardbacks are often terrible (but not always).

It’s worth noting that the list below is only a selection of our overall cookbook collection. We have a lot of cookbooks we’ve collected over the years and I’ve found value in all of them, but they’re not all ones I would directly recommend for someone aiming to have a few good general purpose cookbooks for a frugally-minded kitchen. They’re either incredibly focused (like Egg by Michael Ruhlman, which is more than 200 pages of incredible detail on various ways to prepare eggs) or loaded with complex recipes that I wouldn’t really recommend to someone who wasn’t at least somewhat adept in a home kitchen.

Here are a bunch of cookbooks that I recommend for any frugally minded home kitchen, even for people completely new to home food preparation.

How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

If I were to make a single cookbook recommendation for anyone who is starting to cook at home, it would be How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, hands down. It works as a tutorial on how to cook at home, starting with extremely basic recipes and techniques that I would trust my nine year old to do and building from there. It also works as a pretty robust reference for basic techniques and recipes for a lot of things you might cook at home. The recipes are simple to follow and just work, plus any techniques are explained extremely well. I turn to this by default when I’m figuring out the basics of making something at home; there’s a decent chance that anything I can think of that isn’t really esoteric is probably discussed in this book. The ingredients are never unusual or hard to find and the recipes are almost always a breeze to follow. There’s almost nothing else I could ask for in terms of a single cookbook for the beginning and intermediate home cook.

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is basically the same cookbook with the sections on meats removed and replaced with additional material for preparing plant-based meals. Our family mostly eats vegetarian for health reasons, so this one has actually seen more use over the last few years than the original.

The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer, Marian Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker

Our copy of The Joy of Cooking looks like it has been beat to death. It has a handmade paper “dust cover” on it because the cover was actually partially burnt while in use. It has spills on it in several places. Some of the index pages are unreadable.

How did it get into that state? It was used – hard.

I would describe The Joy of Cooking as being a similar combination of techniques and recipes as How to Cook Everything, but with a step up in complexity and with a rather quirky tone in places. While there is definitely a lot of overlap in content between the two books, The Joy of Cooking definitely gets into more complex recipes and techniques and covers some things that How to Cook Everything doesn’t touch. It also tends to make some more assumptions of the reader, assuming you know a lot of basic techniques in the kitchen. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s a good “next step” after How to Cook Everything.

I tend to use How to Cook Everything for a quick reference for basic weeknight meals or weekend lunches. I turn to The Joy of Cooking for weekend meals when I’m trying to make something amazing, or when a weeknight meal isn’t turning out like I want. The Rombauer/Becker clan usually has the answers I need.

The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Much as how The Joy of Cooking is a great “next step” all-around cookbook complement to How to Cook Everything, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a great “next step” all-around cookbook for vegetarian food to How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. In fact, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is probably my most referred-to cookbook over the last few years as my family has transitioned slowly to an almost entirely vegetarian diet.

Again, what makes this book excel is the strong focus on technique, the clear explanations of everything, and the wide range of topics in a single volume. There are a ton of techniques and recipes and ideas and variations and “what to do with this ingredient” jammed into this book, and thus it functions as my default for figuring out what to do with a bunch of excess radishes (for example). While I find that How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is more accessible for quick weeknight meals, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is invaluable for weekend cooking when I have more time.

If you’re a vegetarian (or nearly so) and at least somewhat experienced in the kitchen, this is the best single volume to have, in my opinion.

Ratio by Michael Ruhlman

Ratio is probably the most unexpected choice on this list as it is probably the least like a traditional cookbook, but I felt strongly compelled to include it here because it’s done so much to help mold how I actually cook frugally in my kitchen.

The idea behind Ratio is that almost everything you prepare in a kitchen is essentially just a proportional mix of a few things by weight. For example, pancake batter is a ratio of 2 parts liquid, 1 part egg, 1/2 part butter, and 2 parts flour. You can then vary these as you like – use whatever flour you want, use a variety of liquids for the liquid part (milk, yogurt, and so on), use butter alternatives for the butter, and so on.

Basically, the entire book is a framework to encourage you to experiment in the kitchen. It gives you a bunch of principles to stick with, then basically says “Go try this.” There are a few bits and pieces that hold your hand, but much of the rest of the book is just general frameworks and a few tips here and there.

This book gave me the courage to experiment in the kitchen, and to understand that even if something doesn’t turn out as you imagine, it’s usually good if the ingredients are good and you learn something, too. More than anything else I’ve ever read, it made me feel unafraid to try new ingredients and just start throwing together meals from the pantry in a pinch. Yeah, some of the things I’ve made have been weird and a few have been downright bad, but most have been quite good, a few have been amazing and well worth repeating, and it has eliminated most of my kitchen fears of “I can’t do this” or “This will be disastrous.” I still refer to it all the time for some starting points and ideas.

Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

The entire purpose of this book is to present a variety of tasty and fairly healthy recipes trimmed down to the lowest cost possible, hence the subtitle “Eat Well on $4/Day.”

This is the best single cookbook I’ve seen if your focus is on keeping your food costs as low as possible. Most of the recipes are very simple and straightforward, which means that this book is really good for someone who is new to cooking at home.

I often turn to this one during times when we’re trying to really trim our food costs and “get back to the basics” for a while. I also use it as a nice parallel to Ratio, because this book does a great job of pointing to inexpensive ingredients that work well together that I can plug into some of the ratios from the other book. In other words, Good and Cheap serves wonderfully as a jumping off point if you’re wanting to keep costs low but want to start experimenting more and building confidence in the kitchen.

This one is available as a free PDF, but I have the nice compact print version on my shelf.

Love Your Leftovers by Nick Evans

This is the reference book when it comes to leftovers. How do you store leftovers? How do you cook to maximize the utility of leftovers? How do you deal with texture changes? What are good ways to remix a ton of different common leftovers? That’s what this book addresses, and it does it very well.

This book is usually the first place I turn to when I have some leftovers from a meal and don’t know what to do with them, or I have a ton of a particular ingredient that’s going to go bad and I want to have some ideas of what to do with all of this if I cook all of it.

This leads directly into a book on a similar topic…

The Complete Make-Ahead Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen

This is the best single book I’ve found on meal prepping and preparing parts of meals in advance. I use it as a reference whenever I’m doing a big meal prep or I want to try to prepare something new for freezing.

To be clear, meal prepping means that you’re making a complete meal in advance and freezing it at a mostly-finished point so that it can easily be pulled from the freezer and popped in the oven to finish cooking. This means that, for example, you could make a few pans of lasagna on a lazy Sunday afternoon, then just finish cooking it in the oven on a busy Thursday evening, giving you a great home-cooked meal.

There are so many little useful tips in this book. It’s just full of little things that have refined what I’m doing whenever I’m making meals in advance. For example, the realization that I should put scrambled eggs in the fridge when making breakfast burritos and then pull them out to assemble the burritos cold is genius, because the eggs will “sweat” during this process and if you use a cloth or a paper towel to absorb that “sweat,” your actual breakfast burritos won’t be nearly as “wet” when you cook them later, turning them from soggy messes into deliciousness.

While we’re looking at America’s Test Kitchen offerings…

Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2 and Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen

Let’s start with the obvious question: where is “Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 1”? The reason I don’t rely on that one is that most of the recipes in it require a lot of steps, and that’s the very thing I don’t want when making meals with the slow cooker. For me, almost all of the time, the slow cooker is a tool of convenience, so I don’t want complex recipes that require a lot of steps.

On the other hand, Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2 and Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution really nail what I want from a slow cooker reference book. It explains strategies for cooking lots of different types of things in the slow cooker and offers a bunch of simple recipes for actually preparing things.

These two books are my default reference for things to do with the slow cooker, which we use frequently during busy parts of the year.

The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila

This is probably the most “off the beaten path” book on this list, but I’ve used my copy so much that I feel like I almost have to include it here. It became a portal for me into a world of fermented foods, homemade condiments, spice mixes, and all kinds of homemade foodstuffs, and it’s still the best one-volume coverage of those topics I’ve found.

If you’re interested in taking your home food preparation to the next level and making a lot of the basic ingredients for meals for yourself – sauces, condiments, spice mixes, and so forth – from very basic ingredients, this is a great starting point and reference. While this can definitely save you a little money and can definitely result in some tastier dishes, this is probably not a great time investment unless you’re really into this as a hobby.

Use the Library!

To close, I want to repeat what I said earlier in the article: use the library for these books! Don’t just go out and buy them! See if your local library has a copy, take it home, go through it, and try some of the recipes and techniques for yourself. See if it clicks for you. If it does, then, and only then, look for a copy of the cookbook, preferably a used one.

That being said, these books are really the core pieces of my cookbook library and the ones I continually turn to. I have quite a few other cookbooks that focus in on narrow topics, like the aforementioned Egg, several books on fermentation, a book about sous vide cooking, and so on, but these are the ones I rely on for a wide variety of low-cost home cooking strategies. I hope you’ll find some of them to be useful, too.

Good luck!



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An early retirement story from 1932


J.D.’s Introduction
While reading an obscure book about retiring early to a life at sea — Voyaging on a Small Income by Annie Hill (1993) — I discovered a short story from a man named Joseph Weston-Martyr.

First published in 1932, The £200 Millionaire reads like “Mr. Money Mustache at Sea”. It’s fascinating. Because today I start a ten-day Mediterranean cruise, I thought it’d be fun to share this story at Get Rich Slowly.

This is a long story. It contains 8001 words, which is 32 printed pages. I’ve formatted it for web-based reading (I don’t think you want to read a 500-word paragraph on your phone!), plus added images and hyperlinks. Please enjoy it as weekend reading!

Some images are obviously meant to illustrate the text. Others are from Michelle at Making Sense of Cents, who graciously agreed to let me use her photos here. She’s been living on a sailboat since July 2018.

ZeelandMy wife and I were sailing a hireling yacht through the waterways of Zeeland last summer, when one day a westerly gale drove us into the harbour of Dintelsas for shelter.

A little green sloop, flying the Red Ensign, followed us into port. She was manned solely by one elderly gentleman, but we noted that he handled the boat with ease and skill.

It was blowing hard, and the little yacht ran down the harbour at speed, but when abreast of us she luffed head to wind, her violently flapping sails were lowered with a run, and she brought up alongside us so gently that she would not have crushed an egg.

We took her lines and made them fast, while her owner hung cork fenders over the side and proceeded to stow his sails. Urged by a look from my wife which said, “He is old and all alone. Help him,” I offered to lend the lone mariner a hand. But he refused to be helped.

Said he, “Thank you, but please don’t trouble. I like to do everything myself; it’s part of the fun. But do come aboard if you will, and look round. You’ll see there’s nothing here that one man can’t tackle easily.”

We went aboard and found the green sloop to be one of the cleverest little ships imaginable.

Aboard the Green Sloop

It is difficult to describe her gear on deck and aloft without being technical; suffice it to say, therefore, that everything was very efficient and simple, and so designed that all sail could be set or lowered by the man at the helm without leaving the cockpit.

The boat was 30 feet long by 9 feet wide, and my short wife, at any rate, could stand upright in her cabin.

Her fore end was a storeroom, full of convenient lockers, shelves and a small but adequate water-closet. Abaft this came the cabin, an apartment 12 feet long, with a broad bunk along one side of it and a comfortable settee along the other. A table with hinged flaps stood in the middle, while in the four corners were a wardrobe, a desk, a pantry and a galley.

Abaft all this was a motor, hidden beneath the cockpit floor. A clock ticked on one bulkhead, a rack full of books ran along the other, a tray of pipes lay on the table, and a copper kettle sang softly to itself on the little stove.

“What do you think of her?” said our host, descending the companion.

“Before you tell me, though, I must warn you I’m very house-proud. I’ve owned this boat for ten years, and I’ve been doing little things to her all the time. Improving her, I call it. It’s great fun.

“For instance, I made this matchbox-holder for the galley last week. It sounds a trivial thing; but I wish I’d thought of it ten years ago, because during all that time I’ve had to use both hands whenever I struck a match.

“Now I have only to use one hand, and you know all that implies in a small boat, especially if she’s dancing about and you’re trying to hold on and cook and light the Primus at one and the same moment. Then there was the fun of carving the holder out of a bit of wood I picked up, to say nothing of the pleasure it gives me to look at a useful thing I’ve made with my own hands. The carving brought out the grain of the wood nicely, don’t you think?

“Now I’m going to make tea, and you must stay and have some with me.”

In the harbor

Thought-Provoking Discourse

We did stay to tea. And we are glad we did.

For one thing, it was a remarkably fine tea, and, for another, we listened to the most entertaining and thought-provoking discourse we have ever heard in our lives.

That discourse, in fact, was so provocative of thought that it looks as if it were going to change the whole course of our lives for my wife and me.

Said our host, “I hope you will like this tea. It’s brick tea, caravan tea. I got hold of it in Odessa, where it was really absurdly cheap. That’s one of the advantages of this kind of life, I find. Cruising about all over Europe in my own boat, I can buy luxuries at the source, so to speak, at practically cost prices.

“There are four bottles of Burgundy, for example, stowed in the bilges under your feet, the remains of a dozen I bought at Cadaujac while cruising along the Garonne canal. I bought the lot for less than twenty shillings, and it’s the sort of wine you pay a pound a bottle for in London.”

J.D.’s note: I always have to remind myself of British monetary conversions when reading stories like this. To refresh your memory and mine: Twelve pennies (or twelve pence or 12 d.) equals one shilling (1 s.). Twenty shillings (20 s.) equals one pound (£1). So, there are 240 pennies (240 d. per pound. There’s more money talk to come, so this info is helpful to know.

“When I come across bargains like that it makes me wish this boat was a bit bigger. It’s surprising what a lot of stuff I can stow away in her, but I really need more storage space. If I had room I would buy enough cigars, for instance, in this country where they are good and cheap, to last me over the winter.

“You see, I like the sun, and in two months I shall be going down the Rhone to spend the winter in the south of France, and the tobacco there is horrible and expensive.”

Bread and Tea

“Do you live aboard here all alone always?” exclaimed my wife, making her eyes very round.

“Most certainly,” replied our host.

“Now do try some of this Macassar redfish paste on your toast. I got it in Rotterdam from the purser of the Java Mail that arrived last week, so it’s as fresh as it’s possible to get it.

“It’s really a shame to toast this bread, though. It’s just the ordinary bread the bargees buy, but I find Dutch bread is the best in all Europe. Some French bread is good, but it won’t keep as long as this stuff will.

“Sailing down the Danube a year or so ago I got some really excellent bread in Vienna, but it was a little sweet and not so good for a steady diet as this Dutch stuff.

“The worst bread I ever got was in Poland. I was cruising through the East German canals and I thought I would sail up the Vistula via Cracow, with the intention of putting the boat on the railway when I got to the head of the Vistula navigation at Myslowitz, shipping her across the few miles to the Klodnitz canal, and then cruising through Silesia and Brandenburg via Breslau down the Oder.

“It was a good and perfectly feasible plan, and I fancy it would have been interesting. But that horrible Polish bread defeated me completely. It was about all I could get to eat, and it seemed to consist entirely of straw and potatoes. So I turned back after passing Warsaw, and fled down the Vistula and the Bromberg canal and on by the Netze to Frankfurt.

“Do have some more tea.”

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

We had some more tea. It was a marvellous brew, as stimulating as good wine, and while we drank it our curiosity concerning our host and his extraordinary mode of life welled up within us, to drown at last our manners and overflow in a stream of questions.

“Do you really mean,” said we, “that you live aboard here always? All the year round? And quite alone? And cruise to Odessa? And Warsaw? And how did you get to the Danube? And the Black Sea? And—? And —?”

Thus we went on, while our host smiled at us – the kind of smile that told us we had made a new friend.

“I’ll tell you,” he said, when we stopped at last for breath. “You understand boats and this sort of life, I think, so you’ll understand me.

“I’ve been living aboard this boat for ten years now, and I hope I shall never have to live anywhere else as long as I’m alive. It’s a good life. It’s the best kind of life a man can lead — or a woman either. It really is life, you see. Yes. And I think I ought to know.

“I shan’t see sixty again, and I’ve seen a good deal of life — of different kinds. I’m a doctor, or was once. And I’ve worked very hard all my life trying to be a good doctor, but failing, I fear, on the whole.

“I married and we had five children, and it meant hard work bringing them up properly and educating them. But I worked and did it. Then I moved to London to try to make some money. That was the hardest work of all.

“Then the war came, and more hard work in a base hospital. The war killed two of my sons — and my wife. And when it was all over I looked around, and I didn’t like the look of the life I saw ahead of me. To go on working hard seemed the only thing left to do, but I found there was no zest left in my work any more.

“My daughters were married and my remaining son was doing well in a practice of his own. I found my children could get on very well without me. So there was no one left to work for, and I found I was very tired.

“I sold my practice and retired to Harwich, where I was born. And there I soon found out that having nothing to do at all is even worse that working hard at something you’ve lost interest in.

“I did nothing for six months, and I think another six months of that would have been the death of me. By then I feel I should have been glad to die.

“But this little boat saved me. I began by hiring her from a local boatman for one weekend. We sailed up the Orwell to Ipswich and back again. The weather was fine, the Orwell is a lovely river, and I enjoyed my little sail. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I hired the boat again. I hired her for a week, and this time I left the boatman behind and sailed alone.

“Of course, I had sailed boats before.

“As a boy I got myself afloat in something or other whenever I had a chance, and my holidays as a young man were nearly all spent aboard yachts. So I found I could still handle a boat especially this little thing in those sheltered waters, and I remembered enough seamanship to keep myself out of trouble.

“I sailed to Pin Mill, and then up the Stour to Manningtree and Mistley. After that I grew bolder, and one fine day with a fair wind for the passage, I coasted along the Essex shore to Brightlingsea. I explored the Colne and its creeks, and the end of my week found me at West Mersea, so I had to write to the boatman and extend the time of hire. While I was about it I chartered the boat for a month.

“You see, I discovered I was happy, and I could not remember being happy for a very long while.”

Freemasonry Amongst Sailors

“The exercise and the fresh air and the plain food were all doing me good, too. I’d been getting flabby and running to fat, but the work on the boat very soon altered all that. I would turn into my bunk every night physically tired, knowing I would fall fast asleep at once, and looking forward to waking up again to another day of seeing after myself and the boat, and pottering about and enioying my little adventures.

“The life, in fact, was making me young again — and I knew it.

“I would get up in the morning as soon as the light woke me and wash and shave and cook my breakfast. I used to stick pretty faithfully to coffee, bacon and eggs, and bread and marmalade in those first days, I remember. I was not much of a cook then, and I had yet to learn the pleasure one can get out of cooking a really good meal, not to mention eating it.

“Then I washed the breakfast things, cleaned up the cabin and washed down the deck. Housemaids’ work, but there’s not much of it needed to keep this small boat clean and tidy. And what little work there is soon became a labour of love.

“When I had made the boat all ship-shape I would sit in the cockpit and smoke, and look at her with great pride and contentment. I still do that. It gives me pleasure to see my home in perfect order and to feel that I’ve done it all myself. And I know, now, that if I paid someone else to do the work for me I should be depriving myself of a deal of the charm of life.

“When my morning chores were done, and if the weather was fine and I felt like moving on, I would heave up my anchor and make sail.

“During that first month I think I must have explored nearly all the rivers and creeks that run into the Thames Estuary. Most of them, as you probably know, are charming.

“If I wanted company I would bring up in the evening in one of the anchorages frequented by yachts, or alongside some Thames barges. There’s a delightful freemasonry amongst sailors, whether yachtsman or bargees, and I’d generally find myself yarning and smoking with some congenial souls in my own or someone else’s cabin until it was time to turn in.”

J.D.’s note: A similar camaraderie exists among RVers. During our 15-month RV trip across the U.S., Kim and I enjoyed many nights in the company of our fellow travelers. Remember: RVs are simply boats on land.

“At other times I would let go my anchor for the night in some quiet creek, with never a human being within miles. I liked that best. I needed peace and quietness and I found them, to perfection, in those little lost Essex creeks.

“When the weather was bad, or the wind and tide did not serve, I would have a major clean-up, perhaps, or merely potter about, doing the little jobs of work a boat can always provide for you.

“Or I’d put my watertank and a big basket in the dinghy and row to the nearest village to replenish my stores.

“One thing is certain, I never for a moment found time hanging heavily on my hands. There was always something to occupy me and always something interesting to see or to do. The life suited me and I throve on it, body and mind. And the way I threw off the years and turned into a boy again was perfectly amazing.”

The Question of Finance

“My month was up almost before I knew it, and when it did get time to go back to Harwich and all that meant, I simply could not bear the thought of it. To think of returning to the sort of life I’d been leading on shore was as dreadful as the prospect of having to serve a life sentence in prison. I did not like the thought of it but there did not seem to be anything else I could do.

“You see, I’ve not got very much money. I had just enough to allow me to live, very simply, and even the expense of hiring this boat was really more than I could afford. What I wanted to do, of course, was to go on living aboard here, but, to my sorrow, that seemed quite impossible.

“Then, one night, I sat down in this cabin and thought the thing out — right out, in all its bearings.

“First I considered the question of finance. I don’t want to bore you with my private affairs, but the figures are, I think, instructive and valuable, as they show what a lot can be done with very little.

“My capital amounted to a little over £4000, and my yearly income just touched £200. The problem I set out to solve was: Can I buy the boat out of my capital and still have sufficient income to live aboard her all the year around, and to maintain the boat and myself adequately?”

J.D.’s note: Early retirement folks will note that the old sailor is using a five-percent withdrawal rate. Interesting, right? Nowadays, we tend to talk about a four-percent safe withdrawal rate when planning for retirement. This isn’t far off.

“The price of the boat I knew already; she was for sale for £200. If I bought her my income would be reduced to £190, or less than £16 a month. Was this enough? It did not look like it, by any means. It meant only £3 17s a week to cover food, clothing, light and heat, and upkeep and repairs to the boat, to say nothing of depreciation and insurance.

“The figure seemed so ridiculous that I nearly gave up my idea in despair.

“However, I am, thank goodness, a methodical sort of man, and I’d kept a list of my expenses during the time I’d been living aboard the boat.

“I analysed that list, and found that my food and oil for the lamps and stove had cost me only £7 15s for the month. I had also spent 30s on gear for the boat, such as paint, ropes, shackles and such things, while my bill for petrol and lubricating oil came to 15s only, as I had sailed as much as possible and used the motor as little as I could.

“Not counting the cost of hiring the boat, my total expenditure had, therefore, been only £10 for the month, or £120 a year. This left £70 over for repairs, accidents, depreciation and insurance.

“As far as the finance was concerned, the thing began to look possible after all.”

Up the mast

Worried About Winters

“I was very cheered by this discovery, and I then asked myself: ‘Can I continue to live aboard this little boat from year’s end to year’s end in health and comfort of body and mind?’

“As far as the summers were concerned I knew I could answer that with a whole-hearted ‘Yes.’ But what about the winters? Could I endure being shut up in a small confined space while the gales blew and it was cold and wet, and the nights were long and dark? I wondered.

“And I had to admit to myseif, very much against the grain, that I probably would not be able to endure these things.

“I remember I went to bed after that, feeling very miserable. But when I woke up next morning the first thing I said to myself was ‘but why stay in England in the winter: Why be cold and wet when all you have to do is to follow the sun and sail your boat (your Home) south?’

“To cut all this short, I sailed back to Harwich and sent to London for a map of the French canals. And when it came I found my idea of following the sun south was entirely feasible. All I had to do was to choose a fine day in early autumn and sail across the Channel from Dover to Calais.

“From Calais the map showed me a network of canals and navigable rivers spreading over the whole face of France, and I discovered that a boat of this size and draught could proceed through those inland waterways right through the heart of France to the Mediterranean.

“I bought this boat that same day. I had a few small alterations made to her, and the following week I sailed from Harvvich, bound south—for Ramsgate, Dover, Calais, Paris, Lyons, and the Riviera.”

“Well done!” I cried.

And my wife said, “Hush! And then? Then?”

Our new friend smiled at us again. “Yes,” he said. “You’re right. It was a bit of a rash proceeding — at my age. But I’ve never regretted it.”

A Regular Christopher Columbus

“That first cruise was perfectly delightful and, on the whole, a very simple affair. I had my troubles, of course. I got to Dover easily enough by coasting all round the Thames Estuary and putting in somewhere snug every night. But I stayed in Dover for ten days before I judged the weather was fine enough for me to sail to Calais.

“The truth is, I was rather scared. The passage is only twenty-one miles, but I felt a regular Christopher Columbus when I ventured across the Channel at last. It was a fine day, with a light north-east wind, and under sail and motor I got across in four hours. But I assure you Columbus was nothing to me when I sailed into Calais harbour!”

Dover Strait

“I felt I had triumphantly accomplished a most tremendous adventure, and I was immensely pleased and proud. And I can assure you it’s rather remarkable for anything to make a cynical and disillusioned old man of my age feel like that.

“From Calais onward it was all canal and river work. It took me two months to get to Marseilles, because I went a round-about way and took my time over it. I had no need to hurry, of course, but I don’t think anything could have made me hurry through the lovely country in which I found myself.

“I wandered down the Oise to Paris, where I stayed a week, moored in the Seine almost in the Shadow of the Champs-Elysees’ tree. It was amusing and comfortable, too, living in the middle of Paris like that. I could dine ashore if I wanted to and go to a theatre, and then walk back and go to bed in my own floating hotel without any fuss or bother. And when I got tired of the city I just moved on, hotel and all.

“I went up the Marne to Chalons, along the canals to Bar-le-Duc and Epinal, and down through the Haute-Saone and Cote d’Or country to Macon and Lyons. I mention these towns to show you the route I took, but it was all the little out-of-the-world places between them that I used to stop at and which I found so interesting.

Route of the ancient mariner

“I met all sorts of people and everyone was very helpful and kind, and by the time I got to Lyons I could speak about four different brands of French quite well.”

“Well Within My Income”

“The passage down the Rhone to Arles was rather strenuous. The current is very strong and I had to take a pilot, which spoilt my fun; but it was soon over, and I got to Marseilles without any more bother.

“I had got as far south then as I could get, so I spent the rest of the winter in most of those delightful little harbours which sprinkle the coast between Marseilles and Frejus. I found practically no winter along that stretch of coast, which is much better, I think, than the Riviera proper. I can recommend Porquerolles if ever you find yourselves down that way, while Port Cros must be one of the loveliest places there are on this earth.

“I enjoyed every minute of that first winter, and by the time the spring came round I knew I had discovered the perfect life. I was happier than I ever hoped to be, and healthier than I had ever been. I found myself looking forward to each day, and every day had some new interest.

“Life was, without exaggeration, nearly perfect.

“If I found myself anywhere or amongst people I did not care for, all I had to do was to heave up my anchor and go somewhere else. That’s one of the many advantages of living aboard a boat. When you want to go away there’s no packing, no taxis, no tips, no trains and no bother. And you haven’t got to find a place to lay your head when you get to your journey’s end.

“In a boat you just move on, and your sitting-room, your kitchen, your bedroom and all your little personal comforts and conveniences move on with you. And when you get to your destination there you are, at Home.

“It added to my peace of mind, too, to find I was living well within my income, in spite of the fact that I was living very well and doing myself a great deal better than I had, for instance, in my Harwich lodgings.

“Of course I had to be careful and not go in for too many luxuries, but I lived as I wanted to live, and it surprised me to find how little it cost me to do it. I’ll show you my account book, if it will interest you, but first I’ll show you where I’ve been during these last ten years.”

Sailing Through Europe

“Look at this! It’s the offcial French canal map, showing all the canals and navigable rivers in the country. You’ll notice there’s very little of France you can’t get at by water. It’s almost unbelievable where you can go; everywhere, practically, except to the tops of the mountains.

It’s the same in Belgium and Holland, and in Germany, too, and until I got these canal maps I had no idea of the extraordinary manner the inland waterways of Europe have been developed. The ordinary maps don’t give the details, so perhaps it’s not surprising that people in England don’t realise they can travel in a yacht from Calais through every country in Europe, except Spain and Italy, entirely by river and canal.

“It sounds incredible, doesn’t it? But I’ve done it myself, in this boat. Including Switzerland!”

“Switzerland!” cried my wife. “How did you?”

“There are two ways of getting there,” said our extraordinary friend. “Up the Rhine Lateral canal, or the way I went — up the Rhine-Rhone canal from Strassburg to Mulhause and along the Huningue canal to Basle.

“That was as far as I could conveniently get then, but I believe the new canal is open now, running right through to Lake Constance and Bregenz. But I’m ahead of my yarn.

“When the spring came round that first year I went from Marseilles by canal all the way to Bordeaux. I spent that summer cruising up the coast to L’Orient and from there along the canals, right through Central Brittany from Brest to Nantes.

“Then I came south again, away from the cold, and spent the winter exploring South-West France, along the Dordogne and the Garrone and its tributaries. I saw most of that lovely country between Perigueux and Bordeaux in the north, Floirac and Albi in the east, and from Carcassonne in the south to Lacave, which is pretty well on the Spanish border.

“The whole country down there flows with milk and honey, to say nothing of the wine and the scenery. I had a good time.

“Then I went up north via the Midi canal and the Rhone, got into the Rhine at Strassburg, sailed all down that river to Rotterdam, and spent the summer in Holland. I liked this country and the people so much that I stayed here all that winter. Then I branched out. I was beginning to see the possibilities of this game by then, and I had gained confidence in myself and the boat.

“I won’t bore you with all the details of my travels, but I went through North Germany to the Mecklenburg lakes. You ought to go there. More lakes than you could explore in two years, set in a park-like country. Perfect. But take a mosquito net.”

“Then I sailed south to Dresden and Prague, then north to the Danish archipelago and the Swedish islands. I wintered in the Moselle valley, explored Central France and tried to go through the Loire country, but found a difficulty there owing to the shallowness of those particular rivers.

“After that I pottered about in Belgium and up the Rhine to Mainz, and from there up the Main and through the Ludwigs canal into the headwaters of the Danube. I can recommend Bavaria and all the lost country around there. It’s the Middle Ages.

“And, of course, once I got on the Danube I had to go down it. And I am glad I did, because it’s a wonderful river and the scenery is magnificent. I drifted down it, taking my time and meaning to go as far as Vienna, or maybe Budapesth. But you know how it is. There was the river, going on and on all across Europe, so I went on too—to Belgrade, the Iron Gates, Rustchuck and Galatz, until I came to Sulina and the Black Sea.

Interesting Adventures

“I turned back that time, because I did not like the idea of venturing into Russian waters, the political situation being what it was. So I went up the Danube again.

“It took me two years to get to Passau on the German border. The Danube runs very swiftly, so progress was slow, and at times I had to take a tow, but the real reason I took so long was the number of side trips I felt I simply had to take up the various tributaries.

“I could write a book about it all, and some day I think I must, but so far I’ve been so busy moving about and enjoying life that I never have time for writing. And I wonder if my book would be readable if I wrote it? You see, I’ve had few ‘interesting adventures’ or things like that.

“I got thoroughly lost once on the willow swamps on the lower Tisza, and went down with a bad go of fever in the middle of it. But I got out all right.

“And some Bulgarians above Sistove fired at me one day, but it turned out they were Customs guards and thought I was a smuggler, and we finished up the best of friends.

“Beyond that, and a little unpleasantness with a Ruthenian gentleman who tried to steal my dinghy, nothing much out of the ordinary happened. But I met a lot of very strange and interesting people.

“I had a wonderfully good time. In fact the country and the people along the Danube fascinated me; so much so that, after sailing about over Eastern Germany and a little of Poland, I went down the Danube again. This time I went as far as Odessa. I wanted to go on, either up the Dnieper, or through the Sea of Azoff, up the Don, through the Katchalinskay canal, and then either up the Volga to Nijni Novgorod, or down river to Astrakhan and the Caspian.

“Unfortunately I could not get permission from the Russians to make either of those trips. Perhaps it is just as well, as the country was rather disturbed and I might have got into trouble. But one of these days, when things have settled down, I intend to make that trip yet, because, bar politics, there’s absolutely nothing to prevent it.”

A Millionaire’s Life

I remember it was at this point in our friend’s discourse that I interrupted him by crying out in a loud voice, “By God!” and hitting the cabin table hard with my fist.

My wife said nothing, but there was a look in her eyes and a light in them that showed me she understood and approved the wild and fascinating thought that had flashed into my mind.

And our friend, it appeared, understood me also, for said he, “Yes. Why not? All you need is a boat drawing less than four feet, with a motor in her for choice and her mast in a tabernacle. That and the — well, let’s call it courage; the courage to step out of your rut. It looks hard; but a mere step does it — as I found out.

“Of course, it costs money. Following the seasons all over Europe in your own home is a millionaire’s life; but I’ve managed to live it at an average cost, over the last ten years, of less than £150 per annum. Look at this!”

He put an open book before us on the table. It was his account book, and it contained, in full detail, his daily expenditures during all the years he had been living aboard his boat. It was, I can assure you, a most engrossing work, and was full of items such as these, which I found on a single page and copied there and then.

And I shall regret it till I die that I had no time to copy any more:

  • Sept. 5. Capdenac. 8 duck eggs and I duck (cooked), 3s. ld.
  • 7th. 10 lb. grapes in fine willow basket, gratis. 6 boxes matches, 2s.! Sulphur at that! Note: Smuggle in big stock of matches when next I come to France.
  • 8th. Very hard cheese, 1 ft. in dia., 1 basket peaches, 1 jeroboam peach brandy, 1 kiss on both cheeks, gratis, or perhaps fee for removing flint from farmer’s eye.
  • 9th. Mule hire, lOd. Alms to leper, ls., interesting case.
  • Castets, 15th. 6 feet of bread, ls., 1 pint turps, 1/2 d.
  • 16th. 2 gallons turps, 8d. Castelsarrasin.
  • Oct. 2nd Bribe to gendarme, 5d.

I should dearly love to publish that account book, just as it stands, without any comment or explanation. It would, I think, make fascinating and suggestive reading.

Twelve Months of Expenses

“Look here,” said our friend, turning over the unique pages and exposing the following figures to our devouring eyes. “This is a summary of my first twelve months’ income and outgoings.”

  • Income: £190 0s. 0d.
  • Upkeep of boat (at 9s. per week): £23 8s. 0d.
  • Petrol and oil: £10 4s. 0d. (distance covered under motor 1220 miles)
  • Charts, canal dues: £13 8s. 0d.
  • Food, drink, clothes, light, and heat: £100 0s. 0d. (at just under £2 a week)
  • Total expenditure: £147 0s. 0d.
  • Balance remaining: £43 0s. 0d.

“I managed to save £43, you see, that first year, enough to buy a new boat like this one, every five years, if I continued to save at the same rate.

“I was extra careful that year. I didn’t spend much on myself, but I bought the boat all she needed and kept her up in first-class shape. I painted her inside once and three times outside, doing it all myself, and I had her sails tanned to preserve them.

“The tanning was done by a fisherman I made friends with in Toulon. He did a good job. In the end he wouldnt let me pay for anything except the cost of the materials, because he said we were amis and he liked English sailors.

“And one day I came across a broken-down motor-boat, drifting off Cape Camaret, and towed her into port. Her owner was scared to death, and very grateful accordingly. He was no sailor, but he was a mighty good mechanic, and he insisted on giving my little engine a first-class overhaul, just to show his gratitude.

“My fuel bill was very small, because I never use the motor if I can sail. The £13 odd for dues, etc., was mostly spent on maps and charts, not that many charts are necessary, but I simply can’t resist buying the things. I spend hours poring over them, and planning more voyages than I shall ever have time to make.

“As for the canal and harbour dues — they’re ridiculous; generally some fraction of a penny per ton. And this boat’s registered tonnage is only two ton. The only expensive piece of water to travel over in Europe is the Rhone. It’s got a terrific current, pilotage is compulsory, and to get up it you have to be towed.

“But everywhere else the only trouble about the charges is to find change small enough to pay them with. £2 a week for food and so on sounds very little, but all I can say is I live well on that sum.”

“My Expenses Are Very Small”

“You see, if I want, say vegetables I don’t go to a shop in a city for them. No. Perhaps I see a good-looking garden on the river bank. I stop and have a yarn with the owner, and when I depart I’m richer by a basket full of fresh vegetables, and maybe a chicken and some eggs and fruit as well, while the gardener is left with a fair price for his produce and something to talk about for weeks.

“He’s pleased and I’m pleased.

“I’ve paid less than I would if I bought from a shop, and he’s received more than he would if he sold to a dealer. And when I say I’ve got fresh vegetables I mean fresh — which is something you can’t get from a shop.

“Clothes don’t bother me much. It’s not essential to dress in the latest style, living this life. I keep my go-ashore clothes in that tin uniform case, and when I get to a city and want to see the sights I put on a civilised suit. Otherwise I use soft shirts, jerseys and flannel trousers.

“I do my washing myself; half an hour a fortnight does it, which is nothing to grumble about.

“I use paraffin oil for light and cooking in the summer, and in the winter I keep that little stove going on coal and wood. I find I burn wood mostly, because I’ve got a passion, apparently, for collecting any odd pieces I find drifting about. There must be a strain of longshoreman blood in me somewhere, I think, for I can’t resist picking up bits of driftwood, even though I have to throw most of them overboard again, and I generally have a bigger collection of the stuff on deck than I can ever hope to burn.

“So you see, one way and another, my expenses are very small. The £30 or £40 I save every year I put by for accidents, major repairs, depreciation and a sort of insurance fund.

“I’ve bought a new suit of sails and had the whole boat surveyed and recaulked and the engine practically renewed, all out of the fund, and I’ve still got enough left to buy a new boat if I want one.

“I’m getting so rich, in fact, that I don’t know what to do with all my money. I tried to get rid of some of it by buying extra fine gear for the boat, but I found that scheme merely saved me more money in the long-run.

“For instance, I scrapped my Manilla running rigging and replaced it with best hemp at twice the cost, but I’ll be bothered if the hemp hasn’t lasted four times as long as the Manilla already!

“And to make it worse, people will persist in giving me things, bless ’em.

“I’ve made a lot of friends in pretty well every corner of Europe. Can’t help it, living this sort of life, it seems. And most of them have an idea that, living as I do, I am to be regarded with compassion. A poor old man, living all alone aboard a little boat — that’s how they seem to feel about me, I fear.

“So, whenever I turn up, my compassionate friends appear, bearing gifts! It’s quite embarrassing sometimes. And sometimes it’s a real nuisance.

“The Middelburg canal is barred to me, for instance, because the keeper of one of the swing bridges refuses to let me through until he’s been aboard to greet me and give me a box of cigars or a jar of schnapps; which things he really can’t afford, as he’s a poor man with a very large family.

“He does it, it seems, because I’m leading just the kind of life he’d like to lead if he hadn’t been blessed with a wife, his mother-in-law and nine children.

“The result is I have to go round now by Terneuzen, instead of through Middelburg, whenever I want to pass from Holland into Belgium. And I always have to go through Strassburg by night to dodge a dear old gentleman, who invariably presses on me about a stone of the smelliest cheese on earth whenever he catches sight of me. He calls me his brave ancient ami so lonely.

“Lonely! Why, I should think I must have a larger and more varied assortment of friends than any man in Europe. And I keep on making more all the time. For instance, I hope I’ve made two today.”

He had; and we are glad to say he dined with them that evening, entrancing them with his talk until far into the night.

J.D.’s note: The paragraph that starts the next section is one long sentence. I can’t see a way to break it up sensibly. And in the original edition, that is only half of the entire paragraph. The whole story is made up of long paragraphs like this. You can imagine how much work it was to edit things to make them readable on the web!

Do Everything You Can Yourself

He talked of gentle rivers wandering through valleys of everlasting peace; of a quiet canal, lost amongst scented reeds and covered with a pink-and white carpet of water-lilies; of a string of tiny lakes, their blue waters ringed with the green of forest pines; of a narrow canal, built by old Romans, but navigable still, that climbs up through clouds into the high mountains; of aqueducts spanning bottomless ravines and a view from the yacht’s deck of half Southern Germany; of a Red Ensign flying at the peak and a Black Forest eagle’s screamings at that sight; of the Croatian mayor who had never heard of a certain country called England; of a thousand square miles of bloodred swamp, studded with giant willows; of Wallachian water-gipsies and their cats who catch fish; of the mile-long log raft commanded by a Russian ex-admiral; of a spiked helmet dredged from out the Meuse by the yacht’s anchor; of the warm-hearted kindliness of Bulgarian brigands and the barbarous fines of Frs. 25,000 extorted (unsuccessfully) by “the most civilised country in Europe”; of pack-ice and ice-breakers in the heart of old Amsterdam; of the 1000 ton motor-barge that trades each year between Groningen and Sulina; of the 300-ton barge proceeding from Bruges to Dunkerque in tow of a jolly old lady of seventy; of a spilliken-like traffic jam in the old moat at Furnes and the Fordson tractor that extricated twenty-eight barges; of the Flemish barge named No. 27 Park Lane, because the wounds of her skipper had been succoured at that address in 1914; of pig-manure, chemical fumes and rotting flax on the Lys, and the barge with a deckload of potted hyacinths that outdid all those scents; of the ten-knot currents on the Rhone and the silent waters of the Oude Ryn that ebb and flow no more; of the charm of this old earth and the fun of living on it, if only you understand the proper way to live.

Said our friend, “I’ve found one good way to live and be happy. There must be other ways, too, but I don’t know ’em, so I mean to stick to my way — till I come to the end of it.

The secret seems to be, to do everything you can yourself.

“It’s difficult to explain, but take an example. Take travel. Allow yourself to be carried about the world in Wagon-Lits and cabins-deluxe, and what do you get out of it? You get bored to death. Everything is done for you and you don’t even have to think. All you have to do is to pay.

“You’re carried about with the greatest care and wrapped up and fed and insulated from—from everything. You see about as much of life as a suckling in the arms of its nurse. No wonder you get bored!

“But get yourself about the world, on your own feet, or in your own boat, and you’re bound, you’re bound to fill your life with interest and charm and fun — and beauty.

“You’ll have your disagreeable and uncomfortable times, of course, but they merely serve to make the good times taste better. ‘Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas.’ Old Spenser knew. He’d been through it.

“Sail all day in the wet and cold, then bring up in some quiet harbour and go below and toast your feet before the galley fire and you’ll realise what bliss means.

“Travel in a steam-heated Pullman and then put up at the Ritz and see if you find any bliss there! You see what I mean? Stewart Edward White put it all much better than I can. He wrote, ‘I’ve often noted two things about trees: the stunted little twisted fellows have had a hard time, what with wind and snow and poor soil; and they grow farthest up on the big peaks.’”

On the conduct of life

Fair Winds and Following Seas

Next morning our friend must have risen with the sun, and we were still beneath our blankets when the incense of his coffee and bacon drifted down our cabin hatch. Presently the sound of ropes falling on deck warned us he was getting under weigh, and we arose to say goodbye to him.

“Good morning,” said he. “I’m sorry to disturb you so early, but I want to catch the first of the flood. With luck it’ll carry me into the Rhine and I’ll be in Germany by evening. Now I’ll cast off and go — and see what this good day’s got in store for me.”

A fair tide and a fair wind is a fine beginning, anyway. Good-bye, you two. We’ll meet again somewhere, for certain, if only you follow that impulse you had last night. I don’t want to influence you unduly; but, remember — one step does it and you’re out of the rut for good. Good-bye. God bless you both.”

He set his jib and the little green yacht fell off before the wind and headed for the harbour entrance.

She sailed away with the sun shining bright upon her, and upon the white head of the man at her helm. Presently she entered the broad river, and we saw our friend look back and wave his hand in farewell. Then the boat was hidden by a bank of golden sand, and the last we saw of her was her little Red Ensign, a tiny flame outlined against the sky.

The Beginning

Guide Officiel de la Navigation InterieureThis seems to be the end of the story, but I do not know. I am not sure.

I am not sure, because the words of that elderly adventurer seem to have set us thinking. I notice we do not say very much, but I know we think a lot. For, at intervals during the cold and fogs of this last winter, there have passed between my wife and me some detached but significant utterances — such as:

  • “I don’t see why I couldn’t get on with my writing aboard a boat just as well as I can inside this flat.”
  • “Only £200 a year! Hang it! We ought to be able to earn that much between us, you’d think?”
  • “I think, my dear, one of those steam-cookers would be a splendid thing to have if we, for anyone living aboard a small boat.”
  • “What a foul fog! It hurts to think of the sun shining, now, in the south of France.”
  • “May the Devil run away with that damned loudspeaker next door. You know, if this flat was a boat, we could move it out of hearing.”
  • “If I get bronchitis again next winter. My dear, I don’t think I could stand another winter here.”

Also we have purchased a monumental work entitled, Guide Officiel de la Navigation Interieure, published by the Ministere des Travaux Publiques. This is a fascinating work, heartily to be recommended. It has a lovely map.

Also we have just heard of a little boat.

In fact, we have been to look at her. She is sound and very strong. She has two good berths and a galley and lots of stowage space. Also she has a little auxiliary motor. And her mast is in a tabernacle. And she is for sale. And we have fallen in love with her.

So perhaps this is not the end of this story. In fact, we hope and we pray this story has only just begun.

Boat at sunset

I’m unclear on whether this story is in the Public Domain. Many folks claim that it is, although I have my doubts. You can find it all over the web, so I’ve shared it too. If you are the rights holder and would like me to remove it, please contact me.

Author: J.D. Roth

In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he’s managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.



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Morning Deals: Thursday, August 22


Every morning and afternoon we publish a list of the latest and best deals from our partner, DealNews. To learn more about the discounts and details, click on any of the deals for more information. To have this list, along with our latest news and stories, delivered daily to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter. For links to deals as they’re published, follow @mtndeals on Twitter.



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Your Guide to the American Airlines Award Chart


At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

When it’s time to cash in your AAdvantage miles for an award flight, you’ll want to understand how to make your rewards go farther. Here’s everything you need to know to get the most out of all those hard-earned miles.

Award types

Before we dig into the details of American Airlines’ various award charts; one important caveat: The trend in U.S. airlines over the past few years has been to eliminate award charts entirely, so there’s no guaranteeing how long the charts you see below will remain good for.

That said, at present American Airlines offers several categories of award travel depending on how flexible you are and what perks you want with your flight (like free cancellation). Here are details on the types of awards you’ll find:

MileSAAver awards

Availability for this award type may be limited because these awards are the cheapest. You can book a flight within the contiguous U.S. and Canada for as little as 7,500 miles each way for flights under 500 miles. MileSAAver Off Peak awards also offer relatively low-mileage flights if you’re traveling during low season to other regions including Europe, the Caribbean and even Asia.

Note that there are blackout dates for these budget redemption options, and the cheapest ones can be hard to find. MileSAAver awards are great for anyone with flexible travel plans who is willing to travel on whatever day they can find the cheapest award flights.

AAnytime awards

Starting at 20,000 miles each way, AAnytime Awards let you redeem miles with no blackout dates. The specific number of miles required for any given flight will vary based on date and destination, but at this level you’re more likely to find an available award seat on the flight you want if you must travel on a certain day or time.

However, since the award price depends on where you’re going and when, many flights within this bracket will require more than 20,000 miles. There are also two pricing levels to AAnytime Awards, with Level 1 being cheaper. This level is also based on your dates and destination; a flight search will show which award level you’ve selected.

Economy Web Special awards

Occasionally, you may be able to find even cheaper award flights with Economy Web Special rates. These awards aren’t as common as the others, but if you spot one, celebrate.

However, take note that these award tickets don’t allow changes, and fees may apply if you want to cancel your flight or reinstate your miles.

Things to know about the American Airlines award chart

First and foremost, know that when booking award travel on American Airlines, award prices are shown in one-way segments. There will also be taxes and fees imposed when you book award travel; these start at $5.60 for each one-way flight.

If you prefer to fly business or first class, expect to pay a fair bit extra if the flight you book in the U.S. or Canada happens to be on an aircraft with lie-flat seats. The business/first award price for those trips will be 7,500 more miles for MileSAAver awards, and an extra 20,000 miles for AAnytime awards. We suggest checking what aircraft you’ll fly on before you book.

You can also use miles to upgrade your seat by one service class using a combination of miles and cash. Upgrade costs range from 5,000 miles plus $75 to 25,000 miles and $550, depending on where you’re flying and what class of ticket you’re upgrading from. Note that upgrading from a full-fare ticket doesn’t cost any cash, only miles. Check the chart below for a full breakdown.

You can also use miles to book travel with American’s Oneworld and other airline partners. These include:

Earn points with American Airlines cards

American Airlines offer four credit cards to help you earn miles faster. Here are their annual fees and sign-up bonuses:

Note that the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® comes with membership to American’s Admirals Club lounges.

For business owners, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® offers a suite of additional benefits businesses may find useful, including travel concierge assistance, additional miles for certain business purchases and a companion certificate after you spend $30,000 on the card in a year.

All these cards except the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card also offer a free checked bag on domestic itineraries with American Airlines, making them beneficial to loyal frequent flyers.

» Learn more: Find the best airline credit card for you

The bottom line

Although award charts can change or disappear at any time, American Airlines’ chart as it currently stands does have its strengths, especially when it comes to flexible travel that allows you to find a MileSAAver award. More rigid travel plans mean you’ll likely have to cash in more miles, but if you can nab an Economy Web Special or MileSAAver award, you can book with confidence knowing your miles are being well-used.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal
Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies



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This Week’s $70 Grocery Budget + Menu Plan


August 18, 2019 | Crystal Paine


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Want to see what we bought for this week’s $70 grocery budget? I’m currently challenging myself to stick with a $70 budget for our family of five. This includes almost all of our breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners + most household products (toiletries, laundry soap, etc.).

For live updates, be sure to follow my Instagram Stories. See all posts on my $70 Grocery Budget here.

Because of our traveling the last 4 weeks, I haven’t posted our grocery budget + menu plan posts. It feels good to be back to it now that school has started and we’re back into the swing of a more normal routine.

Speaking of school starting, here’s a real-life photo from the first day: Kathrynne headed out to a 4-day back to school camp (her school starts with an all-school 4-day camp!), Silas all ready for his first day in his uniform, and Kaitlynn sporting a thermometer because she had a low grade fever and had to stay home.

I couldn’t believe this HUGE cart full of egg noodles marked down to $0.69 each at Kroger this week!

But I didn’t buy them because Kroger has Private Selection on pasta for $0.50 when you buy 5 participating items.

Kroger Shopping Trip #1:

  • Kroger breakfast links — free with coupons from Kroger mailer
  • 2 canisters of breadcrumbs — on closeout for $0.47 each
  • Kroger peanut butter — free with coupons from Kroger mailer
  • A&W Cream Soda — free with coupon mailed to me
  • Quest bar — free with Freebie Friday coupon
  • 1 can Kroger green beans — marked down to $0.29
  • 2 cans of hominy — marked down to $0.29 each
  • Turkey Hill Tea — marked down to $0.39
  • Kroger broth — marked down to $0.69
  • 3 boxes of Kroger toaster pastries — marked down to $0.59 each
  • 1 bag of peppers — marked down to $0.99
  • 1 cantaloupe — marked down to $0.99
  • 1 bag of onions/avocados — marked down to $0.99
  • 1 can Simple Truth green beans — marked down to $0.49
  • 1 package of egg roll wraps — marked down to $0.49
  • 2 bags of Blue Corn chips — $0.99 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 1 package of Oscar Mayer hot dogs — $0.99 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 2 bags of Goldfish — $0.99 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 4 packages of Private Selection pasta — $0.50 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 1 box of oatmeal — used $0.40/1 Kroger digital coupon = $1.09 after coupon
  • Total with tax: $18.95

Kaitlynn and I flew to Portland, Maine for me to speak at the Food Allergy Blogger’s Conference. One of the best parts of speaking at food blogging conferences? The BEST gift sacks full of yummy food and snacks from sponsors!

Kroger Shopping Trip #2

  • Kroger whole wheat flour — marked down to $1.69
  • Brown rice — marked down to $1.19
  • 3 packages of Eckrich sausage — $1.69 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 5 packages of cheese — $0.99 each with Friday-Saturday deal
  • 2 boxes of Cheerios — $1.49 when you buy 5 participating items — used $1/2 Kroger digital coupon = $0.99 each
  • Bag of grapefruit/lime juice — $0.99
  • Tub of lettuce — marked down to $1.79
  • 1 dozen cage-free eggs — $2.50
  • 1 back to school brownie bites — marked down to $2.49
  • Total with tax: $25.09

Sprouts Shopping Trip

  • Bartlett Pears — $0.95
  • 3 18-oz. cartons of blueberries — $1.98 each
  • Peaches — $1.09
  • Water — $1.98
  • Total with tax: $10.64

BigLots Shopping Trip

  • 2 bags of chips — $0.25 each
  • 2 double packs of English Muffins — $1.40 each
  • 4 packages of Keebler cookies — $0.25 each
  • 4 to-go cups — $0.25 each
  • 4 bags of peanuts — $0.25 each
  • Total with tax: $7.26

$70 Grocery Budget + Menu Plan

I couldn’t believe the great deals we found at BigLots! It reminded me of the Christian County Discount Freight & Grocery last week!

What We Ate This Past Week

Note: When you see the meals below, please remember this: I buy ahead often. Which means that when I find a great deal on something I know we’ll use, I buy as much as I can afford in our budget to have on hand.

This means that you aren’t going to see all of the groceries my shopping trip that I used to make all of the meals we ate.

Please also remember that I’m putting this out there and it’s not a perfectly balanced menu. This is just really what we ate — and I hope that it encourages you to see the real-ness and lack of perfection here.

Breakfasts:

Lunches:

  • Ham Sandwiches, Granola Bars, Yogurt, Capri Sun, Salad, Leftovers, Fruit,

Snacks:

  • Cookies, Popcorn, Ice Cream, Go-Gurts

Dinners:

  • Sunday — Chicken Noodle Soup, Oyster Crackers
  • Monday — Fend for Yourself
  • Tuesday — Chick-fil-A
  • Wednesday — Smoked Ribs
  • Thursday — Chicken Noodle Soup, Bran Muffins
  • Friday — Chicken Rice Casserole, Cantaloupe, Roasted Broccoli
  • Saturday — Leftovers

Total spent on groceries: $61.94

Cashback earned this week: 308 points for submitting my receipts to Fetch rewards


Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!


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35 Stores That Offer Free Shipping, No Minimum Order Required


We’ve all been there: You finally find an item you’ve been looking for online, and it’s on sale for $5!

You add it to your cart, go to check out — and realize you have to pay $8 for shipping. It’s not such a good deal anymore.

Here’s another common scenario: You add everything you need to your cart, and the total comes to $25. The site offers free shipping — but only on orders over $50.

Shipping costs often double or even triple the price you pay for small orders — eliminating the savings of shopping online. But if you know where to look, you can get thousands of items shipped for free.

35 Stores With Free Shipping

These companies offer free shipping with no minimum purchase. Some of them ship worldwide for free, while others only ship free within the continental U.S. Some also offer free shipping to your local store.

1. Target

If you have a Target REDcard, you’re in for a treat!

In addition to saving 5% off your order, you qualify for free U.S. shipping. Alaska and Hawaii are included, and Target also ships to APO/FPO addresses.

2. Timberland

Known for its boots and outdoors wear, Timberland offers free standard U.S. shipping on every order.

3. The North Face

The North Face sells outdoor apparel and equipment for men, women and kids. Standard shipping is free on all orders in the U.S.

4. Nordstrom

Nordstrom is known for its high-end products, but it offers free U.S. shipping to soften the blow — including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

If that’s not enough, it also offers free returns!

5. Neiman Marcus

Much like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus is top-of-the-line. But there’s no shipping costs added to their premium offerings, and you’ll have your goods in 3 to 5 business days.

6. Kate Spade

Everyone’s favorite purse label — which also sells clothing, shoes and jewelry, by the way — offers free shipping and free returns in all 50 states, via USPS.

7. Lily Pulitzer

You know this brand for its brightly colored tropical and paisley prints. But did you know Lily Pulitzer offers free economy shipping on all orders in the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico?

8. Tiffany & Co.

The most storied jewelry store ever offers free shipping and free returns on every precious order.

Getty Images

9. Reformation

This sustainable women’s clothing maker uses the tagline “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2.” Bonus: It offers free shipping and free returns on all orders.

10. Bonobos

This men’s clothing and accessories shop distinguishes itself with free shipping and free returns in the U.S.

11. Cents of Style

Cents of Style is an affordable women’s retailer selling clothes, shoes and accessories. Double down on the deals with free shipping all the time.

12. Ray-Ban

What’s cooler than a pair of slick shades? Free U.S. shipping from Ray-Ban!

Alaska and Hawaii are included, and orders usually arrive within two to three days. If you want to send an item back, you can return it for free.

13. Fossil

You probably know Fossil for its watches. But it also has full lines of men’s and women’s clothing, plus bags and jewelry. All of it ships for free in the U.S. and territories, with delivery in 7 to 10 business days.

14. Keds

Enjoy free shipping and free returns on all your sneaker orders.

15. Zappos

From shoes to handbags, Zappos has a wonderful selection of clothing and accessories, and everything ships free. This includes Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories. The site also offers free returns for one year.

Zappos uses USPS Priority Mail to make sure your order gets to your doorstep in four to five days.

16. MAC Cosmetics

Makeup, skincare products, kits, makeup tools, fragrances — all MAC products ship for free with standard shipping, which arrives in 2 to 5 business days.

17. Dermstore

Dermstore, which sells skincare products, makeup and hair care products, offers free standard shipping on all orders — including to Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

18. Apple

If the iPad or Mac you’re eyeing is in stock on Apple’s online store, it most likely ships for free. (Excluded are such items as customized Macs and engraved products.) For iPhones you can even get free next-day shipping.

19. Microsoft

Microsoft will give you free standard shipping on all orders to the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Getty Images

20. Dell

If you’re in the market for a new laptop, you can get free U.S. shipping to any of the 48 contiguous states. Your order will arrive within three to five days, and you won’t spend a penny extra.

Dell also offers a price match guarantee to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.

21. Samsung

Samsung offers free shipping on all order in the contiguous United States, including on big TVs. Mobile devices and accessories default to free expedited shipping.

22. AT&T

AT&T offers free express shipping on all orders, which normally costs $14.95. Accessory-only orders get free priority shipping, and AT&T will even pay for the return shipping if you choose to send an item back.

23. Otter Box

Otter Box makes mobile phone cases, yes. But they also sell outdoor gear including coolers, dry bags and tumblers. All U.S. orders ship free.

24. Crate & Barrel

Longing for a new addition to your kitchen? Crate & Barrel boasts a wide range of products that all ship free.

As long as you’re in the contiguous U.S., you can snag this deal. Make sure your cart only contains eligible items, or else you’ll have to fork over the shipping cost.

Getty Images

25. Sweetwater

If you’re a musician who regularly buys gear, consider buying from Sweetwater. The highly reputable site offers free U.S. shipping on thousands of items.

While APO and FPO addresses qualify, Alaska and Hawaii don’t. Most of the company’s orders ship the same day, so you’ll get your new equipment at lightning speed.

26. Amoeba Music

Need another reason to buy that record you’ve been eyeballing? Free U.S. shipping from Amoeba should do the trick. It offers cost-free USPS media mail shipping for all music and movie formats.

While orders can take 5 to 21 days to arrive, the wait is worth it.

27. Molton Brown

Molton Brown’s wide selection of cruelty-free bath and body products is even cooler because of the free U.S shipping. If you’re in the contiguous states, you’ll receive your order within three to seven days.

Bonus: You’ll get a free 1-ounce sample with every order and a complimentary gift box if you’re buying for someone else.

28. AbeBooks

AbeBooks has a humongous selection of books at unbelievably low prices, and thousands of them qualify for free shipping.

The best part? You can search for books that will ship for free specifically to your corner of the world. The site allows you to search for free shipping to the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, and they even have a worldwide option.

8 Retailers That Offer Free Shipping if You Pick Up in Store

These retailers don’t offer free shipping directly to your home without a minimum purchase. But they do let you order online and ship — for free — to one of their stores. Then you pick up your order there.

29. Walmart

You can order thousands of different items from Walmart’s website and pick them up for free in a store — many of them same day.

30. Verizon

Free two-day shipping from Verizon requires a $49 minimum purchase. But you can pick up your devices in store for free.

31. Staples

Staples has a great in-store selection, but its online selection is even better. If you see something you like, you can have it shipped to your local store at no shipping cost. However, oversized items like furniture may not qualify.

32. Ace Hardware

Ace offers a wonderful ship-to-store option for tons of items. Your order will arrive at your local store in one to seven days, and you’ll receive an email confirmation when it’s ready.

Ace will even ship to Alaska and Hawaii, though it will take a little longer. Your local store will hold your orders for five days, so there’s no rush to pick them up.

33. Home Depot

More than a million items at Home Depot are available for free in-store pickup, many within a couple hours.

34. Lowe’s

Like its big competitor, Lowe’s also offers free in-store pickup on its many home improvement items.

35. Guitar Center

If you have a Guitar Center store nearby, you can buy online and have your order shipped there for free. It also offers free in-store returns with immediate credit. Certain orders like clearance items and oversized products don’t apply.

Ian Chandler is a freelance writer based in Ohio. Senior editor Molly Moorhead contributed to this report.



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15 Steps to Take If You Were Affected by the Capital One Data Breach


On July 29, 2019, Capital One joined the long and growing list of Fortune 500 companies affected by data breaches. It has plenty of company, including retail giants such as Target and The Home Depot, blue-chip insurers such as Anthem, and global hospitality families such as Marriott. Financial institutions aren’t immune, either. Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting bureaus, had some 143 million personal records compromised in a massive 2017 breach.

According to CNN, the Capital One breach affected more than 105 million North American consumers who applied for Capital One credit products between 2005 and early 2019.

The alleged perpetrator, a Seattle-area software engineer, broke into Capital One’s systems through a misconfigured firewall. She accessed a trove of consumer data, including contact details, credit scores, spending limits, account balances, social insurance information, and bank account numbers. She then allegedly posted this information on GitHub and bragged about the exploit on social media and Slack, making little effort to conceal her identity. A concerned GitHub user notified Capital One, which notified the FBI, and the suspect was arrested within days.

The alleged perpetrator’s carelessness no doubt sped up public disclosure of the breach. Many data breaches go unnoticed for months or years, and perpetrators beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement authorities may evade justice indefinitely.

No matter the circumstances, if you’re a potential victim of a corporate data breach, you should act swiftly. Stolen personal information may be used in identity theft, which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, particularly for the elderly, minor children, and adults with limited control over their personal data and finances.

If your data is part of a corporate breach, you may not necessarily be a victim of identity theft. But it does significantly increases your chances, especially if you don’t take decisive action soon after learning of the breach.

What to Do When You’re Part of a Data Breach (Or Suspect You Are)

If you have reason to believe your data was involved in a corporate data breach, such as Capital One’s, here’s what you can do to mitigate the risk.

1. Determine Whether You’re Actually Affected

Sometimes, the affected organization sets up a dedicated website or hotline for members of the public to check their status. After disclosing its 2017 breach, Equifax did both. You can still use its website to check your exposure.

Other times, the affected organization notifies victims directly. According to CNBC, Capital One pledged to notify victims through multiple channels, likely to include emails and secure internal account messages.

You can also use the breach’s publicly known timeline and geography to determine your exposure. For instance, the Capital One breach included data from pretty much everyone who applied for credit between 2005 and early 2019. You probably know off the top of your head whether that means you.

2. Determine the Extent of the Compromise

This may be trickier than determining your exposure. For instance, data stolen in the Capital One breach appears to fall into three main buckets:

  • Data typically included on credit card applications, such as names, dates of birth, home addresses, and self-reported income
  • Social insurance data — Social Security numbers from U.S. customers and Social Insurance numbers from Canadian customers.
  • Credit card data, including payment history, credit limits, credit scores, and account balances, but apparently not credit card numbers themselves

The alleged perpetrator accessed credit card application data from virtually all consumers affected by the breach. She accessed social insurance information from a smaller number of victims — about 1 million, mostly Canadian — and was only able to obtain fragmented transaction data from 23 days in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

In other words, if you applied for a Capital One credit product between 2005 and early 2019, you can assume that your application data was compromised. But unless you had an active Capital One credit card from 2016 to 2018, your transaction data is probably safe.

To know for sure, reach out to the affected organization through approved channels, such as Equifax’s breach lookup website. Although you can always call the organization’s regular customer service hotline or use its online chat function, so can anyone else. And in the wake of a major breach, even large organizations’ support teams are likely to be overwhelmed with inquiries.

Alternatively, wait for the affected organization to contact you directly as you work through the rest of this list. Don’t interpret ongoing silence to mean you’re in the clear; the organization may take some time to determine precisely who’s affected and how.

3. Pay Attention to Official Communications From the Compromised Organization

If the compromised organization pledges to notify customers affected by the breach, find out precisely how and when they’ll do so. Since it’s less vulnerable to compromise than email and less prone to abuse than phone calls, snail mail remains a popular means of breach notification. Financial institutions may also use secure internal account messages to notify customers.

Don’t trust intermediaries unless the compromised company says it’s OK to do so. Don’t speak to anyone who tries to contact you outside of an approved means of disclosure. If the organization promises to notify victims by snail mail, and someone calls you claiming to represent them, assume it’s a scam and hang up.

If and when you do receive official communications from the affected organization, pay close attention to them and act on any instructions you receive. For instance, after a breach that compromises payment card data, financial institutions commonly reissue cards with new numbers. Watch for yours in the mail and activate it promptly.

Official instructions from the compromised organization may overlap with some or all of the action items on this list — all the more reason to take them seriously.

4. Change Passwords for Any Affected Account

Change the password for any digital account you know or suspect to be compromised in the breach. If you use the same compromised password on other accounts not affected by the breach, change the passwords on those as well. Moving forward, avoid reusing passwords, use a secure password storage manager like 1password, and take the opportunity to review these tips to protect your personal information online.

5. Set Activity Alerts

If you know or suspect that the breach compromised your financial information, such as payment card or bank account numbers, set activity alerts on those accounts to monitor for unauthorized use. At a minimum, these alerts should cover attempted withdrawals and point-of-sale transactions, as well as attempts to access your accounts online.

Bear in mind that hackers don’t have to break into your bank’s mainframe to obtain your payment card information. Over 100 million Target shoppers lost payment card information in the retailer’s 2013 data breach, for instance — a breach that didn’t directly affect any financial institutions.

6. Request New Payment Card Numbers

Financial services companies generally distribute fresh payment cards when their customers are affected by breaches. But if your card data is involved in a third-party breach, such as the Target incident, you may need to be proactive.

Call the number on the back of the card and tell the rep you believe your account was compromised. You may need to explain the scenario and answer some boilerplate questions, like, “Was the card ever out of your possession?” Be truthful, but don’t overexplain. Your bank or card issuer doesn’t want to be on the hook for unauthorized transactions, so it’s likely to cancel and reissue your card with limited pushback. In most cases, you’ll need to wait to use the new number until the physical card arrives in the mail.

7. Enroll in a Free Credit Monitoring or Identity Theft Protection Service

It’s standard practice for organizations affected by data breaches to offer customers free limited-time enrollment in credit monitoring or identity theft protection services. Enrollment periods typically last at least one year, with no obligation to re-enroll at subscription prices. Some last longer; Equifax offered customers affected by its 2017 breach up to 10 years of free credit monitoring.

Since enrollment in these services is free and you’re not obligated to pay when the free period ends, there’s little downside to taking an organization up on its offer. It’s the least they can do.

8. Place Fraud Alerts

Place a fraud alert with each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. By law, a credit reporting bureau must contact the other two when it receives a fraud alert request, so you technically only need to place an alert with one bureau to secure protection for all three. If you don’t trust the process, however, you’re free to contact each bureau individually.

As long as your fraud alert remains in effect, prospective creditors must verify your identity before opening new credit lines in your name. When someone pulls your credit or tries to open a new credit line on your behalf, you’ll automatically receive an alert. That makes it far more difficult for identity thieves to exploit your good credit and rack up debt without your knowledge.

Fraud alerts are free to institute and maintain. They last for one year, and you can renew them at the end of each term.

9. Claim Your Free Credit Reports

This is something you should do anyway, regardless of whether you’re involved in a data breach. By law, you’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. You can get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com. Consider pulling one report per quarter to monitor your credit throughout the year, rather than pulling all three reports at once.

Scan your report for sudden or unexplained credit score declines and other evidence of possible identity theft, such as the appearance of a new credit line you didn’t open.

10. Consider Signing Up for Ongoing Monitoring or Protection

After taking full advantage of any free membership or trial offered by the compromised organization, weigh the pros and cons of paying for ongoing credit monitoring or identity theft protection.

If you simply want to keep tabs on your credit score, a free credit monitoring service such as Credit Sesame may be all you need. For more robust, comprehensive identity theft protection, consider a paid service such as IdentityGuard, which comes with features free services don’t offer, such as detailed risk management reports, tools for safer Web browsing, and dark web scanning.

11. Consider Using a Dark Web Scanning Service

There’s a good chance your information is somewhere on the dark web. The question is, what’s being done with it?

While a dark web scan isn’t comprehensive, it may reveal whether any of your personal data has fallen into the wrong hands or is in danger of doing so. You don’t have to pay for this knowledge; Experian offers a free one-time dark web scan, for instance. Some experts question the value of a dark web scan, but it’s almost certainly better than nothing, especially when you don’t have to pay for it.

12. Promptly Report Suspicious Account Activity

Remember: It’s not the data breach itself you have to worry about; it’s what happens next. Very often, that’s a series of concerted efforts to steal your identity. For instance, cybercriminals who’ve gotten their hands on customers’ email addresses might impersonate the compromised organization in sophisticated phishing emails asking for account numbers or login credentials. Or they may send you malicious links that infect your computer with malware.

Report any and all attempts to further compromise your data or finances to the affected organization. Companies sometimes set up dedicated abuse-reporting channels after major breaches. Capital One immediately created the email address [email protected]

By the same token, if you discover any suspicious activity through a credit monitoring service, in your credit report, from a credit bureau fraud alert, or by reviewing your credit card statement, immediately report it to your bank or credit card issuer. If the suspicious activity involves a credit card, the issuer should promptly cancel and reissue the card.

Banks and credit unions generally have zero-liability fraud policies that reverse or refund unauthorized debit transactions. But you may be on the hook for a portion of the charges — up to $500 — if you wait longer than two business days to notify your bank. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a more detailed description of your rights under the law.

To be clear, you don’t have to wait for news of a data breach to report suspicious activity on your accounts. Unauthorized account charges, sketchy communications from people who may or may not be associated with your financial institution, and other possible instances of fraudulent activity always warrant reporting. But you should be especially vigilant in the wake of a disclosed data breach.

13. Freeze Your Credit Report

If you have no plans to apply for credit soon, consider freezing your credit at each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Like fraud alerts, credit freezes are free to apply and lift. However, bureaus don’t have to notify one another when you place a freeze, so you’ll need to contact each one directly.

While your credit is frozen, creditors can’t pull your credit report. That means you can’t open new credit card accounts, apply for a mortgage, or take out a personal loan — and neither can identity thieves.

The Federal Trade Commission has more information on how credit freezes work and how they differ from credit locks, which may carry monthly fees.

14. Watch for Signs That Your Identity Has Been Stolen

The risk of identity theft dramatically increases in the wake of a data breach. According to IdentityGuard, almost one in five notified data breach victims later suffer identity theft.

Learn to spot possible signs of identity theft, such as:

  • Bills for services you never requested
  • Being turned down or charged more for health insurance due to conditions you don’t have
  • Insurance claims rejected due to recent claims you didn’t make
  • No longer receiving important bills
  • Unexpected change-of-address notifications from creditors or payees
  • Unexpected bank account withdrawals or credit card charges
  • Notification from the IRS that more than one tax return was filed in your name for the most recent tax year
  • Two-factor authentication alerts (such as numeric codes sent by SMS) that you didn’t request
  • Credit applications rejected due to poor credit

If you spot any of these signs, here’s what to do if you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft.

15. Claim Your Share of Any Breach Settlement

The terms of Equifax’s breach settlement required the bureau to provide up to 10 years of free credit monitoring or $125 cash to customers with existing credit monitoring coverage. That may not be enough to make anyone rich, but it’s a nice gesture nonetheless.

If a data breach leads to a class-action lawsuit, you may be entitled to damages as part of that class. Eligible class members often, but not always, receive official mailed notification of their eligibility. Those who join the lawsuit are bound by the terms of the eventual settlement, while those who opt out are free to pursue other legal remedies. If you think you may be in a class for which you haven’t received official notification, check a no-cost third-party resource such as Consumer Action.

Final Word

In a news cycle accelerated by social media and push notifications, keeping up with current events is an overwhelming task. But some of the breaking stories crossing your virtual desk today could affect your personal finances or well-being tomorrow.

It’s worth a few minutes of your time to pay attention to reports of a major data breach. If you’ve had any association with the compromised organization, however tenuous, it’s highly likely you’re affected.

If that’s the case, take action to mitigate the damage. Mounting an effective response to a corporate data breach is mostly a matter of diligence and vigilance, and it’s well worth the time to ensure your information is protected.

Have you ever been involved in a data breach? How did you respond?



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