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4 Week Europe Trip Costs + Merch Challenge Q2 2018 Update

4 Week Europe Trip Costs + Merch Challenge Q2 2018 Update

As a reminder, we’re trying to pay off our mortgage and take our family on a 27-day Europe trip with just t-shirt sales in what we call the Great Banks Merch Challenge.

I’ll be providing quarterly updates. This one is 2018 Q2 update:

The Current Merch Challenge Numbers

Final Trip Costs: Reminder that this was a 4-week, 27-night trip through NYC (2 nights), England and Wales (16 nights), Norway (5 nights) and Iceland (4 nights) for 5 humans! It was absolutely spectacular and the best use of money ever.

  • Flights: $2,035.48 – This amount includes :
    • Flight from Anchorage to NYC for a day before flying to England (we used Alaska miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from NYC to London (we used AA miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from England to Norway (paid Cash, SAS airlines – $355.63 for all 5 tickets)
    • Flight from Norway to Iceland (free layover for 4 days) to Alaska (paid cash – $2,123.85 for all 5 tickets)
    • – $500 – from our sign-up bonus on the Barclay Arrival+ card. Yay for a $500 discount!
  • Lodging: $2,859.50 – All lodging:
    • 3 nights in London, England – $677.01
    • 1 night just outside Reykjavik, Iceland – $250.49
    • 3 nights on the Golden Circle in Iceland – $681.03
    • $1000 worth of discounted AirBNB gift cards we’ve used to purchase lodging in England and Norway – $910
    • 2 nights in Bergen, Norway – $340.97
  • Transportation: $1,712.29
    • Norway Car Rental: $294.26
    • UK Car Rental: $364.71
    • Iceland Car Rental: $307.35
    • Airport Shuttle from Newark – $48
    • Airport Shuttle to Bergen – $26.35
    • Bergen Funicular – $36.39
    • Public Transportation Costs – $229.18
    • All petrol – $359.72
    • All parking – $46.33
  • Stuff: $1,487.17 – The gear (which we won’t have to purchase again for the next big trip!) plus the souvenirs:
    • Passport fees for the 3 kids – $315
    • Global Entry for all of us – Free (thanks Amex Platinum card!)
    • Travelable booster seats for all 3 kids (their normal ones are way too bulky to travel with but we wanted to be safe/legal) – $103.97
    • Travel Backpacks for the girls (Lui will use his small school backpack) – $204.30
    • GPS with all Europe maps (which we will use for all future Europe trips) – $149.90
    • Souvenirs (including an Icelandic sweater for me, a sweater for Mr. T and a jacket for me from the Dale of Norway factory store, a few Christmas gifts, a retro Iceland winter hat for Mr. T, a few new outfits for me and the kids from England, and the kids’ souvenirs) – $714
  • Experiences: $1,468.95
    • Empire State Building – $70
    • Tickets to see Matilda the musical in London – $348.15
    • Tickets to the Harry Potter Film Studio outside London – $183.73
    • Westminster Abbey Tickets – $62.63
    • UK Family National Trust 14-day Touring Pass – $104.79
    • London Eye – $160.72
    • Tower of London – $99.95
    • Wales Castle Explorer Family Pass – $60.07
    • York Minster – $29.64
    • Borgund Stave Church, Norway – $34.99
    • Oslo Passes – $260.18
    • Kerið Crater Entrance – $7.30
    • Geothermal Rye Bread Experience – $41.28
    • Public Toilets in Iceland – $5.52
  • Food: $849.47 – We bought mostly groceries, but did eat out occasionally. We were also spoiled by my parents for a week when we stayed with them (thanks mum and dad!).
    • New York: $171.25
    • UK: $390.98
    • Norway: $96.58
    • Iceland: $152.65
    • IcelandAir Airplane food: $38.01

TOTAL SPENT: $10,412.86

Thoughts: We went to 3 of the most expensive countries in Europe and stayed there a month! We weren’t attempting to be super frugal about this trip, but we cut costs where we could and really enjoyed it. I felt like I was living my best life traveling and teaching my kids during this past month. It was absolutely amazing.

Mortgage Costs: 

For Merch to cover the rest of our mortgage, we’re including any payments we make above our minimum monthly payments. So, these costs are the extra payments we made starting with the November mortgage payment:

  • $2,100 (November)
  • $1,700 (December)
  • $1,500 (January)
  • $0 (February)
  • $100 (March) – hopefully sales will pick up again soon so we can start shoveling money toward the mortgage!
  • $0 (April)
  • $0 (May)
  • $0 (June)


Current Merch Earnings (earnings are 2 months behind as that’s when we get and report the money):

  • June: $7.07
  • July: $218.24
  • August: $810.78
  • September: $1,065.67
  • October: $3,352.58
  • November: $1,837.50
  • December: $2,627.96
  • January: $1,076.85
  • February: $695.83
  • March: $783.40
  • April: $852.67
  • May: $854.17
  • TOTAL: $14,182.72

minus our total mortgage payments and total trip costs of $15,812.86

Merch Challenge Totals: -$1,630.14

Verdict so far: Still Positive

I’m actually pretty thrilled that the entire trip has been covered with just t-shirt sales! How exciting is that?!

Now, we’ve got 6 months left of t-shirt sales to cover about $23,600 of the mortgage (about $22,000 left on it plus another $1,630.14 that we’ve already paid toward the mortgage listed above). We may or may not be able to earn $23,600 in 6 months with t-shirts alone (last year, we earned about $9,900 in the same 6 months).

However, we are getting a little help from the state of Alaska. Our PFD amount has been decided for 2019 and we’ll each be getting $1,600 (a total of $8,000). Now, we tithe our PFDs as we do with all our income, so after tithing, we’ll conservatively say we can put $7,000 of the PFD toward our mortgage. $23,600-$7,000=$16,600.

AND keep in mind that our regular mortgage payments alone will bring our mortgage balance down to about $18,000 by the end of the year. $18,000+$1,630-$7,000=$12,630! TOTALLY DOABLE (maybe. i start second guessing every time i declare something like that!) Do you think we can do it?

Following the Money: In Practice

Following the Money: In Practice

One of the big entrepreneurial concepts is following the money. If you haven’t figured out how to get paid or you’re not chasing the pipeline that is actually paying you, you’re doing it all wrong.

Following the Money

As you know, our current most lucrative side hustle is selling shirts. When we realized the potential of selling shirts, we had to hit it hard (getting 1500 listings on Amazon takes real work!).

Our Merch by Amazon Adventure

Our Merch by Amazon Adventure

Merch by Amazon is a t-shirt designing platform. It allows you to get your own designs in front of literally BILLIONS of Amazon shoppers. You simply design, upload, and then get a few bucks every time a shirt sells (you pick your own royalty per shirt. Amazon charges around $12-$15 depending on shirt style and your set price. Anything after that, you get to keep). There’s no shipping or customer service to take care of, Amazon simply prints and ships your designs.

Signing Up

Merch by Amazon is free to join (do it today! – maybe when you get accepted in a year you’ll want to!). The catch here is that you have to wait for approval. The time until approval is completely arbitrary. There are reports of people waiting between 4-13 months to get an invite. Also, sometimes they don’t even send you an email and your account is approved and then terminated for inactivity before you even know what happened. To combat this, just try to log in on the Merch website about once a month. If you can get in and see a dashboard, you’ve been approved. You now have 120 days to upload your first design.

How Entrepreneurship is Like Dipnetting

How Entrepreneurship is Like Dipnetting

On Monday, I shared our dipnetting experience this year. Collectively, we caught 21. My contribution: 1. That’s right. I caught 1 salmon and spent nearly the same amount of time in the water as Mr. T. Since I had a lot of time to think about stuff as I was carrying my net and not catching fish, I realized our entrepreneurship journey is actually a lot like dipnetting (you all missed my analogies this summer. Admit it!). Here’s how:

Nets Out of Water Don’t Catch Fish

How "Make More Money" is Like a Video Game

How “Make More Money” is Like a Video Game

Quick call to action: I’m running an awesome research project and need your help. I need as many responses as possible. Go take the survey. It won’t take long. Thanks so much! Do it for science!

Maybe you’re like me. You read all these amazing posts about how the solution to your problem is simple. Make more money. And then you think: “Yeah, wouldn’t that be great?!” The posts say: “Don’t worry. It’s easy. Start a blog. Make an extra $90,000/year” Or “just start an e-commerce business and watch the sales replace your day job income in no time!” Now, as a consistent blogger of nearly 2 years that has made a grand total of less than $400 on this blog (want to increase that? Sign up for Personal Capital with my affiliate link. The service is free. And awesome. I promise), and as someone that runs an Etsy shop with 2 total sales (I won’t pitch that to you as well. You’re welcome), let me tell you that I finally figured it out!

There are levels to the game Make More Money

Northern Expressions

Northern Expressions: The Purpose of Work is to Create

You guys, maybe you’ve seen this around, but if you haven’t stopped to watch it. DO IT. This is Mr. Money Mustache talking about how the purpose of work is to create and when money isn’t in the equation, we can truly be authentic in our creativity. 

I watched this and was audibly yelling “YES! YES!” multiple times (reminding myself to be quiet to not wake up the kids!). THIS IS WHY WE WANT THIS!

I won’t take up any more of your time. WATCH THIS:

Happy Friday, Friends!

Love, Maggie

Be an amateur and an expert

Why You Should Be An Amateur AND An Expert

On Monday, I made a case for not swimming alone, but finding people passionate about your subject and swimming with them. You’ll notice I did not use the word “expert.” When you’re seeking out someone with that passion, you want them to be both an amateur AND an expert.

“Amateur” Definition (Oxford English Dictionary):

1. One who loves or is fond of, one who has a taste for anything.
2.  a. One who cultivates anything as a pastime, as distinguished from one who prosecutes it professionally; hence, sometimes used disparagingly, as = dabbler, or superficial student or worker. b. Often prefixed (in apposition) to another designation, as amateur painter, amateur gardener.
3.a. Hence attrib. almost adj. Done by amateurs. Cf. amateur gardener with amateur gardening.
b. Used disparagingly. Cf. sense 2.

Following this list of definitions, “amateur” both means someone with such a passion about a subject, it goes beyond everyday interest as well as someone that “dabbles” instead of seriously studying.

“Amateur” comes from the Latin “Amatore” meaning “Lover of.”

Problems with Pareto Principle and Outsourcing

Problems with the Pareto Principle and Outsourcing

If you’ve read enough about how to become rich, you’ve probably encountered two concepts:

  1. Pareto Principle – 20% of the input is responsible for 80% of the output. In personal finance, people tout focusing on only doing that 20% responsible for the most return. That leads to principle number 2:
  2. Outsourcing – For the parts of the 80% of the job that are still necessary, you outsource them.

Let me start by stating that I agree that the Pareto Principle is real and outsourcing can be useful in some regards. Let me also state that I agree that while frugality has limits, income potential does not. I agree that everyone is capable of earning more and the amount is potentially limitless.

non-financial goals

An Update on 2016 Goals

Usually people catch up with a mid-year review in June or July… you know, mid-year!? But here we are, mid-August, and I think it’s time for a check-in. School started Monday for the kiddos, so it feels like a good time to re-evaluate and figure out what needs to happen in the next 4 months.

As I’ve mentioned in the past two plan updates, the financial goals may come up a bit shy. I talk extensively about that monthly, so today’s focus is on the non-financial goals I set in January:

Northern Expressions

Northern Expressions: Advice is NOT Permission

You don't need anyone to give you permission to pursue a dream

Happy Friday! Today, Mr. T and I are in London. Tomorrow, we get to see the new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (I’m really, really excited!). Also tomorrow, we get to witness the grand parade that is the Trooping of the Colour (in honor of the Queen’s 90th this year!). I hope your summer is going well. Today’s quote from Chris Guillebeau is one of my favorites from the $100 Startup. It’s so inspiring! If you want to do it, DO IT! Follow your dream. Make it happen. Tell the naysayers to get lost and go and live your dream! Have a great weekend, friends!

Love, Maggie

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