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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?

June 2018 Plan Update

June 2018 Plan Update

Since I don’t want to inundate you with pictures or info about our trip, I’ll just give a quick run-down here in the June 2018 Plan Update (since our June was almost entirely overseas!).

We started the trip with an amazing two days in NYC. I was able to see Hamilton with a friend of mine. She paid for the tickets and wouldn’t tell me how much they cost. Mr.T, in his infinite wisdom, told me that I should respond in-kind instead of attempting to pay her back monetarily, so I’m coming up with an equally-stunning excursion for the two of us, my treat (perhaps a weekend to Seattle to see Dear Evan Hansen?).

On the flight to London, I left my phone on the airplane. Oh well. It did mean we had to drive to the airport after staying in London for a few days to pick up the phone. Could have been much worse. In London, we took the kids to see Matilda and they loved it. We also got to enjoy the amazing kid activities at the Tower of London, go on the London eye, have ice cream cones with Flakes, see the amazing museums, explore the Harry Potter Studios, and watch my kids become expert London tube travelers.

Lui on the London Eye

This is how Lui enjoyed the London Eye

Tower Bridge Rainy Selfie

An attempted family selfie in the rain at Tower Bridge

We then drove to Stonehenge and Avebury and then explored a whole bunch of castles all through Wales for 3 days (our favorites were Raglan, Caerphilly and Caernarfon, for the record). Each castle had an amazing “Castle Quest” for kids. Wales and castles = my favorite! Then we spent a night with some friends in Chorley, England and then drove to stay with my parents for a week in Leeds. They treated us to my kids’ first afternoon tea at Betty’s, Harry Potter broom flying lessons where they filmed it at Alnwick, and exploring in the Yorkshire Dales. Brimham Rocks is still a favorite and my kids agree! I also managed to find some clothes I like while out shopping with my mum! Yay!

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey, a ruined monastery in South Wales

Brimham Rocks

Brimham Rocks is an unexpected find in Yorkshire and turns out to be one of our favorite places in England

From there, we flew to Bergen, Norway where we took the funicular up the mountain and played on one of the greatest playgrounds of all time in the troll forest.

Troll Forest Playground

We loved this playground in the Troll Forest on Mt. Fløyen

We were also able to meet up with some relatives of Mr. T who cooked us a delicious Norwegian feast and let us go paddle-boating out in the Norwegian fjords by their home. (The header for this post is the view from our hotel room in Bergen.) We drove from Bergen to Oslo, stopping to see the Borgund Stave Church, fjords, waterfalls, and then driving through the longest road tunnel in the world. In Oslo, we saw all the boat museums, the Nobel Peace Center, and ate the most delicious waffles (a Scandinavian heart-shaped waffle iron will probably show up as one of our expenses in the next few months!).

Borgund Stave Church

The Borgund Stave Church is a remarkable feat of wooden architecture from the 12th century.

From Oslo, we flew to Iceland where we were part of an Icelandic National Day parade, saw a million amazing waterfalls, ate amazing rye bread that was cooked in the ground geothermally, and stayed in an amazing cabin with a geothermal hot tub.

Iceland's National Day

We unexpectedly became part of a parade for Iceland’s National Day

Iceland Waterfall

Between the weather and the waterfalls we got plenty of use out of our raincoats in Iceland!

Overall, for a month-long trip, it was near perfection! All of our preparation with the kids really paid off as they were completely engaged in everything we were doing and seeing and never complained at all (minus poor Lui, who after about two weeks, just wanted to have a day where he didn’t have to walk anywhere!). I can’t wait for the next trip!

Reynisfjara Beach

Despite the crowd, we loved climbing the basalt columns, also known as trap rocks, at Reynisfjara Beach

The Numbers:

Want to know how easy it is for us to write these every month? I literally just log into my Personal Capital and revel in all the numbers being in one place. Do you like checking numbers? Do you like graphics? Do you like playing with calculators like retirement calculators and how much your fees are costing you? Then, you should obviously use my affiliate link to Sign up here to help yours truly speed toward financial independence! (Also feel free to read my more in-depth review of Personal Capital.)

Our mortgage is now at $22,000. No extra paid this month, but next month, I really hope to start killing this thing with extra payments!

Investments are now at $206,200. Have I mentioned that since moving from a contractor to an actual employee, I now I have my OWN 401k? It’s very exciting, I know! I’m up to a whole $220! Interestingly, they only allow percentage amounts to be put in a 401k and those max out at 50%. Since I only make around $20,000/year, I can’t actually ever max mine out. But, next year, after the mortgage is paid off, you bet I’m bumping right up to 50%! I also won’t start seeing employee matches until next May since I wasn’t officially an employee before and new employees have to wait a year to have the company match anything. Boo. Oh well.

2018 Financial Goals Update:

  • KILL THE MORTGAGE – $22,000! Now that the trip is behind us, this is HAPPENING!
  • Merch Challenge Update (paying for our 27-night Europe trip and our extra mortgage payments with t-shirt sales) –  -$1,630.14 – Earned: $14,182.72, Spent: $15,812.86 (with “earned” meaning the money we’ve made from selling shirts on Amazon and “spent” meaning all of the costs for the trip as well as any extra payments toward our mortgage) – Details on most of these numbers can be found in our Great Merch Challenge Q1 update with another one coming Friday! – So many details coming!
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – Automatic – however, limits rose to $18,500/year which makes it messy if you get 24 paychecks a year. We’ll probably make a contribution toward the end of the year to top it off.
  • Stretch Goal: Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – Not yet.
  • Market-Based Goal: $250,000 in investments by the end of 2018 – Not yet.
The Great Banks Merch Challenge

The Great Banks Merch Challenge

On Monday, we shared an introduction to Merch by Amazon and tips for beginners. Today’s post is our personal Merch by Amazon experience.

Our Merch by Amazon Timeline

At the end of February, I heard about Merch and signed up. It sounded like the perfect platform for us (especially Mr. T – our local graphic designer that needs a creative outlet). It’s all about designing and researching (sound like a pair of people you know?!) and you don’t have to do any selling or customer service! At the beginning of June, Mr. T and I sat down to do our periodic financial date night. We talked about how our financial priorities for the next year were to get our kids to Europe and pay off our mortgage. The combined total of those was $40,000. We brainstormed how we could earn more money to make sure those things happened. Shortly after this discussion, we were accepted to Merch and threw ourselves into it. We uploaded our first shirt design on June 22 and sold our first shirt on June 27. We made a total of $7.07 in June (which showed up in our August plan update because of Amazon’s payment timeline).

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The Our Next Life Challenge: Take 2

The Our Next Life Challenge: Take 2

Long, long ago, Steve over at Think Save Retire started a series called: our next life – then our friends over at Our Next Life, the blog, continued the series. We first participated in September of 2015 and ended that post by saying: “I should probably re-write this post once a year for the next seven years!” because plans change and ours are so fluid. So, here I am again 2 years later revisiting our plans.

Our Next Life Timeline

2018 – Take the kids to England, Wales, Norway, and Iceland – this will be a 27-day trip! This is one of the big changes from when we wrote this post the first time. This was supposed to be an England-only trip the summer after we paid off the mortgage. Now we’re doing a sweeping 4-country trip (so still fairly slow travel compared to hitting many countries) and we’re doing it before the mortgage is paid off so we can visit my parents in England while they’re living there.

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July 2016 Plan update

July 2016 Plan Update

July has come and gone so fast. We spent the beginning of the month at the Oregon coast with my whole extended family. Then we came home to Alaska and went dipnetting the next week and filled our freezer full of a year’s worth of salmon. Alaska is seriously so amazing. We’ve also been enjoying bowls full of fresh raspberries from our garden.

This month on the blog, we covered how to save money* in both London and the UK in general. We also came clean about being early retirement frauds and I took Mr. T’s company’s retirement newsletter to task for being terrible. We had THREE people take the Roth IRA Challenge this month in awesome posts. First Ditching the Grind talked about being a U.S. military reservist. Then Amber Tree Leaves discussed property management. And finally, The Money Mine offered a great post about couple finances. Are YOU ready to take the challenge?

We’ve also completely changed our email newsletter. I now email once a week on Saturdays and while the email does include links to the posts on the blog from the week, it also includes information I don’t share on the blog and other interesting links of research and random tidbits of information I read that don’t “fit” in the blog format. If you want to give it a try. SIGN UP over on the sidebar! (I don’t plan to annoy you with sign-up pop-ups.)

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First 100,000

Saving The First $100,000. The Hardest?

The First $100,000

In our May update, we mentioned the possibility of breaking $100,000 in June. It seemed surreal, but definitely possible. Cheers to Amber Tree Leaves for this comment:

Would it not be great to reach 100K while enjoying a holiday. I hope you reach that milestone

This comment blew my mind.

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Fireworks over the beach

June 2016 Plan Update

June was AMAZING. We just got back from our big adventures last night and I’m excited to catch up on all the comments today! We flew to Seattle on June 2nd, spent five days with Mr. T’s family on the Puget Sound, and then Mr. T and I ditched the kids with them and headed to the United Kingdom. We flew into London where we spent a week, then we drove through Stonehenge, Avebury, Stourhead, Bath, and over to Cardiff for a few days. From there, we zig-zagged up through Wales to the Lake District, drove over through Yorkshire, over to Whitby on the coast, up to Northumberland, and finished up in Edinburgh. From there we flew to Paris for the last 3 days and then back to Portland (my family) where we met up with our children and enjoyed a family reunion on the coast.

There will be more on the trip coming up in a few lessons we learned on the UK and London on a budget, but for those who care, I’ll mention a few things here.

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Europe on $10 a day

Europe for $10/Day (in 1977): Part 2

You guys, isn’t my mom the coolest? If you missed Part One of her adventures, check those out. The story continues today right where we left off on Monday:


It can be expensive attending concerts and visiting museums and art galleries, but isn’t that what Europe and England are all about? I had a long list of classical essentials, but our first cultural experience was a foray into The Sound of Music. The first day in the gorgeous city of Salzburg, we walked down to the old part of the city and looked for a tram to take us to the majestic castle on the hill. We kept walking up – up this path and finally figured we were walking up to the castle without paying to ride the tram. The castle gave us a beautiful view of Salzburg
so we walked around the courtyard.

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Europe on $10 a day

Europe for $10/Day (in 1977): Part 1

I’m super excited today to introduce my very own mother! As Mr. T and I were planning our travels, my mom found her journal from her backpacking trip through Europe in 1977 and starting telling me crazy stories. I told her she just had to write some up! So today, while Mr. T and I are off doing our own (less crazy) traveling and while my mother is busy chasing my three children around the Oregon Coast, enjoy reading her perspective about what inexpensive travel was like without the variety of travel resources we have today! 

I grew up in a tiny town on the coast – nice enough, but rainy and windy in the winter and drizzly and windy in the summer. For some reason, no one ever seemed to want to leave this place; not in my family anyway. I wanted to go to Europe. That meant two things to me: The Eiffel Tower in Paris of which I owned a poster. It was the first thing I put on the wall in my Freshman dorm room at the state college. The other thing it meant was Dickens and AustenThackeray and Eliot. I was crazy about 19th century English literature and I wanted to be in those bucolic places described in those novels. Of course, in Dickens case, it was squalid more than bucolic, but that meant London and as I became a teenager, I was very keen to be in
London. Who wasn’t in the 1970’s?

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Travel Hacking to London and Paris

Travel Hacking from Anchorage Alaska to London & Paris

On Monday, we shared our quick guide to conservative travel hacking. Since we’re all about sharing our numbers here on the blog, I want to break down how much we spent on airfare and lodging for our current trip to the UK and Paris.


Total Cost: $1007.36

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