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New Orleans on a Budget

As I mentioned yesterday, I was in New Orleans last week with my husband and a couple of our friends.  I’ll be going back in September for the 2014 Financial Blogger Conference.  I figured I could help a few of us out by posting how we can visit New Orleans on a budget.

New Orleans

Transportation

For this last trip, we drove to New Orleans from Houston, TX using our 2007 Prius.  Altogether, it cost $60 for gasoline.  If you live close enough to drive, it may be something to consider.

If you can’t drive, check out your public transportation options.  I’m using the Megabus in September to get to New Orleans and my mother-in-law is picking me up.  The 1-way Megabus ticket cost me $9.75 and that includes the upgrade to the best seat and the 25 cents to receive text notifications of any changes.  It looks like most tickets cost $2-$50 depending on the location and whether you need a round trip ticket or not.  Check out your local bus and train stations to see if you have any affordable options.

For flights, you may want to figure out the direct flight cost from your city OR look at flying into a different airport and then finding a cheaper route from there.  For example, it may cost $400 to get from your city to New Orleans round trip, but it may only cost $200 to get to Houston and back and another $100 to get from Houston to New Orleans and back.  It pays to look at all of your options.

Lodging

The FinCon14 hotel this year is a Marriot at 555 Canal Street.  It’s running about $150 a night with taxes.  If you need to save money, you should consider splitting the room.  You can cut your hotel bill in half or more depending on how many of you decide to bunk up.

Another option is to stay somewhere else and either walk or drive in each day.  I generally use Priceline or Hotels.com to research my options, and then I go directly to the hotel’s site to see if there are any specials or AAA discounts.  My hubby, friends, and I stayed at the Best Western Bayou Inn in Westwego, Louisiana and drove the 20 minutes in each day to New Orleans.  The Best Western was $80 a night and we shared the room with the 4 of us.  Each couple only ended up paying $160 for 4 nights.

The drive in was easy and we parked at Harrah’s Casino.  Their lot costs the same as other parking near Bourbon Street, unless you gamble for 30 minutes.  So we signed up for their free casino card program (like at Kroger’s), plugged the card into a penny slot every day before we left for our hotel, made a few inexpensive bets over 30 minutes, ordered a few free drinks right from the screens while we waited, and ended up getting nearly free parking all week.

Harrah's Casino

The parking is across the street…

Food

New Orleans has amazing food, but it was a little difficult to find inexpensive options.  There’s always fast food, but that is sad to eat on vacations.

We ended up settling on finding restaurants with generous portions and splitting them.  For example, Deanie’s Seafood has a $56 fried seafood plate that can easily feed 5 or 6 hungry people – it’s HUGE.  They also sell a half seafood plate for $29 that you could split 3-4 ways.  Oh, and they had giant bowls of delicious soups and bisques for $9 (cups were $5).  My husband and I split a bowl and were very full plus we had leftovers.

If you are in the mood for a fun class plus delicious food, you can pay $22-$25 per person to learn from and eat at the New Orleans’s School of Cooking.  The class takes a couple of hours since you are watching the demo of how it’s made the whole time.  If you need something faster, Harrah’s had a deli and a Fuddruckers inside that ran about $8-$10 per person.  There’s also an Arby’s right next to the #FinCon14 Marriot.

If you are willing to walk, Café DuMond is about 10 minutes away and costs $2.42 for 3 beignets or a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

Beignets

Yep, there were 3 beignets there right before I took this picture…but they told me to eat them and I obliged.

There were dozens of restaurants along and around Bourbon Street too.  They all seemed to run $8 per person on the cheap side up to $20-$30 a plate.  But if you are walking around with the right group of people, you can have a lot of fun finding yummy food that you can afford.

Fun

People watching was the ultimate free fun.  We walked around a lot and took a ton of pictures of the historical buildings like St. Peters church.

Church

We also enjoyed taking our time at the penny slots at Harrah’s and drinking free cocktails (although we did tip $1 each).  Altogether, a week of gambling for about an hour a day cost us $55 for tips and gambling, but it got us about $80 in free parking and more than 14 mixed drinks overall.  I have found out that I adore Fuzzy Navels…

For a great deal, although not technically “cheap”, you can spend $40 0n the Audubon Experience Package ticket.  That one pass will let you into the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium, Insectarium, and Imax once each over 30 days.  That’s $10 per activity, which is well worth it.

New Orleans Aquarium July 2014

I’m the one holding the cell phone in the picture. How cool is this view?!

Overall, a visit to New Orleans doesn’t have to break the bank.  Just pay attention to all of your options and choose the best deal for you.

Budgeting for Unexpected Expenses – Istanbul and Italy

Quick background:  I host monthly giveaways via my newsletter.  Readers enter by first signing up to receive my weekly newsletter, and then by leaving a comment on my giveaway post.  I ask for that comment to be a question for me if they have one.  Random.org chooses the winner each month.

Reader Question

Here was a recent question from Carmen:

My kids have gifted me with a ticket to Istanbul & then Italy for my daughter’s wedding in Autumn…what is the best way to budget for additional trip expenses?  Thanks–take care!

Okay, so most of us are probably thinking that the best way for budgeting for unexpected expenses is to save money in advance.  You’d be right, but that isn’t helpful if that hasn’t been done yet and the expense pops up anyway.  Plus, that may not be the question…

Travel on a Budget

How to Estimate Travel Expenses

First thing’s first.  Carmen may be asking how much she should budget for the trip, not how to come up with the money.  Either way, she’ll need to know.  For travel, I generally search around online for recent personal stories from other people to see how much things run.  I research them based on the big categories and round up to cover anything I may have forgotten:

  • Hotels/Where You are Staying
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Planned Fun

As a fun example, I actually researched the general prices of Istanbul and Italy to help Carmen out.  I don’t know any more than any of you do about her trip, so these are just general targets.

Istanbul

I found an Istanbul Travel Guide at Leave Your Daily Hell that says that a hotel will run you $55+ per night, but a hostel would be between $15-$30 a night.  Based on that same post and a 2013 Trip Advisor forum post, it looks like Istanbul runs about $75 a day for everything else including food, transportation, and fun.  You can eat cheaper and visit less museums and save even more.

Italy

According to this 2013 post on Slow Travel Italy, you may spend between $300-$425 a day in Italy depending on how fancy your hotel is and where you eat.

If you want to spend less, check out this Walks of Italy post about cheaper options.  I love the idea of staying in an agriturismo – an old farm house that offers you fresh made meals and they range from rustic to luxurious.  Most often they cover your room and breakfast and dinner for $70 or less per night (50 euros).

Then you just have to worry about your transportation around Italy, your lunches, and what you want to do for fun.  Getting around by train is an option that costs about $30 for most trips.  You could also rent a car, but that looks expensive.  You can grab lunch for less than $25 a day and then budget what you need to for fun based on where you go.  You can easily stick to a $150-$200 a day budget if you want to splurge a little but not a ton.

Budgeting for Unexpected Expenses After the Fact

Overall, it looks like you will want to budget for about $150 per day for your trip and you can bring that down by cutting back in whatever category you see fit by hunting around for less expensive options.

Cutting Expenses

The only way to save up extra money for something like this is to either cut expenses or increase your income.  You can cut your expenses by taking a close look at your spending – first get rid of the easy stuff and then put yourself on a strict spending plan for the categories that you want to cut back on after the easy stuff in handled.  We recently cut down our budget by $500 mainly through a stricter food budget and less fun money.

Make More Money

You can make more money in a bunch of ways, but the ones that pop into my mind are generally side hustles and hobby jobs since selling stuff is a one-time fix and generally, I like my stuff or I wouldn’t still have it around.  I also like having roommates since it’s pretty easy side income without a lot of hassle if you find the right person or people, but that is also more long-term.  Short term, look into summer jobs.  I made a whole list of summer jobs and hobby jobs last week.  I’m personally bringing in about $750-$1200 a month through pet sitting.  Babysitting and house keeping are always in demand too.

Hope this helps, Carmen!  Does anybody else have some ideas for her?  Please chime in!

Living It Up On the Cheap!

Our income isn’t where it has been for the last 2-3 years, but it usually picks up after the summer.  Mr. BFS and I are cutting back on the unnecessary general splurges voluntarily to buy ourselves enough time to either see an online income increase again in August-September or to make a new plan of attack.  We are making more than enough to get by, but no reason to tempt fate.  :-)

Broke

Cutting Back Doesn’t Have to Mean Cutting Out

BUT, cutting back on spending doesn’t mean that you have to stop having fun!  I started this blog in order to point out how you can save for your future and live in the now at the same time.  It’s doable even when you don’t have a ton of money.  Here are some ways that we are still having a great time without breaking our budget to do it – that means keeping it to less than $50 a month on average.  Say hello to cheap fun!

Movie Nights: $Negligible Now

Movie Nights

We’ve done movie nights at our house for more than 5 years. It can be as easy as sitting around the tv in the living room. But my husband and I used some of our fun money in early 2013 to install a $1400 system in our media room. We have a great projector that displays a VERY clear image, a 100 inch screen, surround sound, no windows, and enough seating for 6 people to comfortably watch movies all night long. We want to finish it off with actual in-home theater seating like recliners with cup holders, but that is a $1000-$1500 plan that will have to wait.

We have movie nights as a couple a few times a month and with groups of friends about once a month (other than the Game of Thrones night that you’ll read about next). Generally it costs nearly nothing. We have Netflix streaming already for about $9 a month in order to watch our favorite tv series now that we are cutting cable soon, our friends bring DVD’s, we have some DVD’s, or we rent a new release from Redbox using a coupon (so it’s usually less than 50 cents per rental). Thanks to my mom’s sense of humor (which I inherited), we also have a 10 year supply of popcorn kernels (a Sam’s Club special – 30 pounds of kernels) and our roommates/friends have an air popper that we use to make the deliciousness.

Game of Thrones Night: $5-$10

Yep, Game of Thrones is awesome.  This “Honest Trailer” pretty much sums up its awesomeness.  Seriously, watch this – it is HILARIOUS!

Basically, one of our friends has HBO Go and there are 5 of us that have decided to pick a night every week to watch the latest Game of Thrones (GOT) episode together.  We meet at around 5pm, all contribute ingredients to the meal that my husband usually volunteers to cook, we watch GOT, and then we play board games until everybody has to leave.  Since everybody contributes to the food, and our friend already has HBO Go, it ends up being about $5 a person per week overall.

Once this season wraps up, I am going to ask if we can re-watch Orange is the New Black – I’ve LOVED both seasons!!!

Cheap yet Yummy Alcohol: $5

Cheap Wine

Did you know that Aldi’s sells alcohol?  I didn’t even notice until about 2 weeks ago.  On a whim, my friend and I tried a $5 bottle of Red Moscato from California, “Moiselle”, and it is freaking YUMMY!  Seriously, it’s just $5 a bottle and we have confirmed its yumminess with at least a half dozen of our friends.  You need to try it, that’s all I’m saying.  Oh, and that for $5 a person, we all have a very giggly evening in.  ;-)

Groupon Specials: $20-$50

Groupon

It doesn’t sound cheap/frugal, but spending $20 on a foam run (a 5k run/walk that shoots you with glow-in-the-black-light-foam at night) is a steal since it lasts for hours and is a memory that will last forever.  I also have recently spent $50 on 10 pole dancing classes is going to be great too.  That’s $5 per class!  Not bad for an activity that strengthens your core and develops your arm and leg muscles!  Way to go Groupon!

I’ve also used Groupon for $5 movie tickets and discounted frozen yogurt coupons.  Here’s a picture of a color run I was able to afford thanks to a Groupon special.  Overall, I seem to spend about $100 a year on these online coupon deals…

A Hot, Colored, Mess

And here we are after the festivities! From left to right – Ivy, Isabelle, me, and Anne

And even though the Groupon links are my own referral links to them, they never asked for me to post about them or anything like that.  I just use Groupon and like it, BUT ONLY WHEN YOU BUY SOMETHING THAT YOU WOULD USE ANYWAY OR THAT YOU WOULDN’T USUALLY DO BECAUSE OF COST.  Memories and time with others is what I consider the most important parts of life.  Getting a great financial deal on them is just even better.

Have you done any of the activities that I mentioned?  What other ideas do you suggest for living it up on the cheap?  Isn’t the Honest Trailers guy FANTABULOUSLY FUNNY?!  My friend got me hooked a few months ago…

Pretending Your Money Isn’t Yours

Managing your own money comes with emotional baggage.  You know what you like, want, and need, BUT it’s hard to easily categorize everything.  Here’s a trick that works for me – pretend you’re actually managing someone else’s money.  We all judge others day in and day out.  Most of us want to point out where others could do better.  Now turn those hawk eyes onto your own circumstances instead.

Thinking

Think Like NOT You

You probably already cut, changed, or accepted your budget based on your norms (even stricter ones than usual if you are really in need).  Now look at every category again and act like you are giving every tip you ever heard of to someone else.

For example, a mortgage payment seems set in stone.  But if someone asked you how they could cut expenses, would you suggest that they look into moving if their mortgage payment is higher than necessary?  Or would you suggest getting a roommate?  Or would you suggest renting out the home if the rental market was excellent?  Sure, none of those options may work for you, but would you even think of them if you were just being you?

Getting out of your own head could help.

Works for Me

I use lots of little tricks.  Generally, I am motivated by my big goals.  But I stink at getting out of my own head.  For instance, I am not a “frugal blogger”.  I don’t make my own laundry detergent or use washable toilet paper.  But I did realize that washing all of my non-nasty clothes in cold water helps keep my gas bill below $25 every month once I tried it.

If I make myself think of every possible option, I usually find one that seemed odd before but awesome in retrospect.  I used to take my old car to my mechanic any time it had any issue at all.  But I was feeling especially annoyed one day about a spark plug problem, and then realized that I could solve the smaller issues at O’Reilly’s or Auto Zone.  Not everything needs a mechanic.  Spark plugs are way easier than most people know, and YouTube is a treasure trove for new knowledge.  Online videos helped me replace the broken glass on my old smart phone too – $15 instead of $155.

Overall, looking at my own money like it is a random stranger’s instead has ended up leading me to thousands of dollars saved that I would probably have wasted otherwise.

Have you ever tried something financially that seemed way out of character and it turned out amazing?  Or the other way around – ever try something that ended up costing you in some way?

Cutting $500 from Our Monthly Budget

Our online business has slowed down this summer.  This is normal, but this year is a little worse than others.  Don’t panic on our behalf though, LOL.  We’re still doing fine overall and I’ll be writing for you from home for quite a while.  ;-)

Any complaints I have are definitely first-world problems, BUT even financially sound people aren’t comfortable with financial change.  Here are some suggestions of budget categories that can be targeted for savings.

Budget Cuts

Budget Cuts

I’m going to make this personal.  Here is our budget.  The red categories are the ones that my husband and I have/will be cutting in some way.  The blue categories are the ones that we aren’t touching but are ripe for rollbacks if we truly need to cut back or if you need some ideas.

Here is how our budget looks right now:

  • Income Taxes – $2500
  • Home Mortgage – $990
  • Home Insurance/Property Taxes/HOA – $750
  • Rent House Home Insurance/Property Taxes – $275
  • Health Insurance – $275
  • Car Insurance – $85
  • Gasoline – $200
  • Life Insurance – $30
  • Electricity – $150
  • Water – $50
  • Natural Gas – $40
  • Restaurants – $400 $250
  • Groceries – $300 $250
  • Cell Phones – $150
  • Medicines – $20
  • Cable/Internet (DSL) – $120  $60
  • Housekeeping – $175 (average over the year)
  • Lawn – $50 (average over the year)
  • Miscellaneous – $200
  • Entertainment – $200  $50
  • Cash – $200 $100
  • Total Expenses = $7160 $6650

Our Red Category Cuts

  • Food is always a great category to target since you can usually find cheaper options.  We’re back to keeping up with our spending by tracking every cent used for food on a list on our refrigerator.  There is nothing as motivating as seeing your spending staring at you in the face.  We’re cutting back our food total to $500 once again and then will move down to $450.
  • With our upcoming vacations using up the rest of our vacation account, we’re cutting back on our monthly entertainment spending A BUNCH.  Now it’s at $50.
  • We use cash for random things through the month, so now we are only putting $50 in each of our wallets instead of $100.  That’ll keep us from splurging.
  • Yep, we’re cutting cable.  We have another 2 months of a contract and then we’re moving on to just online and Netflix streaming (part of our miscellaneous category).  I don’t know how much the internet will be by itself, but I am estimating it high just in case.
  • I also price out our electricity contracts every time they are up for renewal using a site for Texas – http://powertochoose.com/.  I’ve been able to keep our cents per kilowatt hour between 8.9-10.9 cents over the last 3-4 years.
  • Our cell phones are $150 a month and we want to try Ting next since they’ll let us bring in our Galaxy S3′s and should save us $50 a month.  But our contract isn’t close to being up yet and they only cover $150 of the break-up fees.  So it’ll be a while.

Blue Category Suggestions

  • Our home mortgage and property taxes are a choice.  The market it okay for selling right now.  We could move back into our paid off rental home.  We could buy a cheaper home.  We could find a home in an area with lower property taxes.  But we are happy with our current housing situation.  Our rental home’s tenant is great and always pays on time.  We share our home with our two friends.  Overall, we are happy and definitely are not feeling a pinch hard enough to justify moving right now.  But believe me, if we needed it, we would move and get more roommates at the same time.  We’ve been there before and could do it again.
  • Our health insurance is pretty much as cheap as I could find it without risking us being uncovered for the big stuff.  But if your health insurance is costing you way more than you think it should, I would highly suggest looking at quotes at https://www.healthcare.gov/ or esurance.com to see if you have cheaper options.
  • I also think that $85 a month is the best we can do for full coverage on a 2007 Toyota Prius and a new 2013 Honda Fit.  We are insured through a GEICO local office, but I call around every 6 months just to ensure that we are keeping this premium as low as possible.
  • Obviously, housekeeping and lawn care are luxury expenses.  We value both services more than most of our extras, so they’ll stay until we really need money.

Technically, our income taxes will be lower too since our income has dropped to about $7500 from about $10,000.  But as I wrote before, we use the easy method for quarterly estimated taxes, so we’re still paying into the pool based on what we made last year.  We’ll be getting a significant refund again, but it’ll make the 2015 Roth IRA’s way easier to fund.  :-)

Have you made any budget cuts recently?  What categories would you target?

Money Lessons from “The Purge”

***WARNING – CONTAINS DETAILS ABOUT THE MOVIE, “THE PURGE”***

I just finished watching “The Purge”, a psychological thriller set in the USA in 2022.  It’s premise is that we have a nearly utopian society because for 12 hours a year, we allow people to do whatever they want including murder - in fact, you are urged to purge.  The main family involved are rich suburbanites who usually lock themselves away for the night to wait it out.  But this year did not go as planned and they end up with a homeless guy taking refuge in their home.  The elite, spoiled brats hunting him come after him and the family.

The Purge

Money Lessons from “The Purge”

There is a little more plot and a couple of twists, but here are my main takeaways:

  • Don’t let money change who you are.  Money didn’t make the evil people evil in the movie – they were already like that.  But money did push the morally ambiguous over the edge in some cases.  Figure out what your moral compass is and stick to it no matter what circumstances you find yourself dunked in.  Remember that you always need to be able to look yourself in the mirror.
  • Money gives you options.  Anybody could and were killed in “The Purge”, but the less money someone had, the less protected that they were.  More money equaled a better security system, a better place to live in general, and a better selection and quantity of weapons.
  • If you sell something, make sure you have the best of it.  The main family’s husband sold security systems and had the same one as his neighbors.  Heck no!  My security system would be something no one else would be able to practice on year-round.
  • If you lived in this world, buy or rent a vacation home in another country that has The Purge on a different day.  Or learn to rough it out in the middle of nowhere for a few days.  Or rent a jet that stays in the air for 12+ hours.
  • If I had to stay at home, I would invest in booby traps, secret rooms, and panic rooms.

Overall, I spent the entire movie coming up with ways you could survive whether you had money or not.  But I also couldn’t help but note that having some resources is better than having no options at all.

My Main Conclusion

“The Purge” made me think a bit more than I had expected based on the trailers I saw a while ago.  It also made me very grateful about who and where I am right now.  I think my family, friends, and I could make it through most awful circumstances one way or another.  Our combined resources and personalities can handle quite a bit, plus there is safety in numbers.  Even though we don’t live in this exact movie society, life does throw curve balls.

Have you seen “The Purge”?  How would you handle a world like that?

Give and Take in Action

I need a vacation.  It’s not because of work though.  I want to get away from my general blah feeling and I really, really miss my Pug.  We recently decided to take two vacations with a couple of our friends by the end of the summer.  So, how do you afford a 5 day trip to New Orleans and a 7 day cruise within the same 3 weeks?  By stretching your money AND by making more of it than originally intentioned…

Time vs Money

New Orleans Deals

For New Orleans, I found a Best Western with great reviews by looking at Hotels.com and Expedia.com.  The hotel is about 20 minutes out of downtown and has free parking, free breakfast, free wifi, etc. for $81 total a night thanks to a $10 per night discount through AAA, and we’re sharing the room for the 4 nights with the other couple.  So, our accommodations will be $81 total per person for Monday-Friday.  :-)  Yeah, it’s not a French Quarter masterpiece, but it’s also not $175 a night with $30 per day parking.

As for what we plan to do while we are there, have you heard of the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium, Butterfly exhibit, and Imax theater?  Mr. BFS and I had gone to the aquarium and zoo in 2004 and I really wanted to go back.  Our friend had been to the Butterfly exhibit/Insectarium before and wanted to go back.  I found out that you can buy a ticket to all 4 major things for $39.50 per person with the Audubon Experience Package!  You get to visit everything once within a 30 day period.  Best $40 ticket that I can think of for things we wanted to return to anyway!

Audubon Aquarium

We’re also planning on going to a couple of free farmer’s markets, and we’ll be paying about $30 a person to attend a cooking demonstration / comedy show / lunch sort of thing at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Overall, it looks like our total costs with gasoline (taking the Prius), food, and everything will be around $500-$600 total for us as a couple.  In my opinion, that’s a bargain for a 5 day getaway with fun friends.

Cruise Deal

Taking a cruise while school isn’t in session usually means paying about 50% more for tickets (like $1000 per ticket instead of $650).  But the friends that we wanted to “drag” along are both teachers, so cruising during the peak periods was unavoidable.  BUT, I was emailed a deal from Carnival Cruises that ended up working out really well for all of us.  Each couple will have their own interior room on a 7 day cruise for $765 per person.  The lowest we’ve ever paid for the same deal before was during school for $550 per person and we shared the room.

As for other expenses, we’ll be paying $95 for trip insurance, and probably will need to set aside $500-ish more for excursions, tips, and spending on board.  So we are looking at about $2200-$2500 total for the two of us for the 7 days.

This was an unexpected expense and we have not planned for it.  But the opportunity sounded too fun to pass up!

Carnival Cruises

My Pet Sitting Schedule

That said, with our online business doing okay but not amazingly spectacular (slower year than normal and the summer is always slower anyway), we are looking at other ways to bring in some extra cash so we won’t be eating into any savings at all for fun.  My main method is going to be pet sitting since I enjoy it.  But to make money with a service business, you have to give up time.  That said, my upcoming pet sitting schedule looks INSANE to any outsider.

  • I’m working overnight at other people’s homes for 19 of the next 31 days.  Yay for being able to work online from anywhere!
  • I have 4 more days of jobs lined up too – that’s in addition to the 19 days mentioned above.
  • It is possible (I’d put my chances at 60%) that I’ll be getting a 30-60 day gig that starts June 14 and they already know the dates that I’m not going to be available in July and August.
  • Overall, that means that I will be bringing in about $1200 in the next 30 days, and another $1500-$2500 is possible in the 30-60 days after that.

And all of that is just what I have in the works as of right now.  Calls come in randomly and usually in bunches.  It helps that holidays like summer vacation are definitely when pet sitters get overwhelmed.

Money for Time

Not My Long Term Schedule

I know myself.  Having a super busy schedule like this for a month or two will be fine.  In fact, I will probably flourish in my online work and with relationships during the same time since I seem to operate better when I am busy in spurts.  But I will also want to scale back significantly after August.  Thankfully, pet sitting will die down naturally as kids go back to school and routines become normal again, so my crazy schedule will be auto-regulated.  :-)  This may end up being the perfect, ongoing hobby job for me.  It would be the first time I keep a hobby job for more than a few months that I don’t try to turn into a full time job, LOL.

I am giving up significant time to get the padding that makes me comfortable with taking $3000 of vacations within the same 3 week period.  It’s worth it to me.  What sort of trade offs are worth it to you?