Friday, September 30, 2011

Panama Trip: Hostels

One of the most fascinating parts of our trip were the places we stayed. This hostel is called Mamallena Backpacker Hostel, and while it scared me the first night, it ended up being one of my favorites.

Little to my knowledge, wrought iron and razor wire are common building materials in Panama. But when we arrived late at night on my first trip out of the country and I look around and see concrete walls topped with razor wire, the movie Hostel came to mind. I was scared and wanted to go home.

But in the morning, I saw the place in a new light. I paid a whopping $15 per night there for my share of a private room. If you get a dorm, it's $8. There's no frills, but the bathrooms are clean (and they're shared) and you get what you need. One of the perks though, is pancakes. You can have pancakes for free, you just have to make them yourself. That was a lot of fun.

Everyone hung out in the main areas and this place was probably the most social of all the hostels. We met people on world tours, people that had been to Panama before and told us what we needed to see before we left, and people that were passing through on their way to Costa Rica. It was great.

I tend to get in my comfort zone at home, so I think that's why it was hard to adjust so quickly to Panama. Ever felt that way?

Rachel May

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Panama Trip: Casco Viejo

If this is the first post you've read about my Panama trip, start here instead.

After visiting the canal, we ventured on to El Amador. There's not much to do there, but we ate dinner and enjoyed the view:

If you go to Panama City, there are very few things that are attractions there. The city is dirty and mainly business oriented, not a lot of tourist attractions.

One of the places to see is Casco Viejo, the old town and the French Plaza. The sad part is that the U.S. struck this part of town in 1989. I had no idea before I went on this trip. It seems like everything was pretty much left the same, so it's a mix of war aftermath and newly renovated buildings.

On the other side of this building, there is a large open plaza where the native Panamanian indians and people traveling through Panama sell their wares. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip, but I didn't get any pictures!

There's a really bad neighborhood just outside of Casco Viejo that you pass on the way there. It's pretty much made up of the people that were displaced because of the U.S. strike on their country. There was so much destruction and not enough new jobs, and a lot of people lost their jobs after they were finished building the canal. There are a lot of drugs and there is a lot of crime in the area. We didn't have any issues, but we avoided the area as much as possible.

It's hard not to take this area and the destruction that we caused and not wonder what it's like for the countries we're doing this to now. It really opened my eyes.

Rachel May

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lonny Magazine: 2 Year Anniversary

I received a healthy dose of eye candy in my email inbox today:

Image found here.

The Sept/Oct issue of Lonny Mag is out today! If you haven't already, you should check it out (at They're celebrating two years of being in digital print. That's quite a feat for a shelter mag these days.

Keep up the good work, folks at Lonny! Your magazine is awesome.

Rachel May

Total Money Makeover?

I should start this post with a disclaimer. This is not sponsored, this is all my opinion and I'm not paid in any way by saying this.

About a week ago, I called my Dad to announce to him that I had paid off my first student loan. I was very excited and told him that I was sort of loosely following this Debt Snowball method that I found online by a guy named Dave Ramsey (I had never heard of him before). My Dad, a very laid-back guy and not much of a talker, interrupts me, full of emotion "Dave Ramsey! I've been listening to him for the past year and it has totally changed my life! You know, when I started following his program, I had 20 accounts (debts owed), and now I have only 5! It feels so good! I'm getting there."

Picture found here.

I still can't believe we had this conversation. I congratulated my Dad and he congratulated me, and we're both so proud of one another. It's now something we have bonded over, which I love. He mailed me the Dave Ramsey book that he had read, Total Money Makeover, and I just finished reading it last night (I read it in two days...I couldn't put it down).

This book has been a huge wake-up call for me. I tend do be a dreamer and have big goals for myself, and let me tell you, debt is not one of them. But right now, I feel chained to student loan debt. I have to make some changes in my life, so that in the future, I'm in a better place than I'm in now. I'm excited and scared to death to get started, but I've already paid off my credit card (a while back-it felt GOOD!), built up emergency savings and paid off my first student loan. Now I'm gunning for the next one!

If you're unfamiliar with the Total Money Makeover, it basically breaks down everything by steps. Before you start, you need to have a written budget. Every single cent should be allocated before you get paid. This helps stop you from spending that extra money and to keep a close eye on your finances. You also need to make sure every debt owed is current. Then, the book breaks everything down into baby steps, so you can take it one step at a time.

Baby Step #1: Save $1k cash as a starter emergency fund. This is only to be used in emergency. Getting pizza is not an emergency. Your car breaking down and preventing you from going to work until it gets fixed counts as an emergency.

Baby Step #2: Start the Debt Snowball and use it to become debt-free except for your home. Start paying those debts off! Arrange them smallest to largest and pay them off one by one. (This is where I'm at. I'll be here a while).

Baby Step #3: Finish the Emergency Fund. Save 3-6 months of expenses, or about $10k.

Baby Step #4: Invest 15% of your income in retirement.

Baby Step #5: Save for College (for your kiddos).

Baby Step #6: Pay off your home mortgage.

Baby Step #7: Build Wealth.

Have you ever felt bogged down by debt? Anyone tried the Total Money Makeover? I'll update you on how it goes for me, but I'd love to hear anyone else's opinions as well! As for me, I'm excited for the day when I get a paycheck and the majority of it doesn't go to Sallie Mae.

And I promise to post more Panama updates soon, I've just gotta keep my nose out of these books long enough to edit the pictures!

Rachel May

Thursday, September 8, 2011

House Update!

I still have to fill you in on our Panama trip, but first, something crazy has happened that I have been keeping a secret.

We finally closed on our house. We're homeowners!

Took long enough (eight months!), but after all of the lender rules and regulations were followed and deadlines were met, passed, rescheduled, and rescheduled, get the idea, we were finally able to close the deal.

I'm one very happy homeowner. And I'm so glad to call this place home.

Rachel May