Author: Doctor in Denim

Flying the Family-Friendly Skies: Hawaiian Airlines With Kids

Flying the Family-Friendly Skies: Hawaiian Airlines With Kids

Last month was our second trip to Hawaii as a family of 4!

We are two adults, one 12 year-old, and one 21 month-old (who completed his 27th flight as a “lap baby” on this trip).

The Flights

We flew San Diego to Honolulu on the one daily Hawaiian Air flight available, which departs in the morning on an Airbus A330.

We did a cheap online bid for the lay-flat first class seats and didn’t get it. They offered it to us again at check-in for over $400 per seat, but we weren’t willing to pay that much for first class because it was a measly 6-hour daytime flight.

Instead we snagged bulkhead seats in premium economy (aka “Extra Comfort”) in the middle of the 2-4-2 seat configuration for $80 each. That worked out great, because we had easy access to the mid-plane galley for when Baby J barfed 4 different times.

After a long layover, we took the 30-minute inter-island flight over to Maui. The island-hopper planes are all Boeing 717s or ATR 42 Turbopros or something similar. There was no reason to upgrade on such a small plane for such a short flight, so we stuck with basic economy.

The one daily direct flight from Maui to San Diego on Hawaiian Air is on an Airbus 321 (a smaller plane than the A330), and again we upgraded to premium economy. Pro tip: first class on HA’s A330 does not have lay-flat beds. Premium economy is a better bang for your buck by far. The homebound flight was just under 5 hours.

The Costs

Our total cost for all flights was $1,234.81. Thats for 3 “adults” and a “lap baby” flying on Saturdays during the peak spring break season.

You can read the full cost breakdown here, including the details of our annoying but ultimately cost-effective struggles with the Hawaiian Air Mastercard and rewards program.

Family Boarding

Families traveling with kids under 2 board right after the first class passengers.

The In-Flight Experience

Hawaiian Air knows their game. The island music is playing as soon as you board, the soap in the bathroom smells like coconut, and the cookies are shaped like pineapples.

The seats in premium economy were perfect for us with our “lap baby” because the cushions were wide and full enough that they made a sort of couch when the armrests were up. Baby J could sit between two of us in this manner and not have to be on anyone’s lap. Sky couch! Super comfy.

There was supposedly some in-flight entertainment available on the Hawaiian Air app (download before you board) but most of it cost extra as far as we could tell. We were locked and loaded with our own phones, tablets, and ipods, so we didn’t need to use it.

The harsh reality is that when flying with a toddler your entertainment often consists of starting at the flight tracker, willing the plane to move faster.

Hawaiian Air serves a hot meal even in coach on flights to and from the mainland, which is much appreciated in contrast to the “pay extra if you want food during domestic flights” attitude on many airlines.

They also served a complimentary rum-punch for adults and tropical juice for the kids an hour before landing.

There was ample diaper-changing space in the lavatories. Our fabulous crew was unfazed by Baby J’s need to puke every 90 minutes over the Pacific (and once right before we parked at our arrival gate). They swooped in like hawks with that anti-stink powder and biohazard bags every time it happened.

The Long Layover at HNL

One of the great things about morning flights from the mainland to Honolulu is that you arrive pretty early in the day. If you’re connecting to another island, you can take as little or as much time as you want between your inbound flight and your connection, since the island-hoppers to the popular airports take off at regular intervals all day.

There are not luggage lockers at HNL anymore, so plan accordingly.

We arrived around 1pm in Honolulu and booked our flight to Maui for 7pm so that we’d have time to show our boys Pearl Harbor.

If you are traveling with older kids or adults, you’ll probably want to spend more time there than we did (reserve your tickets in advance). In our case, a half-day was the perfect amount of time to be there with a toddler.

If you just have one or two things you want to see in the Honolulu area, consider a purposefully long layover to check them off your list. It makes for a very high-energy but very fun travel day.

The Plumeria Lounge

After our day out in Honolulu, we headed back to HNL for our inter-island flight and busted out our Priority Pass to grab snacks at the Plumeria Lounge.

The entrance to the Plumeria Lounge was buried under several layers of airport construction zones, but the inside of the lounge was clean, quiet, and uncrowded.

The lounge offerings would probably not impress you fancy first-class-only world travelers, but it had everything we needed in terms of food and drink and a space to relax.

We were the only family there, and everyone was friendly with the kids. It was a short and easy walk to our gate.


The short and sweet of it is: If you’re going to Hawaii with your kids, Hawaiian Airlines is a great choice.

Don’t bother getting their credit card. Do upgrade to premium economy for the extra leg room.

Hawaiian Airline’s safety record is excellent, their aircraft are nice, and their prices are competitive. They do a good job with customer service and family-friendliness, and you’ll arrive smelling like guava juice and plumerias.

Bon voyage!

Goodbye, Student Loans!

Goodbye, Student Loans!

In February of this year, I made some calls to the lovely folks at the Department of Education and Student Aid and confirmed that from 2005 to 2013 I took out almost $350,000 IN STUDENT LOANS!

A Brief History of My Loans

The exact total amount of money I borrowed for school – including tuition, fees, supplies, and “cost of living” funds – was $347,634.

That total is principal only and includes none of the interest accumulation, which was quite significant over the course of all those years.

The loans were dispersed between 2005, when I started dental school, and 2013, when I finished my specialty residency.

(I had no debt coming out of undergrad, which I finished in 3 years at an in-state university. I got an academic scholarship that covered tuition and worked two entry-level jobs in healthcare. And before that I went to a public high school and worked at a bakery, in case anyone is keeping score.)

What buffered me from the full impact of my student loan total and led to some incorrect math on my part – in addition to the long time span over which the loans were pulled – was the fact that I had income for 2 years in between dental school and my specialty residency (when I worked for a private practice and completed a paid hospital residency).

I was paying down some loans between 2009 and 2011, so the total principal I owed at any given time was never quite as high as the total amount I borrowed.

When I saw my loan totals after graduating in 2013, I assumed that I had taken out way less student debt than average for my field, when in fact I had taken out somewhat less student debt than average.

My First Years of Doctor-Level Income

After my first year of speciality income, I paid tens of thousands of dollars just in INTEREST (not a typo) on my student and business loans, and something clicked: I needed them gone, and fast.

Because of my drive to destroy my debt (and my husband’s enthusiastic support), our student loan balances fell rapidly in the few years after that.

Our story lies in sharp contrast to some doctors, who for whatever reason don’t even pay enough towards student loans to keep the interest at bay, leading to ballooning student loans even after school is over and income is plentiful.

My Last Day of Student Debt

That day was TODAY!!!


$347,634 (plus interest) repaid in full. No tricks, no secrets, no bailout from family members or forgiveness from the government.

Getting rid of that much student debt would be exciting enough of its own, but let’s add that total to the business debt I’ve repaid on my practice (which in my mind all goes under the larger category of “professional debt” in my life), and we get $847,634 of loan principal that has been wiped out!

It’s been 5.5 years since I graduated.

A Note to My Fellow Doctors With Lots of Student Debt

If I can do this, you can too.

I am not a major outlier in what I make as a doctor, and I have no other secret income pouring in. I work part-time in a high cost-of-living area. My husband is a middle school math teacher.

We aren’t super frugal; we live a very comfortable life and we spend a lot of money on non-essentials. We have a mortgage and two kids and we travel quite a bit.

While this post is admittedly self-congratulatory, I also hope it can be encouraging.

If you have a truckload of student debt, please know that you are not alone, nor are you fated to languish under your debt for decades.

You are the same intelligent, capable person who put in years upon years of hard work to be in the top of your high school class, your college class, and maybe even your doctoral class. You’ve passed incredibly rigorous board examinations. You’ve obtained a degree and license that is just a dream for thousands of people.

You are in control of your personal finances.

If fast and efficient debt repayment is what you want, GET AFTER IT.

It’s worth every penny.

Our Death-Defying Feat of Driving Old 2WD Cars (and How it Saved us $66k in 5 Years)

Our Death-Defying Feat of Driving Old 2WD Cars (and How it Saved us $66k in 5 Years)

My husband and I are now on our 18th winter of driving non-fancy 2WD cars in snowy climates. Locations we’ve driven said cars during winter include most of Colorado, Chicago and other “lake effect snow” parts of the Midwest, and our current mountainous hometown, which averages 100 inches of snow per year in town (double that on the higher mountains around us).

This past winter brought us one storm with over 35 inches of snow in 24 hours.

Our current vehicles are both 2WD. They were made in 2004 and 2007, were bought with cash, and cost us less than $100/mo total to insure. The costs for gas and regular maintenance (oil changes, etc) are negligible.

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When the Answer to “How’s it Going?” is “Boring!”

When the Answer to “How’s it Going?” is “Boring!”

As you may have picked up from some of our previous posts, we like a good adventure. We realize they’re not all winners, and in fact some of them are solidly in the “once was enough” category, but we like to feel like we’re doing stuff. We also realize that being bored is a first-world problem, and we own that.

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Hacking Our Way to Hawaii (Round 2!)

Hacking Our Way to Hawaii (Round 2!)

We’ve been able to fly Hawaiian Airlines quite a few times – domestically and internationally, economy and first class – but it’s only in the last 12 months that we’ve flown HA with the kids.

The first trip to Hawaii with the kids was a wonderful week in Maui March of 2018, when Baby J was 9 months old. You can read here about the costs of the entire trip, as well as comparable costs if we had paid cash.

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Paying Taxes with a Credit Card

Paying Taxes with a Credit Card

Yes, I took that picture of the shark. No, I was not in the water with it (aquariums for the win), although I am proud to say I have snorkeled with sharks a couple of times. A shark picture seemed appropriate for a post about taxes and credit cards; they all are potentially scary, and they are frequently misunderstood.

So last month I put $24,130 of our personal taxes on a credit card. You read that right. The same person who tracked her family’s spending down to the penny last year, bought her kids second-hand toys for Christmas, and advocates super aggressive debt repayment just put tens of thousands of dollars of money she owed to the government onto a credit card!

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Office Skills!

Office Skills!

I’m sharing this here due to popular request! I apologize to everyone who is not in my field; these posts are not going contain much that can hold your interest. I’ll get back to rambling about other topics later this week.

Back Office Skills

This is the “skills checklist” we give to new members of our back office team. They can bring it with them when they request raises if they want to.

Obviously, this is not going to be super useful if you are not in our particular field (orthodontics). Even if you are in this field, you will want to design a skills list that fits your unique practice, team, and office culture.

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$500k of Business Debt Bites the Dust

$500k of Business Debt Bites the Dust

Honestly, it’s mind blowing for me to write this post. I have major imposter syndrome anytime I even think about numbers this high.

And before we go any farther: please don’t send me messages telling me I’m limiting myself by “not thinking big” or some such nonsense. These are freaking huge numbers. And not only on a global scale (where the median household income is under 10k) but in the USA as well (where the median household income is about $61k) and even in the shiny bubble of doctor salaries that I live in, where the average individual income is anywhere from $100k to $300k depending on your specialty and time in practice and blah blah blah.

So, yes, it feels crazy to write this post. It’s also really fun for me to write this post, because I’ve been waiting impatiently for this day ever since I realized it was within my grasp this calendar year.

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Our Family’s 2018 Spending (and How We Could Have Spent Less)

Our Family’s 2018 Spending (and How We Could Have Spent Less)

A couple quick notes before we dive in to the numbers:

I decided back in January of 2018 to share our family’s spending publicly for a whole year. This was an attempt to prove that doctors do not have to spend a totally ridiculous amount of money to live well and love life and more importantly a strategy to make us take a cold hard look at where all our cash was going and decide whether we liked what we saw.

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