I’ve been asked by a reader to address how our family finances our travel habits. The quick answer is, we make it a priority. But I will try to go into more detail about how we prioritize our spending on a daily basis to make room for a reasonable travel budget.
First, I need to acknowledge how blessed and privileged we are. My husband and I both have good jobs. We are fortunate to be in a decent financial situation at the moment. And we have been relatively healthy.
That said, we are far from wealthy. We live in an area with a fairly high cost of living. We own a home with a mortgage. And sometimes it feels like parenting is like shoveling money down a bottomless pit. So we definitely have to be smart with what money we have.
The point of this post isn’t to tell you that we’re financial experts. Everyone gets to make their own financial priorities, and you may or may not agree with ours. And we certainly don’t have it all figured out. But in general, I would say that we do scrutinize every purchase. Do we need it? How badly do we need it? What do we have to sacrifice in order to get it? And does it leave us enough room in the rest of our budget to do the things we want to do?
I won’t bore you with every aspect of our finances. In a nutshell here are some of the main ways we prioritize our spending, as well as a few ways that we struggle with being more thrifty.
Our travel spending habits
I wouldn’t say we are budget travelers, but we are also not very big spenders by nature. We do not camp. (I should say that I do not camp…the rest would be open to it, but I’m a light sleeper. “Sleeping” outside of a climate-controlled environment on the ground is not my idea of a vacation!) We usually stay in vacation rentals, which are sometimes a bit more expensive than hotels. But since rentals have access to a kitchen (so we don’t always have to eat in a restaurant) and laundry facilities (so we we can pack lighter and don’t have to pay for a laundromat) it’s worth the trade-off for us.
Luckily, we all love national parks and other relatively affordable destinations, and we take a lot of road trips within the United States, which saves us money as well that we can put toward longer trips. We don’t spend a lot of time in cities, which tend to be more expensive. However, as our kids get older, we are more willing to pay for experiences, especially things like zip lining. Activities that cost a little more money are easier to justify when 1) the kids have physical size and attention spans to actually enjoy them, and 2) we need to compromise in order to achieve some consensus on vacation activities to keep the teen and tween happy.
As a relatively new blogger, I’m also tiptoeing into requesting comped experiences in exchange for coverage. Stay tuned…
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Ways we are relatively successful at saving money in our non-travel life
Our house: We own a house, and by most standards it is a pretty decent house. It’s about 18 years old, so it’s starting to need some work. The reality is that we would qualify for a much higher mortgage than we currently have, but we choose to stay in a more affordable home so that we have more financial freedom. We know many people in similar life and financial situations to us that have upgraded to much larger and more expensive homes. In every case they rarely go on family vacations (except for going to their relatives’ lake cabins), and they have never explored internationally. Our house is furnished with pretty modest furniture from Ikea and other less expensive outlets, and TV’s we’ve gotten from Costco. As you can tell…there’s a reason I don’t have a lifestyle blog…
Vehicles: My husband’s vehicle is fairly new. We were fortunate enough to be able to save up the money to pay for it upfront, so no financing there. My vehicle is eight years old and has over 100,000 miles on it. We have no plan to upgrade it any time soon. It works just fine, and we really don’t want to pay for another car. Plus our oldest child will be taking driver’s training soon. Why let him learn to drive in an expensive vehicle?
Cable: We don’t have cable. We got rid of cable about a year ago and replaced it with an antenna and TiVo box. We never really watched cable anyway. The kids like YouTube, and if it were up to me, our house wouldn’t even have any TV’s in it. I very rarely watch it. Getting rid of cable saves us a ton of money.
Cell phones: We have four cell phones in our family. We are on a very affordable cell phone plan where we pay based on our usage (data, texting, and calls). The plan saves us a lot of money, and we aren’t locked into a contract. The downside is that we don’t get “free” phones. Therefore we have to buy them outright, which is expensive, but with the amount of money we save from a traditional cell phone plan we can afford to do it. Much to the kids’ chagrin, they don’t have iPhones, they have Motorolas. (My husband and I have decent Samsungs.) We don’t buy new phones unless our old phones are dying, and often we will get that new phone as a birthday or Christmas gift, even if it’s a replacement.
Credit cards: We have the Costco Executive Membership Visa, and we put all of our monthly expenses on it (and pay it off at the end of the month). We get cash rewards at the end of the year that are pretty sizeable. We could look into getting cards with airline miles on them, but since we do a lot of road trip vacations I’m not sure whether getting miles instead of cash would be a better deal for us financially.
In terms of our cash usage, one thing my husband and I do is, when we do pay for things in cash, we don’t pay with coins. We save our coins in a big jug and cash it the coins at the bank before a vacation. We get anywhere between $80 US and $200 US in spending money for vacations that way.
Daily household expenses: Without getting too into the details of our spending here, because let’s face it, there’s nothing very exciting about groceries and cleaning supplies, we shop as reasonably as possible. We use coupons, and we shop sales. Neither my husband nor I drink coffee, so we figure that saves us hundreds of dollars a year in coffee shop expenses.
Entertainment: We are pretty lean here as well. Our family loves to read, but we get books from the library and read on our Kindles. We usually only eat out once a week, plus we get pizza once a week. My husband and I pack lunches for work most days, and our kids do a few times a week as well. If we go to a movie theater, we go to the (much less expensive) matinee showing. Maybe once a year we purchase expensive tickets to a live show or event.
Clothes: We are not fashionable name-brand people, even our teen and tween. Therefore our clothing budgets are pretty reasonable. Ask me again when our daughter becomes a teen. There’s also a reason that I don’t have a fashion blog…
Donations: About three times a year we take a massive load of donations (clothes, household items, furniture) to Goodwill and other donation centers that support charitable efforts. We itemize all of our donations in order to include them on our income taxes for deductions. Yes, we could make more money with a garage sale, but this strategy is a good return for the number of hours we devote to it (which is way fewer hours per year than a weekend running a garage sale).
Ways we could improve on our spending habits
Electronics: This is an area where it feels like we spend a lot of our resources. My husband is an engineer, and needless to say, he likes his toys. Our kids have our hand-me-down computers, and my husband and I each have our own laptops. Because my husband is a techie, he can’t limp by on a cheaper laptop. I probably could, but I adore the portability of my Surface Pro 4.
Pets: We have a dog and two guinea pigs. They eat a lot, and they have expensive veterinarian bills. This is one place we don’t save money. Good thing they’re cute and lovable, because they certainly cost us a lot of money.
In summary, we are all about scrutinizing (almost) every purchase in our non-travel life so that we can prioritize travel adventures (that are within our means). There may be posts and articles out there with sensational titles for magic savings plans. For us, it’s about keeping our lifestyle as a whole in check so that we can make our travel goals a reality. Happy saving!