Vacation on a Budget – Part 1 – Establishing a Budget

Our family loves to travel. During the first 3 years of our marriage, we would travel over 500 miles from home at least 3 times a year. One year we went to Hawaii, San Francisco, Texas, and it seems like at least one other place in that year. One year we drove out to Colorado from Missouri to see some property that has been in my family for 40+ years before my parents sold it. My employer at the had me fly to the DC area at least once a year, and Summer and Silas even tagged along the last time I went.

We did have a big problem when it came to all of this traveling: we didn’t do it on a budget. We had at least 3 credit cards at the time, and thought we would figure out roughly how much a trip would cost, we generally didn’t plan for how much we would spend on the trip. The credit card bills would follow us home, and though we never carried a balance between months, there were big checks to write following a trip.

When we finally learned the errors of our ways in 2008, we had to start saving for our trips. We threw our out credit cards, and thats when the doubters started to come out. “You cant travel without a credit card”, “How will you book airfare?”, “What about rental cars?” We have done all of those things without an issue with our debit cards.

Let me be clear before starting that by “budget” I do not mean “cheap”. By “budget” I mean “a plan”. Before our trip, my wife and I agreed on how much we would spend in total for the trip, as well as a rough plan on how we would break down that amount into several categories.

Establishing a Budget

Since we no longer pay for our travel with a credit card, totaling up how much we spent after we made the trip, we need to plan out what we are going to spend before we go. This is known as a budget. We had a rough idea of where we wanted to go, how much we have spent in the past, and what we could save up.

Over the past 5 years, we have maintained a “vacation savings” sinking fund, which we have slowly grown as we add more kids to our family, our income has gone up, and the cost of travel has gone up. We are currently contributing $200 per month to this fund. It was pretty much depleted last year when we traveled, so we knew by the time we traveled this year it would be just over $2,400. We were able to save a little above that, but o use a round number, we set our budget at $2,400. Given our experience in the past, we knew this would break down more or less like so:

  • $1,200 for lodging (50%)
  • $300 for gas (12.5%)
  • $400 for food, groceries, supplies (16.7%)
  • $500 for activities (20.8%)

Over the next few posts, I will break down our actual expenses on this trip, as well as address some of the other concerns that the doubters have.

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