Another trip means another kick to the financial nutsack and yet, here I am going on another trip home at a random time of the year with no real reason. Well, I guess that isn’t entirely true since I was originally heading back to visit my family for a birthday celebration, but that has fallen through so now I get to go and be selfish for a change. I do look forward to meeting my new niece too! My family sure knows how to make cute babies! This will be the first time in over 10 months since I have visited my family and I am sure there are many of us who understand that when you live away from everyone, the costs can add up when you want to go back for a visit. Even if you only live a few hours away, there is so much to factor in especially the travel costs.
Arguably, the time with loved ones can’t be measured in money, but what do you do to prepare for a family visit while staying on budget? The purpose of this blog entry is to teach you some of the skills that I put into place when I am going for a visit while trying to stay on track.
We all know that when we are on vacation, we need to do things that we don’t do in our everyday life to really make it feel like a vacation. I’m talking about going out to restaurants more often, maybe seeing a show or two, and with my family, we do a lot of socializing, which usually involves a couple bottles of booze. All of this is important for me in order to really disconnect from the busy life that I have back home, but it can still be done sensibly.
My first point should be fairly obvious: make a budget for while you’re on vacation. In a normal week, I can get by on $140, and since I am going to another Canadian city (that isn’t in the North - have you seen their prices on groceries?!) I should be able to stay thrifty. At the same time, as I mentioned, this isn’t going to be a typical week, so it’s important that I plan well in advance to have a bigger budget in order to have some fun!
Your travel budget should be made at least 3-6 months in advance so that you can start squirreling away some money to spend on the flight, food, and fun. I realize that making a budget isn’t always simple to do when you’re on vacation, but a good strategy that I find works for me is to simply set a money limit. I like to give myself $500 for a week of vacation time. That will get me a few delicious meals, maybe a few cases of beer, and maybe even a couple shows here and there. There’s no shame being cheap on vacation, especially when you write a preachy financial blog about how thrifty you are, all over the Internet.
Once you know how much money you plan to spend, incorporate savings into your budget for the vacation and get crack-a-lackin’! If your trip is going to cost you $1,000, that’s only $250 per month over 4 months that you need to save. I did this by working some overtime at my one job, and getting a second job. This may be overkill for most of us, so maybe you can look for more ways to cut corners in your current budget. The main idea is that you should never have to go into debt to travel.
When you reach your destination, stick to your guns! Leave the credit card in the hotel safe, or wherever you’re staying. If you have a limit of only $100 per day, then make sure that’s all you bring with you! The best part about only carrying your cash budget for the travel day with you is that you cannot overspend. You also don’t have to worry about replacing your cards if you get pickpocked! This is a foolproof trick that I use in my daily life. Let me give you an example of what happens when I don’t do this.
On Saturday, I went to Montreal, and if you read this blog, you know that city is my financial nemesis. My credit card came along for the ride while I was out suit shopping for my friends Isha and Sam’s wedding. I’m the MC so I have to look seksi, but I don’t have to worry about upstaging them because they are one of the most ridiculously beautiful couples I know. Now, while was in Montreal, as per usual, I went overboard. If would have planned properly and only brought the cash I intended to spend, I wouldn’t have reached into my wallet and grabbed my enemy – my MasterCard. In the end, my intention to spend $200 on a suit, turned into a $560 shopping spree. Yes, I got myself the suit, but I also got 2 sweaters, a dress shirt, a t-shirt, and 3 pairs of pants… and 5 pairs of socks. You see? If I didn’t have that stupid card with me, I would have had to stay on budget because the access to the credit has really become my problem.
If you’re staying with friends or family, you have a real advantage to save a lot of money, but make sure that you repay the favour! Opt for a dinner at home where you cook it, grab a bottle of wine instead of going out to a pub. Isn’t the point of staying with friends and family to spend time with them? Why not teach some of the financial lessons that you learned by directly applying them while staying with them? Go do a shared grocery run and plan a meal together, rent a movie, play a board game, go for a walk, check out what kinds of free events are taking place while you’re in town. Be creative and have some affordable fun. And remember, just because you are a guest in someone’s home doesn’t mean that you are entitled to eat whatever you want or use up all their expensive shampoos.
Now, I know that I have friends out there who are going to argue with me that the experiences are worth the debt, but I have to rebut with the question: How can you relax when you know that you are just piling on more stress with debt? Isn’t a vacation supposed to be about escaping? Doesn’t piling on more debt to travel seem like you’re simply reinforcing the locks in a debt prison? I have friends who have really done the travel thing the right way. They got to a point in their lives where they were saving for a down payment on a home, and came to the quick realization that they would be much happier with a trip around the world for a year and used those savings to get away. I would have gone with them if I had some kind of grip on my debt. Their trip was a real wake-up call for me when they left. I was the same age (ok maybe a couple years older) as them, but I had no savings to even be spoken of (which is arguably the same situation I am in right now). It really ignited the fire under my a$$ to get my debt together.