May was a very different month for us financially because we spent the second half of it on vacation on the East Coast. Thanks to some travel hacking, we didn’t have to pay for the plane flights as well as a couple of hotel nights, but we were gone for a full two weeks, which adds up no matter how cheaply you go about things, especially since we didn’t do any camping.
The first half of the month was more typical, but it did see a visit with Budget Epicurean, and while of course we cooked at home for part of the visit, we also took her to visit Woodinville wine country and a couple other local spots since it was her first visit to the Pacific Northwest. I may not have convinced her to move to Washington (for some reason she thinks we don’t get a lot of sun here?), but I think she now understands why we love the area so much – at least during nice weather.
May was also Mother’s Day and the send off for our friends who just moved to Hawaii, so we spent a bit more than we would have otherwise in the weeks leading up to a big trip. All in all, we spent more money in May than a typical month – or at least what has been typical since November. Even so, we still spent no more than we did in previous years when we weren’t tracking our spending so closely, and we certainly did a lot to show for it.
May 1 – 18 Spending
Like I mentioned above, even the first half of May was a little spendier than usual, which is not what we would normally do leading up to a trip, but we value spending on people and memories together, and May was a month full of both.
Miscellaneous spending included the going away evening for our friends, payment for soccer for our son at preschool (pricey but his absolute favorite part of his days there), Mother’s Day, some mulch for the garden and a few other minor items. Again, because of the aforementioned events, grocery and restaurant spending was on track to be a bit higher than normal for the month had we not been traveling the second half (though not by much).
May 19 – 31 Spending
We returned home on June 1st, so there were a couple of minor incidental costs that will roll over to the next month (namely the final gas fill up before we returned the rental van), but we also paid for a couple of trip expenses prior to May. While this means our “vacation” spending this month is artificially a bit lower than we actually spent this month, I see this to be somewhat similar to those who have vacation sinking funds that are then used just a few times a year. Instead, we cash flow our vacation spending as we go, which works well for us.
The vacation costs that were paid in advance were the Georgia Aquarium, the plane tickets ($56 total thanks to airline miles), and a couple of the Airbnb nights ($40 off your first Airbnb stay – affiliate link). I actually prefer paying a bit of a larger vacation up front, because then we end up spreading the cost out over a couple of months and don’t have a single month that is extraordinarily expensive (though this one was definitely more expensive than normal).
No Spend Days
We had just six no spend days this month, all in the first sixteen days. We left on our trip on 19th, and the last two days before we left saw some trips to the grocery store and chicken teriyaki take out as we got ready to leave. Unsurprisingly, we spent a bit of money every single day the rest of the month since we were traveling, though some days were pretty minimal (just gas and a few groceries).
No spend days have made a huge difference in our overall spending habits, and while we are back at it this month, I let it go and realized they just weren’t going to happen on this trip. The whole purpose behind tracking our spending (even on vacation) is to identify and spend on the things that we value, and this trip fell solidly in that category, though we definitely paid attention to costs throughout the trip.
In order to keep the cost of a two week vacation to a reasonable level, we ate at the rental or a picnic lunch on the road for over half our meals and made sure to take advantage of the free continental breakfast the three nights we stayed at a hotel instead of an Airbnb.
For the most part, this trip was similar to the one we took back in November to Hawaii, where most of our vacation spending was on food, and much of our time was spent outdoors. What we hadn’t anticipated though was the cost of nature on the East Coast; so many of the parks have a steep entrance fee, usually per person. Driving up Mount Washington cost us $70, and even visiting a city park in New York cost us $10 to park.
My mother in law has the senior America The Beautiful pass, which got us in a number of other places, including Acadia National Park and Jamestown (though there was a small per person fee on top of that). I know I went off on this a bit already, but I feel pretty strongly that our wild and natural areas should be accessible to everyone, regardless of income, and it really didn’t feel that way on this trip. If anyone knows of an organization that takes donation to cover park fees for low income families, let me know, because that is something I would be very interested in.
Other than parks, food, and gas (and lodging/car rental), we did spend a bit on four other “attractions,” mostly with our son in mind. We visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, went on an old style train ride in New Hampshire, rode in a horse drawn carriage in Acadia, and took a ferry out to one of the islands outside of Portland Maine. While not inexpensive options, the total cost of our “excursions” for a two week trip cost us less than we would have spent on just one airplane ticket out of pocket (~$300), so it was well worth it.
May 2018 Spending (Excludes Mortgage + Daycare)
The craziest bit about this month is that even with all of the extraordinary vacation spending, we didn’t spend more than we used to during a “normal” month prior to November (our annual savings was 22-23% for 2016 and 2017), and that was without a big vacation, though a number of smaller ones. It’s amazing how much different tracking your spending makes in a month.
I feel like I cheated with the calculation this month because I had a sizable bonus come in that was earned over the last year and more, so it skewed our income upwards by quite a bit. If May had been a typical income month, our savings rate would have been 31% instead of 44% (or 24% instead of 39% if I exclude the standard principal payment on our mortgage).
Obviously though, my bonus is part of my overall income for the year, and I can’t not calculate it when it comes to our overall savings rate for 2018. It just feels too convenient that it finally came through during what was an extra expensive month for us, but it will even out overall. Now if only I could always manage it so a big vacation landed on a big bonus month.
Overall, our vacation expenses (when gas and food is included) came in at just a hair over $900 a person for two full weeks, which is a number I am quite happy with. We spent two weeks exploring the whole East Coast from viewing whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium and dolphins off the South Carolina coast, walking through Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, eating our way through Maine (lobster for everyone but me), and exploring numerous wild places, to name a few. It was an unforgettable trip, and best of all, it’s one that will be paid off with this month’s credit card bill. Great vacations are only great when paid in full and don’t haunt you with costs after you return.
How do you manage vacation costs? Do you contribute to sinking funds throughout the year or do you cash flow trips as they come?