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.

Walk back to the bus after wine tasting

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).

Stop near Sunset Beach on recommendation from Erin

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.

Lunch by the wild ponies of Assateague Island

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?

45 thoughts on “Monthly Financial Update: May 2018

  1. Nice! Bonuses are always great as well… I cheat and added them into my savings rate LOL. But you guys are really doing amazing, hovering a little over 50% month after month.

    Even with this month being a little bit “spendier” i think you made up for it with the bonus, and the 61% savings rate in march… Just my opinion though. Keep going!

    1. Bonuses ARE income, so they definitely count. It’s just super convenient they landed on an extra expensive month 😉 And yes, so far we are still on track for 50% overall for the year. March was a 3 paycheck month, so that helped a lot as well 😉

  2. Oh you guys separate fast food from restaurants? Why? I’m quite jealous of your utilities. It’s about double that for us and besides risking and downsizing our trash bins, it’s out of our immediate control.

    1. Hmmm, good question. Mostly because in a normal month the fast food expense is almost entirely my husband’s work lunches, which is different than when we choose to go out to a meal together. Really it’s all just food costs though.

      Why are your utilities out of your control?

  3. Grr to fees to see nature! They drive me crazy, though I don’t mind the honor system pay polls for hiking trails. And we cash flow almost everything too, it’s the beauty of a high savings rate.

    1. Yeah, I feel like there HAS to be a better way to pay for parks. Here in the PNW generally you only pay if you park, and just $10/day or $30/year, so really reasonable.

      1. Yeah, our state has the recreation passport for all state parks. $13/year for your vehicle (no per person fee), I know people from out of state pay a bit more.

      2. Even a bit more is fair. It’s the $8 PER PERSON per visit kinds of fees that seem totally nuts to me.

  4. is that sunset beach, n.c.? if so, we’ve always liked that area. we have a vacation fund that we contribute to weekly. over time we’ve really learned to like having a kitchen on vacation. there were a couple of one week trips where we didn’t go out to eat even one time. but we’ll spend a little more on premium ingredients and i like to think we know what to do with them.

    1. Yep, NC! We didn’t get to explore the area, just made it a stop on the way to Wilmington, but I can definitely see the draw of the area. We definitely have trips where we do a lot of cooking with fancier ingredients than at home, and it’s still way less expensive than eating out the whole time!

      1. Hmm… I live around there…never heard of Sunset Beach…hmmm you seemed to have had more fun in my state than I do! I keep trying to find a way to get out to the Pacific NW… #grass is greener *smh*

      2. That was a tip from Erin from Reaching for FI – I’d never heard of it either! And the PNW is pretty darn fabulous.

    1. It was totally worth the cost! As far as new places go, I would have to say Maine / Acadia NP. And then of course SC holds a special place in my heart because we used to live there 😊

      1. We were only there thanks to the military, and we both grew up in the PNW, so we just went home 🙂

  5. Great read, and awesome job this month! Our May was similar in that it was a 3 paycheck month for Tamar and we submitted a sizeable Childcare FSA claim, but like you, we determined that everything will even out at the end of the year: https://decadetofreedom.com/2018/06/05/monthly-update-may-2018/

    We also just got back from a mini-vacation! We went to Denver, and while we paid for our tickets, we were able to stay with family, so that cut costs considerably .We ran into the same issue with paying for nature when we tried to drive to the summit of Mount Evans. We ended up forgoing it, as we were short on time, and if we were going to pay for it, we certainly wanted to be able to spend time and enjoy it!
    https://decadetofreedom.com/2018/06/11/decade-to-freedom-heads-to-denver/

    1. March was a three paycheck month for us. Totally awesome when that extra paycheck hits the bank.

  6. I also like to pre-pay lodging and flights whenever possible to spread the cost out. We make a category in YNAB for each trip and write up a budget when we start planning the trip and set a “target category balance by date” goal for the month of the trip. Sometimes we don’t plan trips very far in advance, but some we do like family weddings. So I guess a mix of both! Even last minute ones, usually we decide the month before so set aside some money then too.

    For savings rate, I like to calculate it ignoring the bonus income and with it, for better month-to-month comparison. Otherwise, we have two months this year where we will save 85-90% of the net income versus a normal month of around 35%.

    1. How do you treat the bonuses then? Just factor them in at the end of the year for an overall savings rate?

      1. I have three savings rate rows in the spreadsheet: one for overall, one for just the month’s regular income and one just for the bonus income. That applies to each month and to the sum for the year.

      2. Ah okay that makes sense. So you’re still seeing apples to apples.

  7. Sssshhhhhhh, you’re giving away my secrets. I told you to stop at Sunset because uh…it’s a totally crappy place that no one should ever go to! 😉

    I wonder if the super expensive, per-person parks tend to be in the northeast because I’ve been racking my brains to think of parks around here and in NC that do that and I’m not coming up with any. I’ve seen a few in VA that charge (in addition to state parks), but usually if you’re with someone with residency in that state it’s free.

    1. Yeah we didn’t really start seeing the paid parks until we were in New York/Pennsylvania, other than Isle of Palms in SC, but that’s a fancier beach spot anyway.

  8. So much fun! I’ve wanted to go to Assateague Island since I was 12. Was there much to do there, other than watching the ponies?

    Like you, I believe our natural parks should be accessible as well. Those prices you saw definitely don’t feel that way. Even we would balk at those costs because they add up so fast.

    I haven’t decided whether we should start doing sinking funds for vacation and travel, we’ve been cash flowing them on the assumption that we’ll manage to contain costs with points and miles.

    1. There’s a beach and some hiking trails, but it’s entirely a park. Plus you can camp there!

    1. I am still so excited for you every time I think about it!! Visiting SC definitely made me miss the area.

      1. I’m curious as to what you’re going to change. I feel like sometimes I break out “vacation” spending too much, but then again, I want to know how much we’re spending on restaurants/food regardless.

  9. Sounds like you had a great vacation!:)
    We have one coming up with my kids and I tried to time it so I can pay it off right away, a little cash here and there in a different savings account. I saved quite a bit from my business trip to Australia this year and it pretty much covers the cost of our VRBO (bonus!)

    1. It was! And well done swinging the Australia business trip into paying for vacation lodging!

  10. I think travel and vacations are a must if you can afford it. Unless you hate traveling of course. Anyway, even though you understandably spend more on vacation, there is one thread I notice in all of this: you continued to choose how you spent on what you valued most and found lower cost options for others. And that’s awesome that continued during your vacation!

    1. Yeah, it would be so easy to toss out the “pay attention to value and spend accordingly” bit on vacation, but that could get REALLY expensive.

  11. I guess I spread out the costs of our vacations across months. Half of the time I use airline miles to subsidize my airfare. When paying for airfare, I wait for deals on the flightdeal.com or track flights on google flights for the best deals. Generally, I buy 6 months in advance for international flights and 2 months in advance for domestic flights (this timing seems to be the sweet spot). Then I book hotels one month in advance. Then when I’m at the destination, the only costs is transportation, food, and entertainment. And we spend very little in these categories since we always use public transit, vegan food is cheap, and we find try to find free sources of entertainment 🙂

    Did you have any good lobster rolls and blueberry wine in Maine?

    1. We don’t pay for ANY airfare these days, and I think I’d be shocked at how much even cheap tickets bump up the overall cost of a trip.

      And I actually hate lobster lol

  12. Always take advantage of the free breakfast that some of hotels offer, it’s almost a sin if you don’t. That looked like a fun and awesome vacay. Money well spend on great experiences.

    1. Exactly true. Even when the free breakfast isn’t terribly exciting, it’s still free, so I’ll take it 😉

  13. I was expecting to see some crazy high expenses because of all the travel! But nope, still a super impressive saving rate!
    You need to teach me how to not blow so much money when I go out of town haha. Every time I travel, I spend like a queen, even though I’m on a peasant’s salary.

    1. It’s alllll in the constant tracking, at least for me. If I know I’ll have to write it down later, it gives me pause, especially because I’m going to be publishing it for all to see 🙂

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