Budgeting For Travel!

Budgets… We all love budgets, right? Well, maybe not all of us… Anyway, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to our different budgets over the past few days and wanted to share my thoughts on budgeting for travel.

Many people don’t believe in budgets and I totally support that theory. If you have a firm grasp on where your money is going each month and you are financially stable to the point where a variation in what is spent is not going to put you in debt, there is no reason why you have to have a budget. But even if you’re financially stable and understand how each dollar is working for you, budgets can be useful and dare I say fun?

While we fall into the financially stable category, we do have dreams. And, as you may have guessed, many of those dreams involve travel. Usually travel to far off (read expensive) corners of the world. And, as I’ve shown you here over the years, we manage to make that travel as enjoyable as possible and as cheap as we can. But no matter how you cut it, travel for a family of four is expensive.

2016 and 2017 are shaping up to be the most expensive travel years we’ve experienced to date. I’m a little tardy in finishing up my Australia series, but that will culminate in a breakdown of what our two plus week jaunt down under cost. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t cheap! But we’ve consciously made a choice to make travel part of our lives and compromise on other areas that aren’t important to us make it happen.

Some people love clothes, movies, eating out, cars, etc., etc. And that is great. While significant spending on material things generally does not make it’s way into our monthly budget, some people value those things and I completely support that (unless it’s at the expense of saving or even worse, putting you in debt). Yes, we occasionally buy clothes and yes we eat out once a month and yes we own cars, but we are never in pursuit of the latest trend, best restaurant, or newest car. These things just aren’t important to us. What is important to us is spending time as a family and our favorite way to do that is through travel.

When the kids were really little (they’re still not that big, but they are growing so much every day!), we spent about $3,000 per year on travel. That equates to $250 per month. Given that we haven’t had a car payment for many years, I gave ourselves a mental high-five and slipped travel into a car payment budget slot (I hear that car payments often are much higher than that these days… Yikes!).

But as the kids have gotten older and much more savvy travelers, we’ve ventured further away from home to more exotic locales and our budget has creeped up to about $5,000 per year. That’s about $417 a month (more in line with what I understand today’s car payment cost). And however you cut it, that’s a lot of money and not at all frugal.

However, being frugal does not mean that you don’t spend money on anything. That’s being cheap. And there have been times in my life where I have been cheap. I think being in the Peace Corps does that to you. But as part of our frugality, we’ve made the conscious choice to spend less or nothing at all on certain things that we find less valuable so that we are able to enjoy these experiences with our kids while they are young. We will only have them under our roof for 18 years and that time is flying by. And as they age, they are going to have additional school or sports commitments that will make it difficult for us to travel as much as we can now.

So, for now, our budget on travel remains firm at $5,000 a year. That may sound like a lot of money to some, but it goes fast (especially when you want to go on a safari!). And believe me, the value of our vacations far exceeds that number. Without airline miles and hotel points, we’d likely be limited to one international trip a year. The retail value of our Sydney hotel was nearly $1,000 a night! Of course, we’d never stay there if we had to pay cash, but I think that is a good example of how expensive some areas can be. And it’s a good example of how lucky we are to be able to sign up for credit cards and see the world.

But even with access to miles and points, we’ve had to make travel compromises since there is a ceiling to what we want to spend on travel. When we made the decision to do South Africa this year instead of next year, we had to pull the plug on a European summer vacation to Iceland and Greece. It just wasn’t in the budget. We’ll do Disney World and South Africa (and, of course, I’ll do Adele in London) and that will eat up our travel budget for the year.

And that sounds just perfect to me. Maybe we’ll get to throw in a European summer vacation next year but maybe we won’t. Our next year’s plans are already shaping up with the big 4-0 Caribbean getaway along with maybe another trip to Disney World. But regardless of what our destinations will be, our budget will not exceed $5,000 per year. We love to travel, but as with everything, there is a limit.

It’s easy to get caught up in exciting travel deals or sales on your favorite jeans or an amazing offer on a new car, but with a budget in place, it’s easy to see whether or not any of these things have a spot in your life. For us, once the budget in travel (or any category) is reached, we’re done for that year (or month, as the case may be). But it’s not easy. Especially when you enjoy something as much as we enjoy travel. That’s why budgets are so great. They provide reason when reason is lacking. This part of budgets is not fun, but they keep you on track. And that’s why they are so useful, even if you are financially stable enough to not need one.

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