Monday, February 28, 2011

Vacation by the numbers

In our household, I'm the one that's in charge of the finances. Living on one salary means we have to be extra vigilant about what's coming in and exactly what's going out. My system is embarrassingly simple, but given the modest amount that comes in and out, it works surprisingly well. Essentially, it's a word document.

We don't write checks for anything except rent and a few random things here and there, so a checkbook ledger is useless, and due to the unpredictable nature of when debit charges will actually hit the account, I don't like to totally rely on our online balances either.

So I have a Google Doc (so I can access it from anywhere) that looks like this:


Finances Until 3.2.11
$xxxx
-xxx(cable)
-xxx(electric)
-xxx(Lowes)
-xxx(gas)
----------
$xxxxx


I'm not obsessive about it, but I do update it about once a week so I can know how much money we'll have until the next paycheck, how much I can eek over into the savings account, etc. And yes, I realize that there is wonderful software for all of this, and I've been meaning to get it, but given how simple our finances currently are, it hasn't been a huge priority.

Anyway, whether you're in a situation where you have to watch every dollar, or whether you're fortunate enough to have more wiggle room, I think it's essential that at least one person in the household have a true understanding of your finances. 

They say that people consistently overestimate how much they donate and underestimate how much they're spending. And I don't think it's from any kind of malicious intent, I think it's just ignorance. But I'm pretty Type A about money, so I don't roll like that.

Before we took our vacation to Georgia, I wrote out every expense we would have for the trip - luggage, gas, parking, aquarium tickets, meals, etc, etc. I tried to think of every possible expense because I wanted to have a real idea of what our trip would cost. But even more important, when we got back, I compared that to our actual costs. As it turns out, I did surprisingly well - I was only off by $91.

Our vacation was done with a mindset of budget travel and saving money at every turn, while still splurging on things that were important to us. But even so, I think it'll surprise you to see what it added up to.

And I only share this with you because I think money is one of those things that we are weirdly secretive about. And I think it's our secrecy that is part of the basis for the overspending and credit card debt that most of our nation is prone to. I realize that no one wants to share what their salary is, but I firmly believe that when it comes to ourselves and our children and maybe some close friends, we all need to be more clear about what things cost.

And if you can spend your brains out and still afford it, good for you! I'm not in any way begrudging spending, I'm just saying that we need to know what we're spending, that's all!

The two huge aspects of our trip that saved us a ton of money were plane tickets and lodging. We received one of our plane tickets for free through a promotion run by Kodak Gallery, and we received the other one as a Christmas present from my mom. (That's pretty typical for our Christmases with her - rather than several small presents, we usually opt for one large one)

Lodging was another huge savings because although we were gone for six nights, we only paid for two. Our B&B was running an off-season special where your third night was free, and because we had family friends in Atlanta, the other three nights were expense-free because we were able to stay at their house.


Georgia Vacation Expenses

$554 - 2 nights + taxes at B&B
$90 - luggage costs on airlines
$228 - 7 lunches (average = $32)
$370 - 3 dinners ($60, $162, $138)
$46 - 2 Trolley Tour tickets
$189 - Couple's massage
$29 - Souvenir for my mom for watching Charlotte
$20 - 2 tickets for Savannah mansion tour
$69 - 2 tickets to Aquarium + parking
$143 - gas
$190 - car rental
$36 - misc.
$184 - airport parking for 1 week
-------------------------
$2148 (+ 2 free plane tickets and 4 nights free lodging)


The only unexpected expense was the airport parking. In order to get our free plane ticket, we had to drive two hours down to White Plains, NY. However, apparently the White Plains airport doesn't have any long term parking so you have to pay the full, exorbitant, daily rate no matter how long you stay.  So that was a HUGE bummer, but still much less than a plane ticket, so it's ok.

So what about you? Do you have a pre-set annual vacation budget that you try to stick to or are you more go-with-the-flow than that? Who's in charge of finances in your house and what's your favorite system? Did it surprise you to see what a week away added up to or is it pretty much what you could have guessed?

1 comment:

die Frau said...

We have an accountant who helps us set up our budget for the year, also on an Excel spreadsheet. She is lovely and helps save our lives financially on a regular basis.

I'd have to say T does the majority of keeping on top of the finances, but we do a lot of discussing. And we rarely go on vacation, but I like your idea of planning out every little detail so we can look for deals, etc. I'd also like to know more about scoring that free plane ticket....

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