Maximizing Your Budget in 2015: Vacations

Maximizing Your Vacations

We’re counting down the days to the weekend. As one final hurrah before we become a family of four, we’re headed down to DC for a few days to relax, spend time with some family there, and meet up with the Underwoods. And we’re going to drive an actual car!! I think we’re almost as excited about that as the trip itself. I’ll document our adventures over the weekend here, if you want to follow along.

With our mini-getaway planned, we thought March would be a good month to tackle the vacation portion of budgeting. We also wanted to talk about it before the big vacation months hit in the next few months.

Vacations are interesting because they’re not a necessity per se, and yet they’re very necessary. We’d all lose our brains without them. And while they only occur once or a few times a year, they have the power to take all your hard budgeting work and put it on the next flight to Tokyo. Or Hawaii. Your choice.

They’re one of the biggest areas of our budget, second only to rent/mortgage and food. But for some reason, they’re often not included in our budgets. They’re just this huge splurge we justify. And then we come home refreshed and a little sunburned, having to pick up the pieces of our wrecked budget. We’re hoping this post can help rectify that trend, while also encouraging responsible vacationing.

So consider this post our very own PSA: Don’t Vacation Irresponsibly. And here are our tips for how.

Set a Vacation Budget at the Beginning of the Year

This. Johnny and I only started doing this a couple of years ago, and it’s been a game changer for our budget. Before, we weren’t accounting for vacations in our monthly budget, which meant our projected spending for the year was totally incomplete. Now, when we plan our yearly budget at the beginning of the year, we include everything — vacations, gifts, Sally clothing growth spurts, etc. It’s nice to plan in advance how much money we can spend on vacations because when it comes time to actually booking a trip, we’re prepared for it. It’s guilt-free, and we’re not asking ourselves, Can we afford this??

Plan Trips in Advance

“In advance” doesn’t mean the weekend before, although I do really miss those last-minute college road trips. We try to plan for each trip at the same time we set our vacation budget — at the beginning of the year. We don’t actually book anything, but we go ahead and tentatively decide all our trips for the year. This year, we’ve given ourselves five weekend getaways, as well as two bigger trips. When we actually take them is TBD. We’ve also budgeted how much we’d like to spend on each one. By planning our trips at the same time as our vacation budget, we’re more likely to stay within the spending parameters we’ve set.

Don’t Spend More Than You Make for PTO

This rule of thumb mostly applies if you’re on a tight budget. Johnny and I kept our vacation spending in check while we were paying off our debt by following this rule. This is how it works: whatever money we’d make in paid time off became our budget for our upcoming vacation. This included lodging, food, and transportation. It kept our vacations thrifty, but it was our only way to take a vacation while our budget was so tight. And it helped incentivize us to scour the Internet for deals and to maximize any airline or hotel rewards from our credit cards.

Look for Deals

Which brings us here. DEALS. I swear a vacation is that much more satisfying when you find a deal. Luckily, deals can be found all over the webisphere these days. In this post, Johnny outlines the method to his madness in finding Priceline deals on hotels — one of the many reasons I love him. Deal sites like Travelzoo are another great way to keep an eye on good prices. Although, a friend introduced me to their email newsletter recently, and it’s kind of torturous seeing all the cheap places I can’t fly whilst 35 weeks pregnant.

Credit Card Rewards

Would you believe me if I said I can’t remember the last time we paid for an airline ticket? We’re all about maximizing our credit card rewards, and our main focus is airlines. We put almost all of our spending on our Chase Southwest cards. And we signed up when they were running a crazy promotion for the cards, which means we’ve been flying free for years now. If we can get the airline ticket paid for, our vacation is suddenly a fraction of the cost. Credit cards take turns running different promotions, so if you have a preferred airline or hotel, keep an eye on its credit card for a good time to sign up.

Decide What Aspect of Vacationing Is Most Important

We’re all about living the high life on vacation, but we don’t completely lose ourselves. We may choose to stay at a nice hotel, but we don’t partake of the mini bar or room service. Or we might stay at a cheaper place but eat out at nicer restaurants. As long as we stay within our total budget for the trip, we let ourselves pick and choose where we want to splurge. Which brings us to our last vacation maximizing tip…

Set a Budget and Then Don’t Sweat It

The whole point of a vacation is relaxation. And while you may still have to worry about whether your toddler just ate a handful of sand, you shouldn’t have to stress over money on your trip. Set your budget for each vacation, and then don’t think about money again. Plan in advance what you can splurge on so it isn’t a choice while you’re supposed to be relaxing. That airbrushed Spring Break ’15 tee you’ve been pining for? Know in advance whether you have the extra money for such a timeless souvenir. And then sit back, grab a piña colada, and think about nothing at all.

Those are our tips for maximizing your vacation budget. I hope we’re able to put a few of them into practice this year… we’ll see just how much baby #2 rocks our world. And now we want to hear your tips. How do you maximize your vacation spending? What tips would you add? Any toddler-friendly DC attractions we should know about for this weekend?

Our Monthly Budget: March 2015

Our Monthly Budget: march

Longest 28 days of my life. February was a beast. And not just because our food spending once again went off the deep end. We’ve a had a brutal winter here in NYC, and spring will be welcomed with open arms and a victory dance. We’re hoping March is better in every way.

March is a big month for us. It’s our last month to gear up for baby #2’s arrival. We’ve got a weekend away planned, some visitors coming into town, and a long list of cleaning and organization to get done before April. I’ve already told Johnny I want him and Sally to just leave for several hours one Saturday so I can deep clean every inch of our apartment like the crazed pregnant woman that I am. It’s also very important that we stay on budget this month since we have a pricey little bundle coming our way. But hospital bills and the promise of sleep deprivation and blowout diapers can’t damper our crazy excitement to finally meet the little lady!

February Budget Recap

But before we move onto March, here’s a quick recap of how our February budget fared:

  • We went over on our grocery spending again! By $150 this time. But we did a ton of stocking up at Costco that we won’t have to do again for several months — frozen chicken breasts and ground beef, paper towels, toilet paper, butter, shredded cheese. Okay, the butter and shredded cheese is weird to buy in bulk, but they’re so expensive anywhere else in NYC that I had to.
  • Our electricity bill surprised us and was much more expensive in February, so we’ll be going back to our original budgeted numbers for that category.
  • We went $30 over in our Everything Else category, mostly because I went ahead and stocked up on some newborn essentials, like a new nursing bra and diapers and wipes.
  • We stayed within or under budget for all of our other categories and still managed to meet our savings goals for the month. We also got our tax return, which inflated our savings by several thousand in February. But guess what? It’s all going in a 529 college savings plan pronto (more on that soon).

And now, let us March onward…

March 2015 Budget

Rent:  $$$$*

Utilities:  $275

  • Electricity:  $80
  • Gas/Heating:  $60
  • Cell Phones:  $90
  • Internet:  $45

Food:  $500

  • Groceries:  $325
  • Eating Out:  $175

Non-Discrectionary: $591

  • Transportation: $150
  • Life Insurance: $66
  • Aflac: $80
  • Health Insurance Premium: $0
  • Child Care: $295
Personal & Clothing:  $120 (rolls over monthly)

  • Johnny:  $60 (currently at $180)
  • Joanna:  $60 (currently at $94)

Everything Else:  $305

  • Pet Supplies
  • Baby Supplies
  • Dry Cleaning
  • Home/Personal Care
  • Entertainment
  • Medical
  • Miscellaneous

Gifts: $145 (rolls over monthly… currently at $355)

Vacations: $200 (rolls over monthly… currently at $600)

Total Expenses (minus rent):  $2,136

Church/Charitable Donations:  10% of gross income
Savings: at least 25% of net income, but planning on enough side income to have saved 50% at the end of the year

*Living in NYC, our rent is a bit of an anomaly (major understatement) compared to our peers in the rest of the US of A. To give you an idea, it’s more than twice what we were paying in Utah. Yeahhh. But that just means the rest of our budget is that much more essential this year.

March Budget Changes

  • We finally found out our new health insurance premium, which is currently $0. But when baby #2 makes her debut in April, it will be changing to about $30 per month.
  • Sally’s started a pre-preschool program near our house. It’s just two hours of mommy-free time twice a week, and she is loving the independence! It’s a small program with three other children, and it averages about $15/hour, which is about as reasonably priced as it comes in NYC. It’s been great to see her separation anxiety disappear as her social skills blossom, and we’re also really happy for her to have some guaranteed structure and social time once the baby comes, too. All that said, it’s added $300 to our monthly budget.

Can’t believe March is already here! Cheers to a clean budgeting slate this month. How is your 2015 budget coming along? It’s never too late to get the budget ball rolling!

NYC and OFB Update


We’ve almost been NYC residents for three months now, so I wanted to give a brief update on how we’re adjusting this time around. I still can’t believe this is our second time living in the city! And honestly, it feels totally different than last time. For one, we’re on…

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