Thursday, October 23, 2008

Traveling with a Budget

Believe it or not, I've never been too good with a budget. I think I'm too much of a literal thinker to make it work. Variable expenses (i.e. electric bill, water bill) frustrate me. It's high one month and low another month. Even grocery shopping is like that. Sometimes I want to stock up on a sale item, but that puts me over budget. I understand the concept. I've even had others explain it to me. But it's just never worked for me.

However, there is one budget that I actually like: our travel budget.

My husband and I take 2 to 4 trips a year for him to run marathons. He has a goal to run one in every state! It's a great way to see the country. This past Saturday, he just completed his 24th marathon (23 states plus DC). This time we were in Newport, RI. He only has a handful of states left east of the Mississippi, which means the cost of these ventures is going to start to really increase (when we add in airfare for two). But marathon trips are our "thing," and we have written the expense into our monthly savings plan.

We put a small amount of our paychecks toward our Travel Fund. Then, we beef it up with a variety of other sources (i.e. proceeds from yard sales/Craig's List sales, credit card cash back bonuses, savings account interest). It's a really good plan.

Then, before a trip, we think about all of the things we want to do while we are gone. We include budget line items for lodging, gas, tolls, airfare, car rental, food, admission fees to attractions, souvenirs, race entry fee, etc. Of course, I have a spreadsheet for our travel budget. I print it out, fill in the actual spending as we go and track our progress.

Thanks to a drop in gas prices, we did extremely well with our budget on our trip to Newport. We are leaving the leftover money from this trip in our savings account to put towards a future trip. Maybe this kind of budget works for me because it's over just a short period of time...

The budget actually helped us "live large" on this most recent trip without feeling guilty. I think it's because we had a complete understanding of what we spent and what we still had.

Michael's treat after a marathon is always a big steak dinner. This post-race celebration was no different. However, we were in the Ocean State, so we had to get some seafood too. We went for the $35 surf and turf -- filet minon and half of a lobster! We budgeted a decent amount for the steak dinner, but our big dinner choice put us $15 over the limit. No problem! We knew we still had money in the budget. We weren't looking to use up every penny just because it was there. However, this was a great way to treat ourselves -- guilt-free! And what a great dinner it was!

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