American Family Budget: The Vacation Plan

American Family Budget: The Vacation Plan-0714

My kids got out of school last week, and they are thrilled to now be on summer vacation. But that doesn’t mean I get a break. In fact, it means my job is harder. Along with the regular things I do every day, now I also need to herd my seven- and nine-year-old boys into activities and play.

I’m not saying I need to entertain them at every moment, but I am charged with helping them figure out what to do next. If I leave them to their own devices, quite literally, they will play with devices – video games, YouTube, or the TV.

And summer vacation is a great opportunity for togetherness – to bust out of our routine and try something new.

The trouble is our monthly budget, which doesn’t have much room for new adventures. When we first started this eight months ago, summer seemed very far away. As it got closer, I started to worry. No money for extras would mean long stretches of trying to scrounge up free or low-cost activities, lots of whining and cracking the whip on chores.

And now it’s here.

Thankfully, a few opportunities have come up for reasonably priced activities that will give us some things to look forward to, and that’s why putting money aside from my freelance work outside of our monthly budget has been so important.

So here’s my plan: one week of camping at a local beach. Our family friends have room at their campsite and invited us to join them.

Three weeks on the East Coast with my extended family, who will shower my kids with love and affection (and dollar store toys) and give me a little break from all that togetherness. This the yearly family trip that inspired the sinking fund in the first place, and I was very proud and relieved to have earned enough side money to cover it, because family is so important to me.

Also, I actually found a low-cost flag football camp, which falls under our monthly “recreation” budget. It’s our weakest category (translation: we’ve gone over every month), but since we are not donating money to the kids’ school during the summer, I can allocate those dollars for this expense.

Great plan, right? Now that summer is here, I actually have to execute the plan. And so I need an additional plan.

Camping can be inexpensive, but this was kind of a last minute decision. While taking inventory of our camping gear I realized – I need to make a budget for my vacations!

I’ve always thought of camping as a “budget” activity, but in our state (California) the costs have been climbing over the last several years. The fee for an overnight stay at a regular site now starts at $45! Luckily, our friends pooh-poohed our offer to split the fee, and suggested instead that we bring extra firewood and beverages to share with them. That means we’ll only pay for our parking spot – $15 per night ($105).

Then there’s the gear. Since we already have the core camping gear, I just need to refresh our propane supply (for our 15-year-old 2-burner stove), get some new batteries for the flashlights, and stock up on sunscreen and bug spray ($40).

Lastly, the food. What’s a campout without awesome food? And adult beverages for those who partake, amirite? To keep the costs down, I’m preparing a giant pot of chili ahead of time, and choosing beverage options that mix with juice and therefore last longer. We’ll have to restock on groceries like ice and firewood halfway through the week, and I want to make sure we have enough to share with the other family, so I’m reserving at least $200 from our monthly grocery budget plus an extra $50 just in case.

That’s a possible total of about $400 for the whole week. A figure like that makes me cringe until I consider the memories to be made, the non-screen fun my kids can have, the wide open spaces, and the idea of being so close to the beach. As long as I have a plan, the budget should be fine.

I’ll do the same thing for our upcoming east coast trip. Visiting my family means free lodging, but I will still need spending money. I’ll look at the calendar, try to anticipate what kind of activities we’ll do and how much they will cost, and allocate the budget for those things, within reason. I’ll be splitting up our normal grocery money – most of it will be for me and the kids sharing with my parents, and the rest for my husband back at home all alone. (Don’t be sad for him. He’ll eat sardines straight out of a can like an alley cat and he will love it. I’m serious.

Any vacation with young kids means a lot of work for Mom. Believe me, I will have the boys pitch in now that they are old enough to help, but I know at the end of this I’ll need a vacation from my vacations. By keeping spending to a reasonable amount, I’m hoping I’ll have some left over to treat myself to a massage. I’m going to need it.

Kim Tracy Prince is a Los Angeles-based writer who has a husband, two little boys, and an obsession with spreadsheets.