Recently, after seeing on my facebook page all my pictures of our summer travels, I had a friend ask me how we were able to afford all our traveling, that we must be rich.
I know the comment was made in jest, but I have to admit, it stung a little.
We are not rich. ~ Well, I suppose that depends on how you define rich. If you mean rich in God's abundant love, mercy and grace; rich in family and friends; rich in love for each other, then YES we are overwhelmingly rich! If you mean rich with much money at our disposal, then no, sadly we are not rich.
I was slightly taken aback by that comment, but it did get me thinking. How do we afford our vacations and travels? I thought about that and I came to some conclusions, so I made a list. And it got me thinking, these are simple things that anybody can do, so why not share them with others?
We are able to indulge ourselves in our love for vacationing by several means, of which I will share here.
1) We do not live above our means.
* For us this means we don't "max out" my husband's monthly income on payments for everything the "American Dream" tells us we need in order to be happy.
* We live in a less-than-1600 sq.ft. house, which I know is considered very small by most, and yet large by others. It's all in how you look at it. There are times when I wish we could have a bigger house, with more room, but this size provides us with a monthly mortgage payment we can afford. And besides, in my quest to live a more simple life, I am learning that the bigger the house I have, the more stuff I think I need to put in it, and the more stuff I have, the more stuff I want -- a cycle which brings nothing but stress to my life! Through my efforts of downsizing and culling unnecessary "things" from my home I am finding that I don't need a bigger house. I am learning to be content with what I have.
* We don't drive brand new cars. And we don't trade in for a newer one just because we pay off the loan on the first one. I think our "youngest" car is my '08 Explorer. And my husband drives a 1998 Chrysler :). Plus, my husband being the smart money manager that he is, shops around, searching and searching and searching some more until he finds the best deal he possibly can.
2) We RARELY pay full price for anything.
* As with cars, we shop around and if we can find the item we're looking for gently used and in good condition, we take that route. If we have to purchase something new (or if it needs to be a new item), we believe in bargaining with the seller. If I'm shopping for clothes, I always shop the clearance racks. It is a VERY RARE occasion when you see me pay full price for clothing! And I'm not above shopping for clothes in thrift stores. There you can find great bargains on gently used items of clothing. Also, I'm very fortunate to have family members who share their hand-me-downs with us!
3) We don't have a high debt to income ratio. In other words we don't have a lot of debt tying up our monthly income.
* I have heard people say that after paying all their bills, they have no money left over for that month. This is what we have tried really hard to avoid. This is where "living at or even below your means" kicks in. I have to admit, we weren't always so adamant about adhering to this concept. There have been times in our married life when we carried balances on several credit cards, because it was just so easy to tell ourselves we'll charge it now and pay off the balance when the bill comes in. Then something would happen, an unexpected expense would come up (we weren't smart enough to know back then that's why you should try to have some savings set aside) and we'd only be able to pay a portion of the bill. And sadly, we were just stupid enough to keep charging anyway, while that credit card debt continued to grow.
* It's only been in the last several years that God has taken hold of us and our finances, and we have strived to get things paid off. And we still are not there yet. I wish I could say we were debt free, but we still have some outstanding balances on some loans that we're working to pay off. But, thankfully we have a plan and in just a few short years (if the Lord chooses to tarry) we will have everything paid off (except our house, and then we can begin doubling up on payments toward paying that off). I am so looking forward to the day when we are debt free!
4) I try to be as thrifty and as frugal as I can in managing our household.
* I look for ways to trim my grocery budget. I use coupons when it's feasible (sometimes the store brand is cheaper than the brand-name product with the coupon). I plan my meals based upon what's on sale for the week, and I try to price match other grocery stores' sale items.
* I make my own cleaning products and that really helps trim the bill. I am learning to make things myself, not just cleaning products but food items too, and that cuts down the amount I have to spend at the grocery store. Also, I don't buy as many convenience food items any more. And no, it's not convenient to make things from scratch, but it's cheaper and it's healthier, too.
* As I mentioned earlier, if someone in my family is in need of clothing, I will look around in different thrift stores to see if I can find what we need. Except for shoes and underwear. I'm sorry, but I do purchase those items new. However, I don't pay full price for them! If I don't find what I'm looking for there, then I just try to be a savings-savvy shopper in the department stores.
* I try to do things myself rather than paying someone else to do it. For example, I have a sewing machine and I try to make repairs and alterations to clothing myself. I iron our clothes myself (those that I absolutely must iron, I hate that chore!). Mostly the only things that ever need ironing are Mike's dress shirts, and I used to take a load of them to the dry cleaners every couple of weeks and pay them 99 cents per shirt to press them. I don't do that anymore :). This is just something that works for me (being a DIY kind of girl). I understand that this won't apply to everyone, especially moms who work outside the home and might not have the extra time needed to do these things themselves.
* I always try to see if I can beat my budget. In other words, if I spend less on groceries that week than I have budgeted, then I have beat my budget. Sometimes I come in under budget, and if I do, that money goes into our savings account. Let me point out here that this has not always been the case. Before I became so "thrifty-minded" that extra money would never have made it into the savings account. I would have found something to spend it on that very week!
* I try to save money on the "non-necessities" type bills, like cable and phones, by comparison shopping and choosing the "smallest" plan that will meet our needs. For instance, tv used to be one of the biggest drains on our budget. Then I realized that nobody watches much tv here, except my husband, so we don't need the "America's Got Everything pack" or whatever they call it. Mostly all he cares about is ESPN, but he thinks he needs ALL their channels (yes there is more than one). If it were up to me, we would not have tv, but that is one thing he has yet to give up. So we pay for the smallest package that includes his channels.
* Same thing with phone and internet service, I pay for the basic plan. The one without all the calling features. And no long distance service. I figure we can use our cell phones for that. And that has me debating whether or not we actually need phone service in the house anymore anyway. As far as internet, we have the plan that is one step up from dial-up lol, DSL Lite, I think it is.
* Same thing with our cell phones. We have Southern Linc, and if you ask my kids they will tell you Southern Linc is the worst phone provider ever. I'll admit they do have some patches of sketchy service areas, but I think the kids' complaints have more to do with the fact that So. Linc doesn't provide the newest, coolest phones. It's true, no i-phones or galaxies or whatever else is the latest thing. But, my husband is a Southern Company employee so we get the BEST deal ever on phone service. I've compared our plan to other companies and nobody comes close to providing us with the deal we have. So... for this thrifty momma, Southern Linc remains our choice for cell phones.
* I try to stock up on all the school supplies we will need for the year in August when those items are on sale. Especially the big spiral notebooks that go on sale for 50 cents each. I have a whole shelf full of those! For books and curriculum for our homeschool, I buy used. I buy from sellers on ebay and amazon, and at used book sales.
5) We are owners in a vacation club.
* This means we don't pay for our lodgings when we go places. I mean technically we do pay for them, just not in the traditional way. It's something we financed, with terms and loan length about the same as our car. And it can be passed on to our children one day.
* With our vacation ownership we have a membership in a travel club, which provides significant savings and discounts on just about everything you can think of. We also have a similar plan included in the member benefits with our home/auto insurance. We make sure to take advantage of every discount we can through these providers when we travel.
* While on vacation we minimize the amount we spend by utilizing coupons and discounts for food and any attractions we are interested in. Sometimes we don't even have to pay for tickets. For instance, when we went to Stone Mountain last summer, I got all 5 of our tickets for free just by collecting My Coke Rewards points and redeeming them for the tickets! Mike has a similar program at work. Last year he redeemed his points for a Kindle Fire, and this year he is going to use them for 1 multi-day pass to Universal Studios in Orlando (which means we only have to purchase 4 tickets instead of 5 when we go there for vacation this summer, and those 4 will be purchased at a discounted rate).
So remember. Coupons and discounts are your friends. Even if you don't have anything with member benefits like I mentioned above, you can still do a google search for coupons and discount codes on just about anything you're interested in. Take advantage of those when you can.
So... these are some of the ways we free up money to fund our vacation "habits." As I stated earlier, I realize that not all of these ways will apply to everyone, but I'm sure there are some ideas here that everybody can use to save more, if that's what's important to you.