The week before Christmas, I learned my boss was going to be out of town for the entire following week. So what did we do? We went on a spontaneous family trip to Washington DC of course! And we did it on the cheap.
Amanda had never been to the capital before despite it being so down her alley. We decided it would be the perfect trip given the warmer weather, fewer crowds, and the chance to visit some friends.
Transportation – We drove about 10 hours each way, and the main expenses we incurred on the trip were gas and tolls. Tolls. I hate tolls.
Hotel – We used some of our Marriott points for the hotel. We stayed 4 nights, 3 of those were in a category 1 Marriott. Category 1 Marriotts cost the least amount of hotel points and are not always easy to find, but there were actually a few to choose from in the area.
The last night we stayed with a friend of mine and his family. We debated staying with them because both of our wives are well along in the pregnancies, and between the two families there are a total of 5 kids…all for a two-bedroom apartment near DC. But hey, it saved us from spending more points, so we were all over it! Not to mention it was a lot of fun to just spend time with them and catch up.
Food – We brought as much of our own food as possible in a cooler and used the hotel refrigerators.
In summary, here are some of the things we did to travel without spending a lot of money:
- Drive rather than fly
- Use hotel points
- Stay with friends or family
- Pack our own food
my sophisticated little bunch at the National Gallery of Art #mykidsaresocultured
Proud financial parenting moment
The other night I ran to the store with my kids to buy marshmallows. (At 32, I made rice crispie treats for the first time in my life. Who knew they were so simple?) My son had brought a few of his quarters, and when we were checking out, he asked me if he could buy a hot wheels car. I said sure, if he did it himself.
The car cost $1.28, which he made sure he could cover with his 6 quarters. When it rang up to $1.37, he told the cashier that the sign said it only cost $1.28! The cashier even went to check but then realized the difference was the tax. It may not sound that impressive, but my son is one of the most energetic and scatterbrained kids out there. The fact that he was carefully watching the price, and even questioned it, almost made me tear up a bit.
You should always watch the prices they ring you up at, by the way. If your state has a price scanner law like our does, you could make some money that way.
Amex shut me down
In other December events, I got an email from American Express during the month that did not make me happy. See for yourself.
So after a few months of using Serve to help me meet credit card bonus requirements, they shut me down. After at least 6 years of playing the credit card game, this is the first time I’ve ever been cut off like this. I guess I’ll have to find some new methods or be more careful.
Now for the financial review.
December income was essentially limited to the paycheck from my day job. Amanda’s last violin invoices she collected were offset almost completely by some of her studio expenses. January will be a bigger month for income since that’s when she bills and when my CPA work will pick up.
401k: I am cruising along on auto pilot, contributing 15% of my gross income to retirement. That’s not quite enough to max out my 401k or to retire early, but you have to work with what you have.
529s: The education contributions are now being deducted from my monthly paycheck, which is really nice because I don’t even have to think about it anymore.
Mortgage $950 (spot on): If I paid property taxes and home insurance along with our mortgage payment, the total payment would be closer to $1,250 per month.
Property Taxes $893 ($7 better): Our property taxes are usually around $2K in the summer and $1K in the winter. I have about $250 withdrawn directly from my paycheck each month to a Capital One account that I set up specifically for property taxes. So I never really feel it when they come due.
Giving $879 (spot on): We give 10 percent of our income. Sometimes it seems like a lot, but we have many reasons why we give.
Groceries $579 ($121 better): December was best grocery month all year. This might be driven partially by the fact we were out of town for a week.
Shopping $311 ($211 worse): The higher shopping expense is Christmas related. I had been eyeing Chromebooks for a long time and finally got one for Amanda. So far, she’s loved it.
Gas & Fuel $280 ($80 worse): The gas expense was all due to our 20 hours of extra driving to and from Washington DC.
Toys $191 ($9 better): All of this was Christmas toys for the kids, offset my some money from grandparents they gave us for grandparent gifts.
Home services $175 ($125 worse): We were still on the hook for some house cleaner visits that I had forgotten about. During the first trimester of Amanda’s pregnancy, we had a cleaner a few times a month so she could avoid getting sick again.
Travel/Hotel $128 ($128 worse): This category was completely unbudgeted because the trip to DC ended up being completely spontaneous.
Phone $24 (spot on): After 10 years of living in the cellular dark ages, I finally decided to get a smart phone. We have so far been happy with Republic Wireless, and you can read my Republic Wireless review here.
Doctor $15 (spot on): I’ve actually got a few hundred dollars worth of unpaid medical bills but was waiting until the new year to pay them when I got another infusion of cash to my employee medical account.
My Featured Bare Budget Series
I am excited to have begun featuring the budgets of people and other bloggers who are in all different stages of life! I know there are people out there as curious (or nosy) as I am who enjoy getting a deeper glimpse into the financial lives of normal people.
If you are one of them, consider pitching in by posting yours!
Check out my 30-second overview video that cost me $26 to see what it’s all about.
Here are just a few of the budgets posted this month:
This month I had submissions from California, Utah, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. Below is a sample of people who posted their budgets and a question regarding their financial situations. My goal is to get as many as people as possible to submit in order to create a database that is sortable by income level, family size, location, etc.
Steffy&Greg – A couple in their 30s wondering how to allocate their savings and inherited money to retirement vs. college for their 2 little girls.
Minnesota Mommy – 33 years old in MN looking for suggestions on what what kind of returns she can get as a landlord vs. in the stock market. If you have any experience with that, please click the link and comment!!
Carmel1 – Family on a tight budget trying to make the money go further. Take a look at her budget and net worth to see if you have anything you could add to help them out.
This giveaway is easily the equivalent of $200 or so. Don’t forget to sign up if you want a chance to have your taxes done for free by this guy.
If you are selected, I will do any simple to moderately complex federal and state (or states) income tax returns for free.
All you have to do is:
1. like Bare Budget Guy on facebook or just click the like button below
2. also, sign up for my newsletter
- If you are already a subscriber and want a chance, just share this article on social media and let me know.
- The giveaway will end on January 31st. I will select and announce a winner on February 1st.
Do you ever take spontaneous trips? How do you save on travel? Have you ever had your credit card accounts shut down? How did you end up 2015?