Real-life money lessons

Tracking Our Spending on an Awesome Weekend Road Trip

Awhile back I came upon a question on Reddit — “What did your family teach you about money and finance?” I love these types of topics (almost as much as I love topics like, “Besides your main job, what additional income streams do you have?”). There is always a wealth of information, and it’s a great opportunity to pick up a new idea to try.

One Redditor mentioned that his family did driving vacations almost exclusively. By the time he and his brother were 10 or so, they were responsible for keeping track of the “trip binder” where they logged expenses into categories and maintained receipts. Their mom wanted them to appreciate how much things cost and think critically about if they felt things were worth the price.

What a great idea! I bookmarked it for the next time we took a trip, which was this past weekend. We went to Brooklyn for a family birthday party and to the Statue of Liberty the next day.

Trip Log

I put together a basic log and organized our preliminary expenses — the Airbnb that we prepaid for as well as the tickets for the Statue of Liberty. I knew we would be traveling on toll roads, so I even tried to research which tolls we’d incur (based on what roads we planned to travel).

All grand plans!

And it didn’t work at all.

We managed to kind of keep track of expenses, getting receipts for credit card purchases, but we didn’t get receipts for items where we paid cash. We didn’t write things down immediately in the log (a piece of paper in my purse). And the roads we planned to travel were of course, closed, so we were forced to take other routes (with unknown tolls).

Near the end of the trip, we regrouped and made a quick note of everything we spent. I researched the tolls once we got home, logging in to my EZPass account to see what had posted. Then J filled out the log.

He made a few comments during the process about how much things were — I think because an 8-year-old doesn’t really have a concept of how much things cost. But that’s why I like to do these activities. I want him to know how much we spend, why we spend what we do and why we save. I want him to have enough skills and information to make good choices at any age.

A few things would have made the log more successful:

  • An actual binder with a place for the log, receipts and a pencil
  • Making sure to always get a receipt
  • Planning to put the tolls in after the fact

Keeping Costs Down

Not only am I a huge fan of planning ahead of time, I also like to identify potential areas for improvement in the future. Other than streamlining the trip binder, I think we did pretty good overall.

The Airbnb was close to Liberty State Park, which is where we got the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. It was also closer to home than travelling to Brooklyn, so we didn’t have as far to travel Friday and Sunday.

We brought food with us. The cooler was packed with:

  • Breakfast for Saturday and Sunday (yogurt with crushed almonds and unsweetened toasted coconut and homemade energy bites)
  • Snacks (pretzels, goldfish, peanuts, cut apples/celery/carrots, sugar snap peas with thai peanut sauce)
  • Sandwiches for dinner Friday and Sunday (egg salad, peanut butter and jelly)

I didn’t include the cooler food in the trip costs. We had a discussion about how we saved money on eating out by bringing our own food. It also saved time. We didn’t have to go out to find food or stop while we were on the road.

We packed our reusable water bottles, but unfortunately forgot to bring water to fill them. Next time, we’ll bring a gallon of water.

We did get snacks out quite frequently (four times), but I don’t know if I would have changed that. Getting something while you’re out is part of the fun of vacation, especially when you can get snacks that you wouldn’t have otherwise packed. Plus, snacks are cheaper than large meals and souvenirs.

At first I thought our experiment was a failure, but the more I think about it, the more I think it was a success. We had a great time, didn’t spend too much money, talked about what we spent and identified some things that we can improve upon next time. J is excited to use the log again on our next big adventure.

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