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Summer Plan – Extreme Budget Style

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Matt’s recent post regarding his summer plans got me to thinking about our summer plans.  We are currently in that lull between our regular homeschool year (Sept-April) and more relaxed summer school as I wrote about last year.  And this time last year we were preparing for some serious travel…TN, GA, OK, TX…all in the name of kids’ activities and family time.  We are pretty adept at traveling on a budget but even then, travel is expensive when compared to staying home and even moreso when living on our extremely tight budget.

So what are we doing this year….

We have two out of state trips plans….

1) In June to see my grandmother, kids great-grandmother in GA.  We will drive, stay with her and it will be just for a long weekend.  We haven’t seen her in almost a year and let’s face it, she is not getting any younger.  Not to mention, we have always loved going.  But we haven’t and we need to.  So we are going.  Anticipated costs: $60-80 in gas and possibly $40 if she feels like going out to dinner one night.  These monies will come out of our MISC fund of our extreme budget.

2) In September to see my parents in GA.  My dad’s high school reunion will take place in September so we are going to go for a long weekend to see he and my mom.  We won’t be inviting them to visit this year for a number of reasons, so this will most likely be our only time seeing them this year.  Anticipated costs: $60-80 in gas and possibly $100 for groceries.  I don’t anticipate we will be on an extreme budget any more at this time, but only time will tell, if so, this money will come out of our $300 MISC monies.

Summer camps for the kids….

1) As I have mentioned before, one of my dad’s gifts to the kids at Christmas is to help pay for one week at a local camp that each of the kids attends for one week out of the summer.  I pay the difference for the little ones and social services pays the difference for the twins, it was the one extra benefit they gave me with the adoption…1 week of summer camp for each boy.  These camps are already paid for as I plan for it in December so it comes out of the old Kids Activities line item on our regular budget and I have held back that money for it.

2) This year we attended a local summer camp event…and we won one free week of camp for Little Gymnast from Sylvan Learning Center – woot, woot!  It was also there that I got the idea to ask about bartering for field hockey which my daughter has recently taken up…and just this week, the director of the program came back and said she would love to barter for a website.  So two free weeks of summer camp – one for each of the littles!

3) We received an email from the summer camp that the kids attend each summer seeking Jr. Counselors, but they needed to be 17.  Sea Cadet has expressed an interest in doing this, but he’s only 16.  I wrote them back and let them know that if they got desperate, he was interested.  They wrote me back and said they really wanted only 17 year olds, but they have a two week training program which they would love to have him in and that there was plenty of scholarship money.  I talked it over with Sea Cadet and he has applied to the training program, and I requested a 100% scholarship.  It does require written references and an interview so we are waiting to see if he gets in, but I think it will be a great experience for him AND open the door for him to work as a camp counselor next year if he still desires that.

4) We have always taken advantage of the local churches vacation Bible school programs for one or two weeks per summer; unfortunately, Princess has now aged out of most of them.  We did find one this year that will take both the littles, so they will be doing a half day there for one week.  They always love the programs and I love that it’s free and a positive experience.

5) I am considering a couple of other camps for the littles, because even with this lull they are already antsy, and I really need some dedicated work time this summer (more on that in another post.)  But I will most likely have to pay for those, so no commitments yet.  They range from $150-300 per week for just day camp depending on the hours and specialties.

6) Thusfar, Sea Cadet has not committed to any summer camps.  I don’t know if he is losing interest or just wants a break, but I’m just following his lead and imagine that he will end up attending at least one local camp this summer to maintain his eligibility to rank up.  Cost for those are $160 for 7-9 day camp.  I told him that as long as it was within a 3 hour driving radius from our home I would make it happen if he chooses.

Volunteering…

1) Robotics Camps – The three oldest will be volunteering at least 40, probably more hours, towards their robotics team (yes, Princess has joined it for this next year.)

2) With an eye on college – I am encouraging the twins to find some regular volunteer work to do possibly for the summer but definitely for the school year since they need to “spice” up their college transcripts entering into their junior year.

Work…

Both of the twins continue to work.  Sea Cadet is working part time 15-20 hours a week while History Buff has upped his hours to full tiem plus over time.  As proud as I am of History Buff, I worry that he is going to burn himself out and really miss out on his last summer of “fun” as next year they really will have to work to help pay for car insurance, etc. They both continue to save 50% of each of their paychecks without complaint and then have 25% towards “bills” in their checking account and 25% as fun money.

Visitors…

Since lofting the beds, we are much more comfortable in tiny space, so we’ve invited our best-est friends to come visit.  We will have two of my best friends their their 3 and 2 kids stay with us for a long weekend (two separate weekends, we’re not crazy.)  We are really looking forward to their visits and intentionally picked the weekends during times when the pool would be open.  Both friends are very aware of what I am doing so I do not anticipate much extra monies required, but we will probably use much of our MISC monies those months to buy more groceries.

Other plans…

I have in the back of my mind that we will be taking a couple other overnight trips but nothing nailed down yet.  One would be to start visiting some colleges and then some other small “fun” trip, but we will see.

I think that’s it for our summer plans.  Overall, I expect is will be a relatively “cheap” summer for us, and I am greatly looking forward to enjoying our apartment pool!


Travelling on a Budget

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I am getting the pleasure of revisiting one of my all time favorite activities these two weeks…travel! It’s something I wrote on many, many moons ago on my personal blog. You can read that old post here – The Toaster Oven – Road Trip Essentials. A lot has changed in our lives since that post…two more kids, new car, new technology, different ages, etc. (If you read my old post, you will see my paid off car that I sold once the boys were placed with us…I used all the proceeds to pay off debt, but I still miss that car every single day!)

I am EXTREMELY keen on traveling. It doesn’t really matter why or how or where, I just like to go. This is not something new, I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. (I’m sure the roots are in my rootless childhood, with 18 moves under my belt before college graduation.)  Since the twins arrived, we’ve cut back quite a bit, both for monetary and schooling reasons, but we have taken a couple of road trips every year to see family.

So for the next two weeks, we are on the road. Here are my top 10 tricks for traveling on a budget:

  1. Take food – we not only pack snacks and easy meals for the car, but we take staples so that when we are at our destination, we have the basics of meals without having to do a lot of shopping.  For us this includes: cereal, fruit and citrus juicer, rice, favorite seasonings and soups for microwaving.  One change for us is that we no longer take drinks, we each pack a tumbler including lid and straw and then fill them with ice water continually through the trip.
  2. Plan it – I have literally typed up our entire summer itinerary including travel dates, starting and ending addresses and drive times, drop off or pick up times for kids so I know exactly when we can/need to arrive.  I then sent this itinerary to everyone we plan on staying with (having asked them in advance.)  That way they know exactly where we will be and when to expect us…at least a ballpark.
  3. Look at the Map – I, for one, am in LOVE with my iPhone, I have an unlimited data plan so I type in my destination and then just follow the GPS directions. This is great; HOWEVER, take time to look at a bigger map of where you are traveling beforehand.  There are two reasons for this: 1) if you are not planning your stops, you can get a good idea of what big cities are on your route in case you want to site see or use hotel points for overnight stays and 2) using different mapping lets you see the big picture of different routes and may open up some overnights with friends and/or family without taking you too far off your route.  For me, an extra hour drive is worth it to have free accommodations, free food (at least in part) and get to visit people you may not see very often.
  4. Shop Around – As you probably gathered, I do not plan my overnights very often.  I realize that I could probably get better hotel deals if I did, BUT with four kids in the car and me being the only driver, it puts a lot of pressure on me to make drive times and a lot of stress on the kids with long car days.  For each leg of our trip, I use #3 time to scout out areas where we might want to spend the night for touristy reasons and then price out some options there, giving myself a ballpark of what it would cost.  With that number in mind and a fuzzy goal, we drive.  If we don’t make it, I pull off and see what’s ahead and try sites like travelocity.com or priceline.com to see what kind of deal I can get, but if we do, I know what I’m willing to pay and have never had a problem getting that rate.
  5. Take the Pressure Off – Of course there are times when you will have tight drive times where you must drive long and hard, but with proper planning, I find that those can be avoided most of the time. When you can, take time to smell the roses.  Stop at the silly tourist attraction. Take some pictures at the scenic overview. Or even just stop at a rest area and sit down and eat a picnic. As a parent and homeschooler one of my absolute favorite stops is at the welcome center for different states.  We look at the map and trace our route, learn the state motto, bird and flag and just generally see what the state is known for and has to offer.  I LOVE those stops, and the best thing…most of them are absolutely FREE!
  6. Spending Money – At 8, 10, 15 and 15, all of my kids are plenty old enough to manage and save their own money.  They work around the house to earn it, and I consistently remind them of what they have coming up that may cost money that they might want to save for. When we are on trips, they buy their own snacks, their own momentos and sometimes pay for their own “experiences.” Sometimes, they completely blow it and sometimes, they do really well and get some cool stuff and/or come home with money left.  I continue to think that time and experience will show them how best to use their money then me preaching at them about it and this spending money is a good way to do that.  It really stinks when something really cool comes along and they’ve already blown all their money on candy and only that experience can teach them that lesson. (I also save spending money for myself which I typically spend on a meal out or a family experience.)
  7. Don’t Forget about Home – It’s great fun to ride off into the sunset and leave the worries of your day to day life behind.  It’s not so great so come back from that trip and have a crazy high electric bill because you left the A/C on too low or a toilet running. (Yep, I’ve learned that one from experience.)  Make sure you stop your mail, reset your programmable thermostat for an empty house and unplug everything you can.  If you are leaving animals behind, make sure you’ve stocked their food and left good instructions for their care givers.  Just these little things can save you hundreds of dollars upon your return, believe you me.
  8. Prepare for Emergencies and Sickness – Take a first aid kit, take your insurance cards and just as importantly take those day to day medications that you keep stocked in your medicine cabinet and notoriously are going to need…cold medicine, bug bite treatments, bandaids, Tylenol.  These expenses can really add up if someone needs them, and you’ll feel really bad when you have a brand new bottle at home.  When you return, you’ll have two.  We also take grocery bags in case of sickness, rolls of toilet paper and baby wipes, between spills and other accidents, these are priceless!
  9. Gas, gas, gas – There are all sorts of apps out there that will tell you where the cheapest gas is – use them!  With my giant beast of a car, these really pay off.  If you take the same route many times, as we do to see family, you get to know the cheapest cities/states (like, don’t stop for gas in NC if you can possibly help it, and SC is typically cheaper then GA) so you can plan your driving accordingly.  I also am a big fan of finding the local Sams Club if we are in a big city to fill up and restock things if needed.  (With our family of 5, buying most things in bulk always pays off, I know this wouldn’t be true of smaller families.)
  10. Enjoy it! – I’m sorry, but no amount of money is worth torturing you family with driving 24 hours straight every time. And no amount of medical bills is worth staying in flea ridden hotel rooms. Taking a nap at a rest area can be fun, just remember to make smart choices. And sometimes that monument can be just as exciting as a roller coaster, especially if you have history buff children like mine.  Take the time to fully experience your trip, believe me, those memories will last a lifetime.

Bonus Tip: Take pictures, lots of pictures.  They don’t have to cost anything these days with all the digital technology and it is definitely true that a picture is worth a thousand words.

I didn’t write these in any particular order, and I will expand on details on some of these in later posts.  Travel does not have to be cost prohibitive and as the commercials says…the experience priceless.

 

 

 


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