Happy September! Last month, we went on our family road trip - twelve days in the northeast - and it was awesome. Despite the fact that we spent $3800, we still think that road tripping is the best family vacation on a budget. After we got back from our trip, we worked on getting our kids ready for the school year to start and pondered an unexpected opportunity: an inexpensive piece of land with no deed restrictions came available in a great location in our city. Did we make an offer? Did we buy anything new this month? Read on to find out.
Let’s start with an overview of our spending for this month.
We track our spending using a little tool I made called Thrifty. It’s in development and free at the moment. You can use it on any device with an internet connection and a modern web browser. I really recommend you check it out.
Here’s our spending summary from Thrifty for August 2017:
More than half our spending this month was on our road trip - between hotels, gas, activities, and food we spent just under $3800 for our twelve-day trip to the Northeast. We include all spending on our road trip in the one big category. This has the impact of reducing our spending in other categories - like groceries, etc.
Here’s a detailed category-by-category look at what we spent this month:
|Charity||$100.00||We continued our regular contributions to our church and to The Hope Effect, one of our favorite charities.|
|Clothing/Shoes||$150.25||As a part of getting back to school, my wife bought one new outfit for each of our kids. We also got replacement socks and tennis shoes for our oldest daughter as the old ones were too small.|
|Date Night||$105.28||We set a budget of $70 every two weeks for date night to cover the cost of childcare and our food. We only had one date night this month, so we went a bit higher on spending - getting appetizers, drinks, entrees, dessert, and (of course) paying the babysitter. This was an expensive night for us - we’ll get back to our lower spend dates in September.|
|Eating Out||$52.88||We had pizza one extra night this month as a convenience meal. In addition, we bought ice cream after taking the kids on a hiking trip and bought a couple treats throughout the month.|
|Education||$391.70||Boom - school fees, school pictures, and back-to-school supplies. Thankfully most of this is a once-a-year expense!|
|Entertainment||$35.70||As end-of-summer treats, my wife bought each of our kids one new toy.|
|Fitness||$0.00||Our gym memberships were prepaid, so no ongoing expenses this month|
|Gifts & Celebrations||$157.59||The majority of the expense here was for our oldest daughter’s birthday - presents and party supplies. Of these, there was one new outfit and one new toy. In addition, we purchased gifts for a bridal shower and a wedding.|
|Groceries||$517.04||Our target is $200 a week and we had (outside of the road trip) three weeks worth of groceries this month, so we’re doing well at $83 under budget! We are continuing to rock a consistent meal plan - with a few fun tweaks - and it’s keeping things under control.|
|Healthcare||$87.73||I switched to autopay for our health insurance which bills on the first of the month and we had already paid for August so this month is lower than usual. We had one office visit this month.|
|Hobbies||$6.32||Our kids love to draw and color - we go through paper like crazy. My parents brought a box of paper in spring and we emptied it by the end of summer. This week we bought new paper to keep our little artists stocked :)|
|Home Updates||$246.58||Whoops! When I said we were done last month, I forgot that we had an outstanding bill for the last update we made on our house before we sold - replacing a storm window. Now we’re good to go and don’t expect anything here until our housing changes.|
|Household Care||$99.94||Being out of the house for a third of the month really helps! This month’s list is shorter than usual - sunscreen, toilet paper, night time pull-ups, foundation, face wipes, batteries, conditioner, and a used alarm clock to help get the kids up in the morning for school|
|Pizza & Movie Night||$67.00||Pizza, breadsticks, and ice cream twice - our Friday night tradition!|
|Services||$0.00||Our life insurance went on auto payment; we had already paid August’s bill and September’s will be paid on the first.|
|Thrifty||$88.22||A more expensive month this month - I got business cards (in prep for FinCon coming up and for general use). Hosting fees and source code storage for Thrifty this month plus operating costs for a side-project I was trying out. I’m shelving the project, for now, to focus more on this site and the Thrifty app.|
|Transportation||$102.68||Two tanks of gas and refilling our IPass account in anticipation of tolls on some upcoming trips to Illinois|
|Utilities||$15.31||Just internet (this amount is after a credit I negotiated for being forced to upgrade when we moved). For gas and electric, we use budget billing, where our utility company averages out costs so we have a consistent monthly payment. Through the transition to the apartment, we had a credit due to us based on our previous payments and we haven’t yet exhausted it. As a result, our gas and electric in August were $0.|
Road Trip Cost Break-down
Given that the road trip was such a big part of our month, I thought it’d be nice to break down our expenses from the trip. I used the “Export Entries” function from Thrifty to get a spreadsheet with all our entries from the road trip in it and you can see the results here. I included spending on the road trip from prior months (we bought a few things ahead) for a complete picture.
|Activities||$169.00||We paid for admission to Flume Gorge, the Central Park Zoo, and Harper’s Ferry. In addition, we paid a tip to a puppeteer in Central Park and to support maintenance of the Belvedere Castle in Central Park.|
|Food||$793.19||Breakfast was provided free with our hotel stays. We spent $184.28 on lunches, $521.25 on dinners, and $87.66 on snacks and treats|
|Lodging||$2,348.22||This was the bulk of our cost - in particular, our nights in Rehoboth Beach (Delaware) and Niagara Falls were particularly pricey.|
|Transportation||$576.24||Gas was $293.78; we spent $99.21 on parking (Niagara Falls, Rehoboth Beach, NYC), $86 on our annual AAA membership, and $97.25 on tolls! The northeast has tolls everywhere and they are pricey|
|Other||$58.33||We spent $27.50 on laundry (using coin-operated machines at our hotels), $10.54 on sand toys for the beach, $7.30 to print all the pages for our travel binder, and $12.99 on a pack of night time pull-ups|
|Total||$3,944.98||Twelve days, 18 states, and a lifetime of memories|
Did We Buy Anything New?
When we kicked off the year, we defined our boundaries:
Used, refurbished, reclaimed, are all fair game, but “new” is to be avoided wherever possible.
Food and household consumable items (baking soda & vinegar for cleaning, soap, art supplies, etc.) are allowed new for obvious reasons.
Other than this, we only have a short list of exceptions we allow:
- Socks and shoes
- Photo prints (school pictures and for our road trip map)
- Stainless steel baking sheet (though we’ll look for used options if we can find them)
- Car maintenance parts (we know we need new tires next year)
- Home remodeling
We bought four new outfits for our kids and three toys this month for a total of seven items. By comparison, we bought nineteen in August of 2016.
Through the first eight months of the year, we’ve purchased twenty-six things new that weren’t on the exception list:
- In month one, we purchased replacement carbon monoxide detectors
- In month four, we purchased a replacement power cord for my wife’s laptop and a costume for one of our kids as a birthday present
- In month five, we purchased stainless steel straws and a dress/cover-up
- In month six, we purchased a stuffed animal, recycled plastic food storage containers, and car games for our road trip
- In month seven, we purchased four new dresses, four accessories, a pair of sunglasses, shorts, a shirt, replacement sand toys for our beach time on our road trip, and replacement ice packs.
- In month eight, we purchased four new outfits and three toys
We’re certainly not at zero, but we also are rocking out compared to last year. From January through August of last year, we had purchased 92 items.
This section used to contain our mortgage payoff update, but now that we sold our house there’s not much to tell.
Or is there?
One of our goals of selling our house was to be in a position where we had options available. We’d spent the last few years trying to solve the issue of how to live smaller in the suburbs. Between deed restrictions and available housing in the area, we seemed doomed to end up in a place as big as our last if we wanted to be homeowners. We held on to hope for a small fixer-upper or some other scenario that would let us live in a smaller footprint.
While we were on our road trip, an opportunity came up that we had to seriously consider.
In our city, there was a small lot on main street that had a tiny building on it, which we found out was a water pump station. The city recently upgraded the water system and the pump station was no longer necessary, so they tore the building down and put the land up for sale.
A small lot, near the elementary school, on a bike path, with no deed restrictions would have been amazing on its own. But when it was going for less than half the price of any other lot in town (even ones of similar size), it became an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.
And so, just two short months after selling our house, we’re going to become property owners again!
This time things will be a bit different though. We’re buying the land in cash. Our goal would be to build on the land either cash-free or with a small mortgage and a plan to pay off quickly. We’ll be waiting at least a year to build - maybe two - so we’ll be living it up in our apartment in the meantime.
One of the big things financial discipline can help with is opening up your options. Had we been in our old house, there’s no way I would have been able to do my mini-retirement and getting this lot would have been a lot more complex and we may have missed out.
The Craziness Continues
As I write this post, our three daughters are all attending their first day of school for the year. This has been a true season of change for us - starting with our ambitious and crazy plans for a mini-retirement, downsizing, and now with all three of our kids entering full-time school for the first time.
I’m excited for what the rest of this year holds - the possibilities for our family, and for this site, are endless. I’m looking forward to continuing to share our adventure with you and hopefully helping you out in your own as well.
When has financial discipline given you options you wouldn’t have had otherwise? What incredible opportunities have dropped into your lap when you least expected them? Did you take advantage of them?
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