10 Things to do on a Cheap Vacation.

This summer, my family  took a six-day cheap vacation.  Technically, it was a “stay-cation”, but I hate that word.  Our goal was a fun time, on a budget, for 3 kids–one, two, and nine–without driving the adults nuts.   Obviously, if you’re not herding small children, some of these choices may not be for you.

  1. Zoo.  In St. Paul, there is a free zoo that is more fun than the paid zoo in the area.  There’s a small amusement park, a playground,  lots of picnic benches, and even animals.  We packed a cooler full of food and drinks and hauled the kids to Como Zoo for a day.  If there isn’t a free zoo near you, find a local petting zoo.  They are good for a few hours.
  2. Go Antiquing. Make sure you stay on a budget.  It can be more fun to feel the history in antique stores than to feel the fleeting thrill of an off-budget purchase.  This isn’t much fun for small children.
  3. Children’s Museums. We have access to a “Museum Adventure Pass“.   We used one to go to The Works Museum, which is a hands-on science exhibit not far from our home.  It wasn’t busy and the kids had a blast.  Most metropolitan areas have a wide variety of childre-friendly museums.
  4. Municipal Pool. We spent an afternoon at the city pool.  Aside from gas, this was one of the most expensive events for our vacation.   Residents get a discount, but it was still $30.   I discovered that my two-year-old loves big waterslides.  She comes out of them with a death-grip on the inner tube and a huge smile on her face.  It was a double tube and she sat in my lap.
  5. Game Day. Spend a day with the TV off and games on the table.  Make some snacks and prepare for some of the best quality time you can have as a family.
  6. Picnic. Pack a lunch and go somewhere quiet.   Go to the park.  Go to the country.  Grab a bench on a sidewalk somewhere.  Just have a leisurely lunch and take the opportunity to connect with your family.
  7. Hike. Find a trail somewhere and just walk.  I’ve found that it easy to have deep or sometimes even awkward conversations while walking.  You may find out things you never would have guessed.
  8. Visit Family. Hotel on the go?  My parents live more than 2 hours away, so they are always thrilled to have us visit with the grandchildren.   Be nice, bring some food to help out.
  9. Bike. The final day of our vacation, my wife and I left the kids in daycare and kept the day to ourselves.  We had breakfast in a nice little cafe.  We went antiquing.  Then we went out to the park where we were married, had a picnic lunch and went for a bike ride together.  It was our anniversary.
  10. Apple Orchard.  Around here, they are everywhere.  Pick-you-own apples, a petting zoo, pony rides.  If you go in the fall, there is usually a corn maze.  You can by real apple cider and any number of baked goods.
  11. University Exhibits.  Check your local colleges, especially the public universities.  Most of them have a PR program to maintain public interest and funding.  Even the private schools will usually have fund-raisers for some programs.  We recently attended the raptor show at the University of Minnesota for free with our Adventure Pass.

Vacations don’t have to be expensive to be fun.  Counting gas, food, and the occasional souvenir, we took a 6 day cheap vacation packed with activities for well under $400, possibly even under $300.

How do you save money on a vacation?

Update: This post has been included in the Money Hacks Carnivals XCV.

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Don’t Screw Future-You

A conversation between me and my temporally displaced self.
Future Me: Excuse me, Jason?
Me: Yes?
FMe:
Me: May I ask what that was for?
FMe: Of course.
Me: What was that for, jerk?
FMe: That was payback for all of the hell you have put me through.
Me: What?!?  I’ve never even met you, before.
FMe: Of course you have.  I am future-you, and I’m sick of getting screwed by past-me, that is, you.
Me: Huh?
FMe: Listen close.  You’re not  the sharpest brick in the box and I don’t want to explain this twice.
Me: ???
FMe: A long time ago, when you first met our wife, you were dumb.
Me: I don’t appreciate….
FMe: Shut up.  I was dumb then, too.  Remember?  You…err…we bought a new truck, built an addition on our…err…your…err…whomever’s house, got married in the same year.  On top of many other expensive decisions.  Do your recall?
Me: Yes, I do.  So what?
FMe: If that wasn’t enough, you and your smoking-hot bride are still shopping like you’re rich. You drive a new car.  Your kids wear new clothes.  You’ve got a house full of new furniture.  How did you pay for all of that?
Me: Naturally, I charged it.  Zero payments, zero interest for a year!  Pretty smart, huh?
FMe: What happens in a year?
Me: I don’t know.  I’ve got a full year to figure that out.
FMe:  I’ll tell you what happens!  Future-you, that’s me, gets screwed!   Your raise didn’t come through.  You had a baby. The truck broke down.  Your wife took maternity leave.  A roommate moved out.  You took a loss in the stock market.  You didn’t plan!  You had no savings to cover any of those problems because you were too busy servicing debt to pay for your current life.
Me: How was I to know?
FMe:  Life happens!  You never know what is coming next.  You need to plan and save for what might happen.  Otherwise, you’ll just accumulate more debt to be serviced by yours-truly.  That is not acceptable.
Me:  So?  What are you going to do about it?
FMe:
Me: Really?  Again?
FMe:  I’m struggling to pay your debt. Your son starts college next year, but you’ve left me completely unable to help.  Your daughter wants to get married in a couple of years, but the Father-of-the-Bride can’t afford a tux.  My wife, your beatiful bride, wants a vacation that I can’t afford.   You’ve screwed me, dude.
Me: I’m sorry.  What can I do to fix it?
FMe: Buy me dinner, first.
Me: Huh?!?!?
FMe: Stop the excess spending. Spend less than you make, for a change.  No credit.
Me: None?
FMe: None.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  Only spend what you can afford. Budget.  Pay off those nasty bills.  Don’t leave me hanging.
Me: So, what you’re saying is that, if I don’t have the money, I shouldn’t buy it?
FMe: Exactly.  That’s the path to wealth, freedom, and financial independence.  Live in the real world.
Me: Gee, thanks, Future-Me!  Now I know.
FMe: And knowing is half the battle.

What would your future-you have to say to you?

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The Library vs Amazon

A few weeks ago, I discovered the queue at my public library’s website.  The process is simple: Select your books, wait a few days, then pick them up. They are available from any library in the county, delivered to my local library. That’s awesome. Much more convenient-and cheaper-than Amazon.

So I moved a couple of pages of my Amazon wish-list into the library’s queue.

I must not have been thinking, because two days later, I got an email telling me that 19 books were ready to be picked up and 10 more were in transit.facepalm

In this county, each checkout is good for 21 days. For items that don’t have a waiting list, you can reserve 3 times. That’s 12 weeks for 29 books. Hopefully, I’m up to the challenge.   Please keep in mind, I’m a father of three, two of whom are in diapers, and I’m married, and I have a full time job.

I have frugally blown every second of spare time for months.

Update: This was another post written in advance. When all of the books came in, I suspended my request list. Little did I realize, the suspension cancels itself after 30 days. That was 30 more books. Whee!

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No Brakes

Slow Down

Growing up, I was mostly poor, but I didn’t realize it. The electricity was never shut off and I never missed a meal, but there was rarely money for anything extra. Clothes were only purchased immediately before school started. Shoes were always at least one size too big. Hand-me-downs were a way of life. With very rare exceptions, new toys were given on birthdays and at Christmas. As a Christmas baby, this was unfortunate. If I wanted something during the year, I had to buy it. I had an allowance on and off–more off than on–for a few years. So, I got my first job-a paper route-when I was six. Most of the toys I accumulated as a child, I bought.

Through all of this, my parents never said “We can’t afford it.” I was simply told that if I wanted something, I could either save my money or wait for Christmas. I never saw my parents paying bills, but they got paid. I never saw a checkbook get balanced, but it did. There were only a few times money management was ever mentioned, even in passing.

Naturally, when I moved out on my own, I expected money to take care of itself, just as it had the entire time I was growing up. That wasn’t terrible until I got married, bought a house, built an addition and decided a needed a new car. There was nothing in me to apply the brakes. I can count the number of missed payments I’ve had on one hand-with fingers left over. I can’t begin to guess the number of purchases, both large and small, that I should have skipped but didn’t.

Shortages growing up coupled with absolutely no budget training turned into financial irresponsibility as an adult.

My wife grew up with almost the exact opposite training. She was also poor, but the household budget was clearly in evidence and generally taken to an extreme. Her training involved getting “the best bang for the buck”. If an item was on sale and could potentially be useful, her mother bought five. I don’t mean five similar variations. That’s five identical products, same size, same color. She still has a display box full of screwdrivers with interchangeable tips. It looked useful and it was on sale, so she bought them all.

Through all of that, the bills were always paid.

This training has made it difficult for my wife to turn down a sale price. If something is on sale-or worse, clearance-there is an excellent chance it will be coming to our house. Once again, there are no brakes.

Shortages growing up coupled with almost two decades of watching every sale turn into a purchase has turned into financial irresponsibility growing up.

Neither one of us were prepared to handle the financial aspect of being an adult. That is something we intend to improve on for our children.  We intend to give them the ability to brake themselves.

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