Taking Off For 4.5 Months: The Money Thing

One thing many people ask is how we managed this financially. I don’t actually find this question offensive, as some worry, because I get it. It seems unattainable, so how do you actually make it work? Based on the number of people who have asked me this, I thought I’d write about our process.

We started planning about two years prior to our departure. One of our first arguments discussions was over how to set aside the money we needed. I wanted to set up a separate account strictly for the trip. Hubs didn’t want another bank account, preferring that the money just be in our savings account. I manage the daily finances, so I won.

I opened a new savings account, labeled it “Sabbatical,” and started saving. I own a small…ok, very small…it’s just me…consulting firm. It’s not enough to support us. Oh, who am I kidding? It couldn’t support us for even 2 weeks, but it does bring in some money. And, both Hubs and I are Adjunct Faculty at our local university.

But we should be living solely off of Hubs’ main salary. So that’s what we did. I took the university paychecks and any money from my consulting gigs and put it into the sabbatical account. If there was any extra money that came in from bonuses or tax refunds (yeah, right), I put that away too. And I swore that I would not touch it.

And then I looked for a credit card that had no international fees as I knew we could waste a ton of money on fees alone. I highly recommend the Bank of America Travel Rewards card — no annual fee, no international fees, and a great rewards program.

And then I nickel and dimed the heck out of lodging. I actually drove myself a bit crazy trying to find the best deals. I would have 10 webpages open: comparing prices; looking up TripAdvisor reviews; figuring out bedding options; getting into such minutiae that by the time I resurfaced, I would find that I was 200 miles from the original location I was considering. Finally, I gave up and tried to do bookings with the most generous cancellation policies possible so that when I had time, I could do more research and change the bookings. For the record, I never did change them (well, except once in Belgium, and that is fodder for a different post).

Did we set a budget? No, we actually didn’t. We figured out the major things such as flights, rental cars, trains, and lodging, and then we estimated the rest of the costs. We calculated in the fact that certain expenses don’t go away: we would still have a mortgage (although we did amazingly end up with renters for 4 months); still pay car insurance (which we were able to reduce significantly for the time we were gone); and we would be paying for medical insurance as we considered that critical. We came up with a VERY approximate figure of what we needed, and realized we could manage it as long as we stayed close to that number. We knew that if we stuck to a strict budget, we would be continuously stressed out and not enjoying the experience the way we planned. And, honestly, in the back of my mind, I figured I would either ramp up the consulting or go back to part-time work if I needed to when we returned. To me, it was worth it.

The one thing we also decided was that we wouldn’t go crazy on souvenirs. We planned for our pictures to be our most precious souvenirs, and decided we would buy a few things along the way if they really called to us.

One of the things we did worry about, however, was the kids. We assumed they would want 1,000,000 souvenirs, and we weren’t really sure how to manage that. So, we talked through it as a family. The kids had saved a fair amount of money, and they were also given some money for the trip by special family members. We explained to them that their savings would count for the bulk of their souvenir money, and that they would still receive allowance on the trip.

Little did we know what an amazing decision that would be. We gave each kiddo a journal for the trip. At the back of the journal, we had them start a ledger. They put in the amount of their savings accounts in dollars. When we arrived in England, we took the current exchange rate and helped them do the conversion. Each Sunday, we had them add in their allowance. And, when we became desperate, we instituted a 1 Pound (later to become 1 Euro) sleeping bonus for each night they went straight to bed. We continuously reminded them that those sleeping bonuses weekly added up to even more than their allowance. I think I would have paid almost anything for peaceful sleep.

So, what did they subtract from this ledger? I do have to say that once in awhile, they subtracted a Pound or a Euro due to sheer brattiness. I actually, in one of my better parenting moments, tried to take away 50 Euros from Missa B, but Hubs decided I probably just needed to eat and would then be more rational, so he overruled me and doled out a much more reasonable consequence (thank you, Hubs!)

And, the kids subtracted their souvenirs. We agreed to pay for all postcards and additional journals if needed (Missa B filled up three), but informed them that they would be paying for all additional souvenirs. This is a page from J’s journal:

The “math” lines are to correct for math errors after we went back and did monthly balancing. 

Best decision we ever made. Not ONCE did either kiddo ever beg for a souvenir. They went into stores carefully evaluating their options to figure out how they wanted to spend their money. They never asked us to buy them anything because they knew that wasn’t how it was going to work on this trip. And they made amazing decisions. Missa B decided to collect bookmarks, so she always looked to find special ones at the sights we visited. JJ decided he wanted magnets, and he found amazing ones along the way. They also bought larger souvenirs at special spots, but they were really conscious about their choices, and we were so proud of them.

And SO relieved we were not constantly having to say “No”. We ended up being willing to go into almost any souvenir store they asked to visit because we knew it would be a pleasant experience.

We also agreed we would pay to send souvenirs home. Didn’t budget for that one, but man, we should have! It costs SO much to send things overseas! But, traveling lightly was key for us, and that meant sending souvenirs home.

So, now we’re back. We all have souvenirs we love; we have literally thousands of pictures; and we have tons of happy memories. And soon, we hope to once again have a savings account.