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Smart Spending and Saving for your road trip

Not surprisingly, money is a big part of making your epic road trip possible. Whether you have   a lot or just a little, there are some great, easy ways to increase your available funds to do the things you most want to do.  Too often, people figure either a) there is no way they […]
By: Jana

Not surprisingly, money is a big part of making your epic road trip possible. Whether you have   a lot or just a little, there are some great, easy ways to increase your available funds to do the things you most want to do. 

Too often, people figure either a) there is no way they can afford this or b) spend without paying attention to their credit cards only to be haunted by their overspending when they return home. We don’t believe that either of those actually get most families where they want to be. 

So, in the Roadtrip Possible Course, we go in depth on how to create a Preliminary Budget that will help you to right size your trip. This number is an estimate based on the number of travelers, days, distance and level of “comfort” your family prefers; in other words what types of hotels and meals will you enjoy. Then, once you’ve done some more planning and have a clear route, destinations and many of your activities identified, we show you how to create a more detailed Projected Budget. With the Projected Budget, you can start making concrete decisions on how you will spend on this trip. All of this planning means that you know exactly how much you’ll need in order to do the things that you want to do and you can make conscious choices about how you’ll spend. 

We believe that road trips don’t have to put you in debt.

In fact, we work hard to travel within our means. Do we use credit cards? Yes. Do we have a plan for paying them off quickly after the trip? Also, yes. Have we modified trips based on budget? Absolutely! And we always do it knowing exactly what we’re trading for what. No surprises, no mysteries.

And while we haven’t found that magic tree where money grows just yet, we have found that there are things we can do all year and even on the road to free up more money for spending on our road trips. 

And guess what?! We’re sharing them with you here. These are all simple, straight forward strategies that work on and off the road. 

So, let’s first divide these savings strategies into two main categories: earning and actual saving. 

Earning strategies are all about earning or acquiring money that you hadn’t previously counted on. It’s additional income that can be devoted solely to your road trip since you weren’t counting on it in your household budget. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll talk about each of these as if you’d spent most of the year saving for your road trip. If you save for longer or more aggressively, you’d obviously be able to save even more. But what we love about these is that they don’t require a ton of effort. 

Earning activities include: 

  • Side jobs and/or Gig work: Don’t underestimate how much you can earn with a pretty limited time investment. It could be an actual part time job that you pick up for a season (holidays are great for this!) or it could be a handful of odd jobs that you do for cash. Check neighborhood message boards and online forums like Craigslist for opportunities that might fit with your skill set. You could also consider things like pet or house sitting periodically. These types of activities do require some time but could easily result in $1000 or more that you could put towards your road trip. 

  • Unexpected gifts or “found” money: Whether its $20 you find in last winter’s coat pocket, $1 on the sidewalk or $20 in a birthday card from your grandma, this is “found” money, so set it aside for your trip. 

  • Consignment/Marketplace/Garage Sales: One way or another - sell the stuff you don’t need. Even a few dollars here and there can really add up. It helps get clutter out of your house and puts some extra dollars in your road trip fund. Check in your area for consignment shops that either purchase things from you outright or where you can drop it all off and they’ll price it to sell or donate it if they can’t sell it. The consignment store we’ve taken our things to for years does an awesome job of pricing things to sell and we get 50%. We generally take clothing that either no longer fits or ended up not being worn or enjoyed as much as expected and household items that simply aren’t needed for whatever reason to consign. You can also consider selling items online through sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. These are great for larger or unique items where you really want to have more control over the price. We typically have about $500-$600 a year from just taking a few minutes to sell rather than just donate things we no longer need. And remember, these are all things we were ready to part with anyway - we’re not selling off items that we still want, need or use. 

  • Cash back apps like Ibotta and Fetch: Depending on your family’s shopping habits, this could easily yield another $100- $200 each year that you can put towards your road trip. (If you discover that you’re super into this, you can earn WAY more but just using these pretty passively can result in a couple hundred dollars). In case you aren’t familiar with these types of sites, the basic idea is that you scan your receipts and earn cash back based on different products and brands that you buy. They don’t cost you anything but a few seconds to snap a picture of your receipt each time you go shopping. Are these folks using your shopping habits to develop even more sophisticated marketing strategies and consumer profiles? Yes. I’m sure they are. But so is every browser, social media app and online game. So . .  you may as well get paid for it!  
    • With Ibotta, you do have to select offers prior to submitting your receipt which can take a few minutes since they are always changing. You can purchase gift cards for yourself or as gifts and get as much as 15% cash back. They've recently added new features making it easier to link your accounts at places like Target and Walmart so you don't even have to scan a receipt.
    • With Fetch, you can just scan any receipt and it finds any available offers that are out there. The rewards per item seem a bit smaller than with Ibotta BUT you can earn with EVERY SINGLE receipt even if you didn't buy any particular brands. That means fast food receipts, gas station receipts, whatever - you earn rewards. Use our Fetch referral code for a bonus when you sign up!

  • Loyalty Points/Rewards: There are SO MANY ways to maximize loyalty programs and rewards points. You can use them to bring the cost of stops or stays down but some can also be used for gift cards towards food, gas or lodging. If you’re using credit cards, be sure they offer some of these fabulous benefits! Look for credit cards that offer rewards points for travel brands you love - think hotels and airlines. There are plenty of credit cards out there that have a wide variety of cash back and rewards points available. We are choosing not to offer affiliate links here because the sign on bonuses change so often, that we want to ensure you get the best deal - which may or may not be using our referral link! Plus, only you can determine whether a credit card is a good choice for your family. If you do decide to use credit cards to earn points, make the most of it by PAYING IT OFF each month! Racking up a balance and paying interest is not saving you money, no matter how many points you earn. So be careful with this one! 
    • We use:
      • Hilton Honors American Express: It offers really generous rewards for everyday purchase that translate into Hilton Honors points. We love the Hilton Honors program because there are no restrictions or blackout dates. It's easy to use and you can use points in conjunction with cash. So we typically apply points to bring our nightly cost down to $50-$100 which saves us hundreds on every trip. This care also offers excellent car rental coverage at no additional cost. So again, saving money!! Yay! 
      • Southwest Rapid Rewards by Chase: We earn Rapid Rewards points on everyday purchases with this card which allow us to earn free plane tickets. We don’t use these as often but they’ve made it possible in the past to fly all 6 of us to Phoenix where we rented a van and drove 4,000 miles on our road trip. So the airline points can actually be a great addition to your road trip plan. Again, we love Southwest because they are lower cost to begin with, no extra fees for 2 checked bags and no blackout dates or restrictions on using your points. 

  • Gift Cards: Okay, fair enough, these aren’t exactly “earned” but they are a result of being in relationship with other people, communicating what you want/need and putting in the effort to be clear and intentional. When it comes time for holiday or birthday gifts, let friends and family know what gift cards would be most useful for you on your road trip. These might be gas cards, fast food, restaurants or even Airbnb cards. Whether it's $100 or $500, it will all come off the bottom line since this is cash you won’t have to spend on the road. 

With these fairly low effort “earning” strategies, you can increase your available funds by $1000 or more in the course of a year. 

Now, let’s talk about some ways to actually spend less. Savings strategies help you reduce costs primarily on the road, but several of these could be implemented long before your trip in order to boost your budget ahead of time. A few of these may seem super simple but they really can make a big difference for you, your budget, your bodies and the planet! 

  • Water Bottles: No, really. Insulated water bottles for everyone! Rather than buying drinks at every stop, keep your family hydrated (and save TONS of money) by having everyone use an insulated water bottle. You can refill for free at most fountain soda stations or buy a gallon of drinking water for much less than a pile of individual drinks! For a family of 4 on a 7 day trip this could easily save you $140!  Plus, you’re doing the planet a little favor by not using dozens of single use plastic bottles.  Not to mention, doing your bodies a favor by staying hydrated. So that’s kind of a win win win. 

  • Water at Restaurants: This is a variation on a theme. . . WATER!!! It’s better for you and doesn’t cost anything. If you purchase soda or tea for everyone at every meal it really adds up. For a family of 4 on a 7 day trip, drinking water at meals can easily save you over $100. Plus, if you do decide to purchase soda or tea, you can typically get it for a fraction of the cost either at the gas station or grocery store. So spend wisely! 

  • Packed Snacks and lunches: If you really want to save on your road trip, consider packing a cooler and offsetting your food budget by packing sandwiches for a few lunches. While you’ll still need to buy the groceries for this, the total investment is less than eating out. Keeping snacks on hand in the car will also save on unnecessary spending at gas stations and you can purchase the same snacks for much less at the grocery store ahead of time than individually at gas stations. 

  • Eat “in” a few nights: Depending on your itinerary, you might also consider a few low cost meals “in” during your road trip. This is particularly easy if you’re staying at a rental that has a full kitchen. You can pick up anything from frozen pizza to pasta to a rotisserie chicken and some frozen veggies and feed your whole family for around $10 instead of the $40+ it would cost to eat out for that meal. These don’t need to be gourmet, 5 course dinners. They can be quick, simple and delicious AND save you money. 

  • Do your research: As you plan, spend some time looking for “pro-tips” that will help you get the most out of every stop and find some deals that you may have otherwise missed. Planning can save you money on almost every line item of your budget. Be particularly mindful of looking for tickets online. Many stops offer online discounts and if you wait to purchase in person, you’ll pay more. You might also look for days or times when admission is cheaper. We’ve found that many attractions offer discounted evening rates in an attempt to throttle the daytime crowds a bit. We’ve saved hundreds just by buying tickets for the afternoon or evening rather than first thing in the morning. It’s worth looking for! Look for student, veteran or even teacher discounts too. 

  • Budget, Budget, Budget: This might sound obvious but it bears mentioning. Budget for everything! If you don’t have a plan and aren’t paying attention to what you’re spending, it is easy to spend way more than necessary. So work out exactly what you will spend on things like souvenirs, meals, snacks, and activities ahead of time. Then, track your spending on the road so you can make more informed choices and stay on track. Avoid the common mistake of only budgeting for big ticket items and overnight stays but not for food, fuel, and miscellaneous things like parking and tolls. 

No one of these tips alone is necessarily a game changer that will save you so much money that you add an extra week to the trip, but taken together, they really do make a difference. An extra $100 can cover your souvenirs, one night’s hotel, tickets to a museum or even just a fancy dinner out one night. If you decided to use all of these strategies, you could reasonably have $2000 or more for your road trip without touching any of your regular income. 

But maybe you aren’t interested in all of them or aren’t too worried about your budget. No worries! This is all about doing what works for you and your family. We know that cost sometimes holds folks back so we want to make sure that you have all the resources you need to feel empowered and creative in how you make your road trip affordable. 

Remember that everything is a choice and you get to choose how much flexibility you want to have in your budget and what you’re willing to do to create access to more money for your trip. 

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