Finances on the Road

The number one question we are asked is, "How do you make it financially?" So, I thought I would share a little bit about The Numbers.
We've always been pretty frugal folks. We have saved a lot so that certainly has helped in this adventure keep rolling down the road - literally. We have a buffer so when little things happen - such as putting gas in the diesel engine and giving us a $1200 repair bill, we aren't stuck for a month eating rice and beans. In all reality, our costs now are actually less than when we were living in the house.
First things first - we had to start with a budget. Planning out all our details including those fixed costs of our insurance and medical bills from home as well as the more variable costs such as gas and campground fees. Great budgeting tools can be found at Dave Ramsey.com He has revolutionized many lives - ours included, and is one reason we are where we are today.

We started with a budget of a little under a $100 a day. We later took out our house and car insurance and prepaid them separately. So, you're thinking, "Oh my gosh, what in the world can you do on $100 a day?" You'd be surprised really. Personal preference really comes in here though.

 I started out by saying we're pretty frugal. Well, no matter how hard we'd love to get amazing gas mileage, there is a limit to how much we can get when pulling the trailer. 12 mpg is fabulous. There are, however, many variables to the cost of the fuel that we put in the tank. We downloaded Gas Buddy to the cell phone and you'd be surprised at the difference in costs in one town (we start looking when we know we're going to want to fill up within the next hour). Now if your tank only holds 10 gallons of fuel, it might not be worth it to chase down a 5 cents savings. Our tank holds 30 gallons and if we can find a savings of 5 or 10 cents (or yesterdays whopper of TWENTY cents), we'll drive a little ways to get the savings. At $3.80 a gallon, that can be over $20. savings.

And speaking of the cost per gallon, the costs have varied greatly by region. The west coast being the most expensive and California topping there. When we started our trip we were paying $4.40 a gallon! We had budgeted only $4. We knew we couldn't stay there for long with the costs of one of our major expenses being 10% higher than what we were expecting. That said, much of the midwest even that out quickly with desiel costs around $3.50 a gallon. More recently, in the south and south-east, it's been around $3.65 - 3.85. We call the "leftovers" play money!

Food. We have to have it. It's a staple of life and at the same time, we're concerned with what we are eating as much as it's costs. There have been days where we've spent our entire daily budget on meat at the farmer's market, but we know that with the higher quality, we'll use a lot less. I'm still using coupons but with a tiny "pantry", there isn't room to get a lot when things go on sale. I have done some things though that have saved...things like baking our own bread. Healthy, no chemical preservatives and about half the cost of a "good" loaf of bread. Making our own shampoo and conditioner. While not food, those things can really add up and making our own costs literally cents and is healthier for us and the environment! See my article on Make your own shampoo. As for the meals, we try not to eat out much, but when we do, we're trying to choose a little higher quality. Homemade meals are simple and affordable. I'm working on keeping our food costs under $15 a day (this includes personal care and paper items too).

Housing. Well, we've got the camper and while not fancy, it's paid for. I have to check my attitude sometimes when we pull into campgrounds with big, fancy fivers (the nickname for 5th wheel trailers) with three and four slide outs and gorgeous ammenities and remind myself that ours keeps us just as warm and dry as the fancy ones. And we aren't spending the big bucks every month on a payment. So our costs here are completely related to campground fees.  We've paid nothing and spent the night in a Walmart parking lot. Actually a lot of those up north when we started and gas prices were so high and the night time temps were OK. We've spend close to $50 a night just outside of Gettysburg (that was a VERY rare treat at a great campground). Here's the thing though: campground fees include utilities 90% of the time. Water, sewer and even electric. Sometimes they'll include cable TV and internet as well! Typically though, we were saving money by using our Passport America campground membership, where we pay half price and are looking at campgrounds to be in the $20 range average.
We just recently though found out about Thousand Trails. They were having a sale on their memberships and the campground that we were staying at was not only one of their properties, they offered us to apply what we paid in our "rent". How could we pass that deal up? Nope, couldn't. We paid $449 for the southeast membership and they refunded the entire amount as we had paid that (and a little more) for the space rental! For that annual fee you get 30 days of free camping. After that, within the one year's time, you can camp in any of their campgrounds for $3 a night. Yes, you read that right: THREE dollars per night. Here's the catch: if you stay at any one property for more than 4 days, you have to wait a week before you can come back or use another property. Not a big deal - we've still got our PA membership as well as Good Sam if we can't find anything else. And really, it's already paid for itself at the first campground. Anything extra is just more savings for more fun things. Like Disneyworld.

And that brings us to entertainment. We have budgeted about $20 a day for entertainment. There are many free things to do as well. We bought a family membership to the Pacific Science Center just before we left. We now use it all across the country through their reciprocating program and see all sorts of amazing (and some pricey) science centers and museums where ever we go.  We also bought an annual pass for the National Parks. While some are free, others have entrance passes for adults and others for kids too. The great thing about the parks too, is that they offer these amazing Junior Rangers programs. It gets the kids (and parents) involved in exploring and finding out more information about the park. All for free. Not sure that's a good use of tax dollars, but that's for another day. We do love the program and use it with the boys.  The budgeted money is accumulated for things Disneyworld (ouch!), NASCAR tickets, movies and other special events. We're still close to many towns so we'll also try to find Blockbuster or Redbox for some quiet family time. We'll also browse through the movie selection when we stop at Walmarts and see if there is anything family friendly out there. We've got quite a selection going from their $5 box!

As you can see, when I said we live frugally, we really do mean it. Sure there are days we'd love to have more gadgets and fancier housing, but in the end, we have to be content with where we are and what we have. And keep saving for the next farm...

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