July 1, 2012

Budget vs Actual Expenses

Long before we left on our trip, I reread Live Your Road Trip Dream, by Carol and Phil White, a book that had inspired me to take a seven-week road trip after I retired from the City of Miami.  This book demonstrated how one could travel for a year for the cost of staying at home.  When we were developing a budget for our road trip, we looked to the book for advice and discovered that, indeed, we could take our trip for not much more than staying at home.  The trip seemed to be something we could afford.

Unlike the Whites, however, we had hoped not to have to rent our home while we were away.  Although the income would have been nice and would have covered our expenses for the mortgage, utilities and other home-related expenses, we preferred not to have to pack up our personal items to make room for a renter if at all possible.  Our solution to this came in the form of a nine-month job that I happened to get at the Estes Park Museum, just one year prior to leaving on the trip.  Not only did I love the job, but I was also able to save what I earned and use that to cover our home expenses.  There was even quite a bit left over to cover some of our other trip-related expenses.

Live Your Road Trip Dream offered great ideas on how to develop a budget, and we used many of these ideas in creating our own budget.  We erred on the high side in almost every category as we didn’t want to come up short part way through the trip. 

It’s been interesting comparing our budget with our actual expenses.  Although we certainly did not scrimp on spending, we were pleased with the final figures.  So, we are sharing these numbers in case anyone else might want to think about doing a similar trip.

June 27, 2012

How Did We Spend the Rest of the Money?

Last week I reported about our biggest expenses for the trip – diesel fuel, lodging and food.  Those were big categories and accounted for approximately sixty percent of our total expenditures.  But what about the other forty percent?

Our next largest expense was RV service, maintenance and repairs at $4,736.  We knew the RV would require two routine services while we were on the road and budgeted $2,610 for this category.  Although it seems that we grossly underestimated this figure, we decided near the end of the trip to bite the bullet and upgrade the RV with an anti-sway bar and new shocks.  That alone cost us approximately $1,715.  Although the work was not required, we felt it would be a worthwhile expenditure and knew we had been coming in under budget in other categories.  What we hadn’t counted on, however, was having to replace the tires.  That was a painful, but essential, $1,167.

The Upgrade to the RV and the Tires Were a Major Expense
Another big expense was entertainment at $3,924.  This category included everything from admission fees, tickets and tours to boat and seaplane rides.  We had decided even before the trip began that we preferred to spend our money on experiences, not things.  Even though we did not scrimp in this category, we still came in under budget by $1,871.  You see, that difference paid for the upgrade to the RV.

Experiences Like the Seaplane Ride to the Dry Tortugas Were So Worth the Money
OK, that brings our percentage of total expenditures up to seventy-seven percent.  What else did we purchase?  We did shop a little bit and spent a total of $3,283 for gifts, a few new clothes, a new camera and assorted books, souvenirs and other things.  It’s a good thing we had decided to mostly forego shopping, since we did have a tendency to buy stuff once we walked into a store.  Other “shopping” items included supplies for the RV, household supplies and a few office supplies.  We did exceed our budget by about $400.  Kitty, however, did a much better job and only exceeded her $475 budget by $2.  Good Kitty.

Tim Collected Bandanas from Various National Parks
We only had a few additional categories that exceeded a total of $1,000.  These included personal care expenses, such as haircuts, laundry and toiletries, at $1,396.  We paid $1,395 for cell phone and internet access through our MiFi, as well as $1,294 for last-minute airline tickets to Colorado for both of us.  We were under budget for the first two.  Airline tickets, however, were not in the budget.

Expenses relating to winterizing our house and having someone take care of the house and mail came to $1,372.  We still had to pay the mortgage, condo association fees and minimal utilities, but we did not include those expenses in our trip expenditures.  Other assorted expenses amounted to almost $4,000.

By the end of this week I plan to post a chart comparing our original budget with our actual expenses.  These numbers may change slightly, but they’re pretty accurate.  After I finish with the chart, I don’t want to think about these numbers anymore!

June 24, 2012

And the Winner Is. . .

One of the things that Tim and I looked forward to every morning was looking to see if we had received any comments on our blog posts.  This was one way we stayed connected with our family and friends, and we really appreciated the time that people took to check in with us.

Near the end of the trip, we decided that we should acknowledge the person who had posted the most comments over the course of the nine months.  We never announced a contest and didn’t tell anyone about our plan, so no one knew that a “prize” might be in the offing.

We are pleased to announce that the person who posted more comments than anyone was. . .”LV”!!!  Congratulations and thank you for entertaining us, commiserating with us and simply keeping us company.  Close on the heels of LV was “A,” and we also loved reading your comments.

While we were in Napa, LV posted a comment about one the photos we included.  The photo featured a banner that read “Wine a Bit, You’ll Feel Better.”  LV mentioned that she loved the banner and said that she had to have it.  Well, we found a similar, although smaller, banner, and that is your prize.  We hope that you will remember sharing our trip with us every time you look at it.  The banner will be in the mail to you this week.  Enjoy, and thank you.

I Couldn't Agree More!

June 23, 2012

Estes Park on Fire

A small, but fast-burning fire began at noon today near the main entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Despite burning approximately sixteen structures on High Drive, as well as adjacent forest and grasslands, it seems that the fire has been mostly contained.  hile we were at lunch we watched black smoke pour from the western part of town, although I didn’t have my camera with me to record it.  

Two helicopters from the High Park Fire, which has been burning near Fort Collins for two weeks, were quickly dispatched to Estes Park, and it was fascinating to watch them hover over Lake Estes and draw water into their tanks.  I had never seen anything like that before.

Our home is on the east side of town, and we were never in danger.  Nevertheless, the fire was a little too close for comfort for me.  It is scary to see how much of Colorado is burning, and it’s only June.  Triple-digit temperatures, wind and low humidity are only adding to the danger.  I’m afraid it’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Coming In to Fill the Tanks
Arriving at Lake Estes
Filling the Tanks
Tanks Are Full
Taking Off
Off to Drop Water on the Fire
We Can See the High Park Fire from Our Home

June 20, 2012

Where Did We Eat, What Did It Cost?

Before we left on our trip, we had two ideas about food.  We knew that we would eat out a lot, since experiencing local and regional foods was important to us, and we also thought we would cook many of our own meals.  As things turned out, we did eat out a lot, but we almost never cooked meals from scratch.  What happened?

Even though our kitchen in the RV is tiny, we were fully equipped to cook almost any kind of meal imaginable.  We had purchased a nesting set of cookware that took up very little room and had discovered ingenious silicone cookers that would enable us to cook an entire meal in our microwave/convection oven.  We even had every utensil that we might need.  We were definitely prepared.  We just found that we lacked the motivation to cook.

It all started in Maine when we couldn’t seem to get our fill of local seafood, especially lobster and crab.  After living in landlocked Colorado, we were starved for fresh seafood, and we really looked forward to eating out.  Lobster and crab were a little too messy to try and prepare in the RV, so we left the cooking to someone else.

Maine Lobster Was Hard to Resist
We decided early on that lunch would typically be our main meal of the day.  First of all, lunch is usually less expensive than at dinner.  Second, we looked forward to lunchtime as a nice break from driving or touring.  However, our primary reason was the fact that it was just too inconvenient to go out for dinner.  Once we arrived at a campground and got set up, we simply did not want to turn around and drive back out for dinner.  It just wasn’t worth the hassle, especially once it started getting dark so early.

Eating our biggest meal at lunch meant that we often had leftovers for dinner.  We quickly got into the habit of not cooking, and when we didn’t have leftovers, we learned that we could purchase very good prepared foods at supermarkets or delis.  We were often tired at the end of the day and did not want to add cooking to our list of other evening activities, which included writing blog posts and researching where we should go the next day.

People often wonder if we got tired of eating out every day.  I can honestly say that we did not.  We almost never ate in chain or fast food restaurants and instead sought out local spots that featured “home cooking.”  In nine months I can remember only a handful of restaurants where the food was pretty bad.  Maybe I’m too easy to please.  I will say, however, that while we did not miss our own “home cooking,” we absolutely loved it when friends and family prepared meals for us.  That was a special treat.

Restaurants Featuring Home Cooking Were Not Hard to Find
We loved sampling all sorts of regional foods, from local seafood along both coasts to down home Southern classics, and we were always on the lookout for barbeque.  Then there was pie.  We felt that it was our mission to discover the best pie in the country.  Try as we might to come up with a winner, we just couldn’t choose.  Almost every slice of pie we tried was wonderful.

South Carolina Barbeque
Pie Is Nice
Although we often ate at places that would fit right in on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” we also treated ourselves to a really elegant dinner from time to time.  We had some very memorable fine dining experiences, especially in Savannah and Yosemite National Park.

An Elegant Christmas Dinner in Savannah
So, I’m sure you’re wondering what all of this food cost.  Our total budget for food was a generous $50 per day, or a total of $14,488 ($9,500 for dining out and $4,988 for groceries).  We hoped that we wouldn’t spend that much, and we didn’t!  Food ended up costing us approximately $13,155, or $45 per day, which also included treating friends and family to meals from time to time.  The final breakdown was $9,200 for dining out and $3,955 for groceries.  We came in under budget one more time!

Could we have saved money on food?  Without a doubt!  However, we don’t regret our choices.  We enjoyed eating out.  Besides, by not cooking at night, we eliminated what could have become a stressful situation at the end of a long day.  We did eat breakfast in the RV virtually every morning.  We made coffee and had cereal with blueberries, a banana and orange juice, just like we always did at home.  It was always a treat when we did go out for breakfast.  We also rarely stopped for coffee and saved our latte money for a favorite dessert, which we always shared.  When we were in an area where there were no restaurants to be found, we even fixed our own lunch.  Picnics in beautiful surroundings were always nice.

We did have to learn a new way of shopping.  I had been accustomed to planning my grocery list around what was on sale, and I often used coupons.  I also loved trips to Costco to stock up on “vats” of things we used in large quantities.  All of that went out the window in shopping for the RV.  First, we couldn’t wait for something to be on sale.  Second, we simply didn’t have room for “vats” of anything.  Instead, we had to buy the most expensive, small size package.  Finding room for an extra box of cereal was a challenge.  Given the small size of our refrigerator, we often had to shop twice or even three times a week.  Murphy’s Law guaranteed that we never ran out of milk, orange juice and half-and-half on the same day, and since there was no room to store an extra container upright in the refrigerator, that meant another trip to the store.

We ended up not minding our frequent stops for groceries, however.  It was interesting to shop in new stores and discover how selections varied in different parts of the country.  We always hoped to find tasty prepared foods that we would enjoy for dinner.  The occasional trip to stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or local co-ops was always a special delight.  Unfortunately, we did not travel during the season for farmers markets.  That’s one of the things I would have enjoyed.

We Found Wonderful Prepared Foods for Dinner
We Included Local Treats in our Grocery Budget
Now that we’re home, I’m trying to learn to cook again.  It’s amazing how quickly we forget certain skills.  But I’m getting better.  Yesterday I made oven fried chicken and banana bread.  Who knows what I’ll try next.  I even made a run to Costco.  I guess life is getting back to normal.