Finding frugal living after it has been lost

 In Travel Tips

Now how do you afford your rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle?
How do you afford your rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle?
How do you afford your rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle?
Oh tell me
Oh yeah alright, alright, oh yeah, alright, oh

Those of us who grew up in the 90s, and had any sort of musical taste, will recognize these lyrics sung by the band Cake. It is about music groupie excess, smashing up guitars and living, well, a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

No, I am not a musician, nor do I live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but for over a year now I have been living a travel lifestyle, and not a frugal one at that.

How it all got started

I come from a family of savers. From an early age I was taught to give ten percent of my money to those less fortunate, and put ten percent of my money into savings. I was religious about doing this, even with my 25-cent allowance (don’t even try to do the math on that one). I was the saver. I was the stockpiler… for years and years and years.

When I grew up I worked in the corporate world. I saved, but I did start to splurge a little on myself. I had no one to take care of. I had very few bills. I finally had money to spend! After I got married we had two incomes and only two of us to feed and house. We paid off some debt, and set some money aside for a rainy day. We worked so much that we had very few opportunities to spend it. I went to grad school in Chicago, which put us into our ultra thrifty mode. We moved to Seattle. This caused us to try to save even more as we adjusted to the increased cost of living. When the boys came along we found that they didn’t cost a ton, we just had to buy more food. We were still putting money into savings. But diapers add up.

Once I left my corporate job and decided to stay home with my oldest son, I stockpiled our money even more. I was terrified to lose my income. We planned out our budget; if we tucked in we could live off of my husband’s salary. Daycare was so expensive my lost income wouldn’t make much of a difference. It took over six months for the money to settle and for me to see where we were at financially. We were doing well. We had a healthy savings account.

And then I got bored.

Downward spiral

Before I left my job I had started traveling to Asia for work. I would sneak in an extra day to explore, but I was always frustrated that I didn’t have more vacation time to take advantage of these travel opportunities. Once I was home with my son, what was I waiting for? It was time to travel! We had a very healthy savings account. Surely I could use a bit of it to travel with my family before the kids started school full time in a few short years. We could always save up a little more once they went back to school.

This plan worked for a long time. My husband got a little bonus; we would take another trip. The money was going out, but not much was coming back in to replenish it after a while. Finally the system broke. Although I had started freelancing and my husband’s income was the same, I had over traveled. Our nice little pile of savings was gone. Yes, we had taken some incredible trips (and paid in advance for a few this coming year), but I had not been as thrifty as I should have been. Now I felt like we were in bad shape. The slush fund (and then some) was gone!

What is a slush fund?

A slush fund is the money you get to play with after all your necessary bills are paid. This isn’t your emergency fund. This isn’t the household fund that pays for repairs or your mortgage.  This is purely money to have a little fun with, spoil your kids and do things like travel.

History of the slush fund

I learned all about slush funds from my parents. My mom is ultra frugal. My dad is the one who tells her that they can afford to splurge. Both of my parents do freelance work on the side, or pick up extra hours at work from time to time. This is unexpected money. This is cash that they don’t need to pay their bills or maintain their lives. This is their slush fund money. For example, we usually order pizza when my family visits my parents. I try to help pay the bill. My dad usually waves me off and say it is from the slush fund. This is money that they use to bless their family, spoil their grandkids, and buy things like kayaks that they don’t really need, but would like. Their slush fund ebbs and flows, but it is usually there.

Now my own slush fund is gone. I’m upset and embarrassed that I let it happen and didn’t act more quickly. Looking back I see where it went and how I could have prevented it. I could have skipped a few trips, looked for more economical lodging, stayed at home instead of heading to the beach or going out to brunch with the girls. I can’t change the past, but I can change my spending in the future.

How to rebuild your slush fund

Starting on February 1st my family went into a spending lockdown as part of what I like to call “Frugal February.” No more instant gratification for someone who wants take out for dinner (all of us), a new CD (hubby), or to take advantage of that fabulous airfare deal that just popped up (me). We cannot spend any unnecessary money.

Thanks to a tip from Nicole at Arrows Sent Forth, there is now a piece of paper on my fridge where we will track every penny that leaves our account for the rest of the month. Groceries, gas, parking fees for doctor’s appointments, preschool tuition and coffee shop stops will go on the list. I can see all of this activity in our bank account, but by writing it down we hope to make ourselves more aware of what we are spending, what we can cut out and what we didn’t miss.

Piggy Bank

Photo via 401(K)-2013/ Flickr (text added by Walking On Travels)

Looking at the future

All month long I will be brainstorming ways to cut back. We have lived on half, and even a quarter, of what we live off of now. We can scale back and do it again. Travel is important to us. I need my slush fund. This month we will concentrate on rebuilding it. Next month I will start looking for ways to make our trips even cheaper, but not any less fabulous.

We do have two trips on the horizon that were paid for in advance, or are part of my freelance writing business. While on these trips I will be watching our pennies. We may not be able to stop traveling (or want to!) but we can do it more responsibly so the travel slush fund lasts a whole lot longer. This doesn’t mean I will be staying in a hostel anytime soon, but it does mean I may be packing more snacks, skipping my beloved pedicures, and using a few more coupons.

Look for lots of money-saving tips on our Facebook page and one heck of a post coming at the end of the month with tips to build your own slush fund, cut back on unnecessary spending, and an update on how we are doing after a month on our self-imposed spending lockdown. I may not be a rock star, but I do need to figure out how to “afford our rock ‘n’ roll” travel lifestyle a whole lot better so it doesn’t go away completely.

Just in case you never heard the Cake song before, here you go!
WARNING: May not be appropriate for children.

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Showing 23 comments
  • Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    Thanks for posting this very honest update. I look forward to reading about your tips. It’s going to be quite a wakeup call for us when we move from Malaysia back to Texas this summer. The cost of living is so cheap in Malaysia ($15 pedicures, $5/hr housecleaning, and $3 lunches) that we’ve become a bit spoiled. Plus, hotels and airfare are inexpensive, too. I’ll be most sad about losing the nice expat package that compensates us for 2 overseas flights a year.

    • Keryn Means

      Malaysia back to Texas will definitely me an adjustment Michele. I will be very curious to see that. The good news is that here in Seattle we can get pedicures for $20 (or mani/pedi for $25) so at least that won’t be a huge change.

  • Amy Whitley

    I love this line: And then I got bored.

    Yep, that’s how I lose all my money, too!

    • Keryn Means

      Boredom is the enemy of all money for sure Amy!

  • Mom

    I would like to point out that your allowance was at least 50 cents a week (and chores had to be done to earn it!); after all, even mine was a whopping 35 cents in the 1960’s. 😉
    That said, I think all of your advice is very helpful for anyone who wants to live within their budget, save for their future (kids’ college bills, retirement) and still have some splurge money. I’m also glad you mentioned we taught you to share with those who don’t have our wealth. I think that practice trains all of us to think like the rest of the world, and to avoid the “Dirty American” trap of thinking we have an entitlement to wealth and privilege. It is that sensitivity which makes us better travelers and world citizens.

    • Keryn Means

      I totally remember a 10 cent and 25 cent allowance when I was really little mom. It was a big deal when it went up to 50 cents (I could do more chores probably). I’ll check with Lauren 😉

  • Shelly Rivoli

    We’ve always believed that the fastest way to lose money is to drive a new car off the lot. I will have to win one if I’m ever to have a spanking new automobile. 😉 Fun post & good luck!

    • Keryn Means

      Definitely a fast way to lose money Shelly!

  • wanderingeducators

    This is so important, especially since we love to travel, but other things crop up (cars, houses, medical bills, etc). Great to read, will be looking forward to more!

  • Allison

    I know how you feel! We’re having a “Frugal February” ourselves. After the excess of the holidays, this is a good time (and a short month!) to re-evaluate spending habits. Fun and frugality can be a delicate balance for families on a budget.

  • Jenna

    I have found that with the second child, especially after he was baby, traveling has gotten so expensive. Paying for 4 flights, accommodations with 2 rooms so we don’t all wake each other up, and food for us 4 gets really expensive! That’s why we do most of our vacations within our home state now. We rent a house in an area we really want to explore, go to the nearest Trader Joe’s or other good supermarket, and do fun stuff that the whole family likes, which is usually outdoors and costs almost nothing. The vacations are wonderful! Good luck with getting your budget back on track. We are working on that too. 🙂

  • Sally@Toddlers on Tour

    I remember many years ago when I had saved a small fortune to backpack through Europe for 6 months (without having to stop and work along the way).
    One of my colleague’s at work asked how I had managed to save so much.

    Simple “you don’t go out drinking every weekend, buy the latest clothes, get your nails done”
    Basically you don’t have the luxuries.

    To me it’s all about priorities, travel for me has always been the priority and so I save for that.

    Of course these days I also have a partner and have to take into account his dreams of building a successful business – which means we don’t get the time to travel so much, and he also wants money put aside for other things.

  • Meg

    I am in the same spot as you. I wouldn’t give a second up of our fabulous travel last year (or penny, probably). Unfortunately, the move that made the travel possible has put us in a hole. Someone suggested Feb is a great month to save, to not spend any money on non-nessecities. As I am still furnishing my house, necessities is relative, but I’m trying to go frugal on what I think we need. Used car, 2nd hand furniture, etc.

    Though the second I get bored, or distracted, I start looking at airfares….

    How about a march slush fund challenge? Save 10% or cash income. Already do that? Try to add another 5% to tour savings rate?

  • Kiera @EasyTravelMom

    Very honest and so true for so many of us travelers! We have to buckle down every month for us to even travel somewhat frugally, but we enjoy the rewards when it’s all said and done. Looking forward to your Frugal February. I had a whole series early on for Frugal Fridays and loved it!

  • Cassie Kifer

    Great, honest post, Keryn! I don’t know how you traveling moms do it, it’s hard enough being frugal and affording to travel with only two plane tickets to buy, I can’t imagine what it’s like with four! We’re in a similar boat trying to adjust to me working less and Kevin doing the startup thing long-term, we’re making much less than we were a few years ago. But that’s living the dream, right? I’m looking forward to your post, best of luck this month!

  • Jill

    I feel your pain. When my husband and I were first married we lived very frugally and even after our kids were born I shopped thrift stores, we ate at home and pinched pennies so I could be a stay at home mom. Enter teenage years and things were looking up financially. So we let the kids do all the activities (and costs that went with them) they could juggle and took some awesome trips. I didn’t want any regrets about not having family time went they left home. Now we are empty nesters and after college costs added in our slush fund was gone also. So we are back to pinching pennies – no eating out, even when traveling we eat out of our cooler, budget hotels and keeping track of every penny. But, as my husband points out, we still get to travel and for me, that is all that matters.

  • Jenny

    I just found this site and I’m in love!!
    I have a nine month old and a serious travel bug and I’m so excited to read your tips and see if I can convince my husband we can still be travelers even though we’ve moved into parent mode. And travelers with the babe in tow, not just when we can leave him with the grandparents!

    • Keryn Means

      Jenny I’m so glad you found me! Let me know if you have any questions. Traveling isn’t just a dream but can be an easy reality with kids, especially babies. They are so portable and don’t have an opinion about where you go, just that they are with you!

  • Katie

    Yep, I totally get it. I think that travel becomes sort of like an addiction (perhaps a strong word). I could be on the go all the time. Not even kidding. Was in a different hotel every weekend in January practically and felt like I’d gone no where. I have to take February off to do my taxes and catch up on months of posts due. It’s been pretty relaxing, I dare say, and whoa am I not spending nearly as much $!

  • eileen at FamiliesGo!

    Struggling with the reality and politics of going from 2 incomes to 1 is complicated, especially when you don’t lose the tastes you acquired when you had more money and fewer financial responsibilities. Your communication about it and team effort will go a long way. Good luck!

  • Cheryl Kids On A Plane

    I love this post. Not long ago… ok 5 years ago, I decided to leave the corporate world to raise my kids.

    It was a complete 180 for me and it took a LONG time to get into this savings mode. At that time our household income was cut by 50%. It definitely wasn’t easy but I’m glad my husband and I worked together to make traveling a priority and put everything else second.

    The designer jeans, gadgets and knick knacks are no longer part of our life (sometimes they make a brief appearance because we can’t resist a good deal! ;)) and it’s freeing to know that we’ve paid for our trip already in full before we even step on the plane, train, car or bus.

    Looking forward to your reading about your frugal ways and hoping to add a few more to our money saving strategy.

  • Colleen Lanin

    Oh, I can relate more than I care to admit!

    • Keryn Means

      Colleen it is just so hard!

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