Before we left for our first retirement trip to the PopUp Business School at Mr. Money Mustache’s Headquarters in Longmont, I shared that we would be trying to do some travel hacking to save money. I also decided to keep track of our expenses for the first time on a trip! I estimated how much we thought we’d spend during the 16 days and today I’ll share how close those estimates were. I’ll show you where we were frugal and where we set our Mustachian ways aside!
Estimate – $250 and between 70,000 – 100,000 Ultimate Reward (UR) points redeemed
Actual – $355.62 and 85,451 UR points redeemed
Parking our car at an airport hotel cost $4/day. After adding tax and driver tips, the total was $79.50. Flights on Southwest with our Companion Pass cost $22.40 (taxes/fees) and 35,236 UR points. Car (mini-van) Rental in Denver used 50,215 UR points and gas for the mini-van cost a total of $252.72 (*We drove almost 1700 miles during our time in Colorado!)
Results – We spent $105.62 more than we anticipated. But we really had no idea where we were going to end up traveling when we weren’t in Longmont. We made a huge loop down to Great Sand Dunes National Park the first weekend we were there. And after the PopUp Business School was over, we spent four more days traveling all through Rocky Mountain National Park. We also went to Steamboat Springs before we headed back to Denver.
With all of the cool things we did during our trip, we were fine with spending more to get around the great state of Colorado!
Estimate – $450 (mostly tent camping, maybe a small cabin for a few nights, hotels for a night or two)
Actual – $760.17 (9 nights tent camping, 2 nights small cabins, 2 nights hotel, 2 nights AirBNB)
We loved the tent camping we did in Colorado! And our plan to bring all of our gear in suitcases on Southwest worked fine. We had everything we needed to be (mostly) comfortable. The first four nights in Lyons, CO cost $96 (we ended up having to pay for showers there so it was closer to $25/night not $20.) I just realized that the second week (3 nights) should have been discounted for off-season (from what I read online), but we didn’t get a discount – and that was fine. It was a great camping area! For three nights during Week 2, the cost was $72. The first weekend away from Longmont, we camped at two KOA’s which cost a total of $72.76. Total camping costs – $240.76.
We chose to use an AirBNB in Longmont for Sunday and Monday night (starting Week #2 of PopUp) because we got back into town late on Sunday and had plans to go to the Denver Bronco’s Monday night football game. The cost for the AirBNB was $160.07 for two nights.
We stayed in two hotels after we left Longmont as we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park and Steamboat Springs. It was still very busy in these areas and many hotels were booked. For two nights, it cost us $228.24.
The last two nights in Colorado were spent in a small camping cabin at Elk Creek Campground in Grand Lake, near Rocky Mountain National Park. It was getting down in the 30’s at night and we enjoyed trying out these cabins! They had 3 beds, a small table, and electric heat 😉 They were a great way to camp – but still save some money! The total for two nights was $131.10.
Results – We spent $310.17 more than we estimated! I never thought the night time temperatures would be that different between Longmont and Grand Lake. It makes sense now though! We even saw snow the morning we were headed to Steamboat! We definitely could have tent-camped in those colder temperatures, but we also wanted to try out the camping cabins. The AirBNB was not part of the original plan, but we also didn’t plan on going to the Bronco’s game! We could have camped those nights too, but we were happy to spend the extra money for the convenience (and extra sleep!)
Estimate – $800 (food/beverage) and $200 (miscellaneous) = $1000
Actual – $497.07 (food/beverages) and $200.72 (miscellaneous – included some grocery items) = $697.74
I’ll need to figure out a better way to break this out in future trips. The $497.02 figure was most of what we ate and drank out during the trip. We stopped at a couple of grocery stores and at a big box store to get supplies twice too. The total for grocery/supplies was $200.72 and some of that was food and beverages. I didn’t take the time to break out the totals – so I combined these categories.
Results – We spent $302.26 less than what we estimated in these two areas. This is interesting because I had predicted that food/beverage would be our largest expense! We didn’t need a cooler and we didn’t have any way to cook, so we definitely did well in this category! We kept things simple and we ate out almost every night. We did save a lot by using groceries for breakfast and lunch, rather than going out to eat those meals each day.
*One other IMPORTANT note! We were treated to two nice dinners on our trip too! Our new friend Carol who just started the blog Downsize Your 2080 (focusing on designing a lifestyle around a part-time work schedule) and her friend Sue treated us to dinner in Longmont. And we met up with a PopUp “classmate” and her family in Steamboat Springs where they live. They treated us to a great dinner and some margaritas too! We were SO lucky to have met such nice people! We are looking forward to seeing these folks again in the future and we’ll be the ones to do the treating!
Estimate – $300
Actual – $600
We were really just guessing what activities might cost. But we were also sure that if we found fun things to do, that cost wasn’t going to prevent us from doing them! I turned 50 this year, we had an anniversary this spring, and my husband had a birthday this summer – and we didn’t do anything “big” to celebrate those important days. We were really busy getting our house ready to be sold and getting both kids ready for college – and we knew our days to travel were coming.
We gave $10 to the band that came to MMM’s HQ the first week we were there. We spent $42 to rent sleds to use at Great Sand Dune National Park. We purchased a one-year National Park’s Pass for $80 (that we can use until 9/2018). We spent $14 on campfire wood and starters. And we took a $50 gondola ride to the top of Steamboat Mountain.
We also spent $404 on Monday Night Football tickets! We had planned on going to a Colorado Rockies baseball game – but the football game was great! Being able to hang out with four new friends (two from the United Kingdom) was so much fun and something we’ll always remember. We got seats near the field so that we could see all of the action and let our UK friends enjoy their first football game! We’ve only been to one other game in the last ten years, so this was definitely a treat for us too!
Result – We spent $300 more than we had guessed! And we’d do the same thing again if we had the chance!
So how did we do overall?
Total Estimate for the Trip – $2000 (avg. $125/day for two of us)
Total for the Trip – $2413.58 (avg. $151/day for two of us)
Result – We spent $413.58 MORE than we estimated over the 16 days (avg $26 more /day for two of us)
I think we did pretty well for estimating and having a pretty “open” schedule outside of the time we spent in Longmont.
Were there areas where we could have been more frugal? Sure. We could have saved some UR points by flying early in the morning and renting a smaller car instead of a minivan. We could have saved on gas by not going on the long trips away from Longmont. We could have skipped the AirBNB and the camping cabins and tent-camped more. We could have skipped the craft beer when we ate out. And we could have made sandwiches instead of eating out a few nights too.
We could have climbed the dunes and skipped sledding down them. We could have paid for a one-day pass instead of the annual National Park Pass. We could have looked at Steamboat Mountain and skipped the Gondola ride and hiking at the top. And we could have watched the Bronco’s game at a bar and not from the 30th row from the field.
But we made the choice to spend money on what made us happy and we’re SO glad we did. When you’re pretty frugal most of the time, it can be hard to spend more freely. We think we found a good balance on this trip and made smart decisions about where to spend and where to be more frugal.
We can definitely see the benefits of estimating and tracking expenses (although I found the tracking to be challenging while we were on the trip.) For our next trip, I will try to estimate the expenses and then I’ll add an extra 15-20% to see if I can get a more accurate total. And I’ll look for some apps to help track things too!
How do you decide what to spend money on when you are on vacation? Are you pretty good at estimating expenses or does your budget get busted when you go away? Which categories do you tend to overspend in? If you have any suggestions on how to keep track of expenses while on the road, share away!