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The Griswold (Long) family vacation – be flexible

January 2, 2011


The Long family finally arrives in Phoenix

 I am lucky enough to be writing this from a hotel room in Albuquerque en route to Phoenix for a vacation. We are about to embark on day two of driving and still have seven hours in front of us.

When it comes to trips, I am the planner in the family. I have in my mind what times we should leave and about how long it should take us in travel time. When I was single, if MapQuest said it takes four hours to get somewhere, I knew I could probably make it in about three hours and 45 minutes. After I got married, a four-hour MapQuest estimate would usually mean about a four-hour and15-minute trip. Now that we are traveling with a child, I know a four hour trip could take anywhere from 4 ½ to eight hours.

At first, this was really tough for me. When I had it in my mind that a trip should take a certain length of time I would get very antsy — my wife might even say agitated — when the trip took longer. As I have had more experience with this, I have had to put my planner mindset on hold and just enjoy the trip. When I prepare myself beforehand for the uncertainty, I am in a much better mindset.

The same can be true with your budget. The first time you set up a budget, there is a good chance that you are going to be off. The challenge for the planner is to realize this is O.K. and adjust for the next month. If you set up a budget and do not hit it your first time, do not consider yourself a failure, just adjust for the next month.

Even when you budget, do not be surprised if you are off. One of the biggest errors is when people figure out a house payment for a mortgage and then buy a house based only on that, using the rationale, “It will be about the same to buy as rent.” Usually people forget about closing costs when buying the house and maintenance and remodeling costs down the road. If the furnace goes out and you are renting a place, you can call to the landlord to get it fixed. When you are a homeowner, you better be prepared to pay for that furnace.

Also, when you are younger, there is a decent chance that career opportunities may take you to a difference home. If this happens in a year or two, you have a six to seven percent cost for selling your home with a realtor. With the maintenance costs, the closing costs, and a large part of your mortgage payments going to interest, buying a home for less than five years is not a good investment.

Another major area where what you expect to pay and what you actually pay is off significantly is on home improvement projects. When you come up with your plan and budget, a good first start is to double what you expect to pay.  Why is this?

Oftentimes when one project begins, it usually leads to another. For example, you may hire someone to replace a few shingles on your roof, and after they get started they find out the whole roof needs replaced.  There also is the chance the cost of building supplies can change, especially on larger home improvement projects. A third common reason is that once the project starts, the homeowner can frequently change his or her mind to include more expensive upgrades.

Just as you need to plan and be flexible about the larger expenses in your life, such as your home, the same is true with the money you spend on vacations. While I estimate how much gas, hotels, food and other expenses will be, I know we probably will spend more than what I initially imagined. It is good to budget the expense and watch your spending, but do not let the difference of a couple hundred bucks ruin a trip. 

Adding some flex time and dollars will save your sanity when it comes to investing in your life. We should be arriving in Phoenix anywhere between 7 p.m. and midnight by my estimates, and I am OK with that.

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