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Sometimes, big dreams are accomplished by small ideas. In our case, a small idea turned into 15 months of daily choices and a constant focus on our budget, culminating in a pretty epic vacation.
It all started one night, in February of 2017, when my wife and I had some friends over for dinner and card games. They’d recently returned from a trip to Amsterdam with their family of five, and it sounded amazing. Our daughters are about the same age as their daughters, all under the age of eight, and the trip was a huge success.
In the 11 years that we’ve been married, my wife and I had grown accustomed to our vacations revolving around visits to family in Arizona or Alaska. We’ve always talked about traveling the world, but we didn’t think it was the best option (or even a possibility) with kids so young. That all changed after hearing about our friends’ amazing European adventure.
That night, over cards and dinner, we casually talked about how cool it would be to take a big trip together with our family and their family. Where were we going? We had no idea. But, that small conversation sparked something in my wife and me.
Within a few days, that spark grew. We got all fired up about taking a trip abroad—we were going to do it. So, of course, we went into YNAB and set up a master category called …
We had about 15 months to save. We also had to figure out where we wanted to go, first. But that wasn’t really the point. We knew we just wanted to go somewhere amazing.
Over the next few months, we became obsessed with going to Panama. Maybe it was the Van Halen song or the fact that they have a canal that was voted, “Most Likely to Succeed” by its senior year class, but it looked like a fit. Panama has great beaches and hiking, and we found some amazing AirBnBs. We even started planning our itinerary.
… but then we got distracted by an affordable beachfront AirBnB in the Bahamas. Ah. Did we want to go there instead? Then, we went even further down the rabbit hole of Caribbean locations. At one point we were sure that Cuba was our spot, but then we found out that it’s difficult to travel there as a U.S. citizen.
This whole time, though, we were putting more and more money into our “Epic Vacation” category. Sure, we were getting more distracted by the Google search about where we were going, but our laser-focus on budgeting for this trip never waned. We were excited to make this happen!
To pad our trip savings, we didn’t buy a lot of new things. My wife and I drive old, paid-off cars. We limit dining out. We try to keep subscriptions and new toys and gadgets to a minimum. We focused on pushing everything into this trip. These decisions added up, and we ended up saving several thousand dollars for our trip before we even decided on where we were going.
Finally, that Fall, we decided on Portugal. But, given that this was an “Epic Vacation,” Portugal turned into a larger chunk of the Iberian Peninsula that included almost all of Andalusia (southern Spain) as well. We added sub-categories under our master “Epic Vacation” category, including flights, accommodations, experiences, travel and food. And, since we had already saved quite a bit, as soon as we saw a really good deal on flights, we booked four tickets to Lisbon. We were committed now.
Over the next five months, we kept saving, and we dialed in all of the places we were going to visit. It went from about eight different stops to four (it’s supposed to be “epic” not ridiculous). We booked AirBnBs in Lisbon, Seville, and one near Valencia, plus a three-day stop in New York City at the end of the trip. We planned day trips, booked the rental car and a few really cool experiences like kayaking in the Mediterranean Sea.
With everything booked and paid for, we ran some numbers on food and other smaller, daily expenses like gas and tickets to Flamenco shows or bullfights or whatever we wanted to do when we were there. We settled in on a $4,000 budget and were able to hit that number with what we’d already saved up and what we were able to save in the few months before we left on our trip.
We’ve been using YNAB for almost four years now, and it’s taken money stress out of the equation. We’ve paid off our cars, a ton of debt and we’ve been able to do some really amazing things—but our trip to Portugal and Spain this summer was, by far, the most amazing thing that budgeting with YNAB has helped us do.
We roamed the ramparts of 8th-century Moorish castles, we swam in the Strait of Gibraltar, we drove through sunflower fields and small towns with cathedrals built before America was even a thing. We ate bacalhau, paella, pastel de nata, and jamon serrano and washed it down with sangria, cerveja/cerveza and … oh, man … did our kids drink a lot of Fanta.
… and we took a ton of pictures.
When we look through all of the pictures we took and the places that we visited, the memories will last forever. Our oldest daughter was crying happy tears on our first day as she ate Portuguese desserts and looked around at all of the amazing tile-covered building in the heart of Lisbon. All of those months of focusing and budgeting towards the priority of this “Epic Vacation” really paid off. We were free to experience something we had only dreamed about, without using credit cards and without stressing about money.
And you can, too. What’s your epic dream? Give YNAB a try, free, for 34 days and get going!
Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)
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