Ok – so it is getting even closer to Road Trip time! We shared with you in our first post regarding thrifty road trips and preparing your vehicle. This is Thrifty Al’s forte! Well, while he is worrying and thriftily preparing all thing vehicle related to the road trip, I am inside trying to figure out how to feed the family and prepare for the journey the most inexpensive way possible!
So for this part, I am going to share with you what we do beforehand to prepare for the actual ride! There is a lot more to come from hotel to activities but here is how to get there!
This is so important! We have recently become debt free, and with that in mind, we want to stay that way! But ever since we started our debt-free journey, whenever we wanted to take a trip, we would set a budget! Then we would save and pay for the trip with cash, no matter how big or how small! Setting a budget helps you to reasonably determine what you can and cannot do while you’re gone! This budget applies to the whole trip, but break out your budget and determine how much you can and be willing to spend to get to your destination!
Once you determine a budget, add at least 10-20% more (depending on your destination!) to plan for incidentals, the unexpected and the unplanned! This prevents you from going into debt because you have planned every last penny in hopes of everything going off without a hitch! This gives you a pillow that you are comfortable with!
Save and pay for your trip with cash! Again remember the extra 10-20% pillow in that trip fund too!
It is financially beneficial to know your route! Why? It helps you to determine the best prices for gas, plan food stops, or any other expenses that may occur. The first thing we like to do is to figure out how much it is going to cost us gas wise! There are a couple of websites to help you figure out how much it will cost! What a blessing to go on the road and have a decent idea!
Our favorite websites for planning the expense in gas is:
- Cost2drive.com – This is a great website. You put in your start and end destinations, the year, make and model of the vehicle you will be taking and then it determines approximately how much it will cost you to drive there one-way averaging the cost of gas along the way!! We have found this tool to be very helpful and pretty accurate! This helps you, from the get-go, to set and even more accurate budget!
- Gasbuddy.com – This website also helps you to calculate the gas cost, but also notifies you of the lowest gas prices at the time and many other useful tools to help you determine your expenses with driving!!
Make a travel menu for the drive. One of the biggest expenses (especially as a family of 6) is the food! If you make a travel menu then it helps you to plan for both possible coupons/discounts and for any food that you may be able to take!
After you plan your menu, decide what portions of it you can take from home! If you can bring it from home, you will save at least 50% off shelf price from a convenience store. If you bring it from home and you are a smart coupon shopper, then you already purchased this item at 50% off or more from grocery store prices, which ultimately can equate to 75 – 90% OFF convenience store prices! Wow, what a massive savings right there! This would include snacks, drinks and picnic-like meals. PLUS another benefit that we have found (besides the massive savings) is the snacks and foods we typically bring end up being healthier – as much of it is fresh fruit and veggies!
We packed snacks and even the lunch for the last big road trip we took. Here is an example showing you how much you could save:
- We purchased Lunchables before we left at the store with coupons. This is an item you can typically find in the coolers at the convenience stores. They typically sell for $2.99.
- Before we left, we purchased them for $1.38 at Walmart.
- We also had a .75/1 coupon for each = .58 each compared to $2.99 = 81% savings!! Even considering the price without coupons it was 50% less than convenience store prices! So our lunch (along with fruits and veggies and cheap/free drinks from home) cost us around $6 for the 6 of us vs. $20 or so (without fruits and veggies) for the same stuff at the convenience store. PLUS we also ate healthier than fast food too!
- For the foods that you cannot pack, try to use coupons and/or discounts with your meal. You will want to plan this out ahead of time in order to be prepared. If you know of a restaurant on your route before hand – then research where you can find a coupon/discount.
Here are the most popular places to find restaurant discounts:
- The company’s website directly! Snoop around and see if you can find a discount, sign-up for their email newsletter or anything else you can find.
- Check money saving sites – like ours to see if a coupon has been posted!
- If you have an Entertainment Book, go online and see if any of the restaurants have printable coupons for the area you are looking for.
- If you are a My Parents Rewards member, you can check the area and print coupons for the restaurants that you plan to visit! We have found that My Parent Rewards also has great coupons and discounts for the convenience stores and gas stations across the country! .50 off a fountain drink or something similar! (And, guess what – there is a FREE, no-strings attached 30-day trial PLUS we are offering a giveaway – 5 winners win a 1-year membership – perfect for those upcoming travels. Be sure to enter as this ends on Monday, April 12th!!)
- Call the restaurant in that area specifically and ask if they have any coupons out anywhere that you would be able to use! We have done this a number of times for many businesses and thy can direct us to a coupon to use! It works well!
- As you are driving, watch billboards or any other sign that may advertise a special at a restaurant for an upcoming exit!
- Have a backup plan! Research a few restaurants in the area and get coupons/discounts to each of them!
- Finally, keep a gallon size ziploc bag in your car filled with coupons to national chains, especially fast food restaurants in your car at all times! We even do this when we are not on a road trip. You never know when you end up having to stop for a quick bite somewhere! The most popular fast food and diner-type restaurant coupons that you may receive are IHOP, Denny’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr. and Subway to name a few. One of these restaurants can usually be found anywhere!
As an example, our last big road trip to Denver from Salt Lake was planned with precision! But when you have 4 kids ranging from 1-6, plans often get thwarted! We had all snacks, drinks and lunch on the road, we had planned and budgeted to stop for a hearty dinner to make it to the end of the trip! We wanted to stop in Cheyenne, WY and had coupons and discounts ready. Well, we hit Rawlings and it was looking like 2 more hours of driving was not going to be pleasant! We puttered along until we hit Laramie instead – about 45 miles west of Cheyenne (I know so close……but you have no idea how far that was at that point ;)) So we saw exit signs that had some fast food restaurants for the coupons that we had. While we didn’t necessarily want fast food, it was a backup, but we also looked for signs and billboards showing local restaurants with specials.
As we were driving, we found Shari’s – we had never eaten there and do not have one near us. It is always fun to try something new! But we decided to stop as they had a sign for unlimited pancakes and french fries. Remember our thought on “hearty dinner?” Well what better way than filling those empty stomach gaps with FREE french fries and pancakes and ensure that everyone was good and full without having to spend extra money!
Also, we had an EXTRA surprise when we stopped. On the table, we noticed a sign for FREE pie Wednesdays!! As we were there on a Wednesday we got FREE slices of pie of our choice! And guess what? We made it to Denver with only spending money on the dinner at Shari’s in Laramie (and no additional stops I might add :)). That was a HUGE budget saver, as well as a budget planned road trip dinner – even if it wasn’t at the place expected!
We also used coupons on the drive home! We were about 1.5 hours from home, late at night and needed a pick-us-up to make it the rest of the way! So……. FREE COFFEE!! Here is the post regarding FREE hot beverage at Pilot Centers – still valid until April 30th. Also, FREE fountain drink at Pilot valid through May 31st! Also, My Parent Rewards has continual an ongoing discounts like this for your road trip travels!
Road trip travelling with kids can be frustrating! Our 6 year old asked us in the middle of Wyoming, “are we in Denver now?” My response was, “darling, look around you and you tell me?” Obviously looking around and seeing nothing (except really large cool windmills at times) she knew the answer – but for some reason, made her feel better to ask anyway! Well during those times, it is nice to be able to pull-out a new toy, coloring book or other activity!
Here’s some ideas on where to get FREE or cheap activities for the road trip.
- I pack a small bag with these fun “new” things for the kids! The best and FREE thing to do is to pack a bag with items in your home that they may not have played with for a while or a coloring book from a stash that hasn’t been colored in a while – when you have items like this, it is new to them (especially when they are young!)
- Go to the library before you leave and pick-up some FREE reading material or FREE books-on-CD for all (I know our kids loooove to read “new” books!).
- Check your gift bin at home (if you have been following us a while, you know we have a gift bin in our basement filled with deals we scored really cheap around town for a birthday or special occasion gifts – it can be gifted to your kids too ;))
- You can print coloring pages from your home computer! Sites like: freeprintablecoloringpages.net, free-coloring-pages.com, and coloringbookfun.com just to name a few (there are hundreds of sites!). This is best to do on short trips, because after calculating the cost of paper and ink – a cheap coloring book will end up being a “thriftier”option!
- The next thing you can do is to buy them CHEAP! Dollar stores are great for this, especially when there are not coupons or discounts for items. Otherwise, with coupons, clearances, etc. you can get some fun new stuff cheap!
- For example, a couple of days before the trip, I went to Walmart and picked up a couple of items! There was a My Little Pony BOGO coupon! I needed 2 and so it was perfect! Both ponies cost me less than $5, but priceless in the middle of Wyoming! For our son, they had some holiday Hot Wheels on clearance for .50 and I picked him up 2 for only $1. They also had colored pencils (highly recommended over crayons! Helena – our Pontiac Montana will forever by scarred by melted crayons!! Never again!) on clearance for only .25= .75 for 3! I just then packed coloring books from home and baby toys that they baby hadn’t seen for a while and we were good to go with an awesome (by kids definition) road trip bag. The cost of this awesome bag = $6.75 for 4 kids or $1.69 each! Compare this to the highly overpriced “souvenirs” you find along the road!
So here’s our Thrifty Tips for that Thrifty Road Trip as far as the actual drive is concerned! If you are super thrifty, you can literally drive for nothing (no money spent on the road), except the cost of your gas (which you can plan before hand for the best prices!). We have done many of the super thrifty, and some the the just plain thrifty, by going all out (by our definition of all out!) with the activities, eating and road trip stops!
Don’t miss our full four-part series on taking a road trip – thrifty style of course!
- Part I: Prepare Your Vehicle
- Part II: The Actual Ride
- Part III: How To Sleep Financially Sound – Hotel, Motel, Resorts
- Part IV: Staying At Timeshare Resorts and Condos