Spending Joykill: A Trip Without a Budget

by Kevin on January 26, 2009

This past weekend we took a trip with our church group up to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I got to drive one of the two fourteen passenger bus/vans with the door that opens on the side — just like a bus. Due to getting stuck in traffic, my wife and I brought up the late bus full of luggage and didn’t arrive until 1:30AM local time.

It was a really fun trip, but something was nagging at me the entire time. I couldn’t put my finger on it for quite a while. Then it struck me.

A Trip Without a Budget

We had paid for our shared cost of the cabin up front. No big deal, we had planned for that.

But we never sat down to talk about how much money we could spend in town. For the uninitiated, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are big tourist traps. Fun tourist traps, but traps nonetheless. What would cost you $2 in Wal-Mart back home suddenly costs you $5. That sort of thing.

The problem is we didn’t set aside a specific amount that we could spend on the trip. We’ve each got our spending money and we could spend that if we wanted without much thought. But we didn’t have a chunk of money planned to spend. No limit. No budget.

I’m fine with going to tourist traps and spending money on experiences (rather than things) or food (because you’ve got to eat). But not having a limit… not knowing how much of our “allowed” total we were spending… it really bothered me. We were in a sea of people willing to shell out $7 here and $15 there for “stuff” (which I loathe; tourist “stuff” even more!).

What We Ended Up Spending

Without a plan for the trip I was hesitant to spend much money. We had breakfast every morning at the cabin (included in the cost of the trip; we bought groceries). We spent Saturday in town and bought lunch at a mexican restaurant for roughly $15. That seems about right for a regular restaurant outside of a tourist trap and it was more value for your dollar compared to the expensive fast food places in the main walking area.

I really wanted a $5 corn dog (it was huge), but they were cash only. More on that in the future. The only other money we spent was $8 for a huge slice of really good fudge that we haven’t finished yet. Was it too expensive? Probably. Was it worth it? Yes.

We avoided the mirror mazes, Brinkley’s Believe It or Not!, expensive tourist t-shirts, and other stuff like that. Overall, not a bad experience. But I know I would have enjoyed the trip more if we had said up front “We can spend $50 total”. The dollar amount wasn’t all that important assuming that it was reasonable. It is more important for me to just set the limit.

What do you think?


chris.pund January 26, 2009 at 9:59 am

Sounds like a little bit of paranoia to me if you stressed about setting a dollar limit rather than fully enjoying the trip, your mind was in the wrong place. I agree that it’s important to have something in mind and that you want to stick to, but you shouldn’t completely restrict yourself from spending or doing something because you didn’t set a budget in the beginning. Gatlinburg is a tourist trap and you could easily walk away with crap that you don’t need. But I’d say you missed our on not doing the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museums. They have a package deal that allows you into all 3 for a discounted price.

Kevin January 26, 2009 at 10:02 am

@Chris, I wrote this relatively quickly this morning so forgive me if I came off panicked or anything like that. I just hate to spend money on things that aren’t experiences and I mentioned the Ripley’s stuff because it didn’t really interest me (but I know people know about it).

Jenn January 26, 2009 at 7:23 pm

I completely understand! I used to stress about trips all of the time as I’m the type that wants to enjoy things and not think about money while on vacation, but I also don’t want to come home and regret what I bought or did due to costs. Several years ago I came up with a way to budget for trips that has really helped me. I have a separate savings account for vacations, and I transfer a set amount into it every paycheck. Each time I go on vacation I know how much is in the account, and determine how much I am comfortable spending on the current trip, knowing if I spend too much I either detract from other planned trips, or need to wait for the savings to build up again. May sound like overkill, but it has really worked for me!

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