I was recently on a forum reading about budgeting for a motorcycle trip and was shocked at the figures people were suggesting as necessary. One asked if $240/day was enough for two people to travel the States, and another answered that $300 seemed more realistic. Most of us would agree that $300 a day is a ton of money. If you can’t afford that kind of spending, it’s important to realize that you can still adventure on much, much less.
*Note that these characters are my “alter egos”. One voice still reflexively says “spend, spend, spend- don’t think, just spend!”, and the other voice suggests spending what’s in my budget, but not over, and still enjoying the same quality of experiences. Before discovering a more frugal lifestyle, I was Mrs. Moneybags and digging myself into a financial pit… Instead of buying a BMW motorcycle I couldn’t afford (which I would have enjoyed much more!), it was a Jeep Grand Cherokee that caused me great financial woes…
Two hypothetical couples are about to embark on a motorcycle trip around the Pacific Northwest. One couple believes it’s necessary to spend hundreds of dollars a day (on credit) to have a nice vacation, and the second couple is saving for early retirement and wants to minimize spending they view as wasteful (spending that doesn’t increase their happiness or fulfillment).
Here are their stories:
Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags pack up their beautiful BMW motorcycle and hit the open road. Even though they can’t afford it, they have lots of other fancy things, so they think it’s normal to sit on $24,000 dollars of equipment and farkles* that they’re still paying for on credit. The. Moneybags don’t like to think about how much they spend, and prefer to focus on the experience (confusing a high price tag with a better experience), and really let loose during their two weeks of vacation a year. They work hard to pay off their credit card bills, mortgage, SUV, and shopping habit, so they really deserve a nice vacation. Besides, two people can’t ride together on anything less than a 1200 cc engine, right??
One motorcycle traveling 250 miles a day only uses about $20 bucks a day in gas in the States, if you estimate 45 miles to the gallon for a big bike and gas costing around $3.50/gallon. Breakfast at a country diner is a minimum of $25 for Mr. and Mrs. Bags. Sandwiches and bottled water at a roadside café cost $30, and dinner, with booze, costs $60. They buy a few postcards, a couple lattes and a snack along the way, shoveling out another $20. They stay at the first hotel or B&B they find every night and pay an average of $100 without thought. They can’t afford this lifestyle, but do it anyway.
Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags have succeeded in paying more than $250 bucks due of their automatic spending reflex, and because it didn’t really occur to them that they could spend less and maintain the same degree of happiness and adventure. In a week, they’ve spent $1,785. In two weeks, they’ve spent $3,570. It’s been fun, but they’re starting to feel unhealthy and sluggish from all the restaurant outings, and stressed about the bill they’re racking up. The fitted leather pants Mr. and Mrs. Bags bought for the trip (costing $450 each), no longer fit, and they’re going to join a gym for $75 each per month when they get home. Upon returning home, they also have to pay their housesitter $250 bucks for watering their plants and bringing in the mail. They really want something more in life, but they’re unaware of how to achieve it, and continue to dig themselves into a financial pit trying to find some escape and reprieve from the daily grind.
The Pennypackers do the same exact trip, with a few tweaks. They ride an older motorcycle still in good shape, which they bought for under $4,000, and which doubles as the daily commuter (the Mrs. rides her bicycle to work). It’s a 650cc, with plenty of power for both of them if they pack light. They do own some expensive protective gear, but it’s gear that will last many years and is adventure-worthy, not just for looks. They also have a fixed gas cost of about $20/day. They pack cutlery, a thermos, a camp stove and a couple important cooking staples like butter and salt, so they can make their own breakfast (using eggs and bread they buy at a store the evening before). They make sure to fill up their thermos with excellent coffee for the road (the smart adventurers even carry a little Italian percolator!). Breakfast ingredients cost them $6 bucks. They stop at a bakery and have a picnic with eggs hardboiled from breakfast, bread, cheese, tomatoes and fruit, costing another $10, and enjoy their homebrew coffee. They make sure to fill up their water bottles along the way. They buy chocolate bars for a snack, costing another $4. These two bring a tent, and camp at State Parks for only $12-25 a night. Other nights they plan Couchsurfing for free, prearranging it with hosts. Occasionally they spend $50 on a hotel, or even more if they think the cost is really worth the experience (they still like some luxuries, of course). For dinner they usually make roasted potatoes and veggies in the open fire, with toasted baguettes and hummus or some other delicious variation. For dessert they make s’mores and enjoy the cool evening air and stars. It’s very romantic. This meal costs them $20, including a $3 bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s for good measure.
These two have spent only $60-$85 that day total in a relatively expensive country, $600 a week, and $1,200 in two weeks. Since they rented out their house for $500/week to tourists for the two weeks they were away, the vacation almost paid for itself. They’re fit and healthy, having hiked in the State Parks they camped in. Their wallets are flush with the money they saved by their healthy habits, but they had just as much fun, if not more, than those leather-clad Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags they saw shelling out $13 dollars per sandwich at the tourist trap down the road.
The Pennypackers know how to cut out the wasteful spending (the spending on things that doesn’t actually make them happier), but never feel deprived. They are debt free, on the road to early retirement, and are already planning their next big adventure. Are you?
*Term used in the touring community for something that has function and sparkle, hence “farkle”. Often a big waste of money and totally unnecessary.
**Seinfield reference :)