TRAVEL with pat and lew

managing our retirement travel budget

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 9, 2007


As we enter our second year of retirement travel, living as most retirees do on a relatively fixed income, I have refined my process for budgeting travel expenses and then comparing actual expenses versus the budget.

The format is easy. The discipline to do it, and re-do it, is a little harder.

I use a simple spreadsheet. In the left-hand column, each trip is listed. This year’s trips (so far) include Mexico and Cherry Hill, NJ before we go to Europe, to and from Collioure in May and October, then Nice, Normandy, Ireland, along the Pyrenees, Paris (twice), Florence, Tuscany, Barcelona on the way back to the U.S., and New York City/Cherry Hill in December.

The expense categories, each in its own column, are the obvious: air travel, train and other travel, hotels (if it’s not a home exchange), car rental, and a daily spending allowance for food and entertainment. The daily estimate varies depending on the destination and whether any of our children are with us.

Thinking through the expenditures also forces thinking through all of the logistics, and sometimes reveals a gap to be filled. For instance, if the flight from Girona leaves early in the morning, we’ll have to go the night before and stay in a hotel. That’s part of the trip expense.

We used to have a category for travel purchases, but these have become relatively insignificant since retirement. We don’t need as much, and luggage restrictions pretty much preclude anything heavy.

I start out with pure estimates for each expense category. Sometimes, these are pretty close, sometimes not. The important thing is to have some number in each category as a placeholder until better information is available.

As we make air, hotel, and car rental reservations, I substitute the known figures for the estimates. At the same time, I update my Outlook Calendar with the now confirmed details, and remind myself to print out driving directions for each trip. The itinerary, all confirmations, and the driving instructions will form the trip docs package that we’ll carry with us when we travel.

After each trip, I’ll enter the actual expenditures from our credit card and bank statements, allocating ATM withdrawals to the proper trip as best I can.

This exercise lets us know what we’re spending and how it fits into our overall (evolving) budget for the year, and also what this means to our projected budgets for future years.

For me, it’s very comforting to have all these numbers accurately recorded and the long-term projections updated to reflect our most recent actual experience. Once that’s done, I’m free to enjoy what we’re doing without worrying about the cost.


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