Friday, 8 March 2013

Frugal Friday...

...Budgeting for adventures!

It's the time of year when we start thinking properly about our annual trip to the Hebrides again. A fortnight's holiday is always going to be fairly pricey, and so we have to be careful to plan to ensure that we can not only go when we want to, but also that we can do what we want while we are there. Although we're more than happy to spend what is needed, we also plan the trip carefully to make sure that we don't spend any more than we have to, where this is possible, so freeing up more money for nice things like beer, and tea & cake.

We budget for the main amount of the cost of the holiday by feeding a savings account each month through the year with a set amount from our regular income. That covers things like accommodation, travel and food & drink. For general spending money though we save by slightly more offbeat methods. Cashback from the Cashback credit card gets transferred across, as does any anything we earn through shopping with TopCashBack. MrEH collects discarded money as he is walking around on his daily commute, and we save loose change into a savings pig, too. We add our regular spending budget for the time we are away into the pot too. Any topping up is done via our frugal food shopping through the year - our groceries account generally runs at a nice little surplus AND has a handy cashcard which enables us to draw this money out of ATM's for spending. The recent frugality on groceries through February added an extra £120 to the holiday savings pot - no wonder I had a good incentive to keep going!

Accommodation: When staying somewhere for a fortnight, the most cost-effective way to deal with accommodation is usually to stay in a self-catering cottage or flat. This also suits us as it means that we can come, go, and get up when we like, without having to worry about fitting meals into specific timeframes or inconveniencing others. When we booked last year's trip it was for later in the year than we have visited previously and we had to shop around for somewhere different to stay as our former "home" became too expensive. A bit of research revealed a cottage further along the same road, with stunning views, a newly fitted kitchen & bathroom, and lots of space, all for a price we could afford. Remember also when booking somewhere for a fortnight it is often possible to negotiate a small reduction on the price if you are willing to forgo the cottage being cleaned and bedding changed for you on the middle weekend of your stay. For incidental accommodation for the way up and back we use Travelodge rooms, booking when they are cheap so far as possible. Often the places we want to stay for convenience sake (motorway service areas away from town and cities) work out cheaper than places which are more accessible from towns too.

Travel: We generally cover around 2,500 miles in the course of our holiday, from leaving home to arriving back. As a result diesel is one of our biggest expenditures, and with the price of this ever-increasing that's not going to change any time soon! For the journey up and back we allow plenty of time, meaning that we can drive at a steady pace rather than rushing, and once we are there there is no need to hurry. While we're on the mainland we try our best to combine cheap fuel with loyalty schemes too, so supermarkets are ideal, especially Morrisons as their "Morrisons Miles" scheme gives a decent rate of return and useful £5 vouchers to use in-store. For the way up, to save MrEH a days holiday we buy a cheap train ticket to get him to Doncaster and I amble up over the course of that day, picking him up in the evening before carrying on to our overnight stop, then we travel the rest of the way the following day. This year by booking the very second the tickets were released his trip has cost us £10.

Ferry tickets are pretty much a fixed cost, and as a rule a return ticket for travel over a fortnight is the same cost as two singles. When we decided on travelling back by a different route at the end of the holiday this year, however, that opened up the possibility of buying one of CalMac's "Hopscotch" tickets. These are aimed at Island Hoppers, and generally undercut the price of separate tickets by some way - ours will save us a little over £15 on our three crossings of Mallaig > Armadale (Skye), Uig > Lochmaddy and then that final crossing from Lochboisdale > Oban at the end. For travellers who are flexible with dates then it is cheaper to make these crossings on the winter timetable, than the summer. Once "Road Equivalent tariff" kicks in on all ferry crossings on the West Of Scotland costs for the additional trip we do up to Harris and Lewis, mid holiday, will drop substantially, but until then it's still a pricey trip, weighing in at a little over £80 for the two of us and the car.

Food & Drink:  We treat shopping while on holiday in a broadly similar way to the way we look at it at home. A list is made in advance - over the years we've come to know what sort of food works well for us while we're there so we're not spending hours slaving over the stove, but equally we're not eating the sort of processed  food that neither of us really like. For example we'll buy a free range chicken which will do at least two main meals plus sandwiches for both of us, and more often than not we choose to picnic at lunchtimes - a pack of Hebridean Smokehouse's superb Salmon pate, some good oatcakes and a bottle of juice, or a piece of Salar Flaky Smoked salmon with some crusty bread or rolls and a flask of tea...a few times while we're there we will undoubtedly eat in our favourite cafe as well. Evening meals if we are cooking vary between "standards" that we would cook at home - pasta bolognese, curry & rice - to dishes utilising the fantastic fish & seafood that it's possible to buy on the islands.As when we're at home we happily buy reduced price items when we see them available, and actively keep an eye out for things like bread reduced, as of course this freezes perfectly happily. If we don't feel like cooking in the evening, or are at the other end of the islands and going to be back late, we usually go for a bar meal at one of the hotels, or eat at the pub, and this is precisely the sort of thing our spending money is for!

Above all, we ensure that before we go we have planned and budgeted to feel confident that we have sufficient money to be able to cover all our costs, and to spend our fortnight doing as we please, and as suits us, without needing to constantly watch every penny. That doesn't mean wasting money, or throwing it around as though it was going out of fashion while we're there! If like us you're trying to overpay your mortgage then it's easy to feel as though you shouldn't be taking holidays, instead choosing to put all the money into those overpayments instead, and that is of course one way of doing things, however MrEH in particular works long hours in a stressful job and we feel that those two weeks completely away from all that allows him to switch off and relax in a way that being at home simply wouldn't. Whilst looking after the health of your pockets is important, looking after your mental health is even more vital!



lonestarsky said...

Savvy saving, and some good tips! I do think that its important to spend money on holidays and breaks no matter how frugal you are - you're right in that mental health comes first, and I know that if I never made allowances for breaks, I'd feel really down.

lewispot said...

Am energised by your tips on saving money. Will need to find more self discipline if I'm to save enough to leave Lewis and go travelling again this year. Like you, have enough unopened toiletries to last the millenium and when I think about it, why would anyone need two dozen pairs of unworn socks in a drawer, doing nothing?
Greetings from up North.
'Tales from the Outer Hebrides'

Robyn said...

Lonestarsky - I'm really conscious of the fact that for MrEH in oparticular that is very necessary - I work four days a week so already have that extra chance to unwind a bit, and that makes a big difference! No way I'm giving up the Hebrides trip though!
Lewispot - the toiletries thing was a bit wake-up for me - I actually have far less now than I did when I started focusing on it but even now I still have masses! Part of the thing for me was getting over the feeling that nice toiletries should be saved for "special occasions" - daft eh?! Those 2 dozen pairs of socks can save on the frequency of you needing to wash things of course- so get them into use and save money at the same time!