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A mini break on a mini budget!

  • Emily Doran
  • 28th of February 2018

Have you ever found that dedication wains at some point?  Especially when you are paying off a mortgage over a period of many many many years?  You start out so motivated to knock this sucker off, you say NO to the extra Latte at the local cafe and to dinner’s out with friends and you cut back expenditure wherever you can.  Some could say you are going without, but you say that you are instead “spending intentionally” because you have your eye on the goal, becoming debt free as soon as you possibly can.  Only THEN will you have that second flat white and take the whanau out to dinner.

You could go all Dave Ramsay on it and eat “rice and beans, beans and rice” for the duration of your debt but it is difficult to maintain that high level of intensity for a long period of time, say a 15 year mortgage, and temptations are going to come along that will try to break your frugal ways.  Although I firmly believe becoming debt free as soon as humanly possible and that you should ‘go without’ to achieve it, a diet of rice and beans can get a little restrictive and sometimes you just need a change of scene and to take a holiday right?  Fifteen years is a heck of a long wait for a change of diet or a break away.  So, I’m pleased to let you know that you can have a break away without taking a holiday from your mortgage repayments.

I know of two groups of people who never manage to have a ‘proper’ holiday.  New parents and those with large mortgages!  The former group can think of absolutely nothing worse than taking their youngster on a plane to scream their head off, to stay in a hotel where they are up half the night with a baby who is too excited by their new surroundings and then to miss out on the meal that they ordered in a restaurant as the child has just kicked off as the entre arrived!  The latter group have more or less resigned themselves to the fact that they can’t pay the bank back AND relax on a beach somewhere.  Because once they are on that beach they then have all the time in the world to worry about how they are going to pay the bank back!

But, we humans need to take some time out of our routine to take a break and relax and get away from the place we live for a short while.  Staycations are all well and good but going somewhere new is pretty good too.  My suggestion to you is to plan and book a four day weekend, pack a bag and head away and I can tell how you can afford to do this, because I’ve just done it...

There will be no spontaneous getaways for you right now, so get that idea out of your head early on!  You will need to plan ahead.

Now that I live in a small town, I love getting back to a city and taking our daughter to see things that she just won’t experience at home, so for us a long weekend involves a city break.  Because we live in Central Otago we get a lot of friends and family coming to stay and they all tentatively ask “is it OK if we come to stay, are you sure you don’t mind, what can we bring”?  I really enjoy having people to visit and I always say YES to house guests.  So with this in mind, when we want a long weekend away we contact people we know in the place we are headed to and ask THEM if we can come and stay.  So, that is our accommodation sorted!  For free.  Of course it is rude to turn up empty handed and I learned this growing up when a friend came to stay for seven days with her four strapping teenage sons.  They arrived empty handed and proceeded to eat through the entire contents of our household like a plague of locusts.  My siblings and I were amazed at the quantity of food they could consume and then annoyed as our portion sizes reduced in size to cope with the influx.  By the end of the week my Mum was sick of cooking, the cupboards were bare and we were all pleased to see the back of them.

So for us, arriving at our friends house with nice chocolates is always well received.  And because we don’t want to eat them out of house and home we stock up on breakfast supplies while we are at it.

Now, these friends know that we are there to be tourists and see the sights so two things happen; they give us a list of the local things to see and do and then they wave us off in the morning.  We might hook up at some point during the day, but otherwise we arrive back at their place later in the evening full of tales of what we have been up to, recount the dinner we have had at a restaurant in town and are then ready to hit the hay.  We have a lot of people visit us at our home and the ones who don’t need us to entertain them are my favourite!  So, when WE go away our guests get to enjoy their weekend and are not expected to entertain us!  Everybody kicked a goal folks.

But flying anywhere in New Zealand is expensive right?  If we can drive somewhere we will but for us some trips involve a flight that we need to plan ahead for.  Most of us have a credit card of some type that earns us rewards or cash back and more often than not you can use those rewards to buy flights.  But they have to be cheap flights and this is where the early planning comes into it, it is likely you will be booking six months out.  Because we are staying with family and friends we can be really flexible in the times we travel so my husband Jonny keeps a close eye on deals coming up and grabs one when he sees it.  A recent trip to Wellington got the three of us there ‘using points’ and just $80 cash.  It cost us $40 to park the car while we were away, half the cost of the flights!

If we are going somewhere further afield and I know that we will not have enough travel rewards then I simply set up a sub account with my bank and each week I direct a small amount of money into it so I can still achieve my other monetary goals, but I’m saving for our trip at the same time.

When you are staying with friends it is often not as convenient as a hotel down town, but chances are they live in an interesting part of the city nonetheless.  So, often a car hire needs to be factored in and thankfully car rentals have come down in price, but once again you need to book early to get a good deal.  Hiring the smallest car you can is cheapest and it gives you freedom to zoom all over a city to check out the sights.  Yes, you are going to have to pay parking BUT you don’t have to worry about sticking to a bus or train time table.  Now city dwellers might laugh at this bit, but when you live in a small town, taking a bus or a train is actually considered entertainment when you are ten years old, so we have no worries about using public transport whenever we can!

What about sightseeing and bungy jumping, that costs a fortune right?  Thankfully I’m in that in-between period of being young enough to want to scare the bejesus out of myself for kicks and old enough to want to scare the bejesus out of myself... to show that I’m still young enough!  SO a $400 bungy jump holds zero appeal!  At the moment.  Instead I’m at that stage of life where museums, art galleries and community events appeal to the entire family.  And you guessed it, these are generally free events.  Wandering the CBD and observing how a big city ticks is entertainment in itself.  Before we leave home we roughly plan out each day so we can make sure we tick off all the places we want to visit.

Remarkably NONE of us enjoy shopping so trawling the shops looking for ‘something’ will just result in sore feet and at least one of us getting grumpy.  I know we are unusual in this regard but it sure does save us a lot of money.  From every trip we like to take some type of memory home but this is always a well considered purchase that we know we will use and/or enjoy looking at each day.  Having minimalist tendencies sure does come in handy when you are trying to have a cheap holiday.  My last holiday buy was a $3 notebook which I love using and it reminds me of my last trip each time I do!  A trip to America two years ago saw me lugging litres of Canadian maple syrup home.  Delicious and well worth the effort.

The place where we spend the most money when travelling is without a doubt eating at local restaurants.  I can’t get enough of international food, so lunch and dinner is always out and about.  I can’t tell you how disappointed I feel if our hosts suggest fish and chips or a Kiwi style meal for a dinner at home!  Now, food is certainly an area where you can cut back for sure and I have a friend who would travel with her family with a backpack loaded with snacks and food, most of which she bought before she left home, so for her food was a very small cost indeed.  It can certainly be done.

But for me, Malaysian Roti Canai, Mexican Tacos, Ethiopian street food, Chinese dumplings, Danish pastries, waffles, coffees, fresh juices...delicious!  We would easily spend a third of our budget on good food that I could not cook at home.  And for me (and it may well be different for you), THAT is what makes a holiday.  Not having to cook!

Four days is not a long holiday, I’ll grant you that, but just getting out of our usual routine for a short while actually feels like a really good break away.  As a family we absolutely love international travel, but taking a quick look at Aotearoa is pretty awesome as well and because we planned for it, booked ahead and costed it out, we knew exactly what it would cost us before we even left home and all we come back with is great memories and not a credit card bill that we will worry about having to pay over the coming months.

My only regret when I get back is concern over whether I made a good menu choice in that delicious Malaysian restaurant.  The Roti Canai was indeed fabulous, but should I have tried the Virundhu?  I’ll make a note in my $3 notebook to try that next time.


Happy Saving!



The information contained in this article is of a general nature and should not be taken as advice. It reflects the opinions of the writer only and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of New Zealand Home Loans (NZHL).

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Emily Doran
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