Budgeting for the unknown

So I know eventually, I will want a holiday, and not just a holiday where I can see my girlfriend up the line. I wanna take her somewhere, but how do you get with budgeting when you don't know where you're going, or even when, and more importantly, how do you stop yourself from moving the money to other categories.


Thank you in advance ^_^

- Jono

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  • I love this! My first step in a similar circumstance is to starting dreaming. Where would you want to go? When? For how long? Then do some investigating. Get a ballpark amount of how much you'd need to make your dream come true. You might find you need to scale up or down as you learn more about travel costs.

    Then create a specific category for the holiday and set a goal. Having a good picture in your head of where and when you want to go will help reduce the urge to move money from this category. :-)

    Like 3
    • April  I too realize you have to have a "goal or destination"  you want to strive for, even if you don't know the true cost $$ at the time. 

       I really want to get PRK for my eyes next, and the price can be anywhere between $4 - 6,000 in Northern CA (no eye insurance)... So, little by little that item is growing $$ (thanks to the help of YNAB), and I hope to have this in 2018... then, I can plan-out & save for a Vacation that I can truely See & fully appreciate. 

      edited the @ mention in your reply to reflect the intent! :) Dan - YNAB Team

      Like 1
  • Hi Jono. Just like April said, I think best approach is just to get a ballpark for some different trips. I travel quite a bit and find that "generally" travel within different regions of the world is about the same price regardless of the specific place(s) that you travel to. In other words, a trip to Europe is usually about the same regardless of whether you go to France, Germany, the UK or anywhere else. Same for Asia and US.

    There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule (for instance, Japan is much more expensive than other places in Asia). In any case, you don't have to know exactly where you want to go. Just pick a general area of the world and do some research. Lonely Planet is a great resource to start with.

    Regarding the bit about not moving money around, it can be tempting. The best thing you can do is really embrace the YNAB rules. If you're successful, you'll find that you that your vacation goal will grow just like it's supposed to.

    Good luck and let us know where you end up going 🙂

    Like 4
  • I would have a scrapbook, electronic or paper filled with photos. Before sitting down for the monthly budgeting (or anything more than a couple of entries), take a look at the scrapbook. Maybe even focusing on a photo or two for special attention, imaging the two of you in that shot.  You'll find someplace else from which to take some of that money. 

  • My husband and I are planning a trip in May and we started saving without any details in mind for the trip.  We knew we wanted to take the best trip we could afford so we created a category for the trip and a monthly savings goal.  Once we started to see the balance grow it became easier to save, because we knew the bigger the balance, the better the trip. Setting the monthly goal helps me because I don't want to see the yellow in the category if it's not met.  The other thing that is helpful is that we have many savings categories - care repair, home improvement, vacation, emergency savings, etc.  By setting a side a little each month for those categories, we eventually had cushions to keep us from having to pull from one category to fund another.  Even a few dollars a month adds up over time.

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  • Hi Jono! 

    As the others have said, setting up a separate category with a goal helps a ton, and embrace the YNAB rules 🙂 Take a step back to think about what your priorities are before you start moving money around. If the trip is important, you will make adjustments elsewhere, but it does take some conscious thought until you get in the habit of it. 

    Second, http://www.budgetyourtrip.com is a great resource for figuring out how much you'll need per day while in the country. I also will use Momondo or Google Flights to search for flights to various places or regions of the world and figure out what is the best deal at any given time. Set up some alerts, too, so you can get notified when a price drops.

    Third, I keep putting money in the vacation/trip fund even when we don't have anything planned. It is harder during those times to not pull the money when there's overspending elsewhere, but I keep reminding myself that we will have more big trips in the future, and having this category build up will make saving for that future trip much easier once we set our plans, AND it gives us the flexibility to take a spontaneous trip once or twice a year, too, which feels really awesome. 😀

    Good luck with your saving, and have a fabulous trip!

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  • Others have addressed "how much" and "where". For making sure you don't steal from your dreams, set up a goal for the category so if it's not funded, or you try to steal from it, it turns color.  That'll help remind "in the moment self" that "future self" really will enjoy this vacation more than the random whatever you're wasting money on now.

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      • Dan
      • Dan_YNAB
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Cadet Blue Mermaid I love how you phrased that! Our "in the moment self" always sabotages our "future self" doesn't it?! A visual indicator is a small step in making sure you're aware that's happening. 

      Like 1
  • A lot of people are saying to figure out a where and when first and set a goal based on that... but it seems to me that that's the part you're having trouble with...

    My advice, the way I usually budget for travel, is to just have a basic "travel" category group and add a basic "travel" sub-category that you add the money to. By creating a 'group' for it, you can hide it when you're not actively adding to it- so you don't see that money while you're moving other stuff around. Figure out how much you can afford to put in there monthly/weekly/whatever, and then throw extra money at it when you can. Once you've built up a pretty good amount, then you can start researching destinations and budgeting out to set goals. 


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  • Jonathan Stapley  Hi Jono  I have a master heading for holidays. Within that there is a general holiday category and also 3-4 specific categories which I use once i have decided on booking a particular trip. I can easily transfer money from 1 category to another once I have chosen a trip.

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  • Ultimately, choosing which categories to fund, let sit, and/or raid in order to cover overspending is a reflection of your personal financial priorities. So you have to figure out what would make that category meaningful to you in order to raise its priority level.

    And just remember this... every time you choose to overspend a category, that means you have decided that overspending is more important than the money you have in those other categories. Sometimes it's better to think about that before you spend the money.

    There have been some good suggestions, but you'll need to figure out if they will work for you or if something else would work better.

    Like 3
  • One simple tip to help prevent raiding the "fun" long term categories: give yourself a small category for things you miss.  Our "Stuff we missed in budgeting" has a few functions: 1) it gives us a small ($100) buffer for mathematical errors in the moment. 2) it helps us realize when we habitually miss something that we need to add into our regular budget.

    By having some place to pull the pennies, we maintain the psychological barrier between us and funding our overspending out of our long term goals.

    Like 3
  • I live for holidays, whether it's out of the country for a few weeks (I like home too much to be gone for more than that), or the other end of the country, or even an hour up the road.  I have a stretch goal of $10k for generic holidays, but any time I feel I need a break I look at the balance and see what I can afford if I were to book now, and whether I could do any better waiting a month or two. When I have a specific place and dates in mind, I set up a specific goal and move all but $500 from the generic to the specific budget - that way while I'm slogging along saving for that mega getaway, I can have a mini getaway if things get too much before then.  I also have a tendency to overbudget (ie, budget for accommodation at 4.5 star rates but stay at 2.5-3 star, budget for expensive pub/restaurant meals for all meals yet get lunch from the supermarket and a bakery breakfast) for my specific goals, that way I can potentially be halfway to funding the next trip!

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    • Heather
    • YNAB-Obsessed since 2014
    • estheticianbabe
    • 2 yrs ago
    • 2
    • Reported - view

    My husband and I never get to take vacations for a variety of reasons.  Mostly due to family stuff that just so happens to come up the year we decide "We're going to take this trip!" and then we can't because a nephew is born, someone gets married, a parent gets ill, or my husband ends up deploying.  It's a curse on our vacation plans.

    We've recently started talking about a vacation for our 10 year wedding anniversary.  Not just any vacation, but like... a really nice 5 day stay in a luxury resort in Aspen or Vail or Telluride.  The resorts we're looking at are pricey.  Add in food, shopping, snow activities, maybe a spa day... Luckily we have two years to save!

    I'm going to start my general budget at $3000 (saving $165/month) and then as we get closer to potentially making this a reality, we'll start getting hard costs ironed out to see if we have too much or too little saved.

    From my very limited experience, it's easy to go over your budget on vacations, so I'd recommend over saving instead of the opposite.

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      • Yertle
      • Yertle
      • 2 yrs ago
      • Reported - view

      Heather We also constantly ran into family events taking over our vacation dreams, and we've since implemented two things which might be helpful for you (or not -- I know this doesn't cover deployment or illness in the family): First, we now fund two separate categories for family travel &. vacations so we don't end up stealing from our vacation fund to visit family. Second, (because getting the time off is an issue for us) we try to commit to two real vacations a year without family, even it's just a weekend somewhere close. Then when we're planning out the next year, we can see that if we want to go away somewhere just-the-two-of-us, it means that we can't go to visit my brother and we'll just see him over the holidays, etc. It's always a juggling act. Have a great time in Colorado! Your anniversary sounds amazing!

  • I don't get to take holidays/vacations.  I *do* however, have a (poorly funded) category called "emergency travel" which I hope to never use...

    Like 1
  • Do some quick research to determine if you are looking at $1,000, $5,000, or $10,000 and then start saving it.  Off-budget or On is up to you.  I have a category called, "Next Big Thing".  I don't know what it's for, but it's going to be big.

    Like 1
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