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5 Budget-Friendly Tips for Hitting the Open Road this Summer

The countdown is officially on at my house! My family limped, clawed, and dragged our way through the end of school to summer vacation. And now we’re ready for our road trip!


This is our first summer back in the U.S. after three years overseas, and one of our biggest takeaways from our time in Europe is the fact that the United States is . . . BIG.

Really, really big.

And after visiting more than 20 European countries, I’m ashamed to admit that the number of U.S. states we have visited pales in comparison, which brings me to our summer plans — the Great American Road trip! I’m talking national parks, national monuments, the World’s Largest Whatever, a few great diners, and miles of open road in between.

No strangers to the road trip, one recent summer, we drove 5,000 miles. In preparation for our upcoming “windshield extravaganza,” I’m reminded of a few road trip nuggets that’ve helped us along the way. No matter your destination, these tips can help make for a more enjoyable (and affordable) trip.

1| GET ON THE SAME PAGE.  

This is step # 1 for a reason. Let’s say your family loves a good road trip. They love the idea of getting away from it all — a few hours on the road each day, plenty of time at the destination to explore, hike, swim, relax and play, with leisure time to spare.

Meanwhile, you, who also loves a road trip might be thinking, we’ll knock out 600 miles today so tomorrow we only have to do 400.  We’ll see X, Y, and Z along the way, and get to the hotel by midnight.

See the disconnect?

Before you set out on the open road, ask yourself and your family these questions: How far do you want to go every day?  What are you hoping to accomplish on this trip? What do you think is a realistic amount of time in the car each day, given the attention span and abilities of everyone involved?

When I think about being on the same page, a purple sand beach comes to mind. On a previous road trip through California, my husband had a particular purple sand beach on his list of must-sees. We were already hours behind schedule, and by the time we finally arrived at this beach, it was DARK. One child was sleeping, and the other needed to be.

When I first realized how late we were going to be, I automatically assumed this beach was off the list. But as I sat in the car with my sleeping son and watched as my husband and daughter disappeared down a dark, wooded trail to the beach with nothing but a dim flashlight, I learned then and there to never assume anything.

The takeaway? Discuss these things before you set out. Manage expectations. Set limits. Give yourself permission to deviate from the plan when necessary. Figure out a set of rules that everyone can agree on.

(Fun fact: In the dark, purple sand looks exactly like regular sand. Truth.)

2| SHARE OWNERSHIP.

Give everyone ownership of the trip. With the exception of babies and toddlers who can’t yet tell you, Yes! We can’t wait to visit Niagara Falls, let everyone have a say-so in what you do and see along the way.

I find that my children are more engaged when they are involved in the planning and choosing of what we do and see. Provide travel books ahead of time for each person to browse, and then compile a must-see list.

For young children, take the time to tell them what’s available that you think they would enjoy.  There will likely be a lot of overlap in what people want to see and do, which works out great, but when each person also has the anticipation of seeing or doing their special thing that they picked, something extraordinary happens: the kids are more patient, more interested, and generally happier when we do something from their must-see list.

Also, depending on the ages of your kids, finding books that have some connection with where you are going is a great way to increase interest and engagement (think non-fiction, but not travel books for this). 

We did a road trip through Poland, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic and as we drove, we read aloud from an autobiography of a Holocaust survivor. It truly was one of our most memorable trips. Reading about an experience while being in the very place where it happened made the trip more meaningful for all of us.

Visit the library before you go, and find books tailored to your travels. Maybe you’ll be following the route that Lewis and Clark took when they came West — read about it along the way! Passing through the Sacramento, CA. area?  Maybe check out a book on the gold rush of 1849. Wherever the destination, there’s likely a book that would pair well and with a little planning, you can be prepared with some relevant materials for you and your kids. 

Include everyone in decisions about what and where to eat. Even very young kids can voice an opinion on what they feel like eating. And if they know that in two hours you’re going to be at the restaurant they helped pick out for dinner (thank you, Google), they’re more excited, and better able to resist the urge to ask, “Are we there yet?”

Pass the time by reading and sharing some basic facts about the city or area, pull up the restaurant website and read the menu (this also helps keep things on track once you get there), and talk about what you hope to see at your next stop.  It may go without saying, but the common-denominator here is communication. 

People of all ages do better when they are in the loop and know what’s going on!

3| GROCERY STORE PICNICS.

Eating out is one of the biggest costs of a family road trip. Three words — grocery store picnic —are the backbone of a successful road trip. Grocery stores are in nearly every town, no matter how small, and offer options for everyone to eat what they want at a fraction of the cost of a traditional sit-down restaurant.

Take your grocery items to a local park or riverfront and have a picnic. Let the kids play and run around for a bit before piling back in the car. When my family travels, the goal is to avoid eating in restaurants (this includes fast food) whenever possible, which helps keep costs in check. 

Bring some items from home that don’t require refrigeration. Peanut butter, a loaf of bread, crackers, oranges & apples are always staples when we travel .

4| CHAIN HOTELS.

Chain hotels, while sometimes lacking charm and local culture, are a great tool in the road trip arsenal. There’s comfort in consistency and predictability, and this is what chain hotels almost can provide.  Especially for children (and even for adults), the closer reality is to expectation, the better the outcome.  Since most chain hotels are pretty similar, this takes some of the unknown out of the picture, which for some can be a source of stress.

Other benefits to a chain hotel are that they are often located in suburban areas, just outside the city, so they can be easy to get to at the end of a long travel day, and they tend to be very close (walking distance) to public transportation. Parking is usually free, or nominal, and you can just leave your car and take the train or bus to and from the city.

Join whatever “priority” or membership club the hotel has, as there is always some benefit to this. If Wi-Fi is not free, hotels usually waive the fee for preferred members, and Wi-Fi is essential to planning your travel for the next day. Best of all, chain hotels almost always include breakfast — a variety of innocuous food that everyone will eat. EAT this food. You’ve already paid for it.

5| BE FLEXIBLE AND ROLL WITH IT.

Car trips are an adventure, there will be highs and lows. Your kids will pester each other when they get bored. You’ll get grumpy. You might drive the wrong way down a one-way street and find three lanes of traffic heading straight for you. We did. You’ll live through it.

Your car might develop vapor lock and stall out just inches away from a 1200-pound moose. Ours did. You’ll live to tell about it. 

You might contemplate jumping out of your vehicle moving at high speed when things get to be too much. Ok, we never did this, but we definitely considered it.

On a family road trip, the good almost always outweighs the bad, and even the bad always makes for a funny memory when it’s had time to fade a bit. Perhaps Dan Stanford said it best, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” 

You’ll also share countless moments and laughs, bringing you closer together. And your kids will definitely remember the journey – maybe even more than the destination.

Here’s to the open road. Safe travels!

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Burnout is something we all experience and stress from your finances may play a major part in that. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to combat financial fatigue and finally feel like you're in a positive relationship with your money.

Here are a few tips that will help to reduce your money stress—to ensure that you're equipped with an actionable plan to take control of your finances and finally meet your money goals.

1. Know where you stand

The best way to counteract getting overwhelmed is getting organized. First thing's first: rip off the band-aid, look at how much your household has spent (and on what). Spend time checking your bills and looking at your bank account balance and credit statements to get a clear picture of where your finances are at.

2. Adjust your budget

Rewrite your budget to fit your current reality. Budgeting can help you see where you can cut unnecessary expenses and increase flexibility in your family's choices down the line. If you have to tighten your belt for the first month or so of the year to ensure you're paying back your holiday debts, so be it.

If budgeting feels overwhelming, start with an app that can simplify it. Mint, for example, allows you to create budgets that make sense for you. You Need a Budget breaks down your spending as well.

3. Take action to boost your credit score

Here are three ways to do just that:

  1. Set up autopay: Whether or not you make payments on time is the most important element in the calculation of your credit score. As long as you pay your bills on or before the deadline, your score will be in good standing. Turbo is a great, free resource to monitor how your credit score is affected by your bill payments.
  2. Know your credit utilization: Something that we don't always take into consideration is our credit utilization. Your credit utilization is the ratio of your credit card balances to credit limits. If you're using your credit cards responsibly and paying bills on time, you will lower your credit utilization percentage, thus increasing your credit score.
  3. Keep old accounts open: Your credit age makes up 15% of your credit score, and the only way to increase the age is to keep old accounts open and avoid opening new ones.

4. Set clear goals and hold yourself accountable

Does your family have big vacation plans, or maybe a new house is on the horizon? Make sure that you're considering both short and long-term goals early on, so they don't creep up on you. Be honest with yourself from the get-go so you can plan and prepare for your upcoming expenses. Once you've set your goals and your focus is on getting back on track, hold yourself accountable by setting regular check-ins to track your progress.

5. Be easy on yourself

Events, like the holidays, birthdays or vacation are meant to be celebrated, and that means festivities, fun and (maybe) some frivolousness. Don't beat yourself up if your bank account looks different than you expected after they're over. As long as you're actively working toward your financial goals, being consistent and being patient with yourself, your bank statements (and financial fatigue) will even out.

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Baby clothes are SO cute.

Maybe it's because they are typically either designed to make children look like little bears or mini-adults. Or maybe it's because they're just so tiny? 🤷 Any which way you look at it, they're beyond adorable. I mean—what human can resist an infant who looks like a tiny, soft bunny?

Cute as they are, they're also kind of pricey. And babies grow quickly, which means they need new sizes quickly. Oh, and also they get poop and spit-up on a lot of stuff, and then they eventually graduate to stains that are of the paint and peanut butter variety.

The lesson? The cost of baby clothes (and don't get me started on shoes that fit them for two seconds) adds up, but on the other hand—with the amount they grow and stain things—you sort of feel like you need a lot and that you're always looking for the next size stuff.

I swear, I just brought up the 18-month clothes, but now I need to get the 24-month size clothes out. (How is such a large part of motherhood constantly cycling through clothing that fits/doesn't fit your baby anymore?)

Cue: Hand-me-downs.

I found out the sex of my babies each of the three times I was pregnant: girl, girl, and then girl again. So, let's just say, we have gotten our money's worth with children's clothes over the years. Plus, my kids have cousins around the same ages so we've gotten a fair share of hand-me-downs from them, along with random pieces like snowsuits or extra swaddle blankets from friends. They've all been a godsend.

I've always been kind of sentimental about clothes—I can often tie memories to what I was wearing. My 21st birthday party? That very short blue and green floral number. The night my husband proposed to me? An ugly work outfit that I changed out of before we went out to dinner to celebrate (😂). My hospital stay for my youngest daughter? New black pajamas I treated myself to.

But somehow—likely the extreme cuteness levels—baby clothes kick the sentimental levels up about a hundred notches.

I remember the first piece of baby clothing I got as a gift when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. It was a sweet pink one piece with a little teddy bear in the center. It had an eyelet detail to it and the feet looked like little bear paws. My mom gave it to me the night we told our families that we were having a little girl.

I remember imagining how the tiny little human inside me would be able to fit into this tiny little outfit.

I remember imagining what it would be like to button her into it and hold her while wearing it.

I remember finally dressing her in it and marveling at how amazing all of this was. I was a mother, and this was my baby.

I remember buying each of my children's coming home outfits and what they wore for their first Christmas. I remember seeing each of them in specific outfits that the other one wore, truly in awe that this was a new human we created, in the same outfit the other human we created wore.

I remember putting a hand-me-down sweater on my daughter that was once her father's sweater. I never knew clothes could melt my heart until that day. Seeing some of the one piece pajamas my girls wore all the time—like those monkey jams and the multicolored striped Zutano onesie—bring me back to the time of my life when I was a "new mom" again.

But then I remember thinking, okay, we have a LOT of clothes, and we can't keep them all. Even if we have another baby at some point down the road, we need to get rid of a lot of stuff now. It's overwhelming.

So, as Marie Kondo might advise, I've sorted through the clothes that no longer fit my kids and I've kept the pieces that still spark joy. Those pieces are now used as doll clothes or are safely tucked away in my children's memory boxes in the basement so that they can have them when they're older.

The rest? We have either passed them on as hand-me-downs to other families or we've donated them. And honestly, giving another family who could use our hand-me-downs (we've spared them the ones with poop and spit-up stains!) feels just as great, if not greater, than scoring helpful hand-me-downs for your own kiddos.

It's one way the village is there for you in motherhood. I can't, unfortunately, get to my sister and my niece five hours away from me to drop off a container of soup for dinner or to take her to the park to give my sister a break for an hour—but I can pack up my daughter's clothes and bring them down the next time we visit.

In the busyness of our day-to-day, my friend and I can't nail down a time to get the kids together—but she can lend me a snowsuit for my youngest to use—coming in the clutch and saving me about $50.

Getting a bag of hand-me-downs from another mom is equivalent to getting a big, genuine hug from a mama who knows how hard this all can be. She is thinking of you, reaching out to you and extending a helping hand. And the best part is that this helping-hand-me-down chain can continue because the clothes she gives you can then be passed along to another mama and so on and so on.

Who knew that these little cute pieces of clothing could connect us all in such a gushy, beautiful way?

To all the mothers who have passed their hand-me-downs on to another mama in need—thank you. Keep on thinking of ways to help your fellow moms when you can, because we really are all on this wild ride together.

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Christmas Eve is a rare birthday, and it's a fitting birthday for a baby girl who was a gift to her own family, and those of other sick babies.

When Krysta Davis was four months pregnant with her daughter, Rylei Arcadia Lovett, Krysta and her husband Dereck got some heartbreaking news. Baby Rylei had Anencephaly. Her brain was underdeveloped to a fatal degree. Doctors gave Krysta the option of having Rylei then, in her second trimester, or carrying her to term so that her tiny organs could be donated to babies who needed them.

"If I wasn't able to bring my baby home, at least others could bring theirs home," Davis told ABC affiliate News Channel 9.

As heartbroken as she was, Krysta carried her baby girl for five more months, giving her body time to grow the organs that would be such an amazing gift to families who were in a kind of pain the Lovetts know all too well.

Doctors told the couple that Rylei would probably live for about 30 minutes after birth, but Rylei held on for an entire week. "There's no way to describe how amazing it felt. When you go to thinking you'll only have 30 minutes with your child and you get an entire week," Davis told News Channel 9.

For that week, Rylei got all the cuddles and skin-to-skin contact a baby could ask for. "I wouldn't trade this week for anything in the whole wide world," she wrote on a Facebook page dedicated to Rylei's memory, adding that she was so proud of her daughter and the fight she put up.



Rylei was then taken for surgery, and although some of her organs were no longer viable due to oxygen loss, some very important ones were.

"They said her heart valves will go toward saving two other babies and the lungs will be sent off for research to see what else can be learned about Anencephaly from them," Krysta wrote.

Krysta and Dereck only got to hold onto their baby for a week. It's not fair and that pain is unimaginable. But now, two other families will get to hold their babies for a lot longer. It can't take away Krysta's pain, but it does make her happy to know that somewhere, another mama is holding a little piece of Rylei.

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One morning, after a rousing rendition of up-every-two-hours-with-a-teething-baby, bleary-eyed and fully-caffeinated, I texted my best friend:

I am 100% done having children. I can't do this again.

She came through with some sympathetic words, mood-lightening emojis and a gentle reminder that this is temporary. "It's the fatigue talking," she suggested.

But no, it wasn't just the fatigue talking. That morning, sitting like a zombie in my office cube, I meant it. The night before, as I rocked my youngest and stroked her wispy baby curls, I knew I was done.

She chewed on her fingers and looked up at me with wide eyes and a tear-stained face. We locked eyes, and while I didn't resent her at that moment (how could I?), I did feel a sense of finality with this stage of motherhood.

I realized that I'm ready to move on. I'm ready to watch her grow into a person and move beyond the baby years.

Eventually, life moved beyond that evil emerging molar, and we settled back into our routine. I returned to being a functioning member of my team at work. And at home, I'd catch myself smiling, looking at my two girls as they played together with my husband. This is what our family is meant to look like, I thought. Life is loud and full and happy. I don't need anything else.

Then, one night as we were getting ready for bed, after a visit with some friends who are expecting their first baby, my husband said it: "I miss when you were pregnant."

My heart raced a little—surely he didn't mean it. He must just be having a weak moment after seeing our friends with their baby. HE had been the one who was adamant that two children was enough for us. HE had been the one to quickly shut down any "what ifs" that I'd raised. How could he be saying this right after I told myself we were done?

So, I reminded him. "No, you don't. You don't miss my cankles or carpal tunnel syndrome or my high blood pressure. Or my complaining and flopping around trying to get comfortable in bed with no less than six pillows. Really, you don't."

But he missed the other stuff, he said. The magic of it all—feeling the baby move, wondering if it was a boy or a girl and what our family dynamic would be like when the baby arrived. "Relax," he'd said. He was just being wistful. He assured me that there were no more babies are in our future.

As he rolled over that night and went to sleep (easily, might I add), I lay awake reliving his words. I knew what he meant. Growing a family together is a special time, one filled with awe. After this particular conversation, I was 75% sure we were done having kids.

Life settled back in again, but this time my 4-year-old threw me. She climbed up on the couch, into my lap, and put her arms around my neck.

"Mommy," she sighed and paused dramatically as though a big proclamation was looming. She pulled back and looked me in the eyes, "I'd like a brother."

I laughed it off and explained that she had a sister, which was so great. I only had a sister, Daddy only had a sister and we are all very happy people. She brushed me off after a couple of minutes and ran off to play.

But then I found myself thinking. What's one more kid, really? We know what we're doing. We'd be so much more relaxed. We already have a minivan for cryin' out loud!

In my heart of hearts, I believe we are done. I'm grateful for what I have and I love our family, but there are small moments where I catch myself wondering if a little boy would round us out. If we just waited until our youngest was a little older…

It's these moments of second guessing myself—the wondering, the daydreaming—that get me. But it's also the big moments of practicality and reason (hello, day care costs) that then reel me back in. We're doing fine just the way we are.

So, like I said…

That's how I know I'm 50% sure we're done having children. 😜

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