Frugal Road Trip Tips: Saving Money While You Shop

A frugal road trip and shopping? How do these two things go together?

Well, even someone who watches their money enjoys shopping – especially when they’re relaxing on vacation. Plus, a road trip can be a great opportunity to shop. You can find all kinds of things that you’ll never find at home, or if you do find them, they’ll be marked up. For example, buying maple syrup in Vermont practically guarantees its freshness and quality, and the price is usually a little cheaper than at home.

Unfortunately, your frugal road trip can turn into a spree that cleans out your wallet or even puts you in debt! Everything’s so appealing and you’ve just got to have it. You remind yourself you can’t find these things at home. You think of how busy you’re life is and that you never have enough time to shop, so why not now? You’ve got to buy presents for birthdays and holidays, right?

The best thing to do to head off an empty bank account or a huge credit card bill is to make a plan before you go. Once you’re in that cute little shop with everything your heart desires, your good but vague intentions to keep your road trip frugal will go right out the window.

Frugal Road Trip

So what should you do?

Start by figuring out how much you can spend on the entire road trip. Use my road trip calculator to figure out what you’ll be spending and how much you’ll have left for shopping. If you’re planning on buying presents for upcoming birthdays and holidays, decide how much you will spend on those presents and add that to the total. If you want to buy something special for yourself, determine the maximum you will spend on that special something(s).

Next, use one of these methods to make sure your frugal road trip stays one instead of becoming an all-out spend-a-thon. The method you choose should be based on your personal strengths and weaknesses.

Frugal Road Trip Shopping Method 1
Math Wiz: Budgets
If you’re great at keeping track of your spending and have a head for numbers (or are willing to bring a calculator on your road trip), this may be the method for you.

You’ve got the grand total of what you’ll be spending; now break it down into categories. You’ll probably want to buy souvenirs on your trip so make a category for that. Next, add any gifts you’ll be buying by person. Last, add any spending on yourself that you’re planning to do. Note each item with the amount budgeted next to it on your list, plus a box to check off when you make your purchase.

Bring the list with you on your trip – a great place to keep it is folded up in your wallet. Make sure to pack a pen. Every time you buy something on your road trip, note it on the list and check each item off. Always keep each purchase at or below budget. When you’ve checked everything off, you’re done!

What’s great about this is you’re keeping track of how much you’re spending and you’ll always have that list to refer to when you can’t remember how much you were planning to spend on a particular item.

If you have trouble with self-control, stay out of stores once you’re done with all of your shopping. It will be too tempting to wander through that store – more like self-torture than anything else. Plus, there are plenty of other things to do on your road trip: go enjoy those things and leave the stores alone.

Frugal Road Trip Shopping Method 2
Easy Money – Cash in Pocket
This method is great for the less mathematically inclined and it’s extremely simple.

What’s the total amount you plan to spend on shopping? Withdraw that money in cold hard cash and put it in an envelope marked “shopping”. Why not put it in your wallet? Well, you don’t want to go spending money you’ve earmarked for other expenses, do you? This will keep your shopping money separate from the rest.

Whenever you shop, pull out that envelope. When it’s empty, you’re done. As mentioned above, stay away from stores once you’re done spending – there’s no point in torturing yourself.

You’ll need to keep in mind what you were planning to buy on your trip. It’s a good idea if you’re planning on buying gifts to write each person’s name on the outside of the envelope (plus a total you want to spend on them). As you buy each of their presents, mark off their name.

What’s great about this is that you don’t have to keep track of your spending – open the envelope and you’ll know right away how much is left. Also, spending cash can feel much more “real” than spending on a debit or credit card. Handing over bills makes you think about how much you’re spending as opposed to just swiping your card.

Impulse Shopper – Gotta Have It
If you have serious trouble with self control and tend to be an impulse shopper, you might want to use a Gotta Have It List. This would be used alongside of one of the two frugal road trip shopping methods above (your choice). This will only work if you’re traveling along the same route on your return trip from your destination. Pack a notepad and a pen.

See something you just gotta have on your road trip? Write it on your notepad. Title the list Gotta Have it. Don’t buy the item – yet. Continue on your trip and add more items as you find them.

Enjoy your destination. Something there that you’ve gotta have? Add it to the list. Right before you leave your destination, sit down with the list. Some items will strike you right away as things you don’t want anymore.

How can that be? Just two days ago that thing seemed like the best thing since sliced bread! What happened?

You got out of the heat of the moment; that tingly excitement has left you. Impulse shoppers feel that way every time they think they’ve found something they have to have. Now you’re shopping-sober and you can see what you genuinely want as opposed to being in the grip of the gotta-have-high.

There will be items that you still want. Decide if they fit in your budget and, if so, buy them at your destination and on your return trip. Warning: the gotta-have-high will hit you again on the return trip with either the same things you realized you didn’t want or new exciting things. Do not buy these!

Instead, start a new list and ask the proprietor or an employee of the store if they will ship the item to you if you call in an order. Most stores will do this. Get the phone number of the store and any other information you need about the item in question.

The day after you get home, sit down and look at the new list. Once again, you’ll find that many things no longer appeal and some still do. If you have money left in your budget, spend it. If not, wait and order those things down the road when you can afford them.

With these frugal road trip methods you can save money and still have fun buying things you want. There’s nothing like having a plan to keep you on track. Happy shopping!

Want more ways to save money? Check out these frugal road trip tips.


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