First Person: Saving Money While Traveling With a Family of 5

Yahoo Contributor Network

My ten-year-old son thinks about one thing, constantly. Food. As we are putting away the dishes from lunch, he asks what is for dinner. The first words out of his mouth in the morning are about food. I cringe to thing what this will mean when he is a teenager. I find his food-obsession gets even worse when we are in the car, and constantly bombarded by billboards and restaurant signs. It would be so easy to give in to his every want, but it wouldn't be smart. With a family of five, we need to plan ahead, or eating on the road becomes a hundred-plus -dollars-a-day hassle.

Every year, we take at least one long trip-several days at least-and several shorter trips. We live and work in Florida, and my family lives in Massachusetts. This leads to a yearly trip of over 2400 miles (1200 each way) and six to eight days spent on the road. We love road trips and seeing new things, but the money involved can be staggering. While the trip is usually full of fun for us, meals on the road can also get quite expensive.

So, we try to save money where we can.

We have three children, aged ten, six, and five. They like to eat--a lot. Before we leave, we always make time for a trip to our local BJ's, to stock up on the snacks they love. A little bag of chips bought at the bulk store costs only a few pennies. The same bag bought at a gas station can cost upwards of a dollar or two. It doesn't seem like a big deal, but multiply that by three kids, eight days, and a whole lot of chips, and it certainly adds up. The same applies to cans of soda and juice boxes. Also, having the food at hand is easier; it doesn't require getting on and off the highway while listening to a child (or three) whining yet again that he (or she) is starving and needs to eat right now!

Part of the fun of road trips is the uncertainty of what restaurant to stop at, but there is no rule that says we have to stop at a restaurant for three meals a day. In fact, we only eat out once a day on our road trips, usually a late lunch. The rest of the time, we shop at a grocery store. A meal out for a family of five is never under forty dollars, and at some roadside restaurants, it is much more expensive than that. Chain restaurants are a little more predictable in price, but often not nearly as fun or flavorful as stopping at the local places.

Another way to save money on food is to make sure the motels we stay at offer a free breakfast. Paying a few dollars more for the night isn't a big issue when we save forty-or more-by not having to eat out for breakfast. Plus, it's better for the kids to eat first thing when they wake up, and not worry about making yet another stop.

Saving money-and time-on food during the trips leaves us more to have fun with when we reach our destination.

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