I've been promising a post for some time now explaining how we manage to fund these trips on teachers salaries, which as you may know are appallingly low in our county. In fact they are projected to be even lower as another pay cut is expected to be issued this year. A pay CUT. Never mind the fact that teachers here haven't received a raise in over four years and the cost of our health benefits have increased.
So how are we managing to still take three week international trips with two kids? While I am not going to embarrass myself and divulge our income, I will tell you that this can be easily figured out on the county schools website. If you have never looked into what a teacher makes in our county, be prepared to be unpleasantly surprised. Ah, but I digress. I'll try to explain how we have been able to make this work and hopefully I don't come across as pious or holier than thou.
First of all, we have very little debt. No student loans, no credit card debt, no car payment. The only debt we have is a mortgage payment which we have refinanced to be pretty low. Not being in debt means we live within our means. We have 9$ cable and a cheap cell phone plan. We don't save a hellava lot for our kids college educations. We both drive cars that are over ten years old and we only buy what we can pay for in any given month.
Every month when we get paid I put 600$ into a savings account which nets us 6000$ a year to spend on a three week trip. Our maximum daily budget is 150$ to include lodging, transport, food, activities and excursions, and trinkets to bring home. With this daily budget we can spend up to 700$ on airfares each which limits the places in the world we can go.
No student loans was a result of some deliberate choices and some luck. I went to community college for two years which was dirt cheap. Then my parents paid for a year of university, I worked, and I met Luis, who helped me pay for the last year. As for graduate school, I had a graduate assistantship. Luis had the GI bill and various scholarships to put him through college and he worked the whole time.
I do realize that our financial lives can be ruined by one large medical disaster or accident, or a hurricane. We haven't run into huge life sucking major expenses like braces. More than likely, the year my kid gets those (and we know he will be getting them) we aren't going anywhere but the orthodontists office. My kids aren't old enough to drive, so we aren't being bled for 200$ a month in car insurance for a new teenage driver. When Luis starts graduate school we will have a huge tuition bill to navigate. Won't be going anywhere for those years either. When he does his year long internship thats gonna be a mighty huge pay cut because he wont be working! Oh yeah, when my 12 year old car or Luis' 16 year old truck bites the dust were gonna need some new wheels....and won't be going anywhere that year either. All signs point to the grim reality that this recent trip to colombia may have been our last for a really long time. That just about makes me cry, but really theres not much i can do about it is there? I am also oddly superstitious so just by typing this post I have made myself vulnerable to the good luck gods who are now jealous of our up until now fortunate existence.
Another part of having enough money to travel with is attitude. A little history on why we don't feel deprived of life's embellishments while we save for travel. Luis and I have been together for over 20 years and have always lived off of very meager incomes. As students we were broke, and we resisted the urge to borrow money because being in debt is a horrible ball and chain. Then when he got his first job I decided to stay home and raise kids. So we lived on this ridiculously low teachers salary with two kids at home! There are several things we did for this near decade that allowed this to happen for us. One, we found ways to make a little extra money under the table like lawn mowing, handyman work, babysitting, and sewing. We made a lot of the things we needed and fixed what was broken. We trash picked (well, I did), went to tag sales, and received many hand me downs. In fact, our kids dressed exclusively in hand me downs the whole time. I breastfed and we coslept negating the need for formulas, prepared baby foods, and nursery furnishings. I cannot underestimate having the benefits of WIC and Medicade that the kids and I utilized during those at home years.
I guess you could say that after 19 years of being frugal and essentially living off the same amount of yearly income and having amazing luck were used to being thrifty, resourceful, and in constant depravation mode.
So when both kids were finally in school and I went back to work, what stopped us from going crazy and buying new cars and iPhones? This is another long story. Do you have time?
Waaaaay back in 1995 we had to make a choice. And it wasn't a choice I wanted to make, in fact I was downright pissed that I was being asked to make it. The kind of choice that, when you are in your early twenties and still feel entitled to your parents financial support, when made will have a profound impact on your life. You just don't know it at the time. And like most kids you resent your parents for putting any boundaries on your dreams of doing nothing forever.
We were living in Chicago at the time. We committed to staying for a year at a cheap apartment in the city while working two jobs to save up for a round the world trip with no definite end. We had just come back from many months spent in India, South East Asia, and Central America and we're seriously and hopelessly bitten by the travel bug. We had decided during that time of our young lives that traveling, specifically shoestring budget backpacker nomad type traveling, was the absolute number one priority in our lives. We were bitten at just the right time in life I think, to always have it in our blood. And so here we were saving our pennies working 16 hour days just so we could go off again on a big explore.
Enter my mom. My mom, who in an act of self preservation, told us that we needed to have a plan for what we were gonna do when we returned. She had a litany of friends whose twenty something kids had returned home to live, no, leach, off of their parents because they hadn't bothered to make plans after college, as in finding a job and a place to live on their own. These friends of hers did nothing but complain about these lecherous kids, and yet they never did a thing about it. They didn't kick them out or even require them to pay rent. These parents were miserable, they complained to my mom, what with having an extra mouth to feed and loosing their privacy and all. Never mind that these twenty somethings were slobs to boot.
My mom had resolved to not let this happen to her. So she told us that we better have plans when we returned. When we returned? Geeze, that's half the fun of it! Who knows what we are gonna do when we get home? And who wants to think about when we come home? What a buzz kill. We were living in the moment, baby! Who needed plans?
Then she let the hammer fall. We'd better have some plans for when we return BECAUSE WE WEREN'T GOING TO LIVE WITH HER (and ruin her life like her friends kids). Hold it, you mean she wasn't going to catch us when we fell? What kind of mother.......humph, you know I was pissed. Really, why can't we just do whatever we want, spend all our money, and have the old rents to fall back on? Let them pick up the pieces, we deserve our fun in life!
But she was serious. She kinds freaked us out a little. So we made some plans for our eventual return. We made some plans to go to college and find careers already!
Put the brakes on and hold the phone. Careers? Uh, no, we were too good for the likes of a nine to five career. Chained to a company for 30 years begging for a few days off at Christmas? That lifestyle is for our parents generation thank you very much. What fun is that anyway? Who even LIKES working? And HOW do people travel the world working 50 weeks a year anyway?
Asking these questions led us to pursue the only kind of employment you can have that affords ample time off....teaching. Now, I am sorry to anyone who thinks that we had any other REAL motive for getting into our profession. Sure, we like kids, we dig that "ah ha" moment in our students, and all that fluff. But the real reason we chose our careers is because we would have to spend the least amount of time doing them. Oh sure we have a bunch of more mature motivations for being educators nowadays. But that's how it started.
And that leads us back to those broke ass college days, which you already know about. A combination of luck, deliberate choices, not many financial disasters, and teachable moments- that's how we afford international travel on a teachers salary.