Cash Smarter

August 22, 2016  by: Aaron Crowe

Money Lessons from a Summer Off

Money Lessons from a Summer Off


School is back in session in many areas of the country, giving parents everywhere a reason to celebrate the end of summer.

As a freelancer who works from home, I’m about as ecstatic as you can get that my daughter is going back to school — though probably not as much as this guy:

I’m not doing cartwheels yet, or even rolling around on a shopping cart, but not having a child burst into my home office and ask to watch TV, play with the iPod, say how bored she is, or fix herself a sugary snack in the kitchen is enough of a time reward that I can get back to writing for my websites.

I did manage to get some work done for my clients — I tried to work from 9 a.m. to noon on most weekdays during the summer — but now I’m looking forward to writing for my websites after giving them most of the summer off.

It was a fun 10 weeks. We took a few in-state vacations, and I learned a few money lessons along the way:

Have an emergency fund

A freelancer’s income can vary from month to month, and taking a lot of time off in the summer can cause it to dip more. Luckily, we have an account set aside for emergencies and other expenses — such as saving for vacation — so we dipped into that account a few times to pay some vacation costs and other bills.

I’ve always been glad to have this account, and I’ve often touted its importance, but this summer made the monthly savings worthwhile so I could take more time off and spend it with my family.

Renting a summer house is expensive

We rented two houses this summer as a way to save money and have more room to stretch out during our vacations. Both houses worked out fine without any major problems, but the costs were more than what I expected.

I won’t detail all of the costs, but my main point is that the final cost on Vacation Rentals by Owner, or VRBO, for example, is much more than the price shown on the site when you’re searching for a home to rent for a few days.

We used VRBO to rent a small house (1 bedroom, a fold-out couch in the living room and a tiny kitchen) a few blocks from a San Diego beach for a few nights. And no, it wasn’t the famous San Diego hotel pictured above.

The price increased by 50 percent after fees from the site and owner were added in. That made it more expensive than staying at a hotel, but the tradeoff was that the house had a kitchen we used to cook a few meals and save some money.

The price of another rental house — in Lake Tahoe —  doubled from the listed price when fees were added. The only way it was affordable was because another family joined us and split the cost.

That made the rental home affordable, and overall it was worthwhile for the extra room we had — two living rooms, kitchen and four bedrooms.

Timing helped save money

By spacing out our vacations by about a month, I only had to sign my daughter up for three weeks of classes/activities for the summer. Usually, we sign her up for a few camps for at least part of the day for a week or more at a time, with three or more summer camps or other activities planned for her.

This summer, I let her stay home with me for a week and we did things in the afternoons after I was finished working for the day. Those weeks of just her and I together were interspersed with our vacations, so neither of us grew tired of the other too much before going on vacation.

That timing allowed her to only be in classes for three weeks — from 1-4 p.m. at a community college that offered classes for kids — saving us hundreds of dollars in activity fees.

And now that school is back in session, I can get back to work and start saving for next summer.

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