Summer Family Vacation on a Tight Budget

Family on vacation

Your budget is tight but you still want to take the family on a fun vacation this summer. I can help you with that. This has been the story of my family’s summer every year, and we have found a lot of ways to save money on family trips.

The biggest expenses on the family vacation are transportation, lodging, food, and souvenirs, so I have a few thought how you can cut one or all of these costs to give your family a memorable vacation without a high price tag.

Lower Transportation Costs

The easiest way to cut your vacation costs is to stay closer to home. Do you live near a place others visit on vacation? Travel close to home and see the place like visitors see it.

If you want to travel away from home, go off-season. In the summer, go to an area known for winter vacations; in the winter, go to an area known for summer vacations. Sure, you will deal with weather, but that’s just fun.

Lower Lodging Costs

The biggest range of costs for your vacation is in where you stay. Even if you stay in a hotel or motel, you can often pull the costs down by checking discount websites or using a discount (CAA/AAA or military, for example).

The best way to save money on lodging costs on your summer vacation is to camp. Even if you don’t want to pitch a tent, a lot of campgrounds offer cabins. Cabins cost more per night than a spot to park a camper or put up a tent, but they cost less than a motel, and you don’t need to buy the extra camping equipment. You do need to be prepared with cooking (pots & pans) and sleeping equipment (sleeping bags or blankets), but cabins can save you money if you already have all of this.

Where to go? Why not just start big with the national parks of Canada. You can find spectacular beauty and sites of historic significance across the country.

Is camping a mystery to you? If you’ve never been camping and don’t quite know how, you can even find camping instructions on the Parks Canada site. They even have an app with recipes, checklists, and tips.

Lower Food Costs

One of the biggest expenses of traveling with the family is food. Feeding a family of four three meals a day can cost more than a hotel room.

Find a local grocery store and make your own meals. Even if you don’t have access to cooking equipment, you can have great uncooked meals. More than once my family has quietly rolled our cooler into a hotel.

Not only does making your own simple food save you a lot of money, you can choose high quality, whole foods rather than accepting the quality you get in an inexpensive restaurant.

Lower Souvenir Costs

Really, you don’t need souvenirs at all, but you will almost certainly hear the cries of “Mom, can I have this?” My strategy is to start out with a distraction that creates its own keepsakes. Rather than taking home stuff from the trip, we remember by taking photos.

When my kids were little, I bought them simple cameras so they could document the trip from their own point of view. The follow up at home was important. We would create albums or frame photos on their walls. I like how this gives my children freedom to frame their own experience, and it helps me see what they find significant. In the era of smart phones and tablets, you have a lot of options for equipment, but I still think it’s important to put the equipment wholly in your child’s hands.

Another idea for souvenirs is to collect small mementos of specific experiences. If you are heading to national parks or national historic sites, check out the Xplorer programs for children. When you arrive, you check in and get a booklet or equipment that leads children on activities designed to help their understand what that park has to offer. U.S. national parks have a similar program for Junior Rangers. We did a variety of activities from an hour to several days. When they returned with completed activity books, the park ranger held a little ceremony to award them patches. My kids collected those patches from their junior ranger activities and sewed them onto their backpacks. They still talk about the activities as they point out the patches.

Go Slowly

Make sure that you leave enough space in any vacation or staycation to enjoy your time together and unwind from the relentless pace of your normal life.

I’ve found that the activity that left my kids the happiest on most vacations was swimming in a motel pool. Simple, but it works wonders. Whatever you do, leave enough space that the kids can play and you can chill out. You don’t have to leave first thing every morning. A vacation shouldn’t feel like work.

The Really Cheap Summer Vacation

If you just don’t even have the option to travel because of the costs, you can still create that vacation feeling and fun summer memories. There is no requirement that you leave home each summer. Sure, it’s fun, but that pressure to do right by your kids can be stressful when you just don’t have the money to spare. You can make this a summer of fun without staying away from home.

Day trips. Take day trips to all of the tourist spots within a few hours drive. Even if you have seen the historic houses and scenic views around your region, for your children, a lot of this will be new. Help them see their own home for the first time.

Backyard camping. Have a weekly campout in the back yard. Cook your dinner over a fire and tell silly stories. Everyone will remember these nights more than random evenings spend in a crumbling motel.

Indoor camping. If you are more of the indoor type, you can still have a campout with the family. My family loves doing this. We pull the cushions from every couch in the house and cover the floor. Everyone brings their bedding, and we make one big nest. Then, we play board games, read aloud, watch a movie, or have a picnic. Anything you can do sitting on the furniture, you can do lounging on the floor. Difference makes the fun. It will seem completely silly to little kids, and they will love it.

Make Your Own Fun!

You don’t need to spend money to have fun with your family. You have a lot of choices to bring down costs and create beautiful summer memories for your children. Have fun!

Photo Family Enjoying View on Vacation – © Eric1513 | Dreamstime.com

I Can’t Afford Cloth Diapers

Baby counting money

When money is tight, it can be tough to squeeze out enough for diapers. We have a few tips to help you save money on diapers.

Consider these factors to save yourself money:

  • whether you choose cloth or disposable diapers;
  • which style of cloth diapers you choose; and
  • what to do if even the least expensive cloth diapers are too much for your budget.

Which diapers will save you the most money? The first choice most parents make is cloth or disposable diapers. Cloth diapers win the math every time.

Compare the cost of cloth diapers with disposable diapers over 5,220 diaper changes. (See our “Baby on a Budget” article to see how we came up with that number.)

Total diaper cost

  • $1,200 Disposable Diapers @ $.23/each (major brands)
  • $679 Disposable Diapers @ $.13/each (low-end brands)

Even a high-end option like one-size, all-in-one cloth diapers plus newborn size is less expensive than disposables for one child. If you need to cut the budget, you still have more inexpesive cloth diaper options.

  • $600 Cloth All-in-one (AIO) Diapers plus Newborn
  • $240 Cloth One-size AIO Diapers
  • $231 Cloth prefolds with sized covers
  • $177 Cloth prefolds with one-size covers

The problem, of course, is that you need to come up with that money all at once rather than $20-30 at a time. If you put away $12 per week starting in your 5th month of pregnancy, you will be able to buy a complete cloth diaper supply in your final month of pregnancy. All done!

Which style of cloth diapers is least expensive? If you are limiting your budget even within cloth diapers, there is actually one best choice: prefolds.

Budget choice: prefolds with one-size covers

We carry several choices of prefold and flat diapers. We like the Bummis Beautiful Basic Starter Package and the Bummis Newborn Cloth Diaper Package. Both are currently on special, so you save even more. (These are sized packages, meaning you need new diaper covers as your baby grows. To save more, buy prefolds separately with one-size diaper covers. These adjust as your baby grows.)

Bummis Beautiful Basic cloth diaper package

What if even cloth diapers cost too much? Volunteers across North America build local cloth diaper banks for low-income families.

If even a prefold package on special is too big an expense for your family, talk to us at bynature.ca about free or very low cost diaper options. If you are in the Simcoe County / Georgian Bay area, stop by the byature.ca store and fill out a diaper bank application. Outside that area, drop us a note, and we’ll help you find a cloth diaper bank in your area, if one is available.

How can you save a lot of money cloth diapering? For more tips, see the Real Diaper Association low-income cloth diapers tip sheet. They give details on starting small, upcycling, buying used, keeping wash simple, and, of course, diaper banks.

Cloth Diapering Basics

This month we’re responding to common comments by our customers, like “I don’t have time for cloth diapers,” “Don’t cloth diapers leak?” and “Aren’t cloth diapers gross?”

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

The Real Cost of Cheap Imports

Cheap products at what cost

Last year, in answer to a lot of questions we received about why we focus so much on products made in North America, we outlined the issues with cheap imports. The real cost goes a lot deeper than price. Low price usually means that some of the real costs of materials, production, and transportation are externalized—meaning others pay the short-term and the long-term cost of the low price.

We want you to understand the basic issues that concern us with production away from home, away from the consistent scrutiny of regulations intended to uphold basic standards of labour, safety, quality, and environmental responsibility. We want you to understand how we see these issues as connected to genuine sustainability.

Cheap Products at What Cost?

Cheaper products sometimes carry hidden costs to labour, safety, quality, environment, and sustainability of your community.

We set high basic standards for every product we carry. We start by looking close to home, then across Canada, across North America, and only then do we consider looking overseas for products to meet your needs.

In “Cheap Products at What Cost?” we share with you the actual questions we ask before we consider a new supplier.

Imports at What Cost? Labour

The cost of cheap products is unfair labour

Outsourcing labour and importing cheap goods can mean that workers who produce those goods are not fairly paid. Those workers pay the real cost of cheap imports.

When we reach for cheap products, they don’t cost any less than the expensive products. They just externalize costs—that is, someone else pays the true cost of the product. When the factor that allows the cost to stay low is labour, the person who works in the field or in the factory for less than a fair wage is the one who pays. The real cost of goods includes the consequences of unpaid labor.

Organizations throughout the world investigate slave labour and child labour so you can choose products with some confidence that you know how they were made.

In “Imports at What Cost? Labour,” we look at the consequences of unpaid and underpaid labour.

Imports at What Cost? Safety

Baby chewing on plastic ring

Buying cheap imports that use inferior materials, shortcuts in assembly, or even badly copied designs to keep costs low can be a safety risk for your child.

When that product is inexpensive at the cost of safety, though, it is your baby who can pay. Injury or worse because of an unsafe baby product is part of the real cost of products that are made not to meet the needs of babies.

We take seriously standards of safety, quality of materials, and quality of work. We work with companies that understand the products they make and make they well.

Read “Imports at What Cost? Safety” to learn more about how you can be confident the products you buy meet high safety standards.

Imports at What Cost? Quality

At What Cost Quality

When you buy low-quality imports, you pay in safety and durability—and sometimes you pay at the store twice when you replace cheap products.

Quality isn’t necessarily your primary concern when you are looking for low-cost toys, diapers, clothing, and other children’s products. Many companies outsource production to keep costs low, which allows importers to sell to North American markets at lower prices than products Made in Canada or Made in USA. Often quality suffers for cost.

Quality and safety issues overlap. Quality can also mean an issue of durability when toys break as soon as children play with them.

Read “Imports at What Cost? Quality” to learn more about the toy recalls of 2007 that sparked a new wave of children’s product safety laws in Canada and the United States.

Imports at What Cost? Environment

What is the cost of imports to the environment

When we buy products made somewhere without tight environmental regulations, the price we pay doesn’t cover the costs of environmental damage. Those costs are paid by the state of origin, the local community, and the workers.

Products made in Canada or the U.S. are produced in compliance with strict regulations. When you buy imports, you have few assurances that making the products did not cause local harm through air or water pollution. Damage to environment and to health through the environment are part of the real cost of imports. We pay now, or we pay later, but we will pay.

In “Imports at What Cost? Environment,” read about the environmental impact in first Mexico and now China of production for export the North American market.

Imports at What Cost? Sustainability

Sometimes the cost of cheap imports is sustainability both local and global

Truly sustainable products don’t pass on real costs to others but accept and embrace the real costs, redesigning the product and the supply chain not to externalize the costs but to internalize the benefits.

Cheap imports are cheap precisely because they cut costs by cutting corners—pay less for labour, think less about quality, design less for safety, and don’t worry about the environment. Good business? Only in the moment. In the long term, these short-term savings leave us with big bills to pay.

Learn what sustainability looks like in “Imports at What Cost? Sustainability.”

What is the solution? Buy local. Local businesses are better at understanding your needs, and local businesses contribute to your community in ways that help you, them, and all of your neighbors.

Visit us at bynature.ca in Orillia, Ontario.

Hold on! Holiday Spending

Buy buy buy. Messages urging you to spend money for the holidays can be relentless. Turn on your critical thinking now before you buy more than you intend to.

According to BMO Financial Group, Canadians are ready to spend this holiday season. “Canadians expect to spend an average of $1,610 this holiday season – up from $1,397 in 2011.” Shoppers in the U.S. are expected to spend just about that much with an average of $749 each on gifts and decorations and another $762 each on travel.

Overwhelmed yet?

What better time to watch The Story of Stuff and think about the consequences of consumerism. Yes, have a great holiday season. Yes, give gifts. But, don’t get caught up in buying something you don’t want and won’t ever use for the sake of a sale.

Imports at What Cost? Environment

What is the cost of imports to the environment

Products made in Canada or the U.S. are produced in compliance with strict regulations. When you buy imports, you have few assurances that making the products did not cause local harm through air or water pollution. Damage to environment and to health through the environment are part of the real cost of imports. We pay now, or we pay later, but we will pay.

Give It to Me Quick

When we buy products made somewhere without tight environmental regulations, the price we pay doesn’t cover the costs of environmental damage. Those costs are paid by the state of origin, the local community, and the workers.


Issues

Having a child means environmental impact. There is no way around that fact. It’s just math. Every human being has an environmental impact, some have more impact than others, and the collective impact of all of us together is not sustainable.

Part of our personal impact includes the real environmental costs of the seemingly benign products we let into our lives. Making stuff has an impact, and sometimes that impact is far greater than it needs to be.

Implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994 meant a de-industrialization of Canada and the U.S. while factories and jobs moved to Mexico. Despite a Commission for Environmental Cooperation between the North American countries, pollution in Mexico was immediate and overwhelming near maquiladoras—factories in Mexico near the U.S. border producing goods for export.

Mexico, though, was an issue of the 1990s; in the past decade, industry and concern has shifted to China. Environmental impacts of moving industry to Mexico pale in comparison with impacts of massive growth in China.

Pollution in China is epic. Severe pollution not only creates an economic burden for the Chinese people, it threatens political stability.

“Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.” ~ “As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes,” Choking on Growth, part 1, New York Times, August 26, 2007.

Pollution is only part of the problem. Biodiversity loss, deforestation, and desertification over 30% of China’s land signal long-term problems. It isn’t just that growth is unsustainable; Chinese growth is sending them careening toward collapse. Chinese citizens certainly aren’t unaware of the impacts of these factories, and some protest. Especially since the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government has turned to environmental regulations and adjusted growth philosophies to lessen the impact of massive growth on their people.

It costs to make extraction and production processes cleaner. When those of us who live in places with tight environmental regulations take production to a place that doesn’t impose those regulatory costs, that means the price of the final product won’t have to cover the cost of environmental damage.

That doesn’t mean there is no cost to that environmental damage. Costs are simply externalized. Externality is a common concept in economics whereby the producer does not directly incur the inevitable cost. A business maximizes profits by forcing the problem onto someone else. In the case of pollution, the state might pay for clean up or for other consequences, the local community might pay through lower quality of life, and the workers might pay with their health.

Look at the tags on your baby’s clothing and the boxes for toys and car seats. Where are your baby’s products made? High environmental costs in exchange for low product costs will happen everywhere you don’t find tight regulation. And, sometimes, even where there is tight regulation, you end up with the high cost of environmental accidents.


Diaper Plant Explosion

When a Japanese chemical factory exploded in September, it became global news because of the chemical they make and how much they make of it. Nippon Shokubai Co makes 20% of the super-absorbent polymers used in disposable diapers globally. The focus of news stories was an anticipation of disposable diaper shortages around the world, but the rest of the story was the local environmental impact of an explosion and fire so big that local people thought it was another earthquake.

In addition to the everyday environmental impact of throwing 16 billion plastic diapers into landfill in the U.S. alone, accidents and the environmental impact of extraction and production have to be calculated into overall impact of diapers or of any product.


Clean Diapers

Some choices leave a child’s environmental impact higher than others. Using cloth diapers means avoiding the 8,000 disposable diapers you would have used and the waste they generate both as 3% of all municipal solid waste in the landfill [Lehrburger] and in production overseas where lax or non-existent environmental regulation allows companies to shave their costs through pollution.

Use any reusable diaper, even a cloth diaper made from oil or gas (polyester, PUL, microfiber, and so on), and you will lower your baby’s environmental impact. Make smart laundry choices, and you will lower the impact more. If you buy organic cotton prefold diapers with diaper covers made here in Canada by Bummis, you lower your impact even more. You don’t avoid all environmental impact of a child by choosing cloth diapers, but you lower that impact significantly.


The Institute for Sustainable Communities

For 20 years the Institute for Sustainable Communities has been helping communities around the world address environmental, economic, and social challenges to make their own community more sustainable. They train and inspire local people to improve quality of life.

Through the Environmental Health and Safety Academies in the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu where most Chinese manufacturing takes place, they are training thousands of factory managers every year in best practices to lower environmental impacts and boost efficiency through safety.

They want donations. The work they do isn’t simple. “We are not interested in quick fixes. When you give to ISC, you invest in lasting solutions to the climate change crisis.”


What You Can Do

Only buy imports if you know something about their manufacture. Favor products and brands that aren’t externalizing environmental costs by outsourcing to countries with loose environmental regulation.

Lower your overall impact with a focus on the three areas that account for 70-80% of the global total of environmental impact: transportation, food, and home energy.


Resources

More in this series