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Birthday Trips: The Best Parenting Decision We’ve Ever Made

This year is the tenth anniversary of one of, if not the best parenting decision we’ve ever made.

After reading a book called “Raising A Modern Day Knight” and talking with a family friend who had done something similar with their kids, we decided that for our kids’ birthdays we were going to focus on time and not toys. Memories and moments, not just money and mementos.

In 2010, Sabrina and I sat down and talked about how we wanted to celebrate and honor our kids on their birthday. It took us a while, but we formulated a plan, put it in our budget, presented it to our kids, and we haven’t looked back since. 

Starting at their 10th birthday, we were no longer buying toys or gifts. At 10 years old, 13, 16, and 18 (graduation), we would plan an extra special trip with a parent. For all the birthday’s in between those milestones we gave our kids a choice: With $150, you can have a birthday party with your friends, or you can spend the day with us. We will go out to eat and do an activity in the area that you choose. Just you and us. (Sometimes a friend would tag along) 

Since then, for every birthday in between, our kids have chosen to spend the day or do an activity with us. No other siblings. Just child, mom, and dad. Our times together have been priceless. It’s been so fun to just spend time with each kid, investing in them, one on one over the years. 

For the milestone birthdays here was the plan:

At 10 years old, they got to go on an overnight trip with mom or dad. Girls went with mom, Jonah went with dad. We set a $500 budget for this 10-year-old birthday trip and increased it appropriately for each successive trip they had. For this first trip, they could go anywhere they wanted, overnight, and do any activity they wanted as long as it fit in the budget. 

At 13 years old, we set a budget, and they could go anywhere they wanted and do anything they wanted (with one parent) for a total of 3 nights, as long as it fit in that budget. 

At 16 years old, we would forego the trip and plan $1500 to go towards their first car. Anything they save could be added to that $1500, but we would only give $1500 toward the vehicle and we would only pay cash for a car. 

After graduation (for their 18th birthday), we set a budget, and they could go anywhere and do anything for a full week, as long as it fit in that budget. On this trip, both parents will go. This year, we will take Jonah on the first of hopefully four graduation trips for our kids. It is the culmination of a ten-year process. 

We’ve had several people ask how we do this, so I wanted to provide that information. Here is how we’ve been able to make this possible in our parenting.

1. We live on a budget (below our means) 

For the last 10 years, we have lived on a budget and below our means. Currently, Sabrina and I are living on 74% of my income. It took a long time and a lot of effort for us to get here, but we made it. That 74% includes our tithe, actual living expenses, vacation savings, Christmas and birthday savings, kids allowances, discretionary spending, literally everything that goes out each month. It does not include our regular savings or retirement. 

The only way to live below your means successfully is to have a written budget and sticking to it. Everyone can do this. Even if you have irregular income, people like Joe Sangl and the I Was Broke, Now I’m Not team have some fantastic free resources to help you get on and live on a budget. I can’t recommend Joe Sangl enough. He has helped change our financial lives, and I know he will for you as well.  

Each paycheck, Sabrina, and I sit down and tell all of our money where to go on paper first. We give every single dollar a name and tell it where to go. My retirement is automatically deducted from my paycheck. The first 10%, tithe, always goes to God through our local church. The next 10% we have automatically put into an online savings account. The rest we budget until it is all spent on paper to zero.

As a part of this, when our son was born 18 1/2 years ago, we decided that we would only live on my income. I know there are times where this isn’t possible for some people, but for almost 19 years, we have made it work regardless of the income. That means most of the money Sabrina earned through her painting business or Tastefully Simple business over the years, and any money she currently earns through doTERRA Essential Oils, we don’t depend on. 

Also, any income I have received for outside speaking, coaching, writing, or any tax refunds or surprise income from anywhere, we don’t depend on that. It is extra money that goes toward these extra things in our lives. Without this decision, there is no way we could do what we’ve done for our kids’ birthdays.

2. We live debt-free lives

Outside of our mortgage, we owe nothing to anyone. When you don’t have any debt payments going out each month, it accelerates how quickly you can save for extra things like these birthday trips. We don’t have any car payments. We don’t carry a balance on our credit card. We do have one reward credit card that gives 2% cash back each month. We use that credit card for everything we’re able to, but we have never once carried a balance on it. We pay it off, in full, every month, and we use the rewards to put towards our trips. 

Over the past ten years, we have slipped back into debt three times. Once for some home renovations and twice for medical needs. Both times we had savings but not enough to cover the expenses necessary. We are planning for that not to happen again. Because we live on a budget and have remained debt-free, we now have the required savings to cover most common “emergencies” that come our way. 

3. We plan like crazy 

After setting those dollar amounts for each trip 10 years ago, we sat down and mapped out how much money we would need to cover all these trips through our last child’s (Jaydah) graduation trip. Talk about an eye-opening experience. Not only did we pick our jaws up off the floor when we saw how much money we needed to save, but we also realized just how quickly our children would be out of the home. 

For 10 years, we’ve been saving for trips that we won’t take for another five years in the case of our youngest. Read that again. We are saving money every paycheck so we can pay for trips we won’t take for years to come. We are continually evaluating our budget, looking for ways to save here and there, and re-addressing where we are in saving for their birthday trips. We also plan way ahead on the actual trips themselves, looking for the best deals to save a buck. 

This May, we are taking Jonah and a friend of his on a seven-day cruise for his graduation. We started looking at cruise prices over a year in advance and found one on that we couldn’t pass up. We purchased our plane tickets weeks ago when I found a great round trip deal from Cheyenne to Houston for $240 a person on Now we will save on parking and gas because we won’t have to drive to Denver and leave our car there. We have family in Houston that will pick us up and take us to and from the cruise port as well.

For each of the birthday trips, we budget it out before we go. We spend all the money on paper before we ever spend it in person. Without being intentional about our planning, we would end up overspending every single time. We are always talking with our kids about what they want to do and where they want to go for these big trips, and then we plan them officially months in advance.

4. We make sacrifices

Both Sabrina and I drive older, paid-for cars. I drive a 1999 GMC Sierra with 180,000 miles on it. I bought it for $4500 in January of 2016. Sabrina drives a 2007 Kia Optima with 137,000 miles on it. We paid $2500 for it in September of 2018. We have made the commitment that we will not have a car payment again and are doing our best to stick to that. I recently wrote about car payments HERE if you want to check that out. “You don’t have to have a car payment” is the title of the post. 

In the last couple of years, we didn’t budget money for Christmas gifts for each other and didn’t get anything for each other. We rarely do anything special for our own birthday, and we never do anything significant for Valentine’s Day. We don’t do gifts for our anniversary either. We just aren’t big gift-givers to each other. We’ve determined that the greatest gift we could give each other is the financial freedom we are living in and being able to provide trips like these for ourselves and our kids. 

While we are abundantly blessed in so many ways, we make sacrifices in other parts of our lives so that we can splurge in this part of our life. We limit how often we go out to eat and rarely go out to a sit-down restaurant with our whole family. We have a strict clothing budget. We are starting 2020 on a three-month spending fast (No spending outside of our required and recurring living expenses), and saving what we don’t spend.

Sure, there are many things we would love to do or have that we must say “no” to, but the “no” we say to those things is worth the “yes” we say to the others. Every no is worth it. 

Travel is a priority for our family and us. Our budget definitely reflects that. Sabrina and I love to travel together and with our kids as well. Whatever is your priority is what you’ll plan your money around. That’s just true. We choose to live on a budget, stay debt-free, plan like crazy, and make sacrifices to accomplish that. You can do this too!