When the universe brings you absurdly cheap airfare to Paris — especially when this sale lands on your anniversary — you book a trip and figure out the rest later. At least that’s what my husband and I did, even though we had no plans to go on vacation anytime soon.
We bought $330 round-trip tickets for a trip in October to our favorite place in the world, and yep, we spent the last few months figuring it out. The tickets were made possible with some unexpected income from renting our house out for an event, but of course the airfare is just the start of expenses for a trip to Paris. (Or any trip, really!) We’re keeping our lodging reasonable with Airbnbs (a sixth-floor walk-up away from the tourist zone is remarkably affordable!), but where we always blow our budget is food.
No matter how good my intentions are, once we’re on vacation I’m helpless in the face of menus where I want everything. And while you certainly don’t have to go to high-end temples of cuisine for amazing meals, even relatively reasonable places add up (as they do at home) when you’re eating out every meal.
To make sure we have some euros for the food we’re looking so forward to, we’ve been cutting back on our food costs here at home. While we’re doing things like eating bean- or tofu-based proteins instead of the locally raised meats from the butcher shop we favor (I’m on a “banh mi salad” with marinated tofu kick at the moment), that’s only a few dollars here and there. Just like with traveling, the majority of budget busting comes from eating out.
With a trip on the horizon, I’ve become exceedingly aware of the temptation to spend, and on how fast those costs add up. And each time we overcome that temptation, I mentally file the money we saved in a piggy bank for Paris. Best of all, none of this feels like we’re missing out. Our kitchen reno is only a year old, so it still feels like a treat to cook in there, and we’re making things that are fun on their own. Win-win!
Here are a few of the ways we’ve saved $250 for some fabulous cheese, wine, and maybe, just maybe, one (extra) special meal in Paris.
Scenario 1: We resisted the urge to order on Postmates.
We are doing a repair project on our carriage house, one of our two Airbnbs, after work, and the project stretches into the evening. I have Postmates pulled up, ready to order something, anything, so we don’t have to mess with cooking. I think about the 40 or 50 bucks it’s going to cost for delivered, so-so food, and what that could buy in Paris instead — and go rummage through the pantry.
There’s a bag of pasta. I grab a jar of preserved lemons from Jungle Jim’s and a jar of marinated artichokes from Trader Joe’s. In 10 minutes I toss it all with goat cheese and some of the pasta cooking water along with some golden raisins and it was so, so good I’m going to make this a regular dinner from now on.
Scenario 2: We went to Costco instead of going out for Sushi.
It’s fall on the calendar (but not on the thermometer), and I’m craving sushi. Sashimi in the quantities I like to eat is frightfully expensive at a restaurant. We go to Costco to buy a flash-frozen cut of salmon for $30 and make our own sushi with rice we cook in the Instant Pot.
Scenario 3: We planned a special picnic with leftovers.
It’s Sunday evening and we have had a busy weekend. A relaxing meal out sounds nice. But we don’t have any cash left over from buying groceries. We do have half the salmon left from the previous night’s sushi, so we whip up a salmon ceviche. With a bag of Trader Joe’s tortilla chips, we pack everything in an insulated travel bag (meant for weekend travel with dogs, but handy even for a local picnic!) and head with our dog for the wonderful microbrewery in our neighborhood — where they don’t serve food, and ordering delivery/carrying in is encouraged. With only $10 spent on a couple of beers, we play one of their board games and enjoy dinner and an evening out at a fraction of what a restaurant would cost.
Scenario 4: We made pizza at home.
We eat a lot of pizza. Our favorite is a local shop beloved for their thin-crust pies. This isn’t a franchise with cheap, mass-produced ingredients, so you’re looking at (at least) 20 bucks before tip for delivery. We have a pizza dough in the freezer from our local pasta shop, though, so we divide it in two and each top it with our own favorites for Netflix and pizza night in.
Scenario 5: We host “happy hour” at home.
A friend who’s moved out of town texts at 4 p.m. He’s back in town for work and unexpectedly has the evening free — do we want to go out to eat? It goes against everything in me to say no, but I just tell him the truth: We’re saving up to go to Paris. A fellow traveler, he more than understands, and instead comes by for a kitchen hangout where we sip LaCroix and talk travel.
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