I’m back from vacation. It’s awesome to be home and to not be spending money anymore!

Ireland was good. London was great. But New York — wow! New York was amazing. It far exceeded my expectations. I’m a small-town boy, no question, but I can still appreciate the big city.

New York is expensive, though. It’s at least as expensive as London or Dublin even without an unfavorable exchange rate. Yet I was able to spend much less there than in the other cities. Was this because by the end of the trip I had developed greater discipline? Perhaps. But I think it’s mostly due to the fact that I know how things work in the U.S. I know how to find and do cheap things here, even in a strange city. That wasn’t true in England and Ireland.

One thing this trip taught me, though, is that there are lots of great, cheap things to do in any big city. Some of the big attractions cost money, but there are plenty that are provided free (or for a nominal fee). If you can find a good deal on airfare and/or lodging, you can take a very inexpensive vacation to a big city, if that’s your thing. Also, you’ll do best by vacationing in a country with a favorable exchange rate.

This vacation allowed me to test budgeting in a sort of microcosm. Instead of an ongoing budget for my entire life, I established a short-term $100/day budget for the three weeks we were gone. I didn’t divide this into categories like food, entertainment, museums, etc. but in every other way I treated this like a normal budget. By tracking my expenditures, and by adhering to this budget, I was able to plan ahead for big expenses or to compensate for unexpected splurges.

For example, while in London I was tempted to see Spamalot, the musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (I’m a fan of both Monty Python and musical theater, so this is a perfect combination.) I never got the chance. Upon arriving in New York, however, I saw that Spamalot was playing just down the street from our hotel. By restricting my spending for a couple of days, I was able to afford tickets to Spamalot and splurge for a nice meal, all without blowing the budget. These were two expensive activities, but they were worth it to me, especially since I knew I could afford it, and because I had planned ahead.

Ultimately, I spent $2067.43 on this trip, which was right at my budgeted amount. I had hoped to spend half that, but a variety of factors — including my own inclinations — worked against me. (I came home with a few books and a couple woolen sweaters.) In a way, this makes me sad. It’s not that I mind spending money when I know that I have it — and I had saved up for this trip — but over the past two years I’ve become focused on my financial goals, and sometimes I get disappointed when I’m not always striving to meet them.

Things will return to normal now, though. It’s nice not to be spending $100 every day. Yesterday I spent $6 on lunch from my favorite Chinese restaurant. In a few minutes, Kris and I will make a trip to the farmers market to pick up some fresh produce. Mostly, though, I’ve been working in the yard and sleeping. Neither of these things costs a dime.

Thanks to everyone who contributed a guest post in my absence. There are still a few guest-posts scheduled for the near future as I work to dig myself out from under the mountain of e-mail. If you would like to write for Get Rich Slowly, please drop me a line.

Finally, special thanks to Jericho Hill, who not only provided a three-part series on renovating an old house, but also worked behind the scenes to moderate comments on the blog and to keep the message board up-and-running. Thanks, Jericho!

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