Summer Budget Busters

Summer in Japan

When you’re trying to eke out all you can from an already tight budget, having an unexpected expense can be a major disaster. I am fortunate that the reason our expenses need to be under tight control is not because of a lack of funds but rather due to a very ambitious savings goal. Still, I’ll be groaning and cursing as I’m tweaking my budget spreadsheet to accommodate any unplanned outgoing cash flow. We’ve been keeping to our budget in the past two months, but now that summer is right around the corner, I’m seeing the potential money drains that will bust the budget. Summer is always jam-packed with activities, many of them far from cheap.

Michael Bluth: What have we always said is the most important thing?
George Michael Bluth: Breakfast
Michael Bluth: Family
George Michael Bluth: Oh, right. Family. I thought you meant of the things you eat.
-Arrested Development

One of the resolutions we’ve had since the 2011 Japan earthquake is to visit family as often as we can. Since our families are scattered in various countries across the globe, the frequency of our reunions are bounded by both the amount of vacation days I get from work and by the amount of money we have. The former is normally more restrictive than the latter. Earlier this year, we visited the Philippines. We spent close to 1,000 USD more than we had initially allocated for that trip, despite the fact that the cost of goods and services in the Philippines is so much cheaper than Japan.

This summer, we have two stops: Florida and New York. Our multi-destination economy air fare totaled 2,380 USD for two adults, a bargain when considering that there are no unnecessary stopovers. The flight is just the beginning though – there will be more spending once we’ve landed in the U.S. Unless you have a strict itinerary planned, it’s just too difficult to anticipate every dollar that will be spent when traveling abroad. The best we’ve been able to do is set a limit to the amount of cash we carry around. Really, the last thing that you want to do on your vacation is have to keep worrying about money!

Dr. Emmett Brown: This sucker’s electrical, but I need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity I need.
-Back To The Future

The other inevitable expense during summer months is the electricity bill, which gets close to 250 USD per month from June to September. One reason our bill so high is that we have a single air conditioner for our studio-type apartment and so it ends up having to cool a much larger space. It’s an old model – it came with the apartment when we moved in a couple of years back. We should probably have already replaced it with one of the newer, more efficient models available now, but since we plan to move to a one- or two-bedroom apartment in a few months, we haven’t bothered buying any new appliances.

I feel really bad about the huge bill, not just because of the amount of money going out, but because we’re consuming so much energy during the months where Japan is going through power shortages. We will be hunting for a new apartment that can help us reduce our carbon footprint.

Lisa Simpson: Now can we do something Japanese?
Marge Simpson: Honey, I know you want to see Japan, but we’re down to our last million yen.
-The Simpsons

Japan during the summer is full of activity. On some weekends, we get woken up by processions passing by our street! There are festivals and giant fireworks displays all over Japan. It’s a wonderful time to fully immerse oneself in Japanese culture, to connect with the local community, and to meet with friends and celebrate. Of course, these come at a cost.

It’s definitely possible to partake of the festivities without spending much, but any invitations for out-of-town activities can put a strain on finances. For instance, last year, on the kind invitation of our friend’s family, we traveled up north to their home in Nagaoka to watch one of the largest fireworks show in Japan. We traveled by bullet train, which was surprisingly expensive. There were also a lot of small item purchases that I didn’t give a second thought to, until I figured out the grand total after our trip! It was a very memorable experience, though, so we have no regrets.

Even celebrating within our neighborhood can get costly. The parks by our house will be packed with food stalls and I will end up buying yakisoba, takoyaki, and yakitori while enjoying the festivities. Of course, some ice cold drink always needs to be at hand to help fight that summer heat. It’s very easy to spend over 20 USD just on street food.

There will be a lot of temptation to spend in the next few months. I’m just hoping that we can still have a great experience without straying too far from the budget – we’ll soon find out!



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