big sky, big dreams – budget

I haven’t talked about Montana in awhile, and with good reason — it’s still two and a half years away. Now that may sound like forever away, but when booking a hotel seems to be a year in advance kind of deal, it makes you sit up and take notice now.

Husband and I have decided that we’ll be spending eight days on this vacation, with two of those days set aside for traveling there and back home. I was flipping back and forth between eight or nine days, but I recently decided I don’t really want to spend too many vacation days, and I also want to plan it so we come home on a Saturday. That will give us a buffer day to either relax and enjoy being home, or to use for more traveling if our plans take a different turn.

The other Saturday I was knocking around on the Internet, and I decided to start planning out our budget. The following is a result of that research. I used a nine day vacation in my calculations, since I was still undecided at that point. There were certain things that I tried to overbudget because I’d rather have more money at our disposal than less, obviously.


As I mentioned in my last post, MT Tourism suggested that we plan on staying in two cities during our visit. I chose Bozeman and Billings because they were the cities with the closest attractions. However, I think we might end up booking a third place for our day trip to Yellowstone. But since I wasn’t sure, I just looked up hotels in Bozeman and Billings. I started off looking into staying at a ranch, or rent a cabin or something. However, it was quickly obvious that staying at a ranch really meant living, working, and spending the whole time there, and the cabins/condos for rent were far out of our price range. Luckily, there are a lot of nice hotels (Holiday, Fairfield, Best Western) in both locations.

Even though I used the hotel websites to price our hotel stay, I know we’ll end up using Priceline as we always do. Priceline cuts a hotel night stay by $40 for us on average. Anyway, the average night stay in Bozeman/Billings was $130. This was for a room with a king bed. Our total for the trip would be around $1,100. I’m hoping that Priceline will get us a room for $80/night, but we’ll have to wait and see! (I know, we are really cheap and try to cut these hotel prices down!)


I knew how to estimate this, because I had to plan out our food money for Disney World. Back then I didn’t eat breakfast, and now I only eat a protein bar, so I knew that we didn’t need a lot for breakfast, but lunch and dinner might be pricey depending on where we were each day. A couple of the hotels I looked up also offered free continental breakfast. Husband is a hungry hungry hippo, so that was also on my mind. I decided that I was once again going to estimate so much for each meal, and then we could always roll money over. I budgeted $15 for breakfast, $20 for lunch, and $50 for dinner. I did this even for the days we were traveling. I came up with $770 for the whole trip.


I don’t know if it’s because everything takes so long to get to or what, but I found all our attractions reasonably priced. I guess coming from a city where the aquarium is $30/person really makes you jaded! Anyway, the attractions we’re looking into:

Little BigHorn Memorial ($10 for both) — The pictures on the tourism website make this place look amazing, and I’d really like to get some history and education in our trip.

Yellowstone Park ($50/car) — I am excited and terrified for this visit. I think I’ve watched every video they offer about park safety and animal dangers, even though time constraints mean we’ll be in the car the whole time. Although there was that video about the moose that charged people in the parking lot … Our big things are seeing the bison (of course!!) and Husband REALLY wants to see Old Faithful. I keep waffling about buying ‘bear spray’, but sites tell me it’s a waste of money. I don’t know. EXCITED!! Terrified. And so on.

Museum of Rockies ($28 for both) — Dinosaur bones! Everywhere! Yay!

Lewis and Clark Caverns ($20 for both) — I haven’t been to any sort of a cave since I was a kid and my parents took us to Carlsbad Caverns. I’m excited to see what this is like, and the price is sweet. Although the price is so low I really hope it’s actually interesting, but again, that’s me being big city prices cynical.

ZooMontana ($14 for both) — The whole state is a zoo, and I can’t remember but I don’t think they have any animals that aren’t native to Montana. But it’s a ZOO so of course.

Moss Mansion ($10 for both) — We chose this because we went to a mansion in Toronto and it was actually very interesting and historically relevant! I’m sad to say that until that visit I didn’t know Canada actually got involved in WWII. (Hey, I haven’t taken a history class since my junior year of HIGH SCHOOL.)

Bitter Creek Rides ($120 for both) — This is a horse back ride through Montana near Billings. I put it on the list because Husband is constantly begging me to go horse back riding. But seriously people, horses are BIG. And an UNPREDICTABLE, WILD ANIMAL. I just get freaked thinking about trying to mount one. However, riding through Montana would probably be an amazing experience. So we’re going to test ride a horse ride in Nashville, and if it goes good with me, and then we’re going to do this.


This was probably the hardest to estimate because we don’t have the car we’ll be driving to Montana and God knows if we’ll be paying $4 or $14 a gallon in two years. So I used a couple gas calculators and averaged the prices out. I used the Ford Focus 2000 as the car. I plugged in home to Billings, and Bozeman to home, plus Billings to Bozeman and then estimated a generic travel price based on those results. In the end I came up with $600 for gas. I thought that number was low, but I’m going to work with it and I’m thinking any leftover hotel money can cover gas.

Souvenirs/Travel Necessities

First of all, the word souvenirs sucks and it took me a billion tries to figure out how it’s spelled. Ugh. Anyway, Husband hates buying souvenirs on trips because it means spending money and shopping, his two most hates activities. But I set aside a bunch of money for everyone (and myself, of course) and came up with $320. For travel necessities I really mean my panic box for the car. I am terrified that we’re going to get stranded somewhere and die. So I want to pack a box for the car with a flashlight, first aid kit, and blankets. (No, no food, because BEARS.) We’re also going to buy hiking boots and bug repellent. In total it’s $217 (boots are expensive, man).

The Grand Total

It all comes down to $3,100. Which is a shit ton of money. But you know what? I already know it’s going to be worth it. Because the other day we were in the car with the windows down and I was thinking about driving in Montana with the windows down and I almost started crying. Also it will be my first week long vacation from work in four years. Also these quotes:






gif from tumblr and image from aklet10.


One thought on “big sky, big dreams – budget

  1. Montana is on my “to visit” list too. REAL hard.

    When we went to Colorado, we went on a horseback ride through Garden of the Gods and it was the PERFECT way to see that kind of natural beauty. There was something so right about sitting on a horse and looking out across all that gorgeous nature. I love horses, but my husband was a bit more unsure… and he ended up really enjoying it too. The trail horses at a place like this totally know what they’re supposed to be doing, and if you’re nervous, let the people know so they can pair you with one that’s extra easygoing (or short 🙂

    You sound like you have a great list. I’d also suggest checking out Groupon Getaways a few months before your trip… they occasionally have good deals on cabins and things like that, if you do want to stay a little more in nature.

    The amount sounds like a lot right now, but you have a lot of time to save up, so that will help! You’ll get there- and I wanna see pictures!

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