As summer arrives more and more of us are dreaming of relaxing on an amazing vacation. A vacation where our children sleep the whole way, our luggage is perfectly packed with everything we need, our hotel room sparkles and we don’t speak one harsh or short word to our spouse. The perfect vacation. However, the truth most of the time we come home almost needing a vacation from our vacation. Then we have to pay for it all. Why not this year do a little creative planning and budgeting to ensure that at least the part you can control, what you spend, goes smoothly. In this post I’m going to give you tips and tricks for enjoying vacation on a budget.
1. Make a Written Plan-
- Before my family ever leaves on a trip my husband and I sit down and do a line by line budget for what we plan to spend. Line by line doesn’t mean item by item. It means creating general categories like: Hotel, Dining & Gas.
- We know how much the hotel will cost and we pad our other lines items for gas, food and activities.
- Free Printable Vacation Budget- Here a free printable vacation budget you can use to plan your own vacation. Simply click here or click the picture below. It includes 2 pages; one for researching the trip and one for filling in your budget. The budget has extra blanks so you can personalize your trip expenses.
- Party Pooper- Some people may think that a budget will constrict their fun on vacation. I see it as a lot of freedom. I know exactly what I can spend and I track it as we travel on my smart phone using a checkbook app. I always know how much money we have to spend on food, leisure items and activities. I can relax and enjoy myself knowing that I know we have the money, in the bank, for what we are doing.
2. Use Online Tools for Planning Expenses
- Discount Travel Sites- Most of the time you can get a good estimate of how much everything will cost you by visiting a discount travel site. I’ve used Travelocity & Priceline and honestly like them both equally. Type in all the information for your trip and figure out how much you will need to budget for hotel, car rental & plane tickets.
- Gas Calculator- If plan to drive to your destination or just around your destination you can use a fuel cost calculator like the one on the AAA website here to estimate how much the gas will cost you.
3. Do Some Research
- Part of “enjoying” vacation on a budget means being comfortable.
- Being comfortable means that you need to do your research.
- Hotels- Visit a website like TripAdvisor and read honest reviews on the places you are going to stay. If you see lots of bad reviews, you may not want to stay there even if the price is amazing.
- Theme Parks- Theme parks can be fun or they can be a day of waiting in ridiculous lines in penetrating heat. If you want to enjoy your time at a theme park, give the parks a call and find out which days of the week have the least number of visitors. Then show up one of those days to get in the gate when they first open. I think a lot of families have a hard time getting kids up and to the parks that early. If you can get your family up and at em’, you might get to ride the best park rides before the crowds arrive. It doesn’t hurt to have your kids sleep in the clothes they plan to wear the next day :).
- Food- Find places where you plan to stay that offer “kids eat free” deals. Another idea is renting a condo or timeshare location with a kitchen and prepping your own meals. You just drive to your local grocery store and grab everyone’s favorite foods. If you spend most of the week eating-in, you can always have a special family night on the town where you eat-out somewhere.
4. Put Your Kids on a Budget
- If you want your kids to have a little fun money for the trip consider having them earn it. Assign chores or rewards as you approach the big trip.
- On your trip, assign each of your kids an envelope with their spending cash and let mom or dad hold onto it. Each time your kids see something they really want to buy or eat, let them take it out of their envelope. Keep them apprised on how much they have left. This may help them spend wisely and avoid buying a giant jewel shaped paper weight for $20 (this totally happened to my friend).
5. Give Yourself Some Motivation
- One idea that might just motivate your family to stay on budget is offer the leftover budgeted money as a cash reward to be split once the trip is over.
- Meaning if you budgeted $1,000 and your family did things like split meals or bought food outside the parks and came home with $300 left over, then you split it. For example Dad would get $150 and mom would get $150 put in his or her own wallet.
- Back in 2005 when I got married, neither of us had any “i” things and we both wanted an MP3 player. We had a budget for our honeymoon and agreed before we left that if we spent under what we budgeted we would reward ourselves with newest MP3 players.
- Outcome- we both got new players. Those little archaic things are shoved in drawer somewhere now but back then it was a big deal and good motivator not to waste money on the trip just because we could. When I say “waste” I mean, I could have gotten $5 lattes on the trip every morning but instead I decided to drink the free coffee at the hotel.
6. Focus On Quality Time
- The quality of your vacation doesn’t have to revolve around how much you spend.
- My husband and I have done many stay-cations and built wonderful memories.
- Pick places that are inexpensive but offer new experiences or opportunities to spend quality time as a family. The beach is a great example. Hiking and camping are good quality options as well. The great outdoors has lots of stuff to do at little to no cost to you.
Vacation for some may literally involve spending as much as they want on whatever they want but I honestly don’t know many people like that. That’s why I decided to create this post on enjoying vacation on a budget. I hope I have given you a few tools and tips that you can use as you plan your family getaway. Please feel free to share any thrifty vacations you have taken in the comments section below!
Kim’s is the party planning, cupcake loving, celebration catalyst behind the Thrifty Little Mom Blog. Kim was a pro event planner for over 7 years before she became a full-time blogger. Kim is the author of: Live, Save, Spend, Repeat: The Life You Want with the Money You Have. She’s been featured on Time.com, Money.com, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Day and more! Kim aims to inspire you to create parties, celebrations and gatherings that everyone loves!