Summer break has arrived for many, and that can only mean one thing- summer vacations! It’s the perfect time to pack up your family and head to your favorite destination. But all of this fun and excitement can come at a pretty cost- if you let it!
Here are some frugal vacation tips to help you save cash and put that extra money toward the fun stuff you want to do!
Make a budget: This should be the first step in your vacation planning process, besides figuring out your destination. How much do you want to spend? Think of every category you want included- Hotels, gas, food, entertainment- and figure out how much all of it will cost. It’s better to overestimate and then have some extra money left over to spend on whatever you want.
Need help with this? Keep reading! Below, I provide you with a handy vacation budget sheet.
Save up money: Now that you know approximately how much you’ll spend, it’s time to start saving. Yes, saving! I believe it’s not a vacation if you have to come back in debt. There are a few ways to do this, but here are my top two:
- Have a general Vacation Fund account already in place: Some banks will let you create sub-savings accounts that you can designate for specific things. You can then have an automatic deposit into that account either every week, or month, or however often you decide. Even $10.00 a week will put you at around $520.00 in one year, enough for a small family vacation! Even if you don’t plan on going on vacation that year, the fact that you keep saving up means you’ll already have some money in place when you do decide it’s time to go.
- Set your goal destination and save like crazy: If you don’t have a general account already set up, you could essentially do that right now and just know you’re saving for that specific vacation. Then start throwing money into it as fast as you can! John and I have been doing this for a trip to Florida; instead of splitting up our money into our various savings accounts, we’re just dumping it all into the vacation fund until it’s fully funded, then go on to the next account. It’s really motivating to see all that money just pile up! Grab a jar and start tossing your change in there, too. I have one that’s just for general saving, but I keep seeing these Disney jars on Pinterest and think they’re so cute! Next vacation idea?
Book your hotel early or off-season: Have you ever tried to book a few nights at a hotel during busy seasons- like Christmas, Memorial Day, etc- and found that the prices are jacked up? It’s not an accident! Hotels are really good at judging when it’s going to be busy and can get away with charging more.
But the earlier you book, the cheaper the rooms may be. That way you can beat the latecomers who wait until the last minute to secure a hotel room.
Also, some places may be cheaper in the off-season! Going to Florida in the summer months is just natural, but have you considered going there in, say, February? It’s slightly cooler, but not horrible; and it’s not a popular time to visit, so it’ll be less crowded.
Pack snacks and drinks, and avoid vending machines
I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge fan of snacks. Especially on road trips. It keeps the toddler happy, and ensures we don’t get too hungry on the road or during our outings.
Some of my favorites are granola bars/protein bars, Goldfish, crackers, raisins, and bottles of soda and water. I make sure to bring everything with us instead of stopping off at gas stations and vending machines; have you noticed how jacked up the prices are? You can pay $1.25-$1.50 for one bottle of soda there, or go to the grocery store and buy an entire 6-pack of bottles for about $2.50.
And instead of buying their individual-sized snacks, buy a box at the grocery store and divide them into snack-size baggies. Packing your own snacks and drinks is a huge budget saver!
Make your own meals at the hotel
Do you plan to eat out every meal, every day, on your vacation? Great! Just make sure you budget for it and have a general idea of how much it will all cost.
Eating out every day can definitely get expensive, so consider cutting a few corners. If your hotel doesn’t serve free breakfast, bring simple items like bagels, bananas, and oatmeal if your room has a microwave. Just don’t forget paper plates/bowls… ask me how I know this!
If you’ve planned a longer vacation, go grocery shopping when you get there! Where you’re staying depends on what you can get; if you’ve rented a house with a full kitchen, you can go all out since you can cook. But if all you have is a fridge and microwave, buy smaller, easy-to-prepare items to hold you over.
Sandwiches, wraps, and even those shelf-stable microwave dinners and soups are good options; they’re not the healthiest, but it’s a lot cheaper than eating out!
Use memberships for reciprocity
Our family has a membership to our local children’s museum, and the membership level we have actually gives us access to other museums across the US- either at no charge, or a discounted price. For us, this includes certain zoos, aquariums, and other children’s and science museums and centers.
If you currently have a membership somewhere, check their website for reciprocity locations in your vacation spot. Just make sure you call ahead to confirm that the place you want to visit will accept your membership card! We’ve taken advantage of this a few times, like on our last visit to New York; it’s totally worth the $135.00 a year for us to let Allison enjoy new sights!
Having an amazing vacation doesn’t have to be expensive- you can be frugal without sacrificing the fun! Our family loves to see how much we can do while on a budget, so my gift to you is a vacation budget sheet that helps you allocate your money to the different categories you’ll need. Simply click the image below to download the PDF!
Click to download PDF
What are your favorite money-saving tips for vacation? Leave a comment below!
Be sure to check out the other posts in my ABCs of Frugal Living series!