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Vacationing on a Budget


If you’ve been around for the last couple of weeks, you know that my family and I went to the beach recently. We stayed in an ocean front condo for two weeks, ate out, played mini golf, went bowling, bought ice cream cones, and generally lived in a much less frugal way than we usually do. If you were wondering how do we do this without breaking the bank or giving up on our financial goals, today’s post is for you. 😉

Here are 5 ways we manage to enjoy ourselves on a vacation without experiencing disastrous financial aftermath.

1. We save for vacation all year long.

We have a savings account set up specifically for vacation savings. Each month, we put $130 into that account, starting as soon as we come home from vacation.

$130 might seem like a lot of money to put away each month solely for what amounts to entertainment (I’d never spend that much on cable TV or something similar), but family vacations are a priority to us. Because we live frugally in so many other areas of our lives, we can manage to set aside this money each month.

If you feel like there’s no way you can scrounge up some money to save for a vacation, try taking a look at some of your expenses and see if there’s something you can cut. Could you give up a $40/week take-out/fast food habit if it meant you could take a vacation? Would it be worth it to you to cut back or cut our your cable subscription so that you can relax at the beach (or wherever you like to go!) for a week, or at least for a weekend?

Our budgeted amount gives us enough to pay for two weeks at a beachfront condo, plus it gives us some spending money to use while we’re at the beach.

2. We spend a lot of our time on the beach and in the pool.

Beach and pool access aren’t exactly free (you have to stay in a condo to get that), but since we’ve already paid for the condo, playing on the beach and in the pool doesn’t cost us any extra money.

Building sandcastles and drip-castles, playing in the waves, boogie-boarding, and swimming in the pool are some of our kids’ favorite things to do at the beach anyways, so it’s a win-win situation.

3. We save up our credit card rewards points for restaurant gift cards.
(If you have trouble controlling yourself with credit cards, I’d never recommend this strategy, by the way. This only works if you use your cards for budgeted expenses.)

We charge every possible budgeted expenditure on our credit card, which gives us reward points each month. We don’t spend a lot of money, so it takes us a while to rack up enough reward points for anything significant (that’s a good problem to have, though!). However, this year I managed to bring along $135 in Red Lobster gift cards, which nearly covered two dinners out for the six of us. Incidentally, this experience reminded me of how crazy expensive it is to take a family out to eat! No wonder we don’t do this on a regular basis.

4. We eat most of our meals at our condo.

I know this might not seem like a really good way to maximize our fun on vacation, but it saves us so, so, so, much money. If we ate out for most of our meals on vacation, we’d have a terrible time saving up enough money for one week at the beach, let alone two. Simple meals at the condo allow us to stay for two weeks, and that’s a tradeoff I’m totally willing to make.

Simple is the key here, though. I don’t want to spend hours slaving away in the kitchen on vacation, so I don’t bake bread, I don’t make yogurt, and we eat more prepared foods than usual.

Normally we have cold cereal, toast, and juice for breakfast. Lunches are grilled cheese sandwiches, PBJs, or cold cut sandwiches, along with yogurt and fruit. Some simple dinners that we eat are spaghetti, tacos, frozen pizzas, and steak subs.

Preparing meals like this takes very little time, and since my husband and I both pitch in on the clean-up, that doesn’t take a lot of time either.

Even if you don’t want to cook dinner when you’re on vacation, you might want to consider at least eating breakfast and lunch at your condo, assuming you have a kitchen. If you stay in a hotel without a kitchen, you might be able to keep some breakfast and lunch fixings in the tiny hotel fridge.

5. We relax and let ourselves splurge a bit.

This is really related to #1, because if we didn’t save all year long, we wouldn’t be able to splurge with a clear conscience.

Especially for me, a person whose frugality is inborn, the idea of forking over $50 for a mini-golf game or $90 for a meal out is a little bit difficult. However, having the extra spending money saved up makes a world of difference for me. I know that money is set aside for nothing other than vacation and that spending it won’t hurt our ability to pay our bills and it won’t dig into our other important savings efforts. That’s so freeing!

We don’t go crazy with our spending, of course, because we’d plow through our money too quickly that way, but we do spend more than usual.

So while normally I would have a heart attack at the price of amusement park rides, I cheerfully bought $50 worth of ride tickets and we had a fabulous time one evening riding Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, log flumes, and roller coasters.

While I usually only buy ice cream that’s on sale, we paid $20 for ice cream cones at a little local ice cream and enjoyed every lick (we actually did that twice!).

And we did indeed pay almost $50 for the six of us to play a game of mini-golf. It was lots of fun, though (Zoe is a hilarious golfer right now!), and we had a delightful time at the fountains afterwards.

To me, the ability to pay for things like this with no stress or worry is a large reward for living within our means. It makes the whole experience so much more peaceful and relaxing, and it’s one of the reasons that I keep plugging along on the frugal road.


How do you vacation without blowing your budget? Do share in the comments!

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Frugal Liz

Monday 5th of October 2009

I save all year for my vacations as well. This year I had saved $3000 for a massive Disney World trip...And then I found out my husband was cheating on me and we split up.:( Instead I had to use the $3000 to buy a car. On a lighter note, though, I'm saving up again for a smaller but still fun trip to Colonial Williamsburg for this Thanksgiving week! I need about $500, instead of $3000 for that trip and to be honest...Virginia ROCKS. My kids love Williamsburg and my parents are going with us, so it should be pretty fun.


Saturday 3rd of October 2009

Actually – moving away from family vacations – we save monthly for christmas as well.... it is just so much fun spending the $$ when you have it, and ....once again.... are not going into debt to buy the gifts!

Same here! We save every week for our kids' Christmas (we have 3) and end up with at least $1,000 per year. This includes not only their gifts, but things such as a our special family Christmas Eve dinner at P.F. Chang's (a 15 year long tradition), wrapping paper/cards/tape/bows etc, and gifts for family. We don't buy many gifts for family - as we believe Christmas is for children - but we do buy things for our parents. In any case, it makes a very, very special time of the year so much less stressful for us :)

Kid Friendly Family Vacations Mom

Thursday 1st of October 2009

What a great article - we actually do the same things - it is just so much a part of who I am that I never thought to share these ideas! I am so glad that you did... we actually save $300 per month for family vacations - it makes enjoying a vacation so much easier when you know that you have the money saved, and you are just spending what you have already saved..... not going into debt..... Actually - moving away from family vacations - we save monthly for christmas as well.... it is just so much fun spending the $$ when you have it, and ....once again.... are not going into debt to buy the gifts!


Thursday 1st of October 2009

I wrote a very long response and realized this was silly, and instead am doing a blog post about it! G and I have been able to do the things we do by being frugal and compromising, but I never thought to share any of our ways!


Thursday 1st of October 2009

My family normally drives from Massachusetts to Florida each year for April vacation. We stay at my father's home and my sister-in-laws home during the week. This vacation ends up being just an extra vacation that does not cost us much money. We pack snacks and meals for the ride. We only eat out once or twice to take our hosts out to dinner. It ends up being a very relaxing vacation. However, we don't mind driving and my kids are used to being in a car, so the ride does not bother them.

For our "regular" vacation, I am in direct sales and the company I am affiliated with, gives us a vacation each year. Sometimes it is just for two and we buy in the two kids and sometimes it is for all four of us. A few years ago, the trip was to Atlantis in the Bahamas. The place is wonderful but very expensive for food and drinks. What we did was pack a suitcase just for water and snacks. These were consumed by the pool and in the room to save money. When water is about $5.00 a bottle, this saved us a lot of money. When my daughters wanted a frozen drink by the pool, I felt I could get it for them because we were saving so much on the water and snacks. When we had to pay for dinner, I bought an appetizer or my daughter and I would split a meal. This helped to not break the bank when we went out. This has allowed us to buy-in the girls for most of our vacations. They have been to some wonderful locations and it did not cost us much or anything.

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