Wouldn’t an all-expenses paid vacation be great right about now? It’s too bad that we live in the real world where most of us have to pay for our leisure trips. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you plan for your trip by setting a budget, you can get the next best thing to a free family vacation: One that is filled with loads of fun for fewer dollars.
Plan Ahead. Way Ahead.
Haste makes waste and when planning a vacation, one of the biggest mistakes that people make is not giving themselves enough time to find the best deals. If you want to take a summer vacation, Thanksgiving is a good time to start putting ideas together; if you’d prefer to take a family ski trip, May or June is ideal. The reason why is that if you’re going to use a travel agent, this gives them ample time to look for some great vacation packages. If you’re planning it on your own, this affords you the opportunity to do some comparison shopping on flights, hotels and entertainment venues. For instance, if you’re going to Florida and you want to stay at a resort hotel, rather than just booking a reservation, additional time frees you up to go on Hotwire.com, Hotels.com and even check out discount websites like LivingSocial.com to see what special deals may be available. Social media websites like Facebook also tends to offer some great discounts if you click “Like” on a fan page of an airline, hotel or rental car company.
Itemize Your To-Do List
Another faux pas that throws a lot of people off is that while they may budget major expenses like travel, room and board, they don’t factor in other costs like food, shopping and any “extras” that they might spontaneously want to take in. If you’re going to a city that has an outlet mall, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll want to check it out and it’s not a good idea to wait until you get there to decide how much you’re going to spend. As soon as you’ve picked out a destination, get with the family to create a list of all of the possible things you’ll want to do and how much those things will cost. You’ll be glad that you did in the long run.
Open Up a Family Vacation Savings Account
OK, there probably aren’t any banks that have a savings account with that title, but they’re always willing to help people save money, so why not set up a saving account specifically for your vacation? Factor in the total of what your vacation expenses are and if you’re planning six months in advance, divide it by six. That will give you an idea of how much you should save each month leading up to the vacation and that’s the amount that you can put into that account. If your children are teenagers with part-time jobs, especially if shopping is on their agenda, have them stow away a few bucks each month too. This not only takes the pressure off of having to find the money at the last minute, but it also will help you from overspending once you arrive to your vacation spot.
Minimize Your Local Entertainment
Remember when a matinee movie was $5.50? That’s a distant memory now. The truth is that if there are five people in your family, taking in an evening flick, after tickets and refreshments, can easily run you $100. If you do that every weekend, you’ve spent at least $400. That one month of movie going could upgrade your room to a suite for the entire time you’re on vacation. The key here is to keep your eyes on the prize. The months leading up to your vacation, try doing things that cost as little money as possible. Host a movies and pizza night at home. Let your kids have a couple of friends over for a slumber party. Get creative with date night. Remember that it’s not going to be forever, but the more money that you save now is the more money that you can spend, guilt-free later.
Spend Wisely Once You Arrive
You’ve saved up for at least six months and now it’s time to celebrate! That doesn’t mean that you should totally ignore some of the principles that you applied to be able to afford the trip that you are on, though. Remember that you budgeted so that you wouldn’t find yourself in financial trouble. Therefore, it’s still a good idea to stick with the amount of money that you planned to spend in the first place as much as possible. If you’re taking your laptop with you, another thing that you can do once you arrive is search for last-minute deals to restaurants or shows within the city (sometimes they’re easier to find once you’ve arrived and there’s a local person available to assist you). And, if you take along your travel rewards credit card, you can store up points for your next vacation. You’ll already be a few steps ahead!