Vacations can be expensive. Doesn’t matter if you’re solo traveling or you’re traveling with your whole family – vacations cost a lot. And throw in inflation and before you know it, your vacation can feel like an anchor weighing you down instead of a respite from daily life. So how do we budget for a family vacation that won’t break the budget? The answer is in a little bit of planning!
1. Sinking Fund
If you’ve followed me for a while or read my book, you know that I’m a huge fan of setting up a sinking fund to save for vacations. This prevents you from sinking into debt to pay for a vacation. How? Because you already have the cash set aside to pay for it! It makes budgeting for a family vacation so much easier! So if you haven’t yet set up a sinking fund for vacations do that today! Then in your budget, figure out how much you can set aside this week into that vacation sinking fund. Rinse and repeat! Every payday do the same thing – how much can you set aside to save for a vacation?
2. Plan One Big Thing
I know it’s tempting to do.all.the.things when on vacation especially if you’re traveling to a destination that has a ton of touristy things to do. However, I encourage you to only pick ONE big thing to do. This will usually be the most expensive one that you do but knowing what that thing is and researching the cost (or looking on Groupon for a deal) will help you in planning your vacation budget.
For example, we just went on a vacation to Gatlinburg, TN with my cousin from Michigan and her family. We planned that the one big thing we’d do is go to Anakeesta. It was such a fun time and I’m so glad that we spent the money despite that it was expensive! We did a few things to reduce the cost like going first thing in the morning instead of later in the day and bringing our own water bottles and snacks. But the point is to plan just one big thing to do and allow the rest of the time on vacation to just ‘flow’.
This was at Anakeesta in Gatlinburg, TN. So much fun!
3. Plan Eating Out
If there’s one part of your vacation that can wreck your budget it’s food. That’s why you need to plan out how many times you want to eat out and then plan to make the rest of your meals back at the place you’re staying. I know, I know you’re on vacation and you don’t want to cook. I totally get that but if you’re like my family we simply cannot afford the luxury (especially with inflation right now) of going out to eat for all of our meals. Therefore, if you want to stick to your budget for a family vacation you’ll need to plan out at least a few meals to make on your own. That’s why I suggest you keep the meals super basic and simple.
- Make Your Own Tacos
- Spaghetti and Meatballs (just buy pre-made meatballs and jarred sauce)
- Hamburgers and hot dogs
- Pasta Bar (just cook the noodles and offer up mix-ins like bell peppers, olives, cheese, and different kinds of jarred sauces)
Seriously, you don’t need to go overboard with food while on vacation. In fact, you should probably buy plenty of premade, prepackaged snack options that way you have plenty to offer everyone when hunger strikes while you’re out and about.
These milkshakes counted as my kids’ lunch this day! I just packed a bunch of protein bars and bottled water for them.
4. Don’t Over Plan!
Make sure you leave room in your vacation plan for the simple things. Slow down. Go on plenty of walks. One of my family’s favorite things to do when we stay on Tybee Island is to go crab hunting at night! Don’t worry, we don’t keep the crabs, but it is so much fun to chase those things on the dark beach! And the best part? It’s FREE.
Leave room to discover the “off the beaten path” places and allow them to surprise you. This is one of the best way to stick to your budget for a family vacation. One of my husband and I’s favorite things to do when we travel somewhere new is to ask the locals where their favorite place to eat and their favorite place to hang out is that’s not on the main drag. We have discovered some amazing restaurants that aren’t super overpriced! We also discover some amazing hidden gems that aren’t overcrowded. Like when we go to Tybee, we don’t hit up the main beaches anymore. We instead go to where the locals go. It’s much less crowded but it’s still fun!
5. Free Fun is Still Fun
As I mentioned above, you can still have fun that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. That said, do your research and look for free things to do. Join Facebook groups that are dedicated to the area you’re going to be traveling to. Ask questions of friends and family members who have previously traveled to where you’re going. Do a Google search and read blog articles about the area and what free things there are to do there. Make a list of everything you plan to do while on vacation and include any estimated costs associated with it (remember to include the cost of parking if applicable). This way you have plenty to choose from that will still fit within your budget without stressing over having to have a plan every moment of the day.
Share your best tip for how to budget for a family vacation below!
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