Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vacations on a Budget

Many people feel that vacations are a luxury – you only take them if you have plenty of money. I'm not of that mindset. To me, a yearly vacation is a necessity. I have never regretted taking a vacation, even if it meant I had to cut corners here or there in order to have enough money to go on vacation. I come back from vacation relaxed, refreshed, and renewed – and looking forward to my next vacation! I believe that families can and should take a vacation at least once a year and that it is possible to save enough money, even if your family is on a tight budget. Every family can take a fun, relaxing vacation for $1000 or less.

In order to stay within this budget (and ensure your family will have fun), careful planning is a necessity. In the next few minutes, you'll learn how to plan where you're going, what you're going to eat, and what you're going to do, all with a tight budget in mind.

Consider lodging in places other than hotels.  My family loves going to the beach. It's our perfect vacation – unbeatable. Think that type of vacation costs too much? Think again. Sites like www.vrbo.com or www.vacationrentals.com list vacation rentals in all price ranges. These rentals are mostly houses and condos, but there are some hotel rooms listed, too. Spending less than $100 a night on a fully-furnished condo is completely realistic, even during the peak vacation season for the area. And you can find places all over the U.S. to visit – not just beaches. There are rental units available in all states.

Save money on food by planning and prepping at home.  One of the biggest benefits of planning to take a vacation in a furnished house or condo is that you'll have a kitchen available to cook all (or most) of your meals, so you'll save money on dining, too. Menu planning is the next area of planning your budget-friendly vacation. Planning what you'll eat while you're gone is essential. Restaurants in tourist-heavy areas cost nothing less than a fortune. And honestly, the food in the restaurants doesn't have to be stellar – lots of people eat out because they want a break from cooking, which means the restaurants are always full, no matter the quality of the food. A little planning and preparation can keep your family on the thrifty road when you're on the road.

If you're going somewhere that has a specific type of special food that you'll want to eat on your vacation (e.g. Fresh seafood at the beach), you'll definitely want to eat that special food while you're on vacation. But buying the food fresh and preparing it at your rental saves you up to 75% of what you would pay for the same dish at a restaurant in the area. To save even more money, print the recipes you plan to use on vacation at home and prepare some of the ingredients at home. If you're planning on making fried shrimp, mix up the ingredients for the batter or breading and put them in a storage baggie. All you'll need to prepare that meal is the fresh shrimp and possibly some milk and eggs. You should purchase all non-perishable items that you'll be using on your vacation (for recipes, breakfasts, snacks) and take those items with you instead of paying much more when you're there. A cardboard box of food doesn't take up much room in the car, but can save you hundreds of dollars. (And don't forget that you have a regular budget for food and you would spend money on food that week even if you weren't going on vacation. Save your vacation money for the things you have to buy on vacation, not the things you would typically buy for the week anyway.)

I can hear you scoffing – “When I'm on vacation, I don't want to have to cook. I want the time off.” I understand that sentiment, I really do. Last year, my family went on our annual beach vacation, and I had the same feeling – I don't want to cook every night when I'm on vacation. I want a vacation, too. So we went out to eat two times and fixed food at our condo the other 5 nights. And here's what kept me up at night – we spent just as much money on the two, mediocre meals we ate out at restaurants as we did on all the other food that we ate for the whole rest of the vacation. And my husband told me that he enjoyed the food that I cooked more than the expensive meals we ate out. Ouch. Talk about buyers remorse!! I decided then that I'll be cooking the meals on all of our future vacations. The mental anguish I suffered from spending the unnecessary money on dining out weighed on me far heavier than knowing I'm going to have to keep cooking on vacation. And if you cook enough to have leftovers each time, then you cut the number of times you have to cook by half. Not bad!

In addition or as an alternative to the information above, try these money-saving ideas:
  • Choose a vacation spot close to home to minimize travel expenses.
  • Share a house or condo with another family and split the cost.
  • Rent an RV and tour a few states (www.cruiseamerica.com) – it can be pretty cheap, especially if you can plan your vacation during a deal timeframe.
  • Plan activities in advance and get tickets in advance, if possible.
  • Ask for discounts everywhere you go.

Put a plan in place to save the money necessary for your vacation.  Last, but certainly not least, I'm going to give a few pointers on how to actually save up the money to go on vacation. All this talk about taking a vacation for cheap means nothing if you have no clue how to save enough money to accomplish it.

How to Save Money For the Vacation:
  • Set up a vacation savings account to keep vacation money separate and purposed
  • Set aside money every month from your budget (you'll have to put away at least $83 a month to have $1000 at the end of a year)
  • Do some kind of work on the side and put all of that money into the vacation account (after-school tutoring, teaching piano lessons, washing cars, mowing lawns, etc.)
  • Sell things on eBay and put all proceeds into the vacation account
  • Ask for money as gifts from family members and put that money into the vacation account

Do you have any budget-conscious vacation ideas? Remember to plan early (now is the time to plan vacation for this summer) and thoroughly, and enjoy your vacation, without worrying about money!

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