How to Plan and Save for a Cheap Family Vacation

How to Plan and Save for a Cheap Family Vacation

Taking vacations has always been something that has been important in our family. We try to get away a few times a year, even if it’s only for a weekend. When planning these vacations, very little planning actually used to go into them. We made snap decisions with our finances that just would up making life more stressful when we returned from vacation. Now that we have finally gotten financial smart I want to share with you how to plan and save for a cheap family vacation that you will all enjoy! 

Get a plan

Planning for vacation is absolutely crucial. Personally, I start planning ours sometimes a year in advance. When it comes to planning our vacation I like to really research to get an idea of how much it’s going to cost and try to figure out different places where we can save financially. Some of the things I look at are:

  • Airfare vs. Road trip
  • Excursion costs
  • Restaurants and eating out
  • Transportation once we arrive
  • Places to stay

Vacation Budget Planner

In fact, I even created my own easy to follow vacation budget planner that I included in my Fun Sized Budget Bundle. The Fun Sized Budget Bundle has everything you need to plan a smart budget in every area of your life and you can snag the Vacation Budget Printout right here to help keep you organized and smart when it comes to getting your vacation plans in motion.

Get the Fun Sized Budget Bundle Here! 

Be airline smart

When planning your budget and looking at the different airfare and airline options, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

  • Sign up for e-mail updates on changed airfare prices
  • If planning for holiday travel, book as early as possible
  • Sundays are usually the most expensive day to fly
  • Purchase tickets at least 4 months before flight to save the most
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Our first trip to San Diego, California…strollers and all.

Think “off season”

Yeah, it’s not always ideal to travel when no one else wants to BUT you can really save yourself a ton of cash and have a little more walking room when it comes to doing “touristy” type things. I kind of wonder if Tom planned our wedding in June just so we were forced to take beach vacations during the “off season.” In June we have traveled to different locations in Mexico as well as the Dominican Republic and were only met with one seriously rainy day (and we didn’t even care.) Because we planned these off season vacations (AKA the hot months when people don’t want to go somewhere even hotter) we saved ourselves up to 50% of what the cost would have been if we had chosen to go during Minnesota’s winter months.

Even traveling to the warmer states in summer can wind up saving you huge when compared to the winter months.

In general, I think fall is a great time to plan a trip as well. Most people are getting ready for back to school and have other things they are pre-uccupied with. They have taken their summer trips and ready to get back to life. Meanwhile, you could jump on this chance to take your family on a crowd free, inexpensive vacay. (We may or may not be planning something like this for this coming fall…wink, wink.)

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Lake Superior vacation (before the little ones came!)

Think small

Big giant vacations are amazing and exciting, that’s for sure. I know a trip through Europe is still on my bucket list. But for now, life in general is expensive and takes up a lot of time so I am ok with thinking smaller. Plus, charting the lesser known, lesser sought after places can really make for some great memories and experiences that not many other people can share.

For right now, Tom and I have decided to put our passports on hold and just explore the beautiful country that is the USA. After our last trip to the Dominican, we had people from different countries telling us excitedly of all the places they couldn’t wait to explore in America. Hearing this made me feel kind of guilty for ditching my homeland and heading overseas when there really is so much to see from sea to shining sea.

Thinking smaller on vacation

  • Visit places in your area
  • Plan visits to out of state family
  • Stop at the mom and pop shops
  • Take the back roads
  • Book a local hotel for a weekend
  • Camp out in the back yard

Check my post, How to Be a Cheap Date Without Staying Home for some more great close to home ideas.

When I think back on my childhood, I was always mad that I never went to Disneyland when all the other 7 year olds were. Now, as an adult I think about the backyard campouts I had, the small candy shops we stopped at on the scenic routes and the amazing wonder that was my first far away trip to Colorado to visit family friends. It’s definitely easier to appreciate the big things in life, when you’ve taken in the beauty of the small things.

It's definitely easier to appreciate the big things in life, when you've taken in the beauty of the small things. Click To Tweet
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This glamorous shot of my littlest girl feeding seagulls for the first time on Minnesota’s North Shore.

Take your time

Yes, I always dreamed of that Disneyland vacation when I was a kid and I would love to gift that to my children. But not right now. Tom and I have been putting off Disneyland until we knew it would be appreciated by all. Had we taken them at 3, 4 and 12 we might have had one kiddo who appreciated the insane amounts of effort, planning and funding that went into the trip. Then again she was borderline teenager so, probably not.

When kids are young, don’t stress if you can’t afford to take those big trips. Enjoy the small things that you can. My kids still talk about the Valentine’s Day that we set up a tent in our basement. We roasted marshmallows over candle light and ate hot dogs. It cost us close t nothing and yet, it was a memory our kids cherish years later. I’m so thankful I had parents like this when I was growing up. One that made the small things magical and memorable. I hope to give that to my little ones…and maybe I’ll throw in a Disneyland somewhere along the line.

Simple Living Posts

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Our first time in Vegas. Tom and I’s first time flying anywhere alone together! Heaven knows those heels weren’t worn by a mother of 3! LOL

Find Substitues 

Like I said, big adventures like Disneyland are ideas that will stay in our back pocket. For right now, we are enjoying finding small substitutes. Like the Disney Store at the Mall of America for example. My kids could spend hours in there and I don’t even buy them stuff. Haha. Heck, for those out of state, planning a trip to the Mall of America would be a great way to getaway. There is a waterpark next door, a theme park inside, Crayola Color Experience and mini golf. Plus, Lego Land and the Disney Store are totally free!

Look into your local state parks, free events and outdoor parks. I have found that there are so many things to experience and most of them are right in my “backyard.”

As for those big beach vacations, I say look to the lakes! Again, it’s easy for someone from the land of 10,000 lakes to say, but the truth is there is a ton of beach beauty to be had in places that aren’t “hot spots” like California, Florida or tropical islands. Look into vacations around the Great Lakes, Montana or even Canada.

Beauty is found everywhere. Sometimes you just have to look in places you wouldn’t think to look!

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Lake of the Clouds, UP of Michigan

Save, save, save!

I can’t stress the importance of saving for your vacations enough. Scroll back up to our photo from our first trip to California and you will find a family who CHARGED the entire trip because it just seemed like a good idea. yes, we went to visit family and family is first in my book…but debt shouldn’t be!

Take advantage of my FREE Vacation Budget Printout to start setting a plan for your next getaway! If you want to get really serious about your finances, check out some of my top budgeting and debt payoff posts and get yourself my Fun Size Budget Bundle for only $10!

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*This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures

My Time and Money Saving Recommendations

$5 Meal Plan – The $5 meal plan was created by a busy mother of 4 for other busy mother’s out there. Get access to healthy meal plans that take all the guess work out of what to make for your family!

BeFrugal – Be Frugal is an online resources for the best coupons around. In stores, online or in restaurants.

Dosh – Dosh is an app that links up to your credit cards (or qualifying debit cards) and gives you money back on purchases you make. It works like other cash back apps by refunding you money on qualifying purchases. Only you don’t have to keep track, it scans discounts and gives you money back automatically!

Declutter – Decluttr is a super easy online way to sell your unused things to get the maximum amount of money!

Fun Sized Budget Bundle- My very own customized budget bundle. Including your basic budgeting printouts, debt payoff sheets as well as savings and vacation planners!

IBotta – IBotta is a totally free app that pays you $10 just for signing up. With this app you can get paid for the things you already plan on buying!

Love and Money – Online courses to help couples and family get finances together in order to stay together!

Paperless Home – The paperless home guides you step by step through how to start creating a home where all of your most important information can always be in one place and always at your finger tips!

Simplify + Planner – Abby Lawson from Just a Girl and Her Blog has a great and inexpensive planner to help you get intentionally organized. Starting a blog can be very overwhelming and getting a little organized can go a long way.

Target Debit Card – If you shop at Target as much as me, you should definitely get in on the debit card if you haven’t already. All it does is remove money from your regular checking account like a regular debit card, but saves you 5% on your purchases every time you use it!

Don’t Forget to PIN This!

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  1. Arliss | 12th Feb 18

    Renee, this is a GREAT post! Thanks so much for the helpful tips! Definitely going to be making use of these for the vacation my husband and I are taking this spring so we can do travel on the cheap without diminishing the fun. 🙂 Thanks again!

    • | 12th Feb 18

      So glad you were able to get some ideas Arliss!! Have fun!

  2. Kippi | 12th Feb 18

    Great information! Inspired to plan a vacation.

    • | 12th Feb 18

      Me too!

  3. Erika | 12th Feb 18

    I would definitely say my sister is the most travel-savvy person in the family. She always tells me to travel in the off-season because prices will be cheaper.

    • | 12th Feb 18

      Gotta love those people who pass along their knowledge!

  4. Aleah Worthem | 12th Feb 18

    Renee I will definitely be using your vacation budget printout when I take my very first Baecation in January. We plan to go to the Bahamas and definitely do not want to spend tons of money. Thank you for all your tips and advice on how not to go broke while on vacay!

    • | 12th Feb 18

      So glad it could be helpful! The vacation printout is definitely extremely helpful for us to get a good budget set!

  5. Agness of a Tuk Tuk | 12th Feb 18

    This is an exceptional and ultimate guide to planning a family vacation, Renee! I will try to bear all these tips in mind. Keep up the awesome work!

    • | 12th Feb 18

      Thanks so much Agness!

  6. Sarina | 12th Feb 18

    Great article! I definitely agree with you that there’s so much to see and do in the US. We like to think of things in our state or just do something a bit out of the ordinary. I’m into party styling so I make holidays special for my kids and they seem to enjoy it.

    • | 12th Feb 18

      That sounds so great! Those are definitely the things they will remember the most!

  7. michaela | 12th Feb 18

    This post is so great! I love budget ideas for travel. Thank you so much!

  8. Melanie | 12th Feb 18

    Great tips! Traveling is one of the most amazing things, but so many people feel limited because they can’t afford it. I hope this helps people out!

    • | 12th Feb 18

      Totally agree!

  9. Sincerely Nicki | 12th Feb 18

    Love these tips. I don’t have kids nor am I married yet. But these are definitely takeaways for the future. I love your “about me” by the way.

    • | 12th Feb 18

      Thanks so much Nicki! I think you can still definitely take advantage of some stuff if you’re single!

  10. Lydia | 13th Feb 18

    I love your ideas here! I love traveling and getting to adventure together, we will be putting some of these into practice!

    • | 13th Feb 18

      Me too!! Hope you can benefit from some!

  11. Gem | 13th Feb 18

    Great tips, thanks! I agree about the off-season, wherever possible! Now it’s got me thinking of planning another 🙂

    • | 13th Feb 18

      Do it!!

  12. Melissa Javan | 13th Feb 18

    Helpful tips. I like the “Sundays are usually the most expensive day to fly” one. We try to stay with friends or family along the way, to save costs on a road trip.

    • | 13th Feb 18

      Ahhh that’s a good idea. Unfortunately we don’t know many people lol!

  13. Linda | 13th Feb 18

    Great ideas here! Too often we focus on the “big” vacation and when something comes up you just can’t swing it, a lot of folks end up not taking a vacation at all. Planning for smaller vacations more often is a great idea and will create so many more memories! Thanks for the tips!

    • | 13th Feb 18

      I agree. In fact, I think we have one in store for us!

  14. Katie | Hospitable Homemaker | 13th Feb 18

    These are such great tips!! So much better to plan and save beforehand than have debt when you are done! Love these tips!

    • | 13th Feb 18

      Ugh yes…I have done the vacation and then come home to more debt. It’s really not all that great. Most of it was debt from $4 Starbucks!

  15. Amanda | 13th Feb 18

    Thank youfor all of these great tips! Ill have to save them for our next trip!

    • | 13th Feb 18

      You bet! Hope you can benefit from some of them!

  16. Justine @ Little Dove | 13th Feb 18

    These are such great tips! I totally agree about traveling during the off season, not only can you get great deals but I love that places are less crowded!

    • | 13th Feb 18

      Oh yes! I definitely get that! We have only gone off season so I think we’ve been spoiled for sure!

  17. V at LoveBecomesHer | 14th Feb 18

    That printout is handy!

    • | 14th Feb 18

      I love using this every time we plan a trip!

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