As a parent of a newborn and toddler, I can totally relate to people who feel like they just don’t have the money to get away, but are practically dying for a vacation. We give so much time to our careers, our spouses, friends and family and while those are all important to us, we all could use a break away from responsibilities… A “brain break” to keep you sane. It makes all the early mornings, late nights, missed lunch breaks, days dealing with a sick kid, etc., more manageable.
Vacations can be budget killers though, especially when we make impulse purchases for a get-away. The key is to start the planning before you start to go nuts so you can travel (and regain your sanity) without breaking the bank.
I reached out to a friend who manages to travel multiple times throughout the year with a family of four. She and her husband have two young children, both under the age of five, just like us. Here’s how she makes it work.
1. Plan ahead
It seems so obvious, but many of us don’t take the time. My friend and her husband take one international trip each year to celebrate their anniversary without the kids. The way they do this is that they start to plan the trip one year in advance, which means they are already planning next year’s trip while on this year’s.
They also take a minimum of two family vacations within the States, which they plan for that at least six months in advance. One thing that planning ahead does is that it helps them to avoid peak season pricing. That way they are able to take the same trip for less money than someone who waits until summer is here before booking their flight, hotel, etc.
2. Add it to the budget
Yep, a lot of keeping our money in check comes back to how we manage it on a day to day, month to month basis. Determine how much you’re willing to spend on vacations for the year, then figure out how much to save each month to get there. To make sure the savings happen, treat it like a bill you have to pay. You may have to cut back in some other areas to reach your goals.
3. Create a separate account
Consider putting your travel funds in a separate savings account where you bank. You can move the funds to your Travel Account manually each paycheck or set up automatic transfers.
4. Decide where, how often and what ahead of time
In order to budget, it will be important to decide how you like to travel, especially if money is tight. Do you prefer extended stays where you’re fine spending a week or two away at a middle-of-the-road hotel where you aren’t too concerned if the food is just ok? Maybe you’ll even opt to cook on vacation and save money there. This could allow you to spend more time on vacation, if that’s most important.
On the other hand, you may be fine with taking only one or two trips, but go all out. Some people would much rather have a breath-taking, pampering experience where they don’t lift a finger, even if it’s only for a couple of days.
5. Be mindful of when
If you can keep your dates flexible, you won’t be forced to spend more during peak travel seasons. This can be a HUGE money-saving strategy. My friend says that being flexible also helps her family take advantage of deals for last minute travel as well.
6. Work to stay on budget when you go
In order make sure they don’t go over their budget, my friend has a few strategies. For local trips, they use cash for everything except for booking the hotel. She plans everything out beforehand including using TripAdvisor to look at menu options so she can come up with a daily spending budget for the trip. Hotels that have breakfast included in the room help with this as well.
7. Don’t forget stay-cations
You don’t have to leave your ZIP code in order to have a fun getaway. Setting aside $200-300, or whatever works for you, for a weekend trip to a local resort can be just as sanity-saving. The kids feel like they are out of town on vacation and the parents get a break from cleaning, cooking, and some other responsibilities. It’s a win for the entire family.
So what are you waiting for? Spring break will be here before you know it. Get planning! Finally taking a vacation…AND staying within your budget… it’s a win for the whole family!