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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

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summer vacation 4 frugal planning tips

Frugal Summer Vacation Planning Tips

The kids are out of school, the weather is warm, and you are getting the itch to change scenery and just relax. Vacation is wonderful, but how can you truly relax when you know that your hard earned money is being spent so quickly? Those of us who have committed to a frugal lifestyle often have a hard time splurging or treating ourselves, even on vacation. Over the next few weeks we’ll be discussing some specific tips for lowering the cost of your summer vacation, but today we’ll start with some general principles and planning tips.

Start Early

A well planned trip takes time. If you try to plan a vacation at the last minute you will most certainly spend more money than you intend. For one thing, you won’t have time to follow any of the tips that follow in this article if your vacation is next week. Starting a few months out gives you some time to brainstorm, save some money, and do some research. Impromptu travel is sometimes necessary, but don’t waste money on a haphazard vacation.

Set a Budget

It seems that this one tip is really the essence of frugality. It is a proven fact that if you plan ahead on how your money will be spent, you will spend less overall.

First, decide how much total money with which you have to work. Remember, you can’t spend money that you don’t have. Commit yourself to not paying for your vacation with credit. Your happy memories will be tainted with the stress of paying off the debt. You may already have a chunk of money saved, or you may have a bonus check or tax refund you are planning to spend. If not, figure out how much money you will be able to save up over a period of time. Have $20 a week (or month) deposited directly into a savings account, cut spending in your regular monthly budget and save the difference (see how low you can get your grocery bill!), do some odd jobs or side jobs to earn extra cash, or even stash away loose change.

Prioritize

Next, break your budget into categories such as lodging, transportation, food, activities, and souvenirs. We will talk about how to save in each of these categories specifically in the weeks to come, but for now simply consider your priorities. For instance, as you think about lodging, do you need a hotel with all of the amenities, or do you really just need a bed (where you can crash after a day of chasing your children all over the beach)? When deciding your daily food allowance consider you priorities and still think practically.  You might want to spend a little more to experience authentic French (or Italian, or Thai, etc.) cuisine but the sandwiches you can make yourself are probably just as good as what you will eat in the restaurant at Disney World. You may be dying to scuba dive in the Caribbean but care less about parasailing, or maybe it is just the opposite. It all depends on what you are looking for in a vacation. Take some time to decide what it is you must do to come home happy, spend higher percentages of money on those things, and skimp on the rest. Generally, you want to find ways to save on transportation so you have more money to spend when you actually reach your dream destination.

Be Flexible

If you followed tip #1 and started early this will be much easier to do. Your calendar has less appointments on it, it is easier to clear time off with the boss, and you can take your time researching and comparison shopping.

If you need to fly, you will find that airfare is considerably cheaper when purchased in advance and when you aren’t locked into a specific date. Search engines such as Kayak, Priceline, and Hotwire allow you to sign up for deal alerts which are sent to your email allowing you to jump on a deal as soon as it is available. However, these offers usually have a very short window of opportunity, so you have to be ready to jump on them and be willing to shuffle your travel dates around blackout dates, etc.

Last, be open to new things. Maybe your family has always gone to the beach, but you might find that you are just as happy staying at a cabin on a lake closer to home. Maybe you have always dreamed of sightseeing in Europe but have never taken the time to explore the historical, interesting, or unique sites in your own state. A cruise might seem like the perfect get away for an anniversary, but a bed and breakfast in a nearby town could be just as romantic. As you plan, keep an open mind. Think more about the experience you are trying to create for yourself and your family. Don’t feel locked into the type of vacations typically advertised by the industry. Memories can be made and fun times can be had just about anywhere.

    • Taimie

      we are leaving for Disney in a month, 2 adults, 4 children. we started planning for this trip over a year ago. one way we saved is all our change. we took a plastic icecream bucket and cut a slit in the lid. the kids love putting the change in, and watching it grow. also after booking our trip, I still checked the Disney website frequently for any deals, we ended up getting a $500 gc that we will get when we check in. to us this is bonus money, we where going anyways. also Disney lets you bring in food and drinks. if you stay on Disney propery you can also add the meal plan to your stay. we are so excited, and the best part is none of it is on a CC.

      • Wendyhill

        Have fun! We love Disney, and have done reasonable vacations there. A great time to visit Disney is Sept-October to take advantage of the free dining deal.

        • Taimie

          when we lived in Fl we went during Sept-Dec all the time, but now we live out of state, and we both work for the school system, so summer is the best time for us. this year we are combining Disney with a confrence we are attending on Cri du Chat syndorme, that is taking place in Orlando the end of July. this is a rare syndrome that one of our children has. so we are going from Disney right to the confrence. We can't wait!!!!

    • Gretchen

      Another great tip to save money on a vacation is to consider going someplace during the off season. My husband and I just found some great deals on resort hotels on the beach during the spring and fall. Spring break is a popular time so prices might be higher than, but other times during the spring you can get great rates. And the weather is still beautiful and warm in the south during the spring and fall too! Bed and breakfasts also often have great off season rates.

      Also, you can save a lot of money by fixing breakfast and lunches, and even dinners in your hotels. We try to stay places that have a kitchen or at least a microwave and fridge. If we have a room with a kitchen we do all our eating there, except of one evening (we will go to a nice place and treat ourselves). Other than that we eat our meals in our rooms. Just be sure to bring along a cooler and stock up on the way to your destination or when you get there.

      If your family likes the outdoors a great money saving vacation is camping. When I was younger that was all we did cause my parents could not afford to have us stay in hotels during our vacations, and I have great memories. Often times you get campsites for anywhere between $0 – $20 per night. If you want to explore your state this is a great options, or you could even alternate camping and staying in hotels if you can't stand to “rough” it during your entire vacation.

      Finally, find out if any of your family and friends have vacation homes. My husband and I both have family and friends with vacation homes, and they are more than willing to let us stay in them for FREE when they are not using them. They may have a small fee for cleaning or such, but it will be small in comparison. Make sure to leave the places clean and replace anything that you might have used like toilet paper or food in the pantry.

    • Kemccarthy

      We use www dot vrbo dot com for alot of our vacations.. It stands for vacation rentals by owner. It is so much cheaper than hotels and they are all homes or condos so we can save so much money on cooking in the kitchen…

    • colagirl

      Also never count out Europe. My husband and I have spent a week in Italy and another in Istanbul for cheaper than most folks spend on a week in Myrtle Beach. Watch airfares, be willing to go during shoulder season (cooler weather and no lines!), and eat lunch from markets, etc. With all the resources available today from Tripadvisor to vrbo.com and the rest, it is easier than ever to travel on a budget

    • Sallyjumpup

      Thank you for posting this. I was just thinking that the hubby and I (and the 8 month old) really need a vacation soon. Thank you for the timing on this article. And thank you for helping us to live wisely!!

    • Bryarsmom

      Our consumer advocate, Clark Howard, suggests you find a fab flight deal, book-it & THEN find all the great reasons to go there! Don't plan a particular destination first-see whats on sale & GO!
      We've practiced this travel-fun philosophy for years & have been able to visit Hawaii 3 times! Rome, Sorrento & Amalfi Coast and Jamaica.
      Have also used VRBO-last experience was a bummer though in Oahu. Our cottage was broken into while we were out on the tourist trail & the owners did NOTHING to compensate our loss. :(

    • Ruopen98

      My family has decided to vacation closer to home this year which means a trip to the great smokey mtns! I actually was able to book a 3 bedroom chalet high above Gatlinburg for a great price on homeaway dot com! Our son isn't in school yet so we are able to go at the end of August and rates are a lot cheaper. We are also sharing the place with family so we are only paying 1/3 of the lodging!

    • crr

      Any ideas for a cheap vacation in NYC? The problem is that I love to stay in the middle of the action-like times square. I have heard there are alot of scams out there whey trying to rent a condo or apartment on line.

    • Rhonda

      We recently took a long road trip with our 2 children, ages 4 and 6. To save money, I packed picnics and we stopped at rest areas along the interstate. We had healthy meals and plenty of room to run and play. :)

    • Sallie

      My husband and I just celebrated our 5 year anniversary driving down the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. We stayed at cheap hotels and packed breakfast and lunch in a cooler. We hiked a lot and had a fabulous time! FYI the Aberdeen Inn in Asheville has a summer special – $99 per night for any room. It is a fabulous B & B that I would recommend to anyone wanting a little getaway!

    • crr

      Any ideas for a cheap vacation in NYC? The problem is that I love to stay in the middle of the action-like times square. I have heard there are alot of scams out there whey trying to rent a condo or apartment on line.

    • Rhonda

      We recently took a long road trip with our 2 children, ages 4 and 6. To save money, I packed picnics and we stopped at rest areas along the interstate. We had healthy meals and plenty of room to run and play. :)

    • Sallie

      My husband and I just celebrated our 5 year anniversary driving down the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. We stayed at cheap hotels and packed breakfast and lunch in a cooler. We hiked a lot and had a fabulous time! FYI the Aberdeen Inn in Asheville has a summer special – $99 per night for any room. It is a fabulous B & B that I would recommend to anyone wanting a little getaway!