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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.
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.
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.
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.