7 Steps for Planning a Family Vacation on a Budget

by Spero Financial

For many, the idea of a family vacation is a bit of a love/hate relationship. We all want to enjoy some time away, but then questions like “How will we afford it?” or “Where will we go?” come to the forefront of the discussion. As a result, only seven out of ten people will actually take a vacation this year. Of those of us that choose to take the plunge, even if we can’t afford it, all the benefits of rest and relaxation disappear as soon as we see the credit card statement.

Thankfully, taking a trip doesn’t have to break the bank (or should we say credit union)! While the average vacation costs around $1,000 per person (ouch!), with some planning and a bit of focus, you can find family vacations that you can really afford — even with a larger family in tow. If you’re trying to plan your next family vacation on a budget, here’s how to go about it.   

Follow these 7 steps to plan an affordable family vacation

1. Determine your budget.
While the average vacation may cost thousands of dollars, it doesn’t have to be that expensive. There are plenty of ways to trim costs without sacrificing fun. To get started, determine how much you can afford to spend on the trip as a whole, and set that as your goal number to hit. Make sure your number accounts for everything you’ll need to make the trip go off without a hitch — from passports and travel to food and souvenirs. You don’t want to get stuck at the end of your checkbook without a plan. 

2. Pick a location.
Now, within that budget, determine where a reasonable location to travel may be. If your budget is on the lower end, you could opt for somewhere within driving distance instead of a faraway destination that requires multiple airline tickets and car rentals. You may want to vacation near family or friends that will let you stay at their place for free.  If you have your heart set on Tahitian beaches and can’t make it work, you can always look into other locations that will provide a similar feel for far less expense. The main thing to remember is this: in the middle of planning a great getaway, going outside of your budget may seem like a great idea, but it almost always catches up.

In contrast to the “budget-first-location-second” method, you may decide you have somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit — like a cross-country RV trip to the Grand Canyon or a cruise to Alaska. No worries; simply reverse the plan and let your destination help you guide through what it will cost. It may mean more saving to make your dream vacation happen, but it will be well worth it when you get there.  

3. Establish a timeline.
While 62 percent of travelers will make their trip this summer, according to AAA, you don’t have to head out at the same time. In fact, you can save a lot of money by traveling in the off-season — not only in lodging costs but in all the other aspects of travel, too. 

Consider that while beach destinations are extremely popular in the summer, the early spring or winter months see far less traffic. As a result, everything from tours to restaurants are eager to grab whatever business they can. Your goal is to be the beneficiary of that off-season mentality. 

One of the best ways to make sure you’re stretching every dollar is to price shop for all aspects of your trip. Creative hotel booking is a great way to save money. Staying a block away from your ultimate destination or using Airbnb can have a major bottom-line impact. For airfare, use tricks of the trade — like buying at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays no less than six weeks out — to get the best price.

Discount sites like Groupon can offer deep discounts on activities as well. For retreats and resorts, booking farther in advance can have some impressive money-saving benefits. Not only can you get some pretty significant discounts, but in some instances, you may be able to set up payment plans as well. 

4. Consider the extras.
Don’t forget the little things! If you’re going to need a passport, Real ID, copies of paperwork, or immunization forms, make sure you get them ahead of time! Many “extras” involved in travel — things like cab fare or money for tipping — probably won’t be in the front of your mind, but they add up quickly. So, take some time to think through all the little details of your trip and plan for those costs. 

5. Get some help.
When all else fails — find an expert! While it may seem counter-intuitive to pay for the services of a professional, travel planners often have access to significant discounts or unknown options that they can pass on to you. Many times, the savings you gain from working with a skilled agent will outweigh the cost of their services.

6. Save, save, save.
Once you have a good idea of what your vacation is going to cost, it’s time to start putting that money aside! To come up with a manageable monthly installment plan, simply divide the amount you need to have for the trip by the number of months until you travel. Then, chip away at the overall price tag by putting regular payments into savings or a Vacation Club savings account. For example, if your trip will cost around $2,000 and you plan to take it in 6 months, plan to save about $333 per month. 

7. Stick to your budget.
You’re not quite done yet! The appeal for all of us to “make memories” is real, so keep in mind that while you’re on vacation, you may get the urge to spend outside your budget. If you can avoid it (and you absolutely can), don’t give in to the urge to do something you haven’t planned for. With a little self-discipline, you can avoid going over the budget you are comfortable with. That being said, if you’re still worried you might overspend while you’re away, go ahead and create a slush fund in the planning stages to account for those unforeseen attractions.

3 Budget-friendly Vacation Ideas

While you can use the tools and tips above to create a cheap family vacation at almost any destination, there are a few vacation ideas that deserve mention due to their “built-in” savings. 

Cruise/Resort: All-inclusive vacations, like cruises or resort areas, can offer some serious savings. Although the sticker price may seem high at first, keep in mind that in many of these scenarios, you won’t be paying for food and additional travel or adventure charges, all of which can add up over the course of the week. Again, shop around. Find out what discounts are available, take advantage of “signing specials,” and make sure you can get the biggest bang for your buck. 

National Parks: We’d be remiss not to mention National Parks since many of them offer campsites and built-in attractions for super-low rates. And, you might be surprised to find out which areas are considered State and National Parks. Popular destinations include Yosemite, the Everglades, Hunting Island, and many others. If you decide to plan a park trip for your next family vacation, remember that this is one area where booking in the off-season can make a huge difference in price. 

Washington, DC: Sure, the nation’s Capital can be pricey, but as far as things to do, the DC area offers a ton of things to keep a family busy on the cheap. The best part? From 17 Smithsonian museums to the National Zoo, walks around the mall and seeing the Memorials — many of the most iconic attractions won’t cost you a dime to check out. 

Whatever your travel plans may be, we are excited to help you reach your goals! Come by any Spero branch location to speak with one of our member representatives about what it will take to make your next trip everything you want it to be. 

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