A vacation to a favorite or must-see destination is one of the most fun things you can do with money (unless you hate to travel, of course). But all the fun is sapped out of a trip when you arrive home to mounds of bills that you cannot pay off right away. It isn’t fun to still be paying for your vacation three years later. However, if you take the time to properly budget and save for a vacation, you can have guilt-free fun. And saving and budgeting doesn’t have to be a drag. Even if you have to work at it for a couple of years, there are ways to keep the saving and budgeting parts interesting and fun for all involved. Here are some suggestions:
Put up Pictures of the Destination
Seeing what you’re working toward is a great way to keep everyone motivated, even over the long haul. Put some nice pictures of your chosen destination on your refrigerator as a reminder. You can also keep one in your wallet or wrapped around your credit card so that you see it when you go to spend money. It might make you think twice about blowing the money on something else when you could be saving it toward your dream trip.
Decorate a Savings Jar
If you’re going to supplement your savings with a change jar, decorate it with pictures of your destination. Every time you deposit your change, you’ll be reminded of why you’re saving money.
Have “Vacation” Night Once a Week or Month
Use the time to do some planning, make some meals that originate in your destination, practice the language if necessary, watch some movies or documentaries about your destination, or flip through guidebooks and picture books you got from the library. If you can think of any vacation related games to play, that can be fun too. Get the whole family involved so they feel like they’re part of the process.
Stretch Your Planning Dollar
Planning a vacation can get expensive and you haven’t left home yet. Don’t buy guidebooks or picture books from the full-price bookstore. Get them from the library. You can find cheap travel books at used bookstores, too, as many people buy them and then sell them after their trip. Similarly, rent any videos or get them from the library. There are also tons of free Internet resources to help you plan.
Create a Vacation Budget
It’s great to save for a trip, but you have to know how that money will be allocated to get the most out of it. Research prices for travel, lodging, food, and activities and then figure out how much you can afford for each category. Maybe you want to get a cheaper hotel so you’ll have more money for tours, or maybe you can bring some food from home to free up money for souvenirs. However you want to allocate the money is fine, just make sure that your savings can cover your costs and you aren’t wasting money unnecessarily.
Let Everyone Have a Hand in the Planning
If kids are old enough, let them each choose one activity that they really want to do and include it in the budget, within reason. Help them save their allowances and any gift money for souvenirs, especially if you don’t plan to bankroll their purchases. Give everyone a say in how the money you’re saving will be spent. It’s a good time to teach some basic lessons about budgeting and prioritizing the use of money.
Account for the Extras
Tolls, parking, laundry, airport snacks, new clothes, sunscreen, medicine, things you forgot, etc. all add up and can take a chunk out of your budget. Plan for as much as you can and leave a cushion in your budget for those things you didn’t see coming.
Vacations are often among the highlights of our lives. They promote family bonding and make great memories. But the fun doesn’t have to wait until you leave home. By being creative as you’re saving and planning, you can create a sense of anticipation that rivals the trip itself. And when you go on your well planned, fully funded trip, you’ll have a great time and be secure in the knowledge that all of this fun isn’t endangering your financial well being.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Menard)