Building memories with my children is something that I cherish. During the week, my husband and I are both busy working – albeit from home – and aren’t able to really do anything with them outside the house. This year, the extra work on the farm has made it even more difficult to feel like we can take an afternoon off or breakaway.
However, vacations – like the one we’re taking next week – are vital for families. They’re vital for us. They’re experiences where memories are made and a chance for families to grow and further bond together. When you get to let go of the pressures of the outside world and really relax with your kids, you get to see a side of them that you might be too occupied at home to truly look at.
But time isn’t the only reason families often forgo vacation.
Often the big elephant in the room surrounding family vacations is money.
But vacations don’t have to be overly exorbitant. And if you budget and plan, you can make the most of your money and have a family experience you will cherish for the rest of your life.
I’ve partnered with COUNTRY Financial to tell you how to budget for vacation. Here’s how you get the bonding time without breaking the bank.
Start planning early
Early planning is often the key to getting the most bang for your buck. Decide where you want to go. Based on your monthly bills, you will generally know if you can afford some place or not. If you want to go somewhere more costly then early planning is the key. Sometimes you might even have to start planning and saving for more than a year before the vacation.
COUNTRY Financial recommends that you sit down as early as possible to start thinking through your vacation and the costs. This allows you to set priorities. For instance, do you want to eat out every night or are you ok with preparing some meals yourself? Will you need accommodations with a kitchen to do so? Do you need more than one room?
Put together a needs and wants list for the vacation to help you think through some of these things. Determining needs and wants up front will help you when it comes to budgeting.
Set an overall budget for vacation
Deciding how much you will need for everything on vacation is your first big, realistic decision you have to make. You might dream of going to Hawaii but in reality, a family trip to a lake might be more affordable and just as fun.
COUNTRY Financial suggests that the best way to start saving for a vacation is to make sure your overall, monthly budget is balanced. The company recommends following the 50-30-20 rule for overall household budgeting.
The 50-30-20 rule means 50 percent of your total monthly income should go to needs, like mortgage, groceries, utilities, etc. About 30 percent should go to your wants, like your upcoming vacation, and 20 percent should automatically go toward savings for your longer-term financial goals.
If you’re dedicating a portion of your monthly budget to your vacation, you should be able to calculate how much you can save by the time you leave. This enables you to plan every aspect of your vacation according to what you can afford.
Decide how you will get there
Travel is always one of the most expensive costs on a vacation so you need to make this decision early after looking at your budget.
Obviously, some vacations that require you to travel across a large body of water are fly only vacation. There are other vacations where you have options and you need to weigh those options.
Can you drive to your vacation location? Will that be a cheaper option? If you fly, will you need a rental car whenever you’re going? Figuring this out right after you look at your budget might give you some wiggle room in the overall budget. It will dictate whether you can splurge in other areas or need to cut back.
Evaluate your accommodation options
The accommodations will more than likely be your next large cost – sometimes it can even be more costly than the travel portion of a vacation. If you have started planning early you probably already know if you need to find a place with a kitchen or will need a hotel. Whichever you choose, look at all the options closely.
If you need a place with a kitchen or multiple rooms, consider using services that allow you to rent out homes versus a traditional hotel. It’s usually a much less expensive option when looking for some of those amenities. If you are planning to stay in a hotel, does it have a good location for activities or just relaxation, a pool (if that’s important to you) or other conveniences you want.
Breakdown the budget for the rest of the vacation
Add in all those other vacations costs that will quickly add up, including:
- Resort fees – Often these can be separate from room fees
- Gas money
- Food – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks
- Water – If you’re going somewhere warm or somewhere with less than savory drinking options, there might be a premium charge for water.
- Parking fees
- Cab, subway, ferry or other miscellaneous transportation fees
- Theme park fees – This might be a large one if you’re going somewhere like Disney, Universal, etc.
- Baggage fees
- Maids fees/Valet fees
- Groceries – If you’re going somewhere where you will be cooking.
- Entertainment fees – Museums, shows, exhibits and other admission fees
- Phone – Will you be roaming or traveling internationally with your phone?
- Exchange rates
- Souvenirs – I generally try not to buy these unless they’re something special. However, if you’re going to a theme park, good luck not buying your kids balloons or some other thing that they desperately “need” to make vacation perfect.
There may be more than this based on your specific vacation so make sure you think through each day of the adventure.
Set a monthly goal to save
Once you have a rough idea of how much the vacation will cost, and you’re following the 50-30-20 rule, then you know you have a specific portion of money going towards your wants, or extras, each month. From there, determine how much you can save each month towards vacation.
Plan for unplanned costs
These often include things that aren’t going with you on your vacation, like your house or your pet. Will you need to board your dog or cat while you’re away? Do you need someone to come water your plants or your garden? Will your lawn still need to be mowed?
Make a mad money jar for extra $
My brother and his fiancé made a 5-er Jar. Basically, each time one of them had a $5 bill, they had to put it in the jar. They did this for about 8 months and had enough money to take an entire trip to Costa Rica. If you can’t do $5, then make it $1. Or make it a swear jar. I think you’ll be surprised how fast the money adds up. If you make this separate from the money you’re saving for vacation, you’ll have extra cash on-hand that you can use for extras.
For more information on COUNTRY Financial and their financial planning services, click here.
For more tips on family finance, click here.