Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Planning ahead for a family vacation won’t only help prevent last-minute price gouges and booked up flights and hotels, but can also save families money.
Booking a summer or winter vacation—when children are out of school for a long stretch of time—can be difficult to think of doing months ahead. But a long lead time allows you to plan better and gives you more time to save money.
The average summer vacation for an American family of four costs $4,700, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a fair amount of money to save over a year, and even a lot more over six months.
Here are six ways families can save for a vacation, turning a big expense into smaller chunks of savings that are easier to work into a budget:
Set up a vacation fund.
If you’re already putting money each month into funds for emergencies, household maintenance, college, retirement and other regular needs and goals, then setting up one for vacations should be easy. Or it can feel like another place to put your money before you get to spend what’s left on daily necessities.
If you can afford it, a vacation fund can be an account that you contribute to each month—or annually if you get a bonus at work—and not be something you have to think about. You should still do the fun part of planning a vacation, but put the money in a separate account so you don’t spend it elsewhere.
Just as you’re automatically contributing to a retirement account at work or a college fund through transfers from your checking account, you can do the same with a vacation fund. At the very least, putting aside a few hundred dollars a month for vacations will get you halfway there when the vacation arrives.
Work a side gig for vacations only.
Income from a part-time job or freelance work can be set aside each month to pay for a vacation.
Get the whole family involved. If an 11-year-old girl can make money selling secure passwords for $2 each, chances are your children have some ideas for online businesses they or your family can start to make some extra cash.
You can drive for Lyft for a few hours a week, become a mystery shopper, sell your extra stuff on eBay, babysit, make holiday crafts, tutor or use whatever skills you have to make some money on the side.
Your family can probably find a few places to cut expenses. The cable TV bill, eating out at restaurants and going to the movies can be pared back from most budgets and replaced with cheaper activities. You might be able to save $200 or more each month by cutting expenses.
The difficult part, however, is taking that money that isn’t being spent and putting it aside for a vacation. If you don’t, then the savings can easily be spent elsewhere.
One method is to set up an automatic transfer at the end of each month from your checking account to a savings account set aside for vacations. If you move an extra $200, then be sure you already have at least that much in budget cuts planned for that month, so that the savings move without you realizing it.
If you have any extra money each month or it’s already in your budget, you can pay for most of a vacation months ahead by buying airline tickets, making hotel reservations and reserving a car.
You’ll likely get cheaper rates than if you wait until the last minute to book, and the expenses will be paid once your vacation starts.
Use credit card rewards.
If you have a credit card that offers cash back or rewards points for spending, then those points can often be used for free airline miles, hotel stays and other vacation expenses.
It’s a way to use your daily expenses on a credit card to help pay for the main costs of a vacation. However, be aware that if you’re not paying your credit card bill in full each month and are paying interest or late fees, then they can negate the rewards you’re getting.
My last tip is one that won’t save you an extraordinary amount of money, but can be a fun way to save some extra money for souvenirs or something fun: a change jar. Keep a few jars around the house to put spare change in, and chances are you’ll have close to $50 or so each year to give the kids for pocket change during a trip.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist who specializes in personal finance writing. He lives in Concord with his wife and daughter, and enjoys planning and saving for vacations.