So you want to get away? Don’t we all!
Planning a family vacation should be a fun time, but sometimes it can be daunting and stressful if you have a budget to keep to. We have planned many little getaways while living on a tight budget, and keeping the trip to a tight budget too. In this series, I plan on taking you through my own planning process as I plan our next frugal family vacation. We are heading south to Myrtle Beach, and you better believe it’s going to be frugal, but still loads of fun!
As a family of 6, and living on a single income, not only do I want to be, and enjoy being frugal, but things need to be frugal. We choose not to spend thousands on vacations each year, instead we put our extra money in to savings, or paying down our mortgage. So, this post is about how we find that extra money to spend on a family vacation.
Start Saving. This might seem obvious, but putting money aside is the easiest way to afford a vacation. Cut back on extras like eating out, coffee shops, or anything else you can think of. It might not be enough to pay for the entire trip, but it could allow you to have a nice dinner out, do an extra activity or buy some souvenirs while on the trip. Even if it’s just for a few months leading up to the trip, it can make a difference. But if you are planning a year in advance, start cutting back early to have even more!
Point Cards and Cash Back. There are so many point clubs out there, I’m sure you already collect from somewhere. Even if it can’t be used to pay for the trip directly, it can still help. This is one of our biggest tricks as a family, and how we are able to afford lots of extras on our single income! We collect PC points (on a President’s Choice Elite World Master Card), you earn points when you use your Master Card (more points at Loblaws stores and Esso gas stations, but points on anything purchased with the card),you then use the collected points to pay for items sold at Loblaws stores. So we could cash them in to cover snacks for the road trip, or summer clothes and toys for the beach, or the better idea: we can use it to offset our budget. Last week we booked our hotel and paid the deposit. So I cashed in points to pay for groceries, so there was no difference in our monthly budget. We have been saving up our points for 6 or 7 months now, so we had over $450 worth! I’ll keep using them to cover groceries right before our trip, and save some for after to offset what we spend while on the trip. This same idea can be done using lots of other point cards and cash back cards.* My husband also collects Starwood Hotel Points when he travels for work. We used some of them to cover a hotel stay in Rochester NY last summer, and will use some more to cover a hotel stay on the drive down of this trip.
Research. Figure out where you want to go and when. Last minute deals are sometimes cheaper (though, that doesn’t give you time to do my first two steps), and travelling during the off-peak season can save money too. Picking a little known destination might be more affordable, or a big time tourist place might offer more discounts. Narrowing it all down can be difficult, but do some research online, or perhaps getting a travel agents’ help would be best (but watch for additional fees). We managed to pick a week between peak times, when the weather is still great, but hotel rates are much more affordable. And make sure you look at hotel reviews too, don’t just pick based on the best price, figure out what you want in a hotel, and look for the best deal. We looked for one with a kitchen (to save money on eating out), and with lots of amenities that were included, so we can spend more time at the resort, and less money on the expensive touristy attractions.
Booking the Hotel. You thought narrowing down the where and when was tricky? Wait till you actually go to book the hotel! There are several ways to save money on this, and all avenues should be looked at for prices and benefits. My first tip is to check prices on Trivago.com, they compare lots of different deal sites so you can see which has the best price. Next, check the hotels website for their rate. So many hotels have “guaranteed best rates” or offer additional discounts for weekdays, free breakfasts or discounts for other attractions. And honestly, I feel like you get better service while there, when they know you booked through them. I called our resort, which didn’t even have any rooms available on the deal sites. I got an incredible weekday deal, and was able to get my questions about the resort answered. Don’t assume because they don’t have any offers posted on other sites for your dates, that they are booked solid. Sometimes, they just don’t offer up rooms to those sites. Our resort isn’t booked solid, and I still got an incredible deal on the suite we wanted. But, if the best price is on a deal site, make sure you book through one that you get cash back from (like through ebates.ca), or that you can collect hotel points from (like hotels.com), and earn a free hotel night for another trip!
I hope these tips helped you in starting your trip planning, or at least thinking about how you could possibly afford a family vacation. Next up in the series will be more specific tips on how we will continue to save on our Myrtle Beach vacation.
*How do we get so many points so fast? We put just about everything on our credit card. My husbands income sits in our high interest savings account (Thanks again PC!) all month long, earning a few dollars each month. We put everything we can on our credit card to earn as many points as possible. At the end of the month we pay our credit card in full. This is the important part: we never carry a balance! This only works if you are ok not using debit or cash, otherwise you run the risk of spending whats in your account and running up your credit card bill. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it has worked for us for nearly 10 years. We have paid for trips, video game systems, new computers and tablets, and loads of other extras we wouldn’t normally be able to afford, all thanks to those points.