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How to Enjoy Summer Vacations Without Going Broke
Updated: January 01, 2021 |
Taylor Kovar, CFP

3 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Summer Vacation Budget

Is it really possible to enjoy some quality summer fun with your family while still saving money? Yes!

Save money and allow everyone to get a vote with these 3 kinds of cheap family vacation ideas this summer.

Summer is coming. You can almost hear the loud music, the papers shredding, and the ecstatic rejoicing – wait, is that the sound of students … or teachers?

Everyone is counting down the days until summer for different reasons. The kids can’t wait to sleep in and skip dealing with that not-so-favorite teacher. The teachers look forward to not being ignored and not dealing with that not-so-favorite student.

Considering the cost of family summer vacations, you might be counting down the days until summer with a mixture of relief and some dread. How will you fill all of that time? How will you do everything the family wants to and not go broke?

The temperature isn’t the only thing that climbs each summer – expenses tend to do the exact same thing. We have some tricks up our sleeve to share with you that will help you get more out of your summer vacation budget. It is so easy to forget to save money during the warmer months. With more spare time and the hope of keeping everyone entertained, your savings can dissolve like a popsicle in a toddler’s fist.

Summer is a great time to make memories, but we know how can be an expensive undertaking if you don’t have a game plan when that final school bell rings. Heading into vacation season without a few cheap family vacation ideas is like a trip to the grocery store without a list … when you’re hungry. Your best intentions are likely to fade away in no time at all, and the results may require credit counseling (and a new diet).

As we eventually figured out, the four of us do best when we have a loose plan for making the most out of the summer fun and some dates on the calendar that everyone can look forward to. We can’t afford to do everything everyone wants to do, but we’ve found we can categorize our summertime together into three different buckets (and we rhymed them because, why not?). Our cheap family vacation ideas naturally fall into three groups: go, slow, and no. Here’s how to use each to plan summer fun for the whole family when saving money is on your mind:

1. Go – Go for the Big Vacation

Consider this your encouraging shove to “go.” Go for it. Take the big vacation of the summer. Get out and go have some summer fun.

Getaways during the school year do not work with our family’s schedules, so we plan our big vacation for each summer. We think of that as our “go.”

Go. Camping. East. West. To Disneyland. Visit relatives. To the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Find the biggest ball of twine. Any of these can make for a great summer vacation, so just pack some bags and go.

This is your one big trip for the summer. Mark it on the calendar while school is still in session so that you all can look forward to the days you can have fun without worrying about work, homework, or the usual demands.

This can be pricey if you’re not careful with following your summer vacation budget, but remember that you are investing in your family. You are making memories with your children. And you work hard and deserve some time away.

You can also use it as an opportunity to teach your kids the value of money. Give them a set amount of cash at the beginning of the trip and let them decide what to use it on. You may cringe when they choose junk food at every gas station you stop at, but they will get the idea soon enough. Either they learn they really enjoyed the freedom to do that, or they might regret their lack of funds when they find something they want at the end of the summer fun. Either way, you will help them internalize an important lesson: money is finite, money can purchase fun things, and plan ahead because it spends quickly.

Choose a memorable summer vacation regardless of your budget.

2. Slow – Slow Down and Take a Day Trip

Summer vacations are times for making memories, sure, but your kids need some downtime to recover from the excitement. So do their parents, and don’t you have a job you need to be at once in a while? So, this part of our summer we call “slow”.

No airplanes, no complex itineraries, no packing our equipment up the side of a mountain to set up camp. Slow is code for a slower type of “vacation”. Think of these as day trips, which happen to be an excellent use of your summer vacation budget.

The idea is that you all take a Saturday (or some other day you already have time off) and go as a family somewhere close to home. Every state has fun things to see, museums to peruse, or nature trails to wander. Your local chamber of commerce or even the American Automobile Association offers great ideas for day trips.

Our system is that each member of our family picks one day trip they would enjoy. Then we check the calendar and mark the best days to take those short trips. If your kids are anything like ours, they will all pick very different places to go. The variety is fun for all of us.

One important tip about making the “slow” approach to summer vacations work is to review your upcoming plans every week. If you set expectations with each other on Sunday night before the week starts with a quick “check-in,” it will be easier to stick to your vacation budget for that week. The stay-at-home types will be able to gear up mentally for the planned outings, and the adventurers of the bunch can anticipate how epic the next big thing will be.

Really, not every kid wants to go somewhere every day. Some are perfectly happy to stay home and play with friends six days out of seven. Of course, it’s important to get to know your kids’ likes and dislikes. Many do crave more adventure and enjoy outings that cost money. Plan ahead and create a balance. Talk through the fun things you have planned for this summer scheduling a mix of free and not-so-free activities. For you Saver-inspired folks, check out Mr. Free Stuff’s list of 120 Free Things To Do with Kids This Summer.

3 ways to stick to your summer vacation budget.

3. No – No Need to Leave Home

Since our kids think “no” is our favorite word anyway, we will use it here to label the third type of summer planning.

“No” means no travel out of town. And sometimes it means we go nowhere at all and explore creative “staycation” ideas instead.

Our family likes to make this part of our summer about picking a movie or a nearby restaurant for a treat, but you could truly make it a totally “no go” evening or afternoon. This means choosing not to leave the house. Ordering pizza and firing up Netflix is a great example of “no” travel time. The major point here is that you are intentionally setting aside time to be together as a family, without going anywhere.

Let each member pick their night and their favorite “no go” destination within your city. As we suggested in our article about getting the most out of spring break, each person gets to “pick two”: two movies they’d like to see, two restaurants they’d like to eat at, and two places they’d like to visit. The beauty of this approach is that it appeals to all of the Money Personalities in your household. Savers and Security Seekers get their limit and their list. The Spenders, Risk Takers, and Flyers get to spend, have an adventure, and have “together” time.

If your vacation budget is too tight for many outings, you can still find ways to enjoy summer fun at home without spending a ton of money. You could, for example, take turns cooking or make something special for dessert and haul out the old Wii or dust off the Monopoly board. Maybe your family would like to share some music together, playing instruments or singing favorite songs. How about old, home movies? The kids may groan, but everyone usually ends up enjoying watching themselves as chubby toddlers and laughing at the fashion choices of mom and dad.

If the youngest picks the My Little Pony game – again – honor her wishes and see if there are ways to make it fun for all ages. A handful of Skittles every time you roll? Or the winner picks a chore to hand off to each loser? The “no” option is intended to help do whatever it takes to spend time together at home or in town (with the delicious option of sweatpants and slippers thrown in).

Final Thoughts

Summer will come – yay! – and go – boo! – quickly so try to make the most of your time together. Not everything has to cost money, but don’t feel too much heartburn about the money you spend this summer to create memories. You will treasure those times forever, especially after they are grown and gone.

We’d love to hear about your tips and tricks for having fun in the summer without breaking the bank. Do you have any other suggestions to help the rest of us become Summertime Savings Superstars? Be sure to comment below.

Taylor & Megan Kovar

The Money Couple

Taylor and Megan Kovar, The Money Couple


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