How To Pay Cash for a Vacation

1. Set A Goal and Break It Down Into Bite-Sized Pieces

A lot of people want to go on paid-for vacations, but few actually sit down and make a plan to make it happen without debt. Do you want to go on a three-day road trip in six months from now or a week-long cruise in three years from now?

Either way, you need to sit down and figure out how much it is approximately going to cost (I recommend rounding up the amount you think it will cost in order to give you some wiggle room in case it ends up costing more than you’ve planned on.). Once you have a set figure for how much you plan to spend on your vacation, break that down into monthly and weekly savings goals.

Let’s say you want to go on a three-day road trip as a family in December. If you calculate that it will cost you $500 ($250 for hotel, $100 for gas, $150 for food + attractions) and you have around six months to save, than you’ll need to come up with an extra $84 each month or $21 each week.

2. Make a Plan of Action

Once you’ve figured out where you want to go, how much it is going to cost and how much you need to save each week, you can devise a plan of action. What specific actions are you going to take to save the money for your vacation?

If you don’t have extra money in your budget to divert to a special vacation savings, think of things you could cut from your budget to free up the necessary money. To take our previous example, if you have a goal to save $21 each week for your three-day December road trip, that could mean giving up dinner out each week or shaving that money off your grocery budget by using coupons or playing the Drugstore Game.

3. Put On Your Thinking Cap

If you feel like there’s no way you can squeeze any extra out of your budget or lower an of your expenses, there are still ways to save money for a vacation, if it’s something that’s really important to you. You could have a garage sale, sell some items you no longer need on Craigslist or eBay, mow lawns, babysit, take on a small cleaning job, start a side freelance business, teach classes… the possibilities are endless. Think about things you are good at or love to do and consider how you could earn extra income by investing a few hours each week into them.

When you set a goal, work hard and finally reach it, it’s very rewarding and fulfilling. And you can enjoy your vacation without having to feel guilty or worry about how you are going to afford to pay for it later!

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Comments

  1. Erin says

    This is great advice. It’s actually never occured to me to use debt to cover a vacation but I was raised with the mindset that if you don’t have the money, you don’t buy it/do it.

    • Allison V. says

      My personal favorites are the payday/title loan places that advertise with a smiling couple holding a wad of cash and stating, “We got cash fast for our dream vacation!” Really?! Yikes.

    • says

      We are still in the process of switching over to an all cash budget system (thanks to Dave Ramsey), but we did budget our vacation (which we have never done in the past) and kept track of our expenses – some of which were paid for in cash and some were credit (which does get paid in full at the end of the month). But we were able to spend a week in Florida for under $900 and still have money left over in our vacation budget. http://delicious-nutritious.blogspot.com/2011/06/vacation-on-budget-road-trip.html

  2. says

    It is our goal to go on a Disney vacation in about two years. We were just talking about saving for it and this post comes at a perfect time. Over the last few weeks I have started the grocery and coupon savings plan. It is a lot of work and I am still learning the ropes but I have shaved about $15 a week off my bill. I know that is not a lot especially to season veterans but I am learning. I also freezer cook A LOT and this has helped save me money. I do need to keep better track of the money I am saving with these methods so I can start putting that cash away for our vacation. Thanks Crystal for the tips. Always the best!

    • says

      Skinny Mom’s Kitchen, you can use this free Excel savings tracker from The Coupon Project to help you see exactly how much you are spending on groceries, health and beauty, etc each month. I started using it this month and it is awesome! You can be as detailed as you want with putting in what items you bought at each grocery store.

      http://thecouponproject.com/downloads/savings-tracker

  3. Sonjia says

    I just booked a Disney Cruise for my daughter’s official 12th birthday. She’s a leap-year baby and I made it a family tradition to do something special for her every 4 years. By booking almost a year in advance, I scored a GREAT deal and a guaranteed rate (they only offer 5 of these per cruise and I have a good chance of being upgraded upon embarkment!). Our four-night/five-day cruise is $1,400, including EVERYTHING. I love the idea of not having to budget food and drinks; we really can embark and forget. I paid 20% down, and I have until November 29th to pay off the balance. Since there aren’t any set payments, I can do this at my convenience by logging into my account and making ANY payment at any time. Once the cruise is paid in full, I can add gratuities and on/off board activities- and since I can pay ahead, I plan to go all out and have a cake and decorations in our room when we board. It’ll be nice to leave knowing everything is taken care of, and I did it without charging a dime. Best of all, my daughter doesn’t have a clue. :)

    • says

      That’s so awesome! My husband and I do cruises too, and there are so many ways to save :). We did a park & cruise package at a hotel so we got a night at the hotel AND parking for the week much cheaper than paying at the port.

      Plus, when we stopped in St. Thomas, I even found a coupon book with 2-for-1 drinks and we were both able to enjoy a margarita for a bit cheaper… haha you can even coupon on vacation if you work at it!

      We were next to the Disney ship in Port Canaveral and it was so beautiful… my coworker took her kids and they loved it, I bet yours will too!

    • Kayte says

      We have sailed with Disney a few times now. To say their customer service is amazing, doesn’t even do it justice. You will have such a wonderful time!! …and we love their payment options too! A guilt free cruise!

  4. Jaime Claywell says

    The thing that has helped me and my husband out the most with this is http://www.smartypig.com. We set a goal (like $1500 for a recent trip to El Salvador) and a set amount of money was taken out of our normal checking account and placed in our Smartypig account. It’s so motivating to see how much closer you are to the goal each month!

  5. Andrea says

    Sonjia, that is a terrific idea. I can’t believe what a good deal you got. My kids are too young to do something like that right now but I will definitely remember this for down the road!
    Crystal , as always terrific post! Thanks for all of your great ideas and encouragment!

  6. sam says

    Vacations are so much better when you know it is all paid for, no bills when you get home!!

  7. says

    Those are some awesome tips. I love cruises and vacations… I budget for them each year because I think it’s important- more important than having the latest and greatest computer, car, or phone. Husband and I just got back from our honeymoon on the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas (haha, we’re 25 and newlyweds!)

    We booked during a sale week (which meant $100 onboard credit), did a park and cruise special at a hotel (which let us stay the night before and be well rested for our cruise, plus saved us port parking fees, it was just about $10 more than the regular rate for the night at a very nice hotel), and even found a 2-for-1 drink coupon in port in St. Thomas (see, you can coupon on vacation too!).

    In all, I think it was around $2,000 for everything for both of us… including 7 night cruise (included all activities and food, but not alcohol, not big drinkers anyway), 1 night in a hotel, parking, a sailboat excursion in St. Maarten, tips, and souvenirs/occasional drink.

    We totally enjoyed it and we can enjoy our memories and pictures WITHOUT worrying about paying it off!

  8. says

    We take small yearly vacations with our family and have always had a running ‘mini-vacation’ fund. Last winter we decided that we’d like to do the big ‘Disney Experience’ for our children (now 1, 3 and 5), in about 5 years. I set up a spare account and we’re already diverting a small amount of money each week to this account. It’s fun to think of all the fun we’ll have – and by delaying until they’re older, I get plenty of time to save (avoiding debt) and for my kids to grow older (avoiding the need for naps and diapers while on vacation) so we get the absolute most out of our once in a lifetime trip!

  9. Leigh says

    I earn points through My Points and order restaurant gift cards for places I know we’ll eat like Cracker Barrel. I also use my Discover card and recently got $100 in rewards cash to add to my vacation fund. (I do pay the card off every month!) I designate any survey money to my fund too!

    • says

      We pay off our Discover card every month as well, and use the restaurant gift cards towards our dining budget, or when our little one needs new clothes I will get a Kohl’s GC. If you have the ability to pay off the card every month, this is a great way to earn extra wiggle room in your budget.

  10. says

    We budget for a vacation every single year. Because of work and schedules, we haven’t gone anywhere in 4 years…with all the money we’ve saved in our “vacation budget” in 4 years, I think my husband owes me a cruise or something. Hee hee hee :)

  11. Jill says

    Sonjia-I love your cruise idea & would love to do that with our family. May I ask how many are in your family? I have a family of 7, which makes it very hard to make vacation reservations & very expensive. So many “bookings” only go up to 6. If anyone would have any suggestions for a family of our size I’d greatly appreciate it. We have taken a couple trips to Disney that have taken a lot of planning & saving (we come from Indiana).

    • Sonjia says

      Hi Jill, it’s just me and my daughter. You can request a Disney Cruise DVD online: http://disneycruise.disney.go.com/ – it has all the information about bookings, rooms, etc. There are a couple of payment terms (125 days and 145 days?) depending on when you book, but they only require 20% to save your reservation and you then you pay as you can. Book ahead and you’ll save; also through my research, Jan. and Feb. seem like prime saving times as rates start to climb in March. I also know they have the option of adjoining rooms or a suite to hold your entire family- the room set up is amazing and so well-thought for the entire gang. This was the perfect solution for me; I intend to pay off the balance next month and I’ll add gratuities the following month, and then our excursions in July. I purchased trip insurance ($140) JUST IN CASE. I’m a single mom, and that’s too much money to risk losing. Money’s been really tight and we haven’t had a vacation for two years. She’s going to be over the moon. I plan to have my car packed and then we’ll “go out for lunch”… straight over to the coast and onto the boat. PS- We’re sailing on the Disney Dream and I can’t wait to try out the Aqua Coaster.

      • Jill says

        Sonjia- That sounds so great, I’m sure your daughter will be thrilled! We also have surprised our kids when it’s been time to go to Disney. It always requires us to leave in the very early hours (2-3 a.m) to drive to the airport & catch our flight. That has always just added to the excitement. And we too have always gone in Jan. or Feb., much more affordable & enjoyable as far as crowds go.

  12. Heather says

    Vacations have always been a line budget item here in our house – money is put aside all the time so that we can enjoy time away together as a family! :-) We have done many things you have suggested to add to our funds – garage sales, sell on ebay, sell on Craigs list. I have expanded to add rebate checks to the vacation fund, any extra money left from budgeted grocery money each week 0r gas money (if we didn’t spend our full amount) We save our coins and cash them in to add to the vacation fund.

    It’s also fairly easy to take a nice vacation without spending an arm and a leg. VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) is great if you are going to one destination for at least three our four nights. Eating breakfast and packing picnic lunches and just spending money for dinner out can really save a lot.

    You can also be clever about hotels. Chains such as the Embassy Suites include a free full breakfast buffet each morning – Hampton Inn hotels offer a decent breakfast too. I have been known to pack our lunch out of the breakfast offerings – yogurt, peanut butter packets, bread, bananas…… Saves even more money! And big cities often offer GREAT discounts on the weekends since they don’t have any business travelers. Those rates can double during the week when the hotels are full of business guests.

    • Susan says

      Heather,

      I’m all in favor of frugality, but please don’t suggest that people go to a continental breakfast at a hotel and proceed to pack out enough food for another meal. There may be situations where it’s acceptable to take leftovers, such as when you are there at closing time and there is food leftover that will just go to waste, in which case it’s okay to ASK if you can take it. But loading up and walking out with excess food is dishonest. It’s a complimentary *breakfast*, not *breakfast lunch dinner.*

      Hotels plan meal service by occupancy levels. Enjoy the breakfast offerings that you paid for with your room, but please be considerate of other hotel guests who may arrive to breakfast later in the morning and find slim pickings. It’s happened to me more than once. And the cost of meal service IS factored into the cost of your hotel room. So don’t take more than your fair share, because that just drives up prices for everyone.

      A good way to save on meals is to purchase a gift certificate from restaurants.com. They have really good sales from time to time. I like to buy one to a restaurant in the are where I’ll be visiting when they are on sale for $1 or $2. It’s a great way to sample local food without breaking the bank.

      Another way to save money on meals is to go to a restaurant during happy hour and order hor’derves (not sure how to spell it) instead of going during the dinner hours and ordering full meals. On a recent trip, my daughter and I had nachos one night and pizza another night — large portions with leftovers — for under $10 total during happy hour. That’s less than it normally costs us to eat out anywhere.

      Or go for a late lunch and fill up, instead of going out for dinner. Lunches are often much less expensive than dinners.

      Or take your own food from a grocery store to keep in your hotel room. When on a driving trip, I take a cooler with food from home so that we don’t have to eat out for every meal. I don’t pack my own food when traveling by plane, but I have been known to go to a nearby grocery to pick up some things that we just keep in the hotel fridge and heat up in the microwave.

      There are lots of way to eat inexpensively while traveling.

      • Heather says

        Yes, I should clarify. When my husband was on business spending four months at the same hotel in Hawaii and the boys and I were out to visit him, the people in the hotel got to know us and him. They were the ones to suggest that we come in at the end of the breakfast hour and get some bread, peanut butter, fruit and other things for lunch. When we stay in regular chains that offer the breakfast buffet, I take anything the boys have not finished and pack it up instead of throwing it away. They can eat it at lunch if they did not finish it at breakfast.

        Finding local farmer’s markets and road side veggie and fruit stands is also a fun and inexpensive way to get some healthy eating choices while on vacation. Some of our best memories are fresh picked California strawberries that we rinsed and ate with our picnic lunch, fresh picked Georgia peaches – over homemade pancakes in our rental home, fresh grapes from the local vineyard in Germany, and oranges and grapefruit that the boys were able to pick from our friend’s property in Florida.

  13. jen b says

    When I shop, I only use dollar bills, I do not spend the change. I save it to cash in for our vacation. It does not pay for the whole vacation, but it pays for some of it, and it is “painless” saving. I started this in January last year and last June we had over $40 in change saved. This paid for our groceries for the trip. I have been saving change since last June for our trip this year in July. I have not been counting it, so I cannot wait to see how much we have this year when I cash it in!

  14. Lyndsey says

    We’re planning a vacation in July to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forger area of TN. I’m looking for coupons and discounts for things like restraunts and attractions. We’ve never been, so we can easily plan our trip around the things that are the cheapest. But WHERE do I find these?

    • Charity says

      We’re also going to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge in July. I’ve done lots of Internet searches to figure out what’s there , etc. I came across visitmysmokies.com. There were coupons for many different attractions. Most expire 5/31, so I’m hoping that they’ll update in June. Visiting the Smoky Mountains is free. We’re staying in a cabin, so we will fix many of our meals there. Have fun!

    • Lynn says

      I am not sure if you are military or not, but most places there have an unadvertised military discount. You just have to be sure to ask. For example, at the aquarium there tickets are usually $22/adult – we asked for a military discount and my family of 2 adults and 2 children (although kids 2-5 are usually around $5 anyway I think) all got in for less than $15. I can’t remember the exact amount, but it was less than that. We always try to ask even when we are in “non-military” type towns because they often have deals, they just don’t advertise it. Also, some places if you call ahead have specials for homeschooling families since visiting their places provide learning opportunities!

      • Emma K says

        Thanks for saying that about the Aquarium. We are headed to Gatlinburg in July for two different conferences and it’s been years since I’ve been. I love places with good military discounts.

      • Brandy@Team Chandler says

        Personally, I think Gatlinburg is a great destination for late fall when the leaves are starting to change. I have been in July, but it is hot.

  15. Heather says

    Obviously this isn’t an option for everyone, but we pay deposits on cans/bottles, and then we return them once we have a couple bags full. Instead of spending that money, we put it away for a trip we’re planning to take next year. It might not pay for the whole thing (I haven’t counted it in a while), but it will certainly make a dent.

  16. jenifer bron says

    Really off the topic, but what kind of shoes is Silas wearing? They look super handsome and I have 2 boys and have the hardest time finding shoes I like. Thanks. Oh and I love your site!

    • says

      Those are KEEN sandals. I bought them with a gift card for him last year and loved them so much and he wore them all summer long and they held up so well that I bought him another pair this summer. I love them because he can wear them to church and for play and they stay looking great. I’m finding that sometimes it’s worth it to buy a nicer brand — especially for boys who are so rough on their clothes/shoes!

      • Allison V. says

        Very true! My son older son got a pair of Nike tennis shoes as a gift when he was 2, and they are the only pair of sneakers he hasn’t destroyed. They held up beautifully even though they were his only pair of shoes (besides dressy ones) and he wore them for at least a year, and now my younger son is wearing them.

      • says

        Crystal, we just bought both of our boys the EXACT same style of Keens last week! lol

        We love Keens. They can be pricey but they are very durable and comfortable. Well worth the money — and it helps that we found them on sale :)

        My husband and I have them and they are our “go-to” everyday summer shoe.

        Love seeing Silas in them, too!

        Jaime

  17. says

    I’ve learned in our trips to Disney, that people scrutinize you for being so “over the top” or “expensive”. We’ve been 3 times as a family of 5, and we’ve done it each time without burying ourselves in a hole of debt. You can make any vacation as inexpensive or “expensive” as you want it to be. For us, a vacation is a necessity for the overall mental health of our family. This trip-we’re leaving a week from today-we are actually flying instead of driving-it’s only about $100 more to fly, as opposed to gas, food, an a hotel on the way down. When you factor in the time we’d spend, plus snacks, etc. for the car, flying is working out for us now.

    • sarah says

      Agreed – My husband shudders when I say the word Disney, assuming it’s very expensive, period. I explain that my family went on the cheap a couple of times as a kid. Although looking at ticket prices over the years, they’re definitely lots more than when I was young.

  18. TeamBonk says

    We are in the process of saving for our first major vacation in 7 years!
    I have an automatic deduction taken from my paycheque for savings bonds … I honestly forgot this was happening and now have $2,200 in that account! I’ve also recentlyt taken on a side job doing transcription at home … that money (potentially up to $900!) has all be earmarked for the trip fund. And, finally, my husband has taken on as many weekend cash jobs as he is able to … we’re hoping to have the funds saved up to take our family of 6 to Disney by October!

  19. Allison V. says

    I prefer “Staycations” as I don’t care much about sight-seeing or tourist attractions, but now all three of my brothers live in different states, so it would be worth the gas money to go visit them. Last summer while one brother was deployed his wife & I drove to visit another brother – loaded all our kids in the minivan and drove 10 hours – and we ended up staying for two weeks! It was glorious! No agenda, just watched movies, played in the yard, cooked meals, went to church, blabbed a lot and spent time together. That’s my kind of vacation.

  20. Ashley says

    I teach 4th graders and every year I have them plan their dream vacation. They have to look up hotel prices, compare the cost of driving vs. flying, estimate a meal budget, and calculate ticket prices to the attractions they want to visit each day. At the end of the research portion, they add up all the expenses and are usually shocked at the grand total! They have a blast with it and really do learn to appreciate the amount of money that goes into taking a family vacation. It always makes me laugh when they look for ways to cut costs – leaving a brother or sister with grandma, sleeping in the car instead of paying for a hotel, packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every meal instead of eating at restaurants, etc…

  21. caspad says

    We have a different approach to the vacation fund. We make it a standing line item in our budget. $5 a day goes into the vacation fund through automatic daily transfer. Because of this we were able to take a last-minute trip for the Memorial Day weekend. We paid cash for all of it. We still have more than enough funds for our planned ahead vacation in August. We were able to buy our plane tickets months ago because we have a well-funded vacation fund at all times.

    • says

      That’s actually how we do it, too! A specific amount goes into our vacation fund every month. I wrote this post specifically for people who have never paid cash for a vacation before or who feel like they don’t have extra to set aside for it from their regular budget.

  22. says

    When I go on vacation, I try to purchase tickets for activities and meal vouchers through Groupon or Living Social in the months leading up to the trip. I recently went on vacation to Atlanta, and over three months we purchased meal vouchers for every meal, tickets for everything that we wanted to do and the hotel room. When it was time to go on vacation, nearly everything was covered and it was far less painful when it was broken up over the course of a few months. Before going anywhere, make sure you sign up for Groupon and Living Social in the area. You can find some great deals!

  23. miriam says

    I have to say it was so much easier to have a cheap family vacation when the kids were younger, now that they are teenagers it is much more expensive as they are not happy to always do those things that are cost effective.
    Are there any great ideas out there to share for parents of teenagers? would much appreciate it.

    Thanks

  24. Sakura says

    We booked a cruise in February to St. Maarten, by doing this we saved a boatload of money :)! We also befriended our travel agent who called me in april to let me know that for one week only our cruise line was doing a kids cruise free deal for under 17. So we booked our 2 boys on our cruise for only the tax!!! I’m so excited to take them to the Caribbean, we got a great room with a balcony(not sure what to call it) and our kids get to come! We put our down payment in when we booked and I put money away each month to pay the trip off in full in september. We are also flying into an airport that SW goes into, 2 bags free per person plus I’m using my frequent flyer tickets to get a couple of the flights covered!

  25. MomOfTwoPreciousGirls says

    Our last real vacation was in July 2001! A trip to Universal in FL. We paid ahead through an agent for that one and there were no kids at the time. We did not even take a honeymoon. Right now we are on “vacation” which consists of driving 900 miles each way with a 3yo and 2yo and staying at my in laws houses for a week…yippee! We did pay cash for all!

  26. Margo says

    We have been putting extra cash in an envelope for several months now and are planning a road trip to the East Coast in a few weeks! I was wondering what your suggestions are on what form of money you use to pay for hotels, food, attractions, etc. while you are on vacation. For example, do you find it works best to keep it all cash or put it in the bank but know how much you have to use on a debit or credit card? We want to make sure we stay within our budget.

  27. says

    Love these suggestions!! There’s one thing I will not do without – time away. It’s a great way to rejuvenate & celebrate the family unit! Sometimes it’s just for a 3-day wkend over a bank-holiday, but it really helps.

    I’ve done the Craigslist, Garage Sale, and selling some of my bead work & Wine Charms thru Etsy for our vacation fund. Saving change from dollars spent also adds up fairly quick – the key is NOT to count it for 3 months or so ;-) It’s amazing to think that just $10 a week can add up to $520 + interest in 12 months!!

    Margo: We keep our vacation $$ in an ING account. It takes 3 days to transfer the funds back to our regular bank, so helps us not spend it readily while collecting a 1% interest right now.I read on-line at CreditCards.com that one should pay for big ticket items on a vacation – like lodging & airline tickets, gas or rental car, and any higher end souvenir purchases – with a secured CC.

    I strongly agree with the mentioned vacation solutions for small budgets. Group-ons & Entertainment books for cheaper meals out. Eating at least one meal as a ‘brown-bag’ theme can save at least $10 – $20 a day. (Mom & I went to Yellowstone a few yrs back & ate the breakfast provided by Motel in morning; then did deli-meat sandwiches, fruit, granola bars, nuts, and veggies with hummus for our other 2 meals. Oh, we did splurge for a burger & fries one night.) Timeshares to rent for 3 to 5 days at a time so you can bring/buy food to prepare in a kitchen. And going on Cruises during ‘off-season’… We’ve seen them as low as $459/pp for 7 days in an inside cabin in the Caribbean! With the Cruise, you pay for it in increments, so it makes budgeting a little easier ;-)

    ~Angie