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Budgeting Your Way to a More Enjoyable Vacation

enjoyable vacation

Guest post from Deanna of From this Kitchen Table

I tend to be a tightwad — in fact, spending money can cause me pain! This means I can be a difficult person to vacation with. I see dollar signs if we consider doing certain activities on a trip or want treat ourselves to something as simple as ice cream sundaes. Thoughts about what we aren’t going to be able to do with our money come to mind.

However, budgeting has helped me enjoy vacationing so much more. I even get excited about doing activities that cost money. How does that work? Isn’t budgeting supposed to help you not spend money?

Budgeting is about making your money work for you and having it go where you tell it. I’m going to share how our vacation budget works for us and allows me to get away for a few days with my family while actually enjoying myself.

1. Have a plan.

The first thing to do is to sit down and decide where you are going to go and when.

Look at:

    • family schedule
    • deals for certain dates
    • when the crowds will be minimal

Then research activities in the area and come up with a list of what you want to do and where you are going stay. Sometimes, we plan our vacation so we can stay with family and other times we’ll check into a hotel or rent a condo.

2. Figure out potential costs.

Now that you have a plan, tally up what lodging, gas or plane tickets, activities, and food are going to cost. When we start looking at the numbers, we often adjust our plan to make it more reasonable. Sometimes we add an extra activity if we’re spending less than we thought.

3. Start saving.

Use the months leading up to your trip to start setting aside money. Maybe the standard vacation category in your budget will cover this. If you are like us, you might have to set aside other money that comes in. Portions of extra income from jobs, gifts, or selling things might go towards the goal.

4. Bring cash for everything except gas and lodging.

Lodging has most likely already been paid and we find it easier to pay at the pump rather than bringing cash inside the gas station.

For the rest of the funds, take it in cash. Having a vacation envelope helped me remember that the money was there and that its purpose was the vacation.

5. Splurge!

You’ve spent time saving and looking forward to the trip. Now is the time to enjoy yourself.

Enjoy the pirate themed miniature golf course, zip lining, touring a mansion, eating shakes. Don’t let spending that money stress you out — that’s what it’s there for!

Budgeting, a little planning, and using cash are the ways that I’ve found that enable me to relax and enjoy our days away as a family. I can relish the memories being made instead of fretting about the amount of money we spend.

Deanna, a wife and mother, attempts to balance frugality, (semi) natural living, lack of time and sleep while trying to follow what the Lord wants for her life. She enjoys dark chocolate, BBC mini series, good books, and spending weekends at home. She blogs at From this Kitchen Table.

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  1. says

    My husband and I save the gift cards we get as gifts throughout the year to use on vacation. Starbucks, restaurants, gas, etc. all go toward vacation.

    We also have a credit card that earns points. While I know this isn’t for everyone, we use it to pay for gas and allow the points to accumulate to pay for our hotel. We always, always, always pay off the credit card each month and have a specific amount set aside in cash to pay for the bill when it comes.

    Lastly, we always pack food for lunches. It cuts down on cost and time. We do splurge a little with the food we pack and always get a few items we normally pass over due to either cost or calories. :)

  2. says

    I like the idea of bringing the cash with you – as a reminder that it’s been saved up to use! Thanks for a great post.

    • says

      Thanks, Kim! It really made such a huge difference for me to have the actual cash. Even if we saved up and had the money I found my agonizing way to much otherwise.

    • says

      Thanks, Korilynn! We are hoping to go on a 3 night trip next month and in June so we are using these tips again for those trips. It makes tightwad me enjoy myself so much more.

  3. Meredith says

    I seriously and strongly have to disagree with bringing cash with you. Where I get your point (I carried cash on vacations for years) we recently planned a Disney Cruise. The night before we stopped at a restaurant in Orlando. Our cash wallet fell out of my bag. Guess what? Our entire spending money was GONE! We kept thinking that if it had been a card and been lost, we would still have had our money (this was 625 dollars folks) because we could have cancelled the card and disputed any charges. However, we had to be stingy on the cruise which is what I had tried to avoid. We wanted to splurge….granted I was relieved that since it was a Disney Cruise and it was awesome, it didn’t matter too much. However, next time we are going to put our saved cash on our secondary checking account (ING) and just keep that amount on there. Don’t get me wrong…I’m a cash person. We have our cash envelopes and use them to this day. However, if I lost our $20 a week eating out envelope….no big deal. Money in an envelope I had saved 14 months for….a big deal. Not to knock the article, it was a great one and a lot of great tips. However, this happened three weeks ago and is too fresh on my mind.

    • says

      Meredith! I’m so sorry about that. What a rotten way to start a vacation. :-( One thing that I like to do when I’m traveling with my cash is to have it in a few different locations. Then if I lose it or some is stolen it’s not everything. It’s still painful, but not as bad. Right now even when I’ve saved up for things it’s hard for me to spend the money unless I have the cash. Hopefully someday I’ll get a little better at it.

      • Meredith says

        That was what we were going to do at the hotel that night! I had it all in one place while I was saving. The trip was during the “snowmageddon” we had a couple of weeks ago in the south and as soon as my daughter got home, we rushed out of the house a day early. We were going to split the money amongst myself, husband, daughter, and hide some in the suit case. I had just grabbed it on the way out of the house and put it in my bag. I still can’t believe that it happened but we did have a good cruise and I did splurge on my daughter and ourselves a small souvenir! Thanks to everyone for their kind thoughts!

        • says

          So glad you were able to have a good time anyway and even splurged on souvenirs! I’m still kicking myself for not buy the little souvenirs/local items from when I travelled to Europe almost 5 and 8 years ago. It has been a crazy winter, hasn’t it? So sorry it threw a wrench in your plans. :-( Have a great week!

    • Sakura says

      Meredith sorry you lost your money, but I have to agree with you. If you have the cash set aside either use your cc and pay it off once your back or have a separate checking account with a dc tied to it. I have a budget column for vacations also, this I think is a great idea. I know how much our vacations cost and then add the expense of dining and souvenirs to this. By the time our vacation rolls around hotels and transportations been paid for if we’re flying, that just leaves meals and gifts. On our Disneyworld trip 2 years ago we lucked out and went during the free dining promo. This saved us around $2K for 9 days we were in Orlando. Also if you can find a good travel agent to work with that takes a lot of stress off your shoulders and can save you some money.

      • Linda says

        How many people went with you?? I can’t imagine spending $2,000 for 9 days of food! If we ate that much in food I don’t think we’d be able to get out of bed!! :)

        • Michele says

          Linda – Have you been to WDW? Food is crazy expensive. Days at Disney are LONG, often very hot, and you do a lot of walking. It wouldn’t be hard for an average family of four to accrue a large bill in a short amount of time. My son and I were just at one of the parks in CA and a cheap counter service lunch was $25, and he had a kids meal. Buffets are that much a person (or more depending on the type) and I would expect to pay $50+ for one adult and a child for any meal where I had table service.

          We always rent a condo for WDW and have breakfast there and bring some healthy snacks, which helps save, but it gets tiring to do all of the prep every night and carrying around day after day. If you were staying on property, it would be very easy to spend $2K in food over 9 days unless you were very, very careful.

      • says

        I agree with you. We have a vacation line in our budget too and save in an online savings account for big vacations. The cash thing comes in handy though when you have issues like I do and mentally have a hard time spending even when you’ve saved for it. Swiping a debit card to buy the ice cream sundaes or mini golf would cause me agony where as with cash I could actually enjoy it. Hopefully as time goes on, I’ll improve in that area. :-) I do keep our cash in a couple locations and for big trips use the debit card to take cash out every few days.

    • Lizzy says

      Totally agree. Besides the chance of just losing it I’m always afraid of pic pocketers especially in a different country. If I need to carry a lot of cash I wear a little money belt that goes under my cloths but I stay paranoid still.

      • says

        I agree, when I’ve traveled internationally I used a debit card to take out cash every few days. Thankfully nothing was lost or stolen, but if it had been it wouldn’t have been much. I just need to get better at making myself remember to spend the money that I set aside for spending. It’s a struggle!

    • Michele says

      That is terrible! And exactly why I don’t carry around more than $100 in cash while traveling. Normally, I keep it around $40.

      A much smarter idea would be to prepay a credit card. When I was traveling around Europe 20 years ago, I had traveler’s checks and my ATM card and all of my non-American traveling buddies used their VISA to do cash withdrawls from. There was no extra fee because they had a negative balance.

      Nowadays, I could see that method (prepaying a CC) to be a smart way to not have to deal with the issue of carrying a large amount cash and have the convenience of a CC, without the worry of accruing debt.

      • says

        When I traveled to Europe I used a debit card to take cash out every few days as well. I just need to do better of reminding myself it’s okay to spend the money I worked hard to be able to spend. It’s just really hard for me to part with the money when I have to swipe a card every time or even every day. Hopefully each year I’ll get a little better at it.

      • says

        Good point! What works best for each one of us will be different. For me it’s really hard to mentally spend money if I have to swipe a card even though I know I saved for it. Cash makes it a little easier. Hopefully sometime I’ll be able to though.

  4. Michelle says

    Great Post! Last Labor Day we took a 12 day family vacation and paid cash! We budgeted for every thing including a 2 days at Disney Land. When we started to plan I told my husband I wanted to plan for everything b/c I don’t want to vacation and feel like we can’t spend money. Like you mentioned fun things like ice cream or something small. We even extended our trip one more day (meaning one more hotel stay) and still had enough left over to start the next vacation fund!

    • says

      Sounds like an awesome vacation! It’s so much fun to travel and do things you normally wouldn’t after working hard to save up money. Hope that your savings for your next trip builds up quickly and you enjoy it just as much! We don’t have any pick trips planned but there are a few 3 night trips in the works.

  5. Susan says

    Great article, but I too would strongly advise against carrying so much cash on a vacation. It’s one thing to go cash-only for everyday life, but carrying wads of cash on you when traveling is not a good idea. If cash is lost or stolen, you’re just plain out the money. With a credit or debit card, you have recourse.

    • says

      When I traveled to Europe I used a debit card both times and just took out money every few days. It seemed to work well. You are right, I wouldn’t carry around thousands of dollars of cash. I’ve been bringing all cash for our shorter trips though because mentally I still struggle with being able to spend even though I know I’ve saved for it. Hopefully I’ll get better at it. I do keep our cash in more than one location though.

      • Susan says

        Deanna, help me understand why is it so difficult for you to spend money that you have saved? Paying for an outing with a debit card or paying for it with cash that you withdrew from your checking account — the money coming from the same place either way.

        • says

          Yes, I know it’s coming from the same place and either way I’ve worked to save it up to spend it. It’s just a mental thing for me. I don’t like spending money and even if I’ve saved up for it if I have to swipe a card it’s still hard for me to do – it makes the numbers in the bank (even though I know it’s from a certain budget category) go lower so I agonize and debate on purchases a lot more. Mentally, when it’s cash it’s already out of the bank and in hand. It becomes easier for me to spend that way. It’s a visual reminder that it’s there for me to spend. Like I said, it’s mental because yes, logically I understand they both come from the same place. Hopefully each vacation I’ll get better and be able to use a debit card a little easier. :-) Who knows, maybe 10 years from now I won’t need to have any cash with me on a vacation.

  6. says

    Great tips for us! We’re planning a big trip (at least a big trip for us) this summer driving through a number of states. I’m trying to plan well for it so we can enjoy it! (We’re usually a cash-only family so it was good reminder to do cash on vacation.)

    • says

      Hooray for family vacations! So many fun memories. I hope that you all have a blast. Having cash to spend on “frivolous” things like ice cream and mini golf made a world of difference. It would have been painful for me to them using a debit card mentally.

  7. kim says

    One thing that helps us save money and our sanity is we give each of our three children a budget – we have an envelope for each of them with their money in, appropriate for where we are going and for how long. They are told that this is for all their souvenirs, extra treats they want to purchase etc. If there is money left in the envelope at the end it is theirs to keep. This has taught them to think carefully of what they want to purchase – as it was so easy to spend mom and dads money, they now will always come home with extra cash.

    • says

      GREAT idea! When we went to a theme park as kids my parents would give each of use $10 or whatever to spend on treat food or anything we wanted. If we wanted more we could use our money. It always is easier to spend someone else’s money, isn’t it!

  8. Mrs. Cat says

    My husband and I went to Hawaii a few months ago, and like you all had saved a good chunk for “fun money” to use during our trip. What surprised me was, when I went to the bank to buy traveler’s checks. they told me they no longer offered them! We had to split the cash between the two of us (primarily to avoid the issue of having it all together and then losing or misplacing it), and just were extra-careful to keep track of it. But no traveler’s checks offered by the bank? This seemed so odd to me.

    • Kelly says

      Mrs C it is the way banks are going now…. No Traveler Checks. So I know it felt odd but it’s the way now days. On our budgeted trip ie: Niagara Falls, Disney cruise, Florida or many trips to Cleveland we did many diff things always reserved the hotel on CC but when got there paid cash therefore that $50-100 dollar deposit doesn’t stay on hold on your card for a few days where you can’t use it after checking out plus sometimes paying cash has got us discounts EVEN an upgrade to their suites :). Put 1/2 cash w spouse the other 1/2 with you in case one gets stolen or lost. We used a lot of gift cards earned off MyPoints to go out to eat so we didn’t need cash for food and it was free for me just clicking on some emails a day. Enjoyed this article!!!! Glad you are FINALLY having FUN on vacation :)

      • says

        Kelly! What a great tip on the hotels. We’ll have to try that next time. Never brought cash to pay for the room before. I agree, splitting the cash up between people and even leaving some behind hidden in your suitcase helps in case something is lost or stolen. Now you are making me want to earn restaurant gift cards too – another great way to increase the vacation budget. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad I’m able to enjoy vacations too instead of fretting about spending those few extra dollars on something fun.

        • Susan says

          Deanna, don’t leave cash in a suitcase in a hotel! That’s so unsafe. If you don’t want to carry around lots of cash (which isn’t a good idea either), use a hotel safe.

          • says

            I don’t leave much cash in hotel room and if I do it’s in a strange location. I don’t carry around lots of cash – if I’m on a trip were we’ll need lots of cash I’ll take it out of an atm on several occasions. Or for big purchases (tickets to Disney, rented a boat and jet skis for the day or whatever) we’d use a card.

    • says

      I keep our cash in a few locations as well! Adds a little peace of mind. Hawaii sounds like a great vacation (especially with another cold front coming through today). Someday I’d love to travel there.

  9. Jennifer says

    We love budgeting for trips. We just got back from week in German, our first big trip since paying off our car and student loans last year. We saved up a certain amount and ended up spending far less! So now we get to put in our new Pergo floor with cash earlier than we’d budgeted for which is so exciting!

    • says

      Woot!!! Congrats on paying off your student loans and cars. 5 years ago next month I spend two weeks in Germany visiting a friend. It was incredible.I’m anxious to go on another big trip again. Maybe after we pay off our house. Budgeting is pretty fun isn’t it? It becomes like a challenge and makes life much less stressful and is exciting to see the goals realized, especially early.

      • Jennifer says

        Yep! We are big fans of budgeting. Luckily we started our marriage with a plan to budget, get debt free, and build savings for our future as well as being generous all the while.

        Totally worth it.

  10. says

    {Kathy} With a family of 6, the best spot to save money is on the lodging and food. Activity costs are most of the time out of your control and the best place to splurge! To control the costs of lodging — always rent a house or condo. Having a kitchen enables you to save money on the next item — food. Breakfast is cheap and easy. Lunch should pretty much be portable. Dinner away only 1/2 of the time saves an enormous amount of money. Making a menu ahead of time, with a grocery list is KEY. Locating the nearest grocery store to your lodging and stopping there before you get to your location is optimal.

    • says

      Yes! That’s exactly what I say – food and lodging are the best areas. We cook our own food, pack snacks for the theme parks, rent houses and take full advantage of cooking the fridge. It really does save a lot of money. We’ve found ways to save on some activity costs as well, but you are right those stellar deals are not common. Thanks for your comment!

  11. Heidi P says

    Have you found a site that helps you figure out a close guess on your gas budget? We usually drive everywhere for our trips.

  12. says

    We almost always end up driving on our vacations. It’s actually fun, well at times, saves us some cash, and if we leave really really early we still get to our destination at a decent hour. I think this year we might do more weekend getaways. Let’s hope gas prices go down :)

    • says

      Driving can be a lot easier, especially with kids. I hope gas prices go down as well. We are going on our first 3 night vacation of the year in a month. We are looking forward to it! Last time we left at 5am and it was nice to get there early but it made for a long day!

  13. says

    Such great tips here! I love the balance you have made here between prudence and being able to enjoy what we have.
    Thanks for sharing at Essential Fridays.
    Mel from Essential Thing Devotions

  14. Donna says

    We once saved up for a 3 week vacation out west. From Ohio we went to Colorado. I had saved in advance and had the money in the bank. I budgeted for a certain amount a day and gave my daughter a check register. Every night we would add the days money in and subtract out all of our receipts from the day (the cash purchases and the credit card purchases) She was only 10 years old and it was her job to carry her pack and put all the receipts in it. It was a game every night to see if we were on target. Taught all the kids about money and we had $70.00 left when we got home!! They wanted a little swimming pool and so we got that and a few other treats in the weeks after we returned. Such a fun vacation. I kept a cooler in the car and we ate lunch from that, we ate cereal or breakfast at the hotels, and ate out at night only. Toured a lot of national parks, went to a cousins wedding in Kansas, spent some time with friends in Colorado, showed the kids where mom and dad got married and our first house. We had so much fun!! Would love to do it again sometime.

  15. says

    I am bad about saving for a vacation and then not wanting to spend it. I totally understand where you are coming from. I do prefer to use credit cards but always find it hard to sit back and enjoy the spending. Maybe using cash is the answer :)

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