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Plan a vacation without blowing your budget

With summer almost here, vacation planning season is upon us. This often involves blowing your budget and suffering a “credit card hangover” after you return home.

This year, try something different: With these 12 tips and some careful planning, you can stay within your budget and still have a great vacation.

1. What is your objective?

Is it having time with your family? Do you want time to relax? Do you want to explore a new city, or spend time in the great outdoors? Determining your objective needs to be your first priority, while also thinking about how much you can afford to spend.

2. What would the other members of the family enjoy? I encourage getting everyone involved in planning the family vacation. Young children may enjoy having a nice swimming pool at a hotel. Older teens may want a chance to have some time away from their parents. Discussing the budget with your kids while you plan your vacation is healthy. They need to understand that “money does not grow on trees” and that saving for a vacation, for their college education, or for retirement involves consistent effort.

3. What is affordable and not stressful? Going to the expensive theme park is often not a good option. It is very expensive, and standing in long lines is stressful. Going abroad may be an option for some – perhaps every four years – but it may not fit within your budget this year. Vacations do not need to be elaborate to be fun and memorable.

4. Consider staying close to home. Are there cities or states nearby that would involve a car trip rather than a plane trip? Have you explored all of the nearby state parks and national parks?

5. Consider using Airbnb or VRBO rather than a traditional hotel. Many of these rental properties offer a full kitchen, which means saving money on meals. If you choose a traditional hotel, stay somewhere that offers a refrigerator in your room so you can keep yogurt and snacks in your fridge.

6. Look for special deals. Often, hotel chains have sales. Sign up for emails with the hotel of your choice, and you may receive discount offers. If you have points from airline mileage programs or hotel award programs, know how many points you have and turn them into awards. Some hotel and airline reward programs allow you to transfer miles and points to different hotels. If you are a member of four hotel chains, consider consolidating the points when possible (to hotels or airlines) so you will have enough for an award.

7. Have a garage sale. This has a double benefit. First, you will be purging lots of clutter that you don’t need, and second, you can earn cash for your upcoming vacation.

8. Save $20 a week by not buying sugary items at the grocery store. Avoid the soda and sweets, and put a $20 into the vacation jar each week. Discuss this with your kids so they understand that avoiding immediate gratification (soda and sweets) can lead to a nice vacation later. Likewise, avoid buying the expensive coffee each day or take your lunch to work most days to save money.

9. Pay cash for your meals. Plenty of studies have shown that we spend more when we pay with a credit card. Paying with cash reminds us of the price of a meal and avoids an unpleasant surprise when the credit card bill arrives. Using cash also reminds us to only spend what we have, which has always been the best way to live within our means and teach our kids how to handle money.

10. Consider planning two or three short vacations (such as four-day weekends) rather than one long vacation. The short getaways can be great fun, and you can spread them out over the summer. Shorter vacations (closer to home) usually cost less money than a single long vacation.

11. Plan some “down” time during the vacation. We’ve all had vacations where we feel like we need a vacation after our vacation. Saving some lazy mornings or afternoons for reading and relaxing (or alone time) is always wise.

12. Match your vacation to your values. If you want to teach your kids (or grandkids) about the great outdoors, plan a camping trip where they can roast s’mores over a campfire. If you want to teach them about history, plan a vacation that includes visiting historic sites.

Psychology research tells us that spending time with family and friends is the number one way to increase our happiness. In addition, experiences bring us greater happiness than our material possessions. Think back to the memories you have of your favorite past vacations, and you’ll be on the right track to creating wonderful new experiences with your family.

Donna Skeels Cygan, CFP, MBA, is the author of “The Joy of Financial Security.” She has been the owner and financial planner for her own firm in Albuquerque for 19 years. Visit




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