Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Dissect Your Budget - Part 8 - Vacation
Tip #244 - Dissect Your Budget - Part 8 - Vacation. All work and no play makes Michele a dull girl. It also makes me anxious, frustrated, stressed-out, and tired. I am not alone in this. That is why I think each budget should have a line item in it for vacations. What? You cannot afford a vacation you say? You're trying to save money? That might be the case, but I guarantee that taking a break now and then from the working world will only make you more productive, more creative, and more motivated than if you do not take a break.
Besides, who said your line item on your budget has to be for trips to Europe or cruises to the Carribean? It doesn't. In fact, if you are trying to save money, this is one area where you can cut your expenses dramatically! If you are used to spending money for one big trip per year plus one trip to the beach, then make some changes. Instead of your one big trip, make it a small trip to a less expensive locale. Or drive to a cheaper beach than one you are currently going to. Maybe you go to a lake house every year. Why not budget for a camping trip instead or a no-frills cabin? There is something cozy and fun about roughing it. And the further away from your real life that it is, the more like a vacation, it will seem. Maybe you can visit a friend in another city, but make sure you extend the invitation back for a visit at your house.
Travel off season, even if it means taking the children out of school for a few days. Or visit somewhere where it is "out of season" for that location but "in season" for you. For example, in the south, schools generally resume in August while in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, many children are still on vacation. You can save a bundle on vacation by traveling in late August to a beach in the south rather than in July.
When on vacation, balance expensive activities with cheap or free ones. For example, a day at the amusement park might be your expensive day, and possibly the highlight of your trip. But balance the week with some cheaper activities - like a day at a zoo, nature center, or just laying on the beach. This would be much cheaper than doing four consecutive days of amusement parks. When choosing activities, look local. A local, public waterpark may be a quarter of the price of a private one.
Get creative in your planning. Visit all travel websites for the best deals. Check into any group rates such as AAA. Talk to people who live in the city or town that you are visiting. I love visiting the forums at city-data.com. You can pick any state in the US and some cities and countries abroad and post questions to residents who live there. Most people on this site are very helpful and will narrow down your must-sees and your waste-of times. They may even tell you how to get the best deals.
Vacation is anywhere that you don't live. Try not to get in a rut and visit only much-hyped cities such as New Orleans, Miami, New York, and Chicago. Places such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, El Paso, and Kansas City surely have great sites at much cheaper prices than the well-known cities.
If your current vacation budget is $200 per month, challenge yourself to lower it to $150 per month and see where you can cut corners on your vacations without cutting out the vacations themselves.
In Real Life (IRL) - I love me a vacation. If someone told me we were going to Fargo, North Dakota tomorrow, I would be so excited. Because it's completely different than where I live. Of course, it's not a top-destination vacation spot, but I'm sure that I could find enough activities there to last me a week, have fun while I am doing it, and not spend a lot of money.
When planning vacations, I try to find spots that aren't resorts or expensive destinations. In winter, I can have as much fun on a Fort Lauderdale beach as a Carribean one, without spending money to fly to an island and spend money on expensive, flown-in food. For our honeymoon, we went to Costa Rica for the same reason. A carribean island would have been much more expensive but given us the same type of enjoyment.
When I was single and a friend of mine and I used to take trips, we often went the last two weeks in May, returning on Memorial Day weekend just when vacation season was gearing up. The result? We had nice weather, fewer crowds, and hotel rooms that were 2/3rds (or less!) of the price two weeks later.
Here is a real-life example of how I saved money on one particular trip. My friend and I were going up to New England for vacation at the last minute. On our wish list were the city of Boston, Cape Cod, and Nantucket. We had one week to do it - the last week in May through Memorial Day weekend. The way we originally had the trip planned was to drive up to Boston, spend a few days there and then head over to Cape Cod for a few days and take the ferry to Nantucket. First I called the hotels in Boston. Everything was pretty pricy as cities are the priciest during the week because of all of the business people. Then I called the hotels in Cape Cod: they were all booked! After all, it was Memorial Day Weekend! Ugh, we had a problem on our hands. I was beginning to think that our last-minute plans wouldn't work out. Then all of a sudden, it occured to me - why not reverse our trip? Go to Cape Cod first during the week - before the holiday weekend, and while prices were still relatively cheap. Then we would hit Boston on Memorial Day Weekend when all of the business people had cleared out. Brilliant! Our plans were not only a "go" but the hotel prices were much cheaper, too. (Okay, maybe it wasn't brilliant; maybe we were just being dense, but at the time it was definitely an "ah-ha" moment).
The point is, we all need a vacation at some point, but they don't always have to be big and fancy. Look for ways to make them cheaper, but still get the break and relaxation you need. For other money-saving ideas, check out Frugal Friday.