You and your family have recently come home from your dream vacation. The kids loved it, you and the wife had a chance to get away from the grind, and everyone has memories to last the rest of their lives.
It’s easy to say, “we know money,” But then you start pulling receipts and running numbers, and realize the trip you just took was way too expensive. It might even prevent you from taking a family vacation next year! How did this happen? Chances are you didn’t set a budget for your vacation, and now you’re feeling the pinch. So how can you go about setting a budget for your next family vacation that keeps the fun intact, but doesn’t break the piggy bank?
Budget first, then destination. For many people, the second they step on the plane they’re already committed to a certain level of spending. And though we all want to see pristine beaches, historic vistas, and lavish hotels, some or all of that may be outside our price range. So sit down with your partner and come up with a budget ceiling. What’s the number that you absolutely cannot break? Once you’ve got that in mind, you’ll be able to pick an appropriate destination knowing it’s within your price range. But what if that cap number is completely tied to the experience?
Make a list of priorities. Another approach could be to come up with your family’s “must have” vacation list. Sit down together and brainstorm what would make the perfect vacation. A relaxing beach? A fancy hotel? Long drives through the country? Or sightseeing through foreign lands?
Once you’ve gotten clear on what’s most important to you for your vacation, you’ll be able to see what else needs to be added (or could be dropped) to fill in the gaps. You can splurge for the fancy hotel if that will make your vacation, but perhaps you’ll fly coach instead of first class, and put that money to better use. But once you’ve got those priorities in place, how do you round it up to your final numbers?
Set a spending cap. You know you’ll want that perfect souvenir. And the wife can’t go without the colorful drinks topped with tiny umbrellas. So create a spending cap for each member of your family. This should take into account all the necessities, but leave room for the unexpected expenditures that make each vacation unique. You don’t want to feel tied down when you’re on vacation, but if each person is responsible for keeping within a smaller budget, specifically for random purchases, you’re much more likely to keep the spending in check. Your kids get to feel responsible for the choices they make and decide for themselves when they want to pull from their cache, and you won’t have to be the bad guy, telling them what they can’t have. So you’ve got the big number, your priorities in mind, and a cap on random spending. Where do you go from there?
Shop around. You can certainly plan the vacation yourself, but there are tons of resources that may help you save money. The internet is packed with research, reviews, and websites that offer discounts and suggestions for working within a budget you may not have thought of on your own. And a travel agent, though an added expense, can often find unpublished deals that will save a boatload. Credit cards also offer travel, concierge, and points programs that can offer easy scheduling or ways to pay for services without dipping into your cash budget. Find a travel rewards credit cards comparison site, and pick up the one with the most resources. By this time next year, you might be paying for that hotel with credit card points. But either way, you’ll be better prepared to enjoy your vacation after you return home, knowing you’ve got enough left over to do it again.