Our family just returned from a fantastic vacation to California. We took the kids to Disneyland, Disney Adventure Park and Legoland. We also spent some time in San Diego and visited the beach. It was a perfect family vacation for us and one we’ll never forget. While it was a great family experience, there was definitely a cost. My wife and I had to budget and save money very carefully for the trip. We knew we would have the big expenses such as flights, hotels, rental car and park tickets. These are fixed expenses and easy to estimate. The variable costs such as meals, groceries, souvenirs, gas and snacks can add up. We did the best we could at estimating these costs and did a great job of our actual spending coming in at just $10 over our budget. Amazing, considering all that was involved with this trip! It took a little bit of work, but I thought I would share some of the things we did on the trip to budget and save money. I hope these tips help you on your next vacation!
As boring and painful as it may sound, creating a budget is the only way I’m wired to plan a vacation. I have to know how much the vacation is going to cost before I can determine if we have enough money to go on the trip. My wife and I spent a couple of weeks researching and estimating costs before I finalized the budget. Some of the variable expenses such as meals were our best guesses based on what it typically costs our family to eat out. However, even making some guesses and estimating is still creating a plan.
I Tracked Our Spending
I know this can be a vacation downer for some people, but I actually took a few minutes per day to track my spending against the budget. I used my YNAB mobile app to enter all of our spending and easily categorized and noted what the spending was for so I could see how we were doing overall. This helped us make better decisions about eating out and when buying snacks.
Asked about Discounts
It definitely helps to ask about discounts. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the end of the trip that I thought about using our AAA card. We used it to get 10% off for airport parking. I’m sure I could have gotten some other discounts with my AAA card, but will know next time.
We booked our trip through Costco Travel and felt like we got a great deal on park tickets and hotels. I didn’t realize that our San Diego hotel was going to charge $18 per day in parking fees! Wow! I called Costco Travel to inquire about the fee. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t supposed to be covered by our package and there wasn’t some mistake. Anyway, I never asked for the discount, but they offered to pay it for me! That was great customer service from Costco Travel that will make me return next time!
As much as we wanted to eat out every single meal, we knew we couldn’t afford to do so. I will say it’s a bit of a hassle to find time to go to the grocery store while on a vacation, but I managed to do it twice. I was able to purchase groceries for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Most days we ate breakfast in our hotel room and made a sack lunch for our trips to the amusement parks. This saved us BIG money in the end. I can’t imagine the eating out costs for breakfast and lunch for a family of four for 7 days. I’m guessing it would have been at least $350 dollars as opposed to just over $100 in groceries.
We Booked a Vacation Package
As I already mentioned, we booked a vacation package. This still seems to be the cheapest way to take a vacation with family as opposed to booking with the hotel and purchasing tickets with the parks directly. Costco Travel proved to be a great experience for us and I don’t hesitate recommending them and will definitely book through them again. I don’t just say that because of the help with hotel parking I mentioned above. They provided very good customer service and simply made things easier versus trying to figure out where to stay on our own. If you’re going to Disneyland, I recommend trying to find a park ticket/hotel package deal.
Shopped for Cheap Airfares and Rental Car
We spent quite a bit of time shopping for airfares. I primarily used Kayak.com and ended up booking through this online service. I set up daily alerts and watched them for a few weeks. For some odd reason, the prices dropped almost a hundred dollars for a ticket one day and I quickly booked them. Kayak’s email alerts definitely helped us save money on our American Airlines flights. I also managed to book the rental car using Kayak. I ended up booking with CarRentals.com which is a service I’ve used twice before. I haven’t been able to find any cheaper deals than they offer and haven’t had any problems.
Family vacations can cost a lot of money, especially the Disney trips, but they create invaluable family experiences I know we’ll never forget. Having a budget and plan to save money is the smart way to take a vacation but the experience is never worth it if you know it’s going to cause you to go into credit card debt. Make sure you have a budget and save money.
As summer starts to wind down, I’m curious to know about the ways you’ve saved money on vacation. Were you able to find some great deals, or perhaps find ways to save more while on your trip?