Happy Family Day! We hope you are all enjoying this wonderful Provincial holiday and spending time with your families!
It is still freezing cold out and March Break is just around the corner so we thought it would be a great time to start planning a winter family vacation – and fast! I called in our resident expert, Stefanie, to help us with this. Stefanie gives us tips to save up for a family vacation as well as ways to save money while on vacation to keep costs down. We hope you all find a bit of wiggle room in your budgets so that you and your family could take a much needed vacation – especially after this winter we’ve been having!
“To vacation, or not to vacation: That is the question.”
If you are like me, you may have gotten accustomed to taking an annual trip, enjoying some rest, relaxation, and recharging! Then you had your kids. Goodbye rest, relaxation, and any hopes of recharging! So now you find yourself itching to get away and perhaps are wondering if it is a wise financial decision to make. Between being on maternity leave and on a reduced income, or not working at all, finding some “extra” funds to go away can be very challenging and disappointing.
First and foremost, to achieve any goal, planning is required. For a family of four you should expect a vacation to cost you at minimum $1000 per person, unless you are willing to bring your children to some of the cheaper all-inclusive vacations. Start by budgeting out a $350-400 per month allowance to be set aside to build up this reserve fund.
When you breakdown what you need on a monthly basis it is easier to achieve a $400 target than trying to save $4000. The mental perception of the hurdle that $4000 is, can deter you from believing you can reach the goal. Automatic money transfers are, in my opinion, one of the best tools that anyone can use to save money. Set up a $75-100 weekly transfer and go with the mindset that it is another bill that you have to pay and adjust your spending to be able to pay it. For most of us we would be amazed when looking at our daily, weekly, and monthly spending reports at the purchases we make that we do not need to make and that can be avoided to make the vacation transfers a realistic payment. The Starbucks, lunches out, trips to the mall, etc. Consistently reviewing your spending habits is one of the best ways to change your saving pattern! You need to see where your money is going. Debit cards are great but cause most people to lose visibility of their spending because it is just so easy to swipe that card!
Again, you may need to find areas in your expenses where cuts must be made to achieve this, like utilities etc.
Cost Cutting Tips
The following are some of my cost cutting tips for choosing where and how to vacation, based on my travel experiences (post children, pre-children it was VERY easy to indulge ourselves! But that’s a post for another day):
1) If possible, DRIVE! Gone are the days when you could fly to Florida for a few hundred dollars (I’m talking about leaving from your home town, not driving 2 hours cross border etc.) For some it may be appealing to drive cross border and take the middle of the night flights, for us with the small children, it is not. 2 years ago we couldn’t find 4 flights from Toronto to Orlando for less than $2500, which we just found to be absurd! We made our trip into a 13 day one and drove, stopping in Myrtle Beach which is a GREAT spot for families! Factoring hotels and gas, we spent well under $1000 and got to see a little more!
2) Cruise, Cruise, Cruise. Just a measly 8 hour drive away are the Cape Liberty, NJ & New York, NY cruise ship terminals. A family of 4 could find a one week cruise with travel expenses for under $3,000. We did it in 2010 for $2100! 8 days, Turks & Caicos & Bahamas! Beautiful! The key to not over spending on Cruises is your willingness to sacrifice on-board. I have heard the tales of the $1000 room bills at the end of the cruise. We pick cruises that offer welcoming centres at the port so you do not have to book extra excursions, and spend extra money. We do not drink heavily when we travel with our young children. If we each have one alcoholic beverage a day, that’s it. Truth be told its hard to enjoy sipping a Bahama Mama when you are chasing children around or trying to stop them from ingesting sand. For some it may sound like “whats the point”, again for us its about what you can sacrifice in order to spend this time away with your family. I can go without a lot in order to have these experiences. We are simple people, which makes our life very easy!
3) Some cruise lines offer payment plans, this could make cash flow easier.
4) Florida, Florida, Florida. Bottom line is the accommodations are inexpensive if you are flexible. We recently stayed in a 1500 square condo for $100 per night, and it was immaculate. (Grande Villas Orlando).
5) COOK, COOK, COOK. Yes, I do get that when you go on vacation you want to do nothing. Again, if you need ways to cut costs to make this vacation happen then surrender and cook. There are so many easy meals that you can make, this does not have to be complicated. This can be a deal breaker for many.
6) BUY WATER. Go to Target, buy a case and drink that! Spending upwards of $2-3 per bottle is just ridiculous. Pack your own snacks, be smart! Spend your money on the experiences of the place you are visiting not on snacks and water!
7) Travel Rewards. In this day and age everyone wants your business! Whether its Aeroplan, Air Miles, TD Travel, RBC Avion, there are so many incentives in getting these rewards cards. They can make a huge difference in helping your travel dreams come true!
8) I was skeptic of including this idea but will anyway. Consider using your income tax refunds if you do not have any pressing debts or more important financial obligations that you need to consider. First and foremost, you should always consider paying off your debts, or if you should be investing in RRSP’s or RESP’s. If you feel confident that you do not need to, this may be a great boost to your vacation fund.
Bottom line is this: everyone has their own definition of what their money is worth spending on and how they want to enjoy spending that money. My ideas may not work for all but for us they have allowed us to take great annual vacations with our kids, no complaints on our part. Also, don’t be frustrated if the reality is that this year you cannot achieve taking the vacation. Keep saving and aim for next year! As with anything in life, if it is important enough to you, you will find a way to make it happen.
Thanks again, Stef, these are great money saving tips!