We live frugally because we must. To make the budget work, we've had to cut down or cut out a lot of things. Most things I do not miss at all, but there is one thing that I have not been able to cut out; travel.
I often have a inner battle about spending money on vacations. Vacations are not a true need, and they can eat up a lot of precious cash in a hurry. My extremely practical self can't help but look at that cash, and see how it could be put to use in paying off debt or toward some other practical use.
But I love to travel. I love seeing new places, doing different things, and the change of pace that comes just from being away from home. I love the memories that are created for the kids on vacations. I am finally coming to terms with that fact that vacations may not be a true need, but in our family they are important enough to justify the costs.
Coming to terms with spending money for vacations does not mean an unlimited source of funds for those vacations. There still is our limited budget to contend with, and our resolve to not add to our debts. With those things in mind we go for very low cost vacations. Some rules of thumb that we keep in mind when making vacation plans are as follows:
1. Vacation close to home. Staying closer to home means less travel time and cost, and more time and money available to enjoy the destination.
2. Go off season. Avoiding the busiest season of your destination can save you money on your accommodations, entertainment, and sometimes even food.
3. Go with friends or family. Depending on the size of your family, you may be able to share transportation. You can share lodging in the form of cabins or rental houses, and depending on the situation you may be able to share childcare responsibilities so each couple can spend some time alone.
4. Cook where you stay. Camping is the cheapest way to vacation, but that isn't for everyone. If camping isn't your thing opt for a spot with a kitchen. Look into cabins, rental houses, or even hotel rooms with a kitchenette. Being able to cook the majority of your meals can save you a lot. Many meals can be precooked and taken with you so you don't have to do all the work there.
5. Enjoy the local cuisine, frugally. Of course you probably will want to eat a few meals out. Make those meals less expensive by looking for deals at restaurant.com, in local coupon books, or keeping an eye out for specials such as kids eat free or early birds. In most cases it also is less expensive to eat out for lunch than dinner.
6. Look for free entertainment. Check with local park systems, museums and other places for free or low cost attractions. Of course you will also want to search for coupons and specials at places that do charge. Don't schedule every minute either. Just relaxing is an important part of a vacation.
7. Sensible souvenirs. If you want to buy souvenirs don't just buy some piece of junk to say you bought something. Collect free items like seashells or buy something you will use that reminds you of the vacation. One of my favorite souvenirs is a wind chime we bought in Florida. Seeing it always reminds me of the sun and the beach.
These are just things we keep in mind. Not every vacation meets all the rules, but keeping them in mind helps to keep the costs down. This year we are looking to take two vacations. Neither of them fit the first rule. The kids and I will be going to Florida with my parents the end of March. We will be going to the place I posted about in Remembering a Frugal Florida Vacation. It is a long trip, and gas isn't cheap. This is a camping trip where there is no place to spend money. The low cost of the majority of the trip helps pay for the gas to get us to the warm Florida sun and out of the West Virginia mud in March. It is worthwhile.
The second vacation will be with my parents, and my brother's family to Maine. Again not exactly close to home, but the offset to the budget for this vacation is the accommodations. My brother's company owns a vacation home there. It is available free to employees. Quite the nice perk wouldn't you say? I can not wait to get my mitts on some Maine lobster!
Living frugally does not mean doing with out all the things you enjoy. It does mean considering carefully how you use your resources, and prioritizing the use of them. Travel and vacations, in this family, have a fairly high priority. Knowing that we make room in the budget for vacations, and attempt to get the most for those vacation dollars.