How to plan a summer vacation on a budget

Updated April 1, 2024  |   Published March 27, 2024

Spring has arrived, and if you haven’t already started planning a summer vacation for your family, you’re likely beginning to now. We understand that inflation in recent years has had many Americans stretched thin. According to Bankrate, the average cost of a vacation during 2023 was around $1,960 to $3,550. So, if you’re looking to have fun with the family but don’t want to break the bank, we have some tips on how to create a realistic summer vacation budget, including expenses you should prepare for and areas where you could cut back on spending.

 

How can you budget and save for your summer vacation?

Determine your overall budget

A good rule of thumb to follow when budgeting your overall expenses is the 50/30/20 rule. This means 50% of your income is reserved for fixed costs like your mortgage payment, utilities, food, and childcare. 30% is used for discretionary spending. The last 20% is saved. If you follow this method, your vacation budget will be part of your 30% discretionary income.

If you’d like to get an idea of your overall spending and find out whether you are staying within these percentages, Money Management in online banking includes budgeting tools that organize and categorize your spending so you can see the full picture.

What should you include in your vacation budget?

It’s important to think of all possible things you may need to spend money on during your trip. Set a realistic total vacation budget for yourself based on what your family can afford, then break it apart and determine how much to allot for each of these spending categories. Here are some things you should not forget to include on a list of expenses:

  • Travel/transport including airfare, gas, toll fees, rental cars, rideshare services or taxis
  • Lodging/accommodations including tips for housekeeping or room service
  • Food and drink including tips for wait staff
  • Activities
  • Souvenirs

 

How can you cut back on spending during your vacation?

Travel & transport

Save yourself the airfare and rideshare costs by traveling locally. If you must fly, try booking your flights in the middle of the week rather than weekends, as the prices are typically lower. In New England, there are a plethora of locations within driving distance that make great vacation spots. You could relax on the beautiful beaches of Rhode Island or Maine, taste the fresh maple syrup of Vermont, or hike the mountains in mostly every New England state. In one of the most historic areas of the country, there’s no shortage of museums, public parks, and history tours for the family to enjoy. Just remember to account for gas and parking when you travel in your own car.

Accommodations

Like with airfare, consider traveling during weekdays to save money on hotel rooms and book when there may be deals available, either through the hotel itself or third party travel sites. Also consider booking with a travel or rewards focused credit card so you can earn cash back or rebates on your travel purchases. You could save money by choosing alternative accommodations like a rental house or campsite. Another option: invite more people to join you on your vacation so there are more people to help split the bill.

Food and drink

Bring plenty of your own food and drinks to avoid having to eat out for all three meals every day. If flying, consider stopping at a grocery store once you land. You can even experience the local culture by shopping at fresh meat and produce markets and cooking local dishes. If your hotel or motel offers complimentary breakfast, always take advantage of that. When you are eating at a restaurant, avoid soft drinks and have water instead (it’s almost always free).

Activities

Plan ahead and prioritize free or cheap activities. Certain public parks or museums might be totally free. Most are free for children under a certain age (look for student discounts if you’re traveling with any students!). Keep in mind though, that even free parks or beaches may have a parking cost involved if you bring your car. These ideas are cheap or free activities you could plan for your summer vacation:

  • Sightsee at local landmarks, statues, or art installations
  • Relax on the beach
  • Hike local trails
  • Visit State or National parks
  • Visit local art and history museums
  • Enjoy public attractions like street performances, parades, or fairs

Souvenirs

Start saving up early for your souvenir spending money. Try to rely on cash for these so you aren’t charging them to a credit card that you’ll end up paying interest on. One thing you can do to help you save is pause or cancel unnecessary subscriptions. Since our behaviors change in the summertime, you may not need all your streaming services if you’ll be spending much more time outside or away from your house. Likewise, you may not need your gym membership if you’ll be too busy to use it.

 

Try booking with a travel agent

One final tip to help you stay within your budget for a vacation: book with a travel agent. Travel agents book so often that they receive special offers from hotels and airlines that may be difficult to get on your own. If you give them a budget, they will stick to it and plan a trip that works for you. So you don’t have to worry about overspending.

 

Packing it up

Ultimately, you should decide what is important to you during your vacation. For example, if you travel specifically to try food at local restaurants, then you may not want to bring your own groceries and cook for yourself. As long as you stay within your budget, it’s up to you to decide which areas you should cut back on, and which are worth spending on.

Keep your vacation savings separate from your main savings. Start savings for a specific purpose with our All Purpose Club account.

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