Molly’s Money | Planning and Budgeting for a Vacation or Spring Break Trip

February 13, 2014·

If this is your first time here, Molly’s Money is a series I do regularly where I talk about, well, MONEY. ALL things money! You can check out some of my past posts here.

Right now it is a SNOWMAGEDDON out there right now and I am dreaming of warmer weather and sandy beaches. And in less than like THREE weeks we are going on a CRUISE! I’m so excited. I’ve never been on a cruise before!

So, if you’re like me and you’re planning your upcoming vacation or maybe you’re a student (or you’re a teacher) and you’re getting ready for spring break, you need to be WISE with your money and you need to plan ahead. Not planning ahead financially when it comes to vacation is a BIG mistake because we can so easily get sucked into the fun and POOF! there goes your money.

The first question I have to ask is: DO YOU CREATE A MONTHLY BUDGET NOW? If you don’t, you need to run, DO NOT WALK, over to this post and learn how to create a monthly budget.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way… here are some ways to plan ahead and budget for a vacation or spring break trip!

First you need to answer these questions:

  • Where am I going?
  • How will I get there?
  • What do I want to do once I’m there?

The answers to those questions will really best determine how much you’re going to need to plan to spend. Also, if you can, the further in advance you can plan the better. This allows for more time for you to look up deals, etc.

Budgeting for Travel Expenses

Do as much research as you can with regards to the best way to get to where you want to go.

If the trip is drivable, that can often be the most cost effective way to go. The TRAIN is also a really affordable (and FUN) way to travel! I’ve taken Amtrak on a couple of trips and saved A LOT of money that way. Charter buses also offer really cheap options. For example, I have taken the Chinatown bus to and from New York City to different places in Virginia and DC for around $35 ROUND TRIP! Such a great deal. If you have to fly, use sites like Kayak or Priceline to research the cheapest flight options.

Once you have an estimate of what it’s going to cost you to travel, set that number in stone and then start the process of booking your travel and do your best not to exceed that original number.

Budgeting for Lodging

It’s best to take a similar approach to lodging and you did to the travel. Allow yourself time, consider all the options, and do some research.

Are you willing to stay in a hostel? That can often be the most affordable (and most adventurous) way to stay. I stayed in a hostel in New York City for over TWO WEEKS one time and only spent $110. TOTAL.

So, like your travel budget, once you set your budget for lodging, stick to it.

Budgeting for “Stuff to Do”

Now, once you’ve determined where you’re going and how you’re going to get there and where you’re going to stay… the biggest area that is a money suck is what you’ll be doing once you arrive at your vacation destination.

There are A LOT of different schools of thought on this, and since I’m kind of in the camp of “anti-credit cards” I’m going to give you my suggestion to REALLY reign in your vacation spending:

Give yourself a DAILY cash allowance.

That’s right, Dave Ramsey is a big proponent of cash and so am I. And I mean it.

Do some research on what you’d like to do on your vacation and then calculate a DAILY cash allowance for each day you’re gone. Then, inflate that estimated number by about 10% – this will give you some “breathing room” and a good buffer for unforeseen expenses or circumstances.

Then, get the cash needed and put the cash in envelopes labeled by DAY. You will be SO MUCH LESS LIKELY to go over budget if you stick to this. You can put the cash envelopes in the hotel safe or bring another bag that has a lock and key or something with you… I have a purse that literally has a lock and key closure, so that could be an option for you.

If you really are just NOT that comfortable with carrying that much cash, then ONLY use your debit card and leave your credit card behind in the hotel room. Only allow your credit card to be used in case of emergencies. But, I really recommend going the CASH route.

You’re so much less likely to overspend the cash and you’re more likely to stay within your budget!

If you’re traveling overseas: wait till you arrive IN your destination country and get your cash from the ATM – the ATM has the best exchange rate (typically)… WAY better than the counters at the airport.

Tips and Tricks for Saving Money WHILE ON Your Vacation or Spring Break

Give yourself a “souvenir” budget

  • Write down a LIST of the people you want to buy a souvenir for BEFORE you leave for your trip and then give a monetary amount for each person… that way you don’t go overboard once you’re there
  • Give yourself a TOTAL souvenir budget and stick to it. For example, if you give yourself a souvenir budget of $50 for yourself, you can either buy ONE thing that’s $50 or 10 things that are $5. Your choice.
  • Instead of renting out everything at the place you are visiting, try carrying your inflatable paddle boards, or inflatable tubes as they fit in a small place and without a doubt are cheaper to buy outside than what the resort or the hotel is going to charge you for them.

Get local recommendations for restaurants

  • Hotel restaurants and restaurants surrounding hotels are typically WAY more expensive than if you go to the local dive places. Ask the locals or front desk people for recommendations.

Check Groupon, LivingSocial, etc. before you leave

  • If you’re traveling somewhere in the US, check the local Groupons and LivingSocials BEFORE you leave to see what kinds of deals they have running for restaurants or activities in the area – this can save you a TON of money!

Research Coupons / Travel Specials etc.

  • Some creative Googling can bring up a ton of coupons, travel specials, etc. for the place where you’re going… research those things before you go!

Don’t Go

  • Yes, NOT going on vacation or a spring break trip IS an option… DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT go into debt just to go on a trip. It’s not worth it. Take it from me. It is NOT worth it.

 My Favorite Budgeting Apps for On-The-Go

If you’re really looking to track your budget / expenses on the go, here are a few of my favorite budgeting apps:

Now what about you? What tips and tricks do you have for budgeting for a vacation or spring break trip?