Exciting Low-Cost Family Summer: How to Budget for Vacation

Hey Moms! Summer is almost here, and we all know what that means—it’s time to plan that much-needed family summer vacation! Whether you’re dreaming of sandy beaches, mountain hikes, or exploring a new city, figuring out how to budget for vacation without breaking the bank can feel like a challenge.

But don’t worry, I’ve got some tried-and-true tips to help you budget for your family trips this summer.

how to budget for vacation


1. Start with a Dream and Plan Ahead

First things first, gather the family and brainstorm your dream vacation. Get everyone involved! This can be a fun activity where everyone shares their ideal destinations and activities. Once you have a list of ideas, narrow it down to something feasible. Consider factors like travel distance, the interests of each family member, and the overall experience you want to have.

Once you’ve settled on a destination, it’s time to plan. Research your chosen location thoroughly. Look into vacation costs, accommodation options, local attractions like national parks, and potential itineraries. Depending on what you want and where you are, you can explore San Diego, visit the Glacier National Park, grace Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, or even just go to your local parks.

This research phase is crucial because it gives you a clear picture of what to expect and helps you identify areas where you can save money.

2. Set a Realistic Budget

Take a good look at your finances and determine how much you can realistically set aside for your summer vacation. This includes everything—travel, accommodation, food, activities, and a little extra for unexpected expenses. Write it down and stick to it.


Creating a budget starts with knowing your financial limits. Assess your current savings and monthly income to figure out how much you can allocate towards the vacation. Don’t forget to consider ongoing expenses that will continue while you’re away, such as bills and groceries.

Once you have a total budget in mind, break it down into categories:

  • Travel Costs: This includes airfare, gas, or other foreign or local transportation expenses.
  • Accommodation: Hotel stays, vacation rentals, or campgrounds.
  • Food: Meals at restaurants, groceries, and snacks.
  • Activities: Entrance fees, tours, and entertainment.
  • Miscellaneous: Souvenirs, tips, and emergency funds.

By categorizing your budget, you can better manage your spending and ensure you don’t run out of money halfway through your trip.

3. Early Bird Catches the Worm

Book your flights and accommodations as early as possible. Prices tend to go up as the travel date approaches, so getting in early can save you a lot — especially when it comes to summer vacation. Plus, you’ll have more options to choose from. Booking early can significantly reduce costs. Many airlines and hotels offer discounts for early reservations.

Additionally, early booking gives you the best chance to snag deals and avoid the rush of last-minute planners.


According to Goldman Sachs, “Planning ahead may pay off in the long run when it comes to your vacation. When people researched ways to cut costs—from deals on transportation or free things to do at their destination—and then set a vacation budget, they tended to spend less than when they spontaneously hit the road.”

Set alerts for price drops on flights and accommodations. Websites and apps like Skyscanner, Hopper, and Google Flights allow you to track prices and book when they’re at their lowest. Also, consider signing up for newsletters from airlines and travel companies for exclusive deals.

4. Be Flexible with Dates and Destinations

If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you might find better deals for your summer vacation. Traveling mid-week or during the off-season can significantly cut costs. Also, consider alternative destinations that offer similar experiences but at a lower price.

Flexibility is one of the biggest money-savers when it comes to travel. Avoid peak travel times such as holidays and school vacation periods, when prices are highest. If your schedule allows, aim for mid-week travel, as flights and accommodations are often cheaper than on weekends. For example, the Grand Canyon National Park has free timed passes.

Additionally, be open to exploring less popular destinations rather than just luxury or tourist options. For instance, instead of heading to a well-known beach resort, look for quieter coastal towns that offer the same beautiful scenery and activities but at a fraction of the cost. Sometimes, hidden gems can provide even more memorable experiences without the tourist crowds and high prices.


5. Use Travel Rewards and Points

If you have a credit card that offers travel rewards, now is the time to use those points! They can cover flights, hotel stays, or even car rentals. Just make sure to read the fine print to maximize your benefits.

Travel rewards and points can be a game-changer for family vacations. Take inventory of any travel rewards, frequent flyer miles, or credit card points you’ve accumulated. These can significantly reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.

Check if your points can be transferred between programs for better value. For example, some credit cards allow you to transfer points to airline or hotel loyalty programs.

6. Create a Daily Spending Plan

Once you’ve sorted out the big expenses, plan your daily budget. Decide how much you’ll spend on meals, activities, and souvenirs each day. This helps prevent overspending and keeps you on track.

Creating a daily spending plan ensures you’re not caught off guard by unexpected costs.

Break down your total budget into daily allowances for different categories such as meals, activities, and miscellaneous spending.

For meals, research local restaurants and decide which days you might splurge on a fancy dinner and which days you might opt for a picnic or cook at your accommodation. For activities, prioritize must-do experiences and allocate your budget accordingly. Having a plan helps you avoid impulse purchases and stay within your budget.


7. Save on Food

Eating out can be one of the biggest vacation expenses. Save money by booking a place with a kitchen and preparing some of your own meals. Even just having breakfast and snacks at your accommodation can save a bundle. Also, look for local markets and grocery stores for affordable and delicious food options.

According to Walking in Memphis in High Heels, “If you’re flying, you can still pack snacks and empty water bottles that you fill up at water filling stations or water fountains at the airport.”

Feel at Home in the Kitchen

Food can quickly become one of the biggest vacation expenses, especially with a family in tow. One of the best ways to save is to book accommodations with a kitchenette or full kitchen. This way, you can prepare your own meals and avoid the high cost of dining out for every meal.

Plan to eat breakfast and some dinner at your accommodation. For lunch, pack a picnic with local goodies from grocery stores or markets.

8. Look for Free and Low-Cost Activities

Every destination has its share of free or low-cost attractions. Research in advance for parks, beaches, hiking trails, and free museums or festivals. These can be just as fun and memorable as pricier activities.


Free and low-cost activities can provide some of the best vacation memories. Research your destination ahead of time to find parks, beaches, hiking trails, and free museums or festivals. Many cities have free walking tours, outdoor concerts, and cultural festivals during the summer.

Explore Local, Like the Grand Canyon National Park

Local tourism websites and visitor centers are great resources for finding budget-friendly activities. Additionally, check out community boards or social media groups for insider tips on free events and attractions.

9. Pack Smart on Your Family Vacation

Avoid extra costs on your summer vacation by packing wisely. Bring everything you might need to avoid buying it at your destination, where it might be more expensive. Don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, snacks for the journey, and entertainment for the kids.

Packing smart can save you a lot of money and stress. Start by making a checklist of everything your family will need for the trip. This includes clothing, toiletries, medications, and any special items like baby supplies or allergy-friendly snacks.

Think about the specific activities you’ll be doing and pack accordingly. If you’re going to the beach, bring beach towels, sand toys, and sunscreen. For hiking trips, don’t forget sturdy shoes, hats, and insect repellent.


10. Keep an Emergency Fund

Always have a little extra set aside for emergencies. You never know when unexpected expenses might come up, and it’s better to be prepared than to have your budget thrown off track.

An emergency fund is a crucial part of your vacation budget. While we hope everything goes smoothly, unexpected expenses can arise—whether it’s a medical emergency, a lost item that needs replacing, or an unexpected travel delay.

Set aside a small portion of your total budget specifically for emergencies. This fund should be easily accessible, such as in a separate bank account or in cash, but secure.

11. Review, Adjust, and Save Money

Finally, as you plan, keep reviewing your budget and adjust where necessary. It’s okay to make changes along the way to ensure you have the best vacation possible without financial stress.

Budgeting is an ongoing process, and it’s important to review and adjust your plan as needed. As you book flights, accommodations, and activities, track your spending against your budget.

If you find you’re spending more in one area, look for ways to cut back in another.

Spero Financial reminds us, “The appeal for all of us to “make memories” is real, so keep in mind that while you’re on vacation, you may get the urge to spend outside your budget.”


To Wrap Up: The Best Tips for How to Budget for Vacation

Remember, the goal is to enjoy quality time with your family, create lasting memories, and have fun. With a little planning and budgeting, you can have an amazing summer vacation without worrying about overspending.

Happy travels, fellow moms! Let’s make this family vacation unforgettable!

Kathy Urbanski

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