Spring seems to have arrived earlier-than-expected this year. The trees are already blooming, and temperatures are rising to heights not normally seen until May. With spring break right around the corner, you may be wondering how you're going to pay for an entire vacation week with the kids.
Rather than charging it all to your credit card and worrying about the bills later, save some dough instead. A little creativity goes a long way, and your bank account will be better off for it.
1. Consider a staycation. Skip the exotic locale and expensive resort and stay home instead. If you have the funds and live in or near a tourist destination, book a room at a hotel in the heart of your town amidst local activities. Then, spend a few days checking out your town as a tourist would.
Alternatively, stay home the whole week and plan entertaining activities. Picnic on the lawn, plant a garden, or devote a day to classic outdoor games like freeze tag, Kick the Can, and Red Rover. These ideas are low-cost or entirely free.
2. Keep your travels close to home. It's likely that there are great tourist spots for a quick getaway within a few hours from where you live. If you must travel, staying close to home will allow you to avoid expensive plane fares or getting killed at the gas pump. Visit your state's tourism website for all the information you need.
3. Save on lodging. To start, look for alternatives to expensive hotels, such as apartment or vacation home rentals, via Craigslist, VRBO.com, or Airbnb. If you plan to travel with other families, rent a larger vacation home and you'll save even more. Depending on your destination, you could book a cabin with limited amenities, or even see if hostels are available in the area.
Another great option is to camp. It can seem like a hassle or a lot of work, but camping with your family can be one of the most rewarding experiences for children and parents alike. But if you prefer to stay in a hotel, don't forget about deal of the day sites, such as LivingSocial, which has a tab devoted strictly to travel and hotel deals.
4. Save on airfare. Consider looking into and opening one of the best travel rewards credit cards. For instance, the Gold Delta SkyMiles card from American Express gives you 30,000 bonus miles good for travel when you spend $500 in the first three months. Although there's no annual fee the first year, you'll pay $95 to keep the card after that.
Regardless, when flying, consider bundling your kids' luggage to save on baggage fees. And be sure to sign up for a travel website, such as TripAdvisor, before you purchase airfare. Track the cost of your fare at least one month in advance to get a sense of when to buy, and be sure to book at least two weeks prior to your trip for the best price.
5. Save on food. Sign up for other daily deal websites like Half Off Depot and Groupon for the city you'll be visiting to get significant discounts on local restaurants. These sites typically feature newer, lesser-known locations, but you never know what you might find. Plus, you'll avoid the hassle of long wait times at national chains.
Another great way to save on food is to rent a house, apartment, or suite with a kitchen. That way you can cook your own meals--or at least some of them--to save money that would otherwise be spent at restaurants.
6. Stick to a budget. Though spring break is about fun and relaxation, you still need to pay attention to your expenses. Put together a loose plan of entertainment activities for the week and price out what you think each will cost. Factor in food, car rental, gas, souvenirs, parking expenses, and taxes. This will give you a good sense of what you can actually afford so you return from your trip feeling refreshed, and not burdened with credit card debt.
Final thoughts. Spring break is an exciting time. But don't let that excitement get in the way of prudent financial decisions, especially when it comes to your kids. You want them to have the time of their life, but you don't need to buy them every souvenir, toy, or treat they want. One way to save yourself some money and sanity is to give your kids an allowance for the week with which they can buy what they want. However, once their money is gone, that's it. This is also a good way to teach your children about money management.
What other ways can you think of to save on spring break?
David Bakke writes about financial management and frugal living on Money Crashers Personal Finance.