How to Plan a Fun Family Vacation When You’re on a Tight Budget

How to Plan a Fun Family Vacation When You’re on a Tight Budget

The Best Family Vacation Ideas When You're On a Tight Budget

After Ross and I paid off our student loans (more on that story here) we wanted to travel… but we didn’t want traveling to hurt our financial goals.

So we decided to go to New Zealand, Ross’s dream destination, and spend the least amount of money that we could. Think couch-surfing, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and sleeping in our car when we couldn’t find a couch to surf on cheap.

When we went to Europe (my dream destination) the following year, we carried our enormous backpacks everywhere we went because we were too cheap to rent lockers, we slept in train stations and on trains, we couch-surfed, we ate more peanut butter and jelly (but we did remember to buy trail mix this time for some variety!), and only paid to use a public bathroom once… because I was desperate (I still can’t believe they make you pay to pee in Europe! I’m over it, honest.)

When we had kids, we knew we still wanted traveling to be a part of our life.

But since I was quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom, our budget was even tighter than it was before.

So we took what we had learned from traveling cheaply as a couple and figured out how to have a fun family vacation on a shoestring budget.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to set your vacation budget, give you some budget-friendly travel ideas, and tell you how to stick with your budget, even when you’re on vacation.

How to Plan a Fun Family Vacation on a Tight Budget

1) Determine Your Budget for the Vacation

The first thing that you need to do if you are on a tight budget is to sit down with your monthly budget and determine exactly how much you can afford to spend on this vacation.

Be sure to talk with your spouse or significant and come to an agreement on an amount that you are both comfortable with.

When you vacation shop first, you will probably be disappointed when you can’t afford your dream vacation. So always start with the budget… then look at which vacations you can afford.

2) Prioritize Your Spending

When you are on a tight budget, you have to choose where you want to allocate your money.

You won’t be able to afford spending a lot of money on eating out, fancy hotels, and exciting excursions.

But, you can probably spend more money on one of those things if you are frugal in the other two areas.

When we were traveling to our dream destinations before we had kids, we chose to travel, sleep, and eat very cheaply. That way we could spend more money on some fun experiences that we had always wanted to do, like skydiving and bungee jumping in New Zealand.

We wouldn’t have been able to afford to skydive or bungee jump if we hadn’t determined before our trip that we weren’t going to spend much money on meals and lodging.

So prioritize what you are going to use your money for before your trip to make sure that you spend the money where you want to.

Decide which of the three areas you are going to spend some money on and which two you are going to be frugal in.

How to Plan an Awesome Family Vacation on a Budget

3) Brainstorm Ideas for Your Vacation

Now that you know your budget, you can decide what type of vacation that you can afford.

Here are some ideas to get you started!

1. Visit Family

Visiting family for your vacation will save you a lot of money on lodging and food.

If you don’t want to be a financial burden to your family by staying with them, offer to pay for groceries! It will still be a much cheaper vacation that if you go to a hotel and eat out for every meal.

We are lucky enough to have family living in Hawaii right now and were able to have a really fun vacation while staying with family in a lovely tropical location.

Since we have family that live all over the US, we usually plan our trips to visit someone and do some sight-seeing at the same time.

2. Visit Friends

Just like visiting family, visiting friends is not only fun, but it will save you money on your family vacation.

A vacation doesn’t need to be far away from home. We love visiting friends that are only a couple of hours away just as much as we love visiting friends that are states away!

3. Go Camping

If you don’t have friends and family on the route that you want to take, bring your camping gear!

Not only is camping a great way to spend time in nature with your family, it is a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel or hotel alternative like AirBnB or VRBO.

Another reason I love camping is that campsites often don’t have WiFi or cell service. This forces everyone to put down their devices and truly spend time together.

If you want some help planning your camping meals, check out my post How to Create Your Perfect Camping Meal Plan!

4. Go on a Road Trip

Instead of flying to your destination, try taking a road trip instead!

We have driven a lot with our kids from the time they were tiny to get them ready for the bigger road trips that we wanted to take.

Neither of our girls was particularly fond of their car seats when they were babies, but we kept taking short 2-3 hour road trips whenever we could to get them used to it.

By the time our younger daughter wa 15 months old, we were able to go on a multiple-day road trip with happy campers in the back seat!

The only thing that we did to make them a little bit more excited about being in their car seats for so long is we got them each one new toy that we gave them for the trip. Our second daughter got a Buckle Toy, and our first daughter (who had just turned 4) got a Doodle Pad.

If you still aren’t sure about taking a road trip with your kids, check out the post How to Survive a Long Roadtrip with Young Kids for tips on how to make the trip fun for everyone!

Inexpensive Vacation Ideas for Families on a Budget Plus Plus How to Stick With Your Budget When You're on a Vacation

5. If You Need to Fly, Use a Credit Card to Get Points

When Ross’s brother moved to Hawaii and we knew that we wanted to go see them, we immediately got an Alaska Airlines credit card and began accumulating points.

Since we signed up when bonus miles were available, it didn’t take us too long before we were able to go to Hawaii with only needing to pay for 2 tickets (our younger daughter was under two, and our older daughter was able to fly on the companion ticket.)

If you know that you need to fly somewhere, see if you can find a credit card that you can earn miles with.

6. Have a Stay-Cation

If your budget doesn’t allow for you to do any of the above ideas, have a stay-cation with your family!

There are probably a lot of fun things to do close to your home that you’ve never done before. Are there fun restaurants that you have been wanting to try? Has a new water park opened up in your area? Are there gardens to visit or hikes to go on?

Take some time off work, put away your phone, and pretend you are on vacation with your family right in your own city!

4) Make Your Decisions And Begin to Prepare

1. Set Aside Money Every Month for Your Trip

It’s never too early to start saving for your trip.

You won’t be disappointed if you end up with more money to spend on your vacation than you originally thought, but you will be disappointed if you come up short.

You could even put a spare change jar in the kitchen so your whole family can see the goal and easily contribute to it.

2. Make Arrangements for Your Trip

This is when you want to check with any family or friends to see if they are available for you to stay with them, book hotels, book airline tickets, and anything else that you can purchase and reserve ahead of time.

Many things get more expensive as the date approaches and you can save money by booking in advance.

3. Meal Plan and Eat Out Sparingly

If you need to save money on your vacation, meal plan before you go.

Plan which days you will eat out and which days you will make your own food.

Do some research ahead of time on the local favorites so that you can be sure to go to the good places while you are there.

We have saved so much money on all of our trips by meal planning and going to the grocery store instead of just hitting the restaurants.

It’s not to say that we don’t go out to eat at all, but we plan on which meals we are going to eat out and we try not to impulsively go to restaurants just because it seems more fun at the time.

Check out How to Meal Plan for Your Road Trip for more ideas on creating your vacation meal plan.

How to Plan a Family Vacation When You're on a Tight Budget, Plus Cheap Vacation Ideas that Your Family Will Love

4. Research Free Things To Do Before Your Vacation

No matter where you are going (or if you are going nowhere at all!), there are free things to do.

There is no better way to make your budget stretch even farther than by taking advantage of cheap or free things to do.

5) Pay Attention to Your Budget When You Are On Your Vacation

If you are on a tight budget, make sure you aren’t overspending when you are on vacation.

It can be really easy to get caught up in #vacationmode and start making it rain everywhere you go, but all those little expenses add up.

If you don’t want to be paying for your summer vacation from now until Christmas, keep track of all of your spending either with pen and paper, through the app, or by using cash for everything!

Ready to Stop Feeling Stressed About Finances?

Then check out Master Your Money!

In Master Your Money, you will learn how to 

  • Calculate Your Net Income
  • Track Your Spending
  • Calculate Your Monthly Expenses
  • Determine Your Fixed & Flexible Expenses
  • Set Up a Budget
  • Pay Off Debt
  • Create Savings Accounts
  • Donate to Charity

Master Your Money walks you through exactly how to take charge of your finances so that you can afford to live the life of your dreams!

Plus you will receive the Money Mastery Workbook and Spreadsheet and email support from me anytime you have questions.

I hope to see you inside the course!

(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Master Your Money Resources!)

Want to Get 7 Extra Hours in Your Week?

Then check out Simply Streamlined!

In Simply Streamlined, you will learn how to 

  • Declutter Your Home
  • Put Effective Routines in Place
  • Create a Set-It-and-Forget-It Meal Plan
  • Get Your Finances Under Control

Simply Streamlined walks you through exactly how to Completely Streamline Your Home in just 15 Minutes a Day!

Plus you will receive

  • Cluttered to Calm Lessons, Workbooks, and Spreadsheets
  • Put Your Home on Autopilot Lessons, Workbooks, and Spreadsheets
  • Set-It-and-Forget-It Lessons, Workbooks, and Spreadsheets
  • Master Your Money Lessons, Workbooks, and Spreadsheets
  • AND Weekly Live Coaching Calls!

I hope to see you inside the program!

(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Streamlining Resources!)

Want 7 Extra Hours Every Week? Grab the Streamline Your Home Quick-Start Guide!

You may also enjoy…

How to Have an Awesome Birthday for Your Kids when You are on a Tight Budget

The Best Intentional Gift Ideas for Kids

How to Create a Budget

How to Budget for Christmas


How to Hike with Little Kids

See you on the next one! Kassy
How to Plan a Family Vacation When You're on a Tight Budget
How to Afford a Family Vacation When Money is Tight
7 Powerful Mindsets for Single-Income Families

7 Powerful Mindsets for Single-Income Families

Being a single-income or budget-conscious family isn’t cool or popular.

Your friends are all driving multiple vehicles that are way nicer than yours, creating beautiful houses, traveling the world, and going out to eat whenever they feel like it.

Sometimes it can feel, well, weird.

Weird when your colleagues are traveling to exotic places and you haven’t left the states in a while. Weird when your neighbors are selling their houses to move up in the world, but you are staying put.

Seven powerful mindsets for Single-Income Families

Whether you decided to become a single income family by choice and with intention, or were forced into it by job loss, it can feel a little isolating.

You may begin to wonder: Will people still be my friends when I can’t go out to eat as often as they can? Will they not want to come to my house if it isn’t as nice as theirs? What if we don’t have anything to talk about when I’m not traveling as much or to as exotic of places as they are?

I get it.

When I first quit working outside the home it was a little unsettling.

Not only were we suddenly making less (a lot less) than everyone we knew who still had two incomes, but people often just assumed we were rich because we were “lucky to be able to afford for me to stay home.” Oh, the irony!

Not to mention how relying on only one income can feel a little shaky. What if Ross lost his job? What if we had large unexpected expenses? 

As time went on though, I discovered these Seven Powerful Mindsets that instilled confidence in myself, my family, and our choices.

Shifting my mindset has helped me to be happy and content in the lifestyle I live.

I think these seven mindsets will give you peace of mind as well, whether you’re at the beginning of your journey, or a veteran budget-conscious family.

7 Mindsets for Single-Income Families

1) You Have Half the Income to Work With

Dual-income families most likely have twice as much income as a single-income family. Even if your spouse (or you) makes really, really great money, your friends are probably in the same stage of life working similarly paying jobs. 

They have probably been out of school and working in their chosen profession for close to the same amount of time and have had the opportunity for the same number of promotions and/or pay raises. 

We just naturally tend to hang out with people who have the same economic status as ourselves.

Worst-case scenario for your dual-income friends, once you factor in their childcare expenses that you don’t have etc., they are probably still bringing in at least 50% more income than you are.

I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of things that I could do with 50% more income!

House projects would be done, I’d be traveling more, and I might even hire a maid… ok I probably wouldn’t have a maid, but I’m still holding on to that dream!

My point is, you can’t compare how you spend your money to how your dual-income friends do. 

2) Only You Can Choose How to Allocate Your Money

My uncle used to say, “It isn’t that I can’t afford something; I choose not to allocate my funds in that manner.”

We all choose how we allocate our funds. Even if everyone had the same amount of funds coming in, we would probably all spend them differently.

This is a powerful paradigm shift for single income families: no longer are you unable to do something that you want to do, you are choosing to spend the money somewhere else.

Now, instead of feeling like your budget is telling you “no” all the time; you understand that you are choosing this “no” to be able to say, “yes” to something else. 

The “yes” may simply be the ability to live off one income, or it might be something bigger that your family is saving for.

Seven Powerful Mindsets for Single-inome Families

3) It’s None of Your Business What Other People Think of You

We have had people give us weird looks and rude comments since we decided to become a single income family.

We make a lot of strange decisions in our family, at least compared to most people. But choosing to live off one income seems to be the most controversial.  

At the end of the day, though, it is none of my business what other people think about me!

If people are looking down on you about how you live your life, who cares? 

It’s your life, not anyone else’s!

If people want to spend their time and energy looking down on someone else for choosing to live a different way than they do, that’s their problem.

4) Don’t Return the Judgement

When we feel like other people are judging us for our life choices, it can be easy to get defensive and start explaining to ourselves why our choices are better than theirs.

Don’t fall into this trap. It doesn’t do anyone good to put other people’s choices down just because they don’t match up with yours.

If people are attacking your lifestyle, get up, dust yourself off, and move on.

Maybe just find some friends who will support you?

5) Most People are Thinking About Themselves Most Often

In my experience, most people spend way more time thinking about themselves than they do about other people. Which in a way is sad, but in another way is a huge relief!

I would much rather have people worrying about themselves than about what I am doing and spending my money on.

If people do make a comment about your finances, they probably didn’t think before they said it, they may not have meant it the way it came across, and *most likely* they forgot about it as soon as they said it. 

You can rest assured that they spend way more time thinking about their own finances than they do thinking about yours.

Want 7 Extra Hours Every Week? Grab the Streamline Your home Quick-Start Guide!

6) Assume the Best of Others

You can never go wrong when you assume the best intentions of other people.

Assuming your friends and acquaintances aren’t complete jerks,* if something they said was offensive to you, it’s likely that it had nothing to do with you in the first place.

Maybe they were having a bad day. Maybe they didn’t get much sleep the night before. Maybe they just had a fight with their spouse.

Maybe they simply have an opinion that is different than yours and you chose to get offended.

The likelihood that people were intentionally attacking your choices is incredibly small.

*And if your friends and acquaintances are jerks, you may want to find some new ones ; )

7) Be Grateful for What You Have

We’ve been uncool penny-pinchers for almost nine years now (you can read about how our journey began here.) 

It can be challenging when it feels like your friends have everything you would like, and even harder when you feel judged about your choices.

Here’s a little story that might help:

Seven Powerful Mindsets for Budget-Conscious Families

We have an old dishwasher. When you run it, conversations that are taking place all get much louder while the dishwasher sings you the song of its people.

I have been amazed at how many people complain about it. People who don’t live in our home. People who I wouldn’t have guessed to be complainers.

I’m the main person that uses it and consequently hears it, yet it doesn’t bother me. (I’ve always been able to tune out ambient noises.)

However, it seems to greatly annoy our guests when I run it after a meal.  

This still isn’t a huge problem for me, I simply load it up, put the soap in and then almost close it. Before I go to bed, I try to remember to start it (and if I forget, I just do it the next day.)

Even with this process in place, though, we still get so many comments about our “loud dishwasher” and questions about “when are we finally going to replace that thing?”

For a while it really bothered me. 

Why was everyone else so worried about how we spent our money? They had no idea if we could afford to run out and buy a brand new dishwasher like they could.

Then I realized I had a choice. I can’t control what other people think or say, but I can control my thoughts and feelings. 

We could go out and buy a new, quiet dishwasher…and either make payments on it or put a dent in our savings… or I could be grateful.

There are millions of people around the world, who don’t have a dishwasher at all.

I decided instead of waiting anxiously for the day when we could afford the things that our friends had, I could be thankful.

By changing my attitude and deciding not to worry about others, I become not only content with where I was, but also truly happy for my friends where they were.

Now whenever I am tempted to complain about anything from the weather to the dishwasher, I ask myself “What can I be thankful for here?” 

It is amazing how quickly your attitude and perspective can change.

I even started doing this with my oldest daughter when a small thing was about to send her over the edge. Now she may still complain about something, but she almost always will follow it with, “but do you know what I can be thankful for?”

Once the thankfulness turns on, it becomes a habit in our minds and self-perpetuates. We don’t have to force ourselves to do it anymore, it just happens.

And out of the thankfulness comes true joy.

My Oma used to have an old plaque hanging next to her kitchen sink that read:

How to Stop Worrying About Keeping Up With the Joneses... And start living happily on a single income

Thank God for dirty dishes; 

They have a tale to tell.

While others may go hungry, 

We’re eating very well.

With home, and health, and happiness, 

I shouldn’t want to fuss;

By the stack of evidence, 

God’s been very good to us!

I took the liberty of re-writing it for my situation:

Thank God for my old dishwasher; 

It has a tale to tell.

While others do not have one, 

Mine is working very well.

While it’s cleaning, whining, whooshing; 

I shouldn’t want to fuss;

By this piece of evidence, 

God’s been very good to us!

The next time you feel frustrated that you don’t have as much disposable income as your friends do, see if one of these mindsets can help you:

1. You Have Half the Income to Work With

2. Only You Can Choose How to Allocate Your Money

3. It’s None of Your Business What Other People Think of You

4. Don’t Return the Judgement

5. Most People Think About Themselves Most Often

6. Assume the Best of Others

7. Be Grateful for What You Have

If you would like to see how we make things work on one income, check out How to Start Budgeting: a Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Budget, Cutting Costs, and Saving Money.

You May Also Enjoy…

How We Paid Off $20,000 in debt in 18 Months!

How to Organize Your Finances With 7 Bank Accounts.

37 Ways to Save Money on Groceries if you aren’t sure how to get your grocery budget under control.

10 Ways to Save Money When You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck if you need some ideas for how to cut costs.

If you want to be sure that you can stick with this budget from the start, check out The Biggest Secret to Sticking With Your Budget.

Teach your children how to budget with The {Simplest} Budgeting Method for Kids.

You can read about our journey learning to live on one income here: How We Became a Single Income Family.

Ready to Stop Feeling Stressed About Finances?

Then check out Master Your Money!

In Master Your Money, you will learn how to 

  • Calculate Your Net Income
  • Track Your Spending
  • Calculate Your Monthly Expenses
  • Determine Your Fixed & Flexible Expenses
  • Set Up a Budget
  • Pay Off Debt
  • Create Savings Accounts
  • Donate to Charity

Master Your Money walks you through exactly how to take charge of your finances so you can afford to live the life of your dreams!

Plus you will receive the Money Mastery Workbook and Spreadsheet and email support from me anytime you have questions.

I hope to see you inside the course!

(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Master Your Money Resources!)

See you on the next one! Kassy