We’re counting down the days to the weekend. As one final hurrah before we become a family of four, we’re headed down to DC for a few days to relax, spend time with some family there, and meet up with the Underwoods. And we’re going to drive an actual car!! I think we’re almost as excited about that as the trip itself. I’ll document our adventures over the weekend here, if you want to follow along.
With our mini-getaway planned, we thought March would be a good month to tackle the vacation portion of budgeting. We also wanted to talk about it before the big vacation months hit in the next few months.
Vacations are interesting because they’re not a necessity per se, and yet they’re very necessary. We’d all lose our brains without them. And while they only occur once or a few times a year, they have the power to take all your hard budgeting work and put it on the next flight to Tokyo. Or Hawaii. Your choice.
They’re one of the biggest areas of our budget, second only to rent/mortgage and food. But for some reason, they’re often not included in our budgets. They’re just this huge splurge we justify. And then we come home refreshed and a little sunburned, having to pick up the pieces of our wrecked budget. We’re hoping this post can help rectify that trend, while also encouraging responsible vacationing.
So consider this post our very own PSA: Don’t Vacation Irresponsibly. And here are our tips for how.
Set a Vacation Budget at the Beginning of the Year
This. Johnny and I only started doing this a couple of years ago, and it’s been a game changer for our budget. Before, we weren’t accounting for vacations in our monthly budget, which meant our projected spending for the year was totally incomplete. Now, when we plan our yearly budget at the beginning of the year, we include everything — vacations, gifts, Sally clothing growth spurts, etc. It’s nice to plan in advance how much money we can spend on vacations because when it comes time to actually booking a trip, we’re prepared for it. It’s guilt-free, and we’re not asking ourselves, Can we afford this??
Plan Trips in Advance
“In advance” doesn’t mean the weekend before, although I do really miss those last-minute college road trips. We try to plan for each trip at the same time we set our vacation budget — at the beginning of the year. We don’t actually book anything, but we go ahead and tentatively decide all our trips for the year. This year, we’ve given ourselves five weekend getaways, as well as two bigger trips. When we actually take them is TBD. We’ve also budgeted how much we’d like to spend on each one. By planning our trips at the same time as our vacation budget, we’re more likely to stay within the spending parameters we’ve set.
Don’t Spend More Than You Make for PTO
This rule of thumb mostly applies if you’re on a tight budget. Johnny and I kept our vacation spending in check while we were paying off our debt by following this rule. This is how it works: whatever money we’d make in paid time off became our budget for our upcoming vacation. This included lodging, food, and transportation. It kept our vacations thrifty, but it was our only way to take a vacation while our budget was so tight. And it helped incentivize us to scour the Internet for deals and to maximize any airline or hotel rewards from our credit cards.
Look for Deals
Which brings us here. DEALS. I swear a vacation is that much more satisfying when you find a deal. Luckily, deals can be found all over the webisphere these days. In this post, Johnny outlines the method to his madness in finding Priceline deals on hotels — one of the many reasons I love him. Deal sites like Travelzoo are another great way to keep an eye on good prices. Although, a friend introduced me to their email newsletter recently, and it’s kind of torturous seeing all the cheap places I can’t fly whilst 35 weeks pregnant.
Credit Card Rewards
Would you believe me if I said I can’t remember the last time we paid for an airline ticket? We’re all about maximizing our credit card rewards, and our main focus is airlines. We put almost all of our spending on our Chase Southwest cards. And we signed up when they were running a crazy promotion for the cards, which means we’ve been flying free for years now. If we can get the airline ticket paid for, our vacation is suddenly a fraction of the cost. Credit cards take turns running different promotions, so if you have a preferred airline or hotel, keep an eye on its credit card for a good time to sign up.
Decide What Aspect of Vacationing Is Most Important
We’re all about living the high life on vacation, but we don’t completely lose ourselves. We may choose to stay at a nice hotel, but we don’t partake of the mini bar or room service. Or we might stay at a cheaper place but eat out at nicer restaurants. As long as we stay within our total budget for the trip, we let ourselves pick and choose where we want to splurge. Which brings us to our last vacation maximizing tip…
Set a Budget and Then Don’t Sweat It
The whole point of a vacation is relaxation. And while you may still have to worry about whether your toddler just ate a handful of sand, you shouldn’t have to stress over money on your trip. Set your budget for each vacation, and then don’t think about money again. Plan in advance what you can splurge on so it isn’t a choice while you’re supposed to be relaxing. That airbrushed Spring Break ’15 tee you’ve been pining for? Know in advance whether you have the extra money for such a timeless souvenir. And then sit back, grab a piña colada, and think about nothing at all.
Those are our tips for maximizing your vacation budget. I hope we’re able to put a few of them into practice this year… we’ll see just how much baby #2 rocks our world. And now we want to hear your tips. How do you maximize your vacation spending? What tips would you add? Any toddler-friendly DC attractions we should know about for this weekend?