How To Create a Vacation Budget (Part 1)


Photo Credit: Ken Teegardin on Flickr CC Lic

I am the person who NEEDS to know what a vacation will cost BEFORE  leaving town.  I don’t like surprises especially when it comes to money.   I wonder if the reason people THINK they can’t afford a vacation is that they have returned from past vacations to a mountain of credit card debt and they’re scared to get into that mess again….OR they’ve never actually put numbers on paper to figure out what it really costs…. OR possibly, they’ve never been introduced to the ways to make it  economical.

There are no (or very few)  surprises on our vacations….I know what the vacation will cost before we ever back out of the driveway.  If possible we pre-pay things.  (helps with budgeting as well)   I can say, honestly, we’ve never gone OVER-budget on a vacation.  We almost always come home UNDER budget…

Lastly, to leave town without a “plan” (i.e. budget) is a recipe for over-spending, over-indulging and over-doing.

ALWAYS have a ‘plan’.  🙂

Recently, I came across an article by Dave Ramsey about vacation budgeting….or should I say, vacationing WITHOUT a budget.  :).    “Six Ways to Go Broke on Vacation”    This has always been my philosophy, but I LOVE the humor that Dave Ramsey uses to get the point across.  🙂

My “Plan” for Creating that Budget:

  1. Make Reservations   There are those who like to vacation spontaneously.  The problem with that is that you don’t have the opportunity to shop for bargains, compare prices/rates so you can make cost saving decisions.  Research and  reservations allows you to do these things.  Knowledge is Power!  🙂 🙂
  2. Write Everything Down  Once you’ve found and booked the best rates for accommodations, airline tickets, rental car, etc….write those numbersdown these costs….down to the penny.   You can record these things by ‘day’….or by ‘category’.  It doesn’t really matter how you record it, as long as you do.
  3. Figure Fuel Costs    While fuel costs can be a little tricky because they’re

    fluctuation, you don’t have to go into this ‘blind’.  With (or any other gas costs app/website) you can get a general idea of fuel prices in the area.  Take the number of miles you drive each day (or figure this for the whole trip), divide by the mpg your vehicle gets, then multiply by the cost of fuel.  After I get this number I usually ‘cushion’ the cost a little – I ALWAYS round UP on fuel, and write that number in your budget.   NOTE:  EXPECT to pay SIGNIFICANTLY higher prices for fuel in National Parks or ‘touristy’ areas (or within 100 miles of them….).  Keep this in mind as you plan WHEN and WHERE to fill up.  🙂  I do these calculations early in my vacation planning process…but always revisit the week before we leave.

  4. Now, it’s time to figure some of the extra costs –  Admission charges – You probably have a general idea of where you’ll go and what you’ll do and the costs involved.  Put those numbers on your budget sheet.  Subtract any coupons/discounts you’ve found.  WRITE DOWN that you have that coupon so you don’t forget to actually  use  it…. (Can you tell I speak from experience??)  ha!
  5. Food!  This is possibly the toughest to ‘guesstimate’.  You’ve obviously  made a plan for feeding the family.  Will you bring food from home?   Will you go to the grocery store after you arrive to shop?  Will you eat out some?  or all the time?  If you’ll be eating out, will you go to nice restaurants or fast food places?  You probably know what it costs your family to eat out.  Add these numbers to your budget page.  NOTE:  Though it may be different than you’ve ever done before, consider at least a ‘partial’ plan for meals before leaving….  “Knowing” will help you with the budget process.  If you struggle with this idea, consider the idea that ‘no plan’ means a budget gone awry.  Planning keeps the budget under control.
  6. Add some money for souvenir shopping  Does your family like t-shirts? or trinkets?  Do you want a remembrance of your vacation?  Allow room in the budget for this. There is opportunity here to talk to your children about ‘investing’ in ONE thing that is quality and will last and ‘remind’ them of their trip rather than ‘nickel and dime-ing’ it at every stop with things that will be broken before they get home.  So many things in souvenir shops are just garbage…honestly!!!  I’ve written a post about that ‘perfect’ souvenir here:

  7. Lastly, add a “cushion” to your budget   This is the extra money you bring along for the unexpected….  While this cushion COULD finance that “once in a lifetime’ experience that you determine is definitely WORTH the un-budgeted cost, that’s NOT the purpose of the ‘cushion’. Be careful about spending ‘cushion’ money like that….  In fact, Dave Ramsey would say not to do this at all…  🙂  This category is actually for the unexpected costs such as that toothbrush that Susie forgot to pack….or the antiseptic ointment after Johnny slipped on the rock in the creek….or the flat tire or car battery that has to be fixed/replaced.  These are very real scenarios…and you DO need to include some ‘cushion’ money in the budget for them.  If you end up not needing that money for the unexpected, you come home with extra in your pocket and it feels REALLY nice.  🙂 🙂

How to Create a Vacation Budget (Part 2)  will detail how to put all of this together in a way that it will be easy to work with WHILE on vacation…to keep you on track with the money.


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