My husband and I are just returning from a trip to Oahu where we spent five days vacationing without our children. Had it not been for the fact that it was a company trip, we might not have been able to go.
Financially times are tough for many families, and our family is no exception. And while we might not be struggling to survive like some, we still do our best to watch our finances and cut costs wherever we can.
I think that when you have kids, the expenses-- from diapers to schooling-- are overwhelming. Paying attention to my spending and saving when I can has become the responsible thing to do.
Now that we are headed home and summer hasn’t yet begun, I’ve been thinking about ways that families can save money and still have a great time together. I’ve realized that just because we’re on a budget doesn’t mean we can’t do fun things with the kids. We want to maximize our experiences with our young children, while keeping a watchful eye on our bank account.
So, in addition to gathering some of my own tips, I asked a few Petaluma moms just what they do to help save money when vacationing.
Magali Forsyth and her husband visit her family in France each summer. Since the flight alone is so expensive, Magali doesn’t spend once they get there and she budgets very wisely over the course of the year to make sure they have enough to cover the airfare.
“What I do is collect “deals” such as Groupon all year long. I only pick fairly local places but usually San Francisco or the East Bay. I currently have five prepaid outings on my desk so that when I have a day off I just pick one out and go” Magali said.
Other families like Teri Vilmur save money by sharing expenses with another family.
“We are splitting 4-day hopper passes for Disneyland, which is saving us a few hundred dollars.” Vilmur said.
Here are some additional ideas and tips:
Like the Forsyth family, knowing you are taking one big family trip means that throughout the year saving is going to be very important. Clipping coupons in the weekly papers, signing up for your grocery stores e-coupon program, or visiting the websites of the companies you frequently purchase products from, are all ways I have found great deals online.
Pay attention to the coupons that come in the mail via the Money Mailer packets. I’ve seen some incredible deals at our favorite eateries (like Beyond the Glory) and coupons for things such as free candy at . Had I just recycled the envelope without opening them up (which I have done a lot in the past), I might have missed some great coupons.
Sign up for notifications on sites like Groupon, MyTownDeal, and check websites like Patch’s for weekly local deals. By signing on to see what deals are happening in your area, you can save hundreds on anything from hair services to car repairs to actual trips to fun kid-centered locations such as the San Francisco Aquarium.
Plan a Stay-cation:
Plan a week of day-trips to fun places San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences who offer free-day admission to families from San Francisco or to Bay Area Discovery Museum who also have free admission the first Wednesday of the month for every one.
For overnight experiences that won’t break the bank, local mom, Jennifer Hundley highly recommends her brother’s family-owned business, the Petaluma KOA.
“There's a rock climbing wall, ice cream socials, a petting farm with the cutest baby animals, a new resort style pool, huge playground, recreation program for the kids in the Summer, pancake breakfasts and an arcade,” said Hundley.
Camping is a favorite and inexpensive way to get out and enjoy the outdoors with your family without breaking the bank.
“Some of my favorite things to do involve camping, to make it fun with little ones, we book group sites at campgrounds and invite friends with kids. If we are all at the same site, the parents can hang out while the kids are in bed. It makes for fun trips with friends, but we are all not confined once evening arrives” said local mom Tauni Berger.
Tauni’s family also did a house swap with a family they didn’t know off Home Exchange and enjoyed a weekend with her family in San Francisco while the other family stayed in their home in Petaluma. “They came here and we had a weekend in San Francisco which was really fun…and free!” said Berger.
Vacation on a Budget:
Set a budget for your trip and start saving now. Booking ahead will save you money on airfare, car rentals, and hotels. There are deal sites solely dedicated to providing people with great deals locally and out-of-town like Travel Ticker, Hotwire, etc.
Rent a Condo:
Our family has saved a ton of money by renting condos with kitchens as opposed to hotel rooms without. We save money by stopping at Costco or discount supermarkets avoiding the expensive cost of dining out with a family of five.
Stay off the beaten path:
We recently took a trip to Disneyland and stayed in a hotel off the beaten track, which by Disneyland standards was literally across the street from the amusement park. Each morning we started out with the free continental breakfast and we packed our lunches each day so we didn’t have to buy any food once inside the park.
I used to groan at the idea of being on a budget. What I am finding is that saving money can be enjoyable. The other week, I saved $40 on our typical $120 grocery bill at one of our favorite stores by coupon clipping alone. While that is a far cry from saving enough to fund an entire Hawaiian vacation for five, it’s a start.