This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosures here.
Find out how to save for a vacation, even if you hate budgeting (and are awful at it!).
What if I told you that saving for a vacation can actually be easy? Saving comes naturally to some people, but it never has for me. Yup, I am a spender through and through. So how can you save for a vacation if you’re like me? By adding a few simple habits to your routine.
Before you roll your eyes, I’m not going to tell you to do things like pack leftovers for lunch or start a change jar. Those things will definitely help, but I’m sure you’ve already heard them and you may even already be doing them.
Instead, I’m going to show you the super quick and easy things I actually started doing to save money for a vacation (and even earn extra!), so you can start saving strategically too.
How Much Should I Budget For A Family Vacation?
Before we dive into specific techniques, you need to create a vacation budget. Most people just decide on a date, and whip out their credit cards to book whatever destination catches their attention. I’m all for using travel rewards credit cards to earn free travel, but they will only save you money if you are spending within your budget and paying them off each month.
There are two ways to decide what your family vacation budget should be:
OPTION 1: START WITH THE DESTINATION
This is how to save for an expensive vacation. It will also work for more budget-friendly destinations, of course, but if you have a dream trip planned, this is the best way to make it happen within your budget.
Research your vacation destination, and create budget line items for EVERYTHING. This includes obvious expenses like hotels, flights, rental car, etc. But what about everything else? What is the cost of your must-do activities? How much money do you need on vacation for things like food and souvenirs? Plan out your vacation as if you were actually going (because you will be!).
Add up all of your budget line items to get the total amount you need to save for a vacation. Divide that number by the monthly amount you can save and earn using the techniques below, and you will know approximately how many months you will need to save for a vacation. Having this goal in place is a great motivator to increase your monthly savings to make your trip happen faster.
Download this FREE vacation savings tracker and put it on your fridge to keep everyone motivated! When kids can clearly see how much money your family needs to save before a trip to Disney can happen, they are much more likely to forgo that new toy without a big fight.
OPTION 2: START WITH THE DATE
If you already know when your family will go on vacation, this is the technique to use. As an example, let’s talk about how to save money for a vacation in 4 months.
Using the savings techniques outlined below, you would figure out how much money you will be able to save each month. Multiply your projected monthly savings by the number of months before your vacation – in this case, 4. Since I know that I can reliably save an extra $250 per month using only the methods below, $250 x 4 months = $1000 vacation budget.
Once you start saving it can become addictive, so download the FREE vacation savings tracker to stay excited and on task!
Now let’s move on to the strategies – here’s how I actually save and earn extra vacation money every month:
I am almost exclusively an online shopper (aren’t we all?). It’s a huge time savings and makes it so easy to price shop. If this is you too, sign up for Ebates and start using it right away. You are leaving a ton of money on the table without it!
Ebates is easier to use now than ever before because of their Chrome browser extension, the Cash Back Button. Make sure you add it to your browser right after signing up! There are three ways it will help you save tons of cash:
- The extension will alert you anytime you are on a site offering cash back. Just click the red activate button!
- At checkout, the extension will pop up with any coupon codes that are available. I have always googled for coupon codes before every purchase, so this saves me tons of time.
- On any website that does not participate in Ebates’ program, the Price Checker feature will pop up and let you know if the item is available cheaper anywhere else.
Ebates also has cashback travel deals, so make sure you check the Travel & Vacations tab on their website when you are booking a trip. For example, at the time of this post, Hilton is offering up to 5% cash back!
As soon as your account hits $5.01 you can get a payout by check or through Paypal. Don’t forget to immediately transfer this money to your travel savings account (more on how to easily segment your savings account without opening a new one below)!
My average monthly savings: $20
Ibotta is how I get cash back when I have to shop in-store. It works at loads of different retailers, but I use it every time I grocery shop (although I recently discovered how awesome it is for online shopping too – more on that later!)
The best part about Ibotta is how quick and easy it is to use. Here’s how the app works:
- Before you go shopping just take a quick look at the offers that are available for your store so you can grab the right brands. You can add the items you plan to buy to your list of offers. Be on the lookout for Any Brand offers! For example, today when I grocery shopped I redeemed an Any Brand offer for butter, and got $0.25 cash back on my brand of choice (Organic Valley!).
- Finish shopping and then use the app to take a photo of your receipt. I do this at home, while I’m putting my groceries away.
- The Ibotta app will automatically match up your offers (don’t worry if the app misses anything, because you can easily add it!).
- Withdraw the cash back you’ve earned by connecting your Paypal or Venmo account, or redeem for a gift card. Cash back is available within 48 hours (usually my account is credited within an hour).
Ibotta is always adding extra earning bonuses for redeeming different combinations of offers. You can also earn referral bonuses by having friends and family members join your team, and working together to earn extra, team bonuses!
My favorite thing about Ibotta is that I can still use it even when I don’t have time to look for offers before my shopping trip (which happens more often than not). Even on weeks when I don’t plan ahead, I still save an average of $5 per week using the app. I just look through the offers while I’m putting away my groceries and add offers for anything I purchased. Then I upload my receipt photo redeem as usual!
But don’t just use Ibotta to earn cash back at the grocery store! Ibotta is also a great app to check when you are shopping online. Just choose Find Offers in the bottom menu bar of the app and pick a shopping category to see available retailers. At the time I’m writing this post, Zulily is offering 7.5% cash back. Score!
My average monthly savings: $20
You Need A Budget (aka YNAB) is the only way I can make myself follow a budget, and I’ve tried everything from paper to apps! Since I love earning free travel by strategically using travel rewards credit cards for my everyday expenses, the cash envelope system just doesn’t work for me. Enter YNAB. This quick, one-minute video explains how it works:
YNAB works differently from most budgets, and they say that new users save $200/month on average (and honestly, we save even more every month). That’s huge! Having an extra $200/month to save for a vacation will make it possible to travel a lot more often.
With YNAB you don’t need a separate vacation savings account, because every dollar is given a job. All you need to do is create a vacation savings category in your budget and YNAB will segment it and keep track for you.
If you hate budgeting (like I do) or have never been able to stick to a budgeting system (yup, that was me too!), this is for you. Sign up for YNAB’s 34-day free trial to see if it works for you.
My average monthly savings: $200+
This trick won’t provide monthly savings before your vacation, but it can end up covering your hotel costs completely, so it’s worth serious consideration. Getting set up to host on Airbnb is easy, and renting out your entire house to guests while you’re away on vacation will bring in an awesome income that you can put towards your next vacation!
Using light, bright, wide-angle photos in your listing will help your home put its best foot forward. And a small basket of inexpensive arrival snacks is a fantastic host touch that will have your guests writing rave reviews. Just make sure to take a second to Google your local short-term rental regulations before you list.
The amount of money you can save by listing your home on Airbnb while you are on vacation will definitely vary based on where you live, and the size and condition of your home. Take a few minutes to search Airbnb for listings that are available near you to get an idea of what kind of cash your home could bring in.
Let me know how much you save using these tips! As always, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments, or just to tell me about your most recent vacation – I would love to hear about it!
Get access to my FREE printable vacation savings tracker!
Subscribe (free!) to instantly get the password to my resource library and download my FREE vacation savings tracker! You will also receive my free weekly newsletter packed with travel news, tips, and deals.