Vacations… While we work our way out of debt…. How & Why

“Life is to be enjoyed and lived abundantly. Cut Back, but don’t entirely eliminate the joyful parts of your life, or you’ll never stick with it.” 

Mary Hunt Debt-Proof Living


Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t be writing a vacation post in October but life here rarely resembles normal so….

Hubby’s mom loves cruising and has wanted nothing more for the last several years than to take a cruise with all of her children and grandchildren. She gets great deals on cruises for her and my father in law so we checked into it. There are some great deals to be had on cruises but for our little family of 6 even the great deals were in the neighborhood of $2500 and that is just not consistent with our goal to get out of debt quickly. Amazing cruise vacations will have to wait until we are debt free.

Still hubby’s mom wanted a vacation with her 3 kids and 7 grandkids without the pull of jobs and other responsibilities (the things that we tend to run into when we do weekend visits with them). Her motivation was good so we came up with a compromise that worked better for us and still gave her the uninterrupted time she was looking for. Our compromise was a long weekend at the Beach!

Beach vacations are definitely our preferred kind of vacation. Just give me a towel on the beach and I don’t need anything else. I am ridiculously easy to please especially when the beach is part of the equation. We are all pretty easy to please when it comes to getting away and make sure that we are focused on the fact that it is a blessing that we are getting away from the normal routine.

How we do it – We stick to what we know. We stick with beaches that we already know are affordable with hotels that we have seen on site before. We look for three things in a hotel – cheap, clean and beachfront. For this trip I checked the rates at 3 different hotels and picked the cheapest. I went solely on the price of the room. We’ve stayed at all 3 of the hotels I checked with. They have all been clean, they are all right on the beach with a pool and I didn’t really have a preference among the three for any other reason.

Another good reason to stick with what you know is that cheap hotels don’t always bring in just the nice, budget conscious families. Cheap hotels also bring in wild, drunk younger folks during certain times of the year and if you know the area you are going to you will know when that is. You couldn’t pay me money to stay in the hotel we just used during Spring Break, Senior Week or Biker Week. Too much goes on in cheap hotels during those times of the year and we steer clear then.

If you have only ever done 4&5 star hotels you can still find a cheap hotel that isn’t a dump but you’ll need to do some research. We physically checked out cheaper hotels when we went to the beach. If you tell the people at the front desk you’d like to stay there during your next visit to the area they are usually happy to open up a room for you to see.

We determine our budget before we go. We splurge on vacation with some meals out and extra snacks we don’t normally have. We generally get a room with a small kitchen so that we can do some meals in but skipped it this time.

Entertainment can be budget buster on vacations (at least it used to be for us). A couple of years ago, we sat down with the big girls (7 & 5 years old at the time) and asked then what they really wanted to do that summer. They gave us a long list of stuff – going to the beach was at the top of the list but after that it was simple stuff. They wanted to be able to build sandcastles, look for shells, watch fireworks, eat ice cream on the beach, play mini golf & swim. That little summer list exercise made us realize that we weren’t hurting them by not planning vacations full of stuff to do. So for now our vacation entertainment means hanging out on the beach, playing the sand and the waves then moving to the pool in the afternoon. We throw in a round of mini golf once or twice during the week and look for other free options for entertainment.

*We’ve continued to sit down with the kids before summer starts and ask them what they would like to do during the summer. They are younger (9,6,4&2) but their requests are still fairly simple and relatively cheap.

Transportation is another big expense on vacation and we’ve been known to make our vacation decisions based on gas costs as much as anything else. Our 2 favorite beach destinations are 9 hours and 6 hours away. When gas was nearly $4 a gallon we didn’t even consider the beach 9 hours away. We also don’t look at vacations that would involve flying because our vacation budgets tend to be so low that we would probably be over budget by the time we flew out our family of 6 (and we would still have to rent a vehicle that would hold us all).

Eating on vacation is a biggie for us and we like to eat really well on vacation. We have our “traditional” vacation meal and its not exactly cheap but it is cheaper (and much better to us) than a restaurant meal. Our “traditional” meal is a shrimp boil with new potatoes & corn. We buy the shrimp fresh at a seafood market & get the potatoes and corn at an inexpensive grocery store. Another way that we eat really well is to ask local people for recommendations. We find smaller restaurants that are less expensive than the chain type places and the quality of food is always much better. Learning how to order food for our family was a biggie too. If we go to a nicer place to eat and order 2 adult meals w/ tea or coke & the 4 kids meals w/ a drink we can easily spend $80. We started going to the same nice places and ordering 3 adult meals & a couple of extra sides w/ water to drink for everybody. We split the adult meal with the extra sides between the 3 big kids and order a grilled cheese meal for the 2 yr old. Everybody still left full and we spent $40 instead of $80. We also do some big, late breakfasts then snack instead of lunch and then have an earlier supper (more time for sunset walks on the beach with ice cream that way).

I’ll devote another post to saving for vacation while we get out of debt and my next post will be the budget specifics of our weekend getaway with pictures of the hotel.

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