Vacations and Your Budget

How much money will you need for your next vacation? Family vacations are a peculiar thing. One person’s dream could be another’s nightmare. Simply traveling together as a family can be stressful, but I find solace knowing that even Jesus experienced trouble on one of his vacations.

We read in Mark 6 that Jesus took his crew on a cruise (think more Pontoon than Royal Caribbean) to a solitary place. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest”. Turns out that when they docked, the vacation already started coming undone. Over 5,000 people were waiting to meet them and the only items to eat were five loaves of bread and two fish. All of a sudden, a heated exchange breaks out with Jesus telling them, “You give them something to eat” and the Apostles responding with, “That would take more than half a year’s wages!!” (Did someone say unbudgeted expense?!) “Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

Vacations can look very different for families. Though some may long for a relaxing cabin in the woods, others may desire a theme park getaway. Whatever your trip looks like, a great way to ensure a peaceful return is by planning your vacation budget in advance. Even with good planning we are all susceptible to overspending while out of town.

To help keep your vacation on budget, here are some important considerations:


1. Timing

Heading anywhere during spring break (typically mid-March to mid-April) will add a minimum cost premium of 25-100 percent. Flights and hotel rooms to popular locations are doubled. Traveling during holiday seasons also increases key costs. The busiest days at Disney occur during the Christmas break, however the first week of January is the slowest time and everything is deeply discounted. A bonus tip is to consider leaving for your trip in the middle of the week; this can often dramatically lower your flight costs.


2. Dining/Food

Hopefully you don’t need to feed 5,000, but many families are shocked at the cost of food on the road, and if you are staying in a resort area, the prices are typically more than double. An $8 Denny’s “Grand Slam“ will cost you $25 at the Sheraton Hotel in Miami. That’s one meal, one person – coffee extra. Simple tips to save include:


  • Utilize the mini-fridge: Bring or buy breakfast and lunch items (milk and cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit, lunch meats and bread) at a local store and stock the refrigerator. Plan the meals you will be eating out and get them in the budget.
  • Case and Cooler: Don’t pay a premium for the convenience on water. Stop at a store and buy a case of bottled water. By utilizing a travel cooler and ice, you won’t fall victim to spending $3.00 on the cold bottle in the display case.
  • Hotel selection: Many hotels often include breakfast and some offer light meals in the evening. By utilizing the included breakfast, your family of 4 could save hundreds of dollars on a week trip.

3. Rental Car

Do you really need one? Does your hotel offer complimentary van service? If you need a car, take advantage of online services that provide price comparisons from all major rental companies. Be on the lookout for the total cost, though, because often times, companies will show a lower daily rate but add on mystery fees. Be on the lookout for these cost adders:

  • Extra insurance – Check with your carrier, but typically, there is minimal value in paying for extra insurance because your personal car insurance carries with you.
  • Parking – that Miami Sheraton? $40 per night.
  • Tolls – Make sure you’re covered if doing a lot of driving. Many states no longer have cash tolls and most just have open lane tolling. If you don’t take the option from the rental company, you could be hit with a toll charge and a convenience charge per toll.
  • Fuel – Don’t take the refueling option – the house always wins. Take a couple extra minutes and stop and refuel before returning the vehicle.


4. Gifts

Don’t get tempted in the tourist shops and airport. If shopping is your thing, plan ahead (put it in the budget) and ask the locals where they would go to get the best deals. In most hot spot destinations, even the local Walmart will have gifts. But remember – the best gifts are the memories. If you truly feel like you need to buy souvenirs, bring back something that reminds you of your adventures. Grandparents, friends and family have plenty of their own t-shirts and knickknacks.


5. Flights

Traveling by air? Beware of the “low price” airlines. Budget carriers have gone to incredible lengths to lower the cost of your seat while charging for services that used to be included (printing boarding pass, paying for luggage, drinks, and overhead space). These fees are designed to recoup their costs and you can often pay more than you would have with one of the big 5 carriers. When comparing prices, consider the total cost, not just the cost of the seat on the plane.

Back to the Bible and the family vacation Jesus took with the Apostles – Jesus and the crew eventually did take a break from each other, which resulted in the 12 leaving port without Him. Their cruise didn’t turn into the Titanic but without their true Captain, the Apostles find themselves struggling again. Want to know more? Read the rest of Mark 6 to see how it turned out.

Written by Financial Stewardship Volunteer Jon Kotrba.. 

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