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FREE Vacation Budget Worksheet
Prevent going overspending on vacation with this free cheatsheet + budget planning duo!
When is the last time you can remember taking a vacation and NOT going over budget with your spending?
If the answer is “Gee, I really can’t remember,” then believe me when I say you are not the only one. A 2015 study conducted by Experian reported that 68% of people end up spending more than they expected on vacation.
Millennials especially rely heavily on the use of credit to fund their vacations. In the same study, Millennial respondents indicated their intent to charge an average of 60% of their summer vacation expenses to their credit cards.
I enjoy a nice getaway just as much as the next gal, but not enough to go into credit card debt for it. Bleck.
Of course, the study doesn’t say whether or not the participants planned to carry the balance or immediately pay it off. I like to think all my smart money millennials out there would have done the latter.
So back to vacations. They’re awesome, we know this. But what’s not awesome is not being able to enjoy your vacation to the fullest extent because you didn’t plan ahead and are relying on your oh-so-faithful credit card to pick up the slack.
That doesn’t have to be you – you deserve to enjoy your vacation without going into debt! That’s why I’m here to help you vacation responsibly so you never have to worry about money killing your beach buzz again!
Follow these four steps to prevent overspending on vacation in every season!
Step 1: Plan Ahead
The first step to budgeting for your awesome, carefree vacation (well, carefree of money, at least) is to plan ahead. Some people like to plan their vacations down to the very last detail – where and what time they’ll eat dinner, every site they’ll visit and tour they’ll take, yadda, yadda.
Not me. I value having flexibility, especially on vacation.
So don’t fret yet if you’re not big into planning. These questions will help get you started:
- Where are you going?
- Who are you going with?
- When are you going (for how long)?
- How are you getting there?
- What will you do while you’re there? (Again, you don’t have to plan everything, but you might want to have some ideas in mind or plan a couple of fun activities.)
These are the basics – the who, what, when, where, and how. The further in advance you can answer these questions, the better your chances are of snagging awesome deals on flights, accommodations, and activities. So if you’re planning on taking a vacation next summer, for example, don’t wait until April of next year to start planning. Coordinate with whoever is going and choose a date so you can get the best possible rates!
Step 2: Start Booking Deals
Now that you’ve got a basic plan for your vacation, you can start booking some awesome deals!
For accommodations, I highly recommend using Airbnb . I love using Airbnb to find cheap and unique places to stay on vacation; I use it almost exclusively any time I travel. Hotels can be expensive and unwelcoming; I much prefer to stay in a cozy home with all the amenities. If you don’t like the idea of sharing a space with strangers, then you can rent out an entire home, usually at a fraction of the price of most hotels. This could be a great option for families and solo travelers alike. You can get a $40 travel credit if you use my link!
For flights, fun activities, and accommodations (if you’re not into Airbnb – it’s okay, some people aren’t), check out Cheapflights, Expedia, Booking.com, and Priceline. I recommend shopping around and comparing deals on each one.
Note: If you don’t already have money saved for your vacation or cannot afford to start booking deals at this point, then skip this for now. We’ll revisit later!
Step 3: Get Specific
If I had to take a guess, I would say this is what causes most people to spend a lot more money on their vacations than they anticipate; they aren’t specific when configuring their costs.
I repeat: you do NOT have to plan every activity or meal, but you should have an idea of the major expenses categories for your trip, including:
- Meals (+ Groceries if you plan to cook some meals yourself)
Hopefully, you found some killer deals on flights and accommodations in the last section, so we’ll move on to the other categories.
Keep in mind that when estimating expenses, it’s better to be over budget than to under budget. Guess high, aim low. Now, let’s take a look at each category:
I like to use the Department of Defense (DOD) Per Diem Query to get an estimate for the cost of meals. It’s super easy to use – all you have to do is type in the country or state and find the rates for your destination (or the city or town closest to your destination if yours isn’t listed). The Local Meals column provides an estimate for the cost of meals per person per day.
Of course, this will vary depending on whether or not you plan to cook any meals yourself during your trip. If that’s the case, you’ll want to decide whether to bring groceries with you or shop when you get there and for how many meals a day you’ll want to dine out. From there, you can adjust your budget accordingly.
Next comes transportation costs. How are you getting to your destination/how will you get around once you’re there? If you’re taking your own vehicle, you’ll want to do some simple math and figure out how much you’ll need to budget for gas:
Vehicle MPG * Vehicle Gas Tank (gal.) = Miles per Tank
Round Trip Distance (mi.) / Miles Per Tank = # of Tanks
# of Tanks * (Cost per Gallon * Vehicle Gas Tank (gal.)) = Cost of Gasoline
Don’t forget to budget a little extra if you plan on driving around while you’re there. If you plan to use public transportation instead, then you can get an idea of your costs by Googling “public transportation costs in _______”.
Whenever I go on vacation, I like to plan 1-3 special activities (depending on the time and cost of the activities) and leave room for other things that may pop up. So I’ll purchase tickets or plan to purchase tickets for one or two things, then set an Entertainment budget for things like concerts, festivals, or anything else that wasn’t planned for. Trip Advisor is a great place to look for local shows and entertainment.
Step 4: Set a Budget
Now it’s time to put everything together and set a solid budget for your vacation! You should already have some of the pieces from the research you conducted in the previous steps, you just need to organize, make a few final decisions, and come up with an overall budget. In addition to the categories we’ve already discussed (flights, accommodations, meals, entertainment, transportation) other expenses to consider include:
- Fees and Tolls
- Miscellaneous Expenses
Always, always, always add a miscellaneous category to cushion your budget for any unexpected expenses or emergencies. I budget for at least a couple hundred dollars extra just in case.
Step 5: Make a Savings Plan
You’ve created your dream vacation budget – now it’s time to make your dream a reality! Consider the time between now and your vacation. How much will you need to save each week/two weeks/month to meet your savings goal? Does your current budget allow for you to save that much?
Don’t already have a regular monthly budget? Hop on over to my guide on how to get control of your money where I show you in six easy steps how to set up a budget that works for you.
If you skipped Step 2: Start Booking Deals because you do not have money already set aside for your vacation, don’t sweat it. Start saving for your vacation anyway and book your travel, accommodations, and main activities once you have enough saved. Then keep on saving until you reach your goal!
If your savings goal seems out of reach with your current monthly budget and the time you have to save, then you have three main options: change your plans (choose a different location, move your vacation date, cut out some activities, look for deals, etc.), decrease your current expenses, or my preference, and the option I usually recommend – increase your income.
Accelerate Your Vacation Savings
The best and fastest way to achieve your financial goals is usually to increase your income. If you’re working a full-time job, you may not feel like there is enough time in the day to devote to a side hustle or second job. But it doesn’t take a huge time investment to make extra money! Here are some of my favorite ways to make extra money.
People Per Hour
People Per Hour is a freelance website where you can bid on projects posted by “Buyers”. If your proposal is chosen, you get to complete the project and collect the cash. Projects and tasks range from writing and data entry to web development and social media management. There is something for every skill level!
Completing Surveys Online
Not all survey companies are worth your time, but the legitimate ones with high payout can help you earn hundreds of dollars per month with minimal effort. My favorite survey sites are Swagbucks, American Consumer Opinion®, Survey Junkie, Harris Poll Online, NiceQuest, OneOpinion, PineCone Research, and Earning Station.
As a freelance writer, you can make a lot more money working directly with clients than through a freelance website. Freelance writers who learn the business and are able to connect with the right clients can make upwards of six figures per year. Holly Johnson at EarnMoreWriting.com
I recently started mystery shopping with Bestmark. It’s a super easy and fun way for me to make some extra cash on the side AND get free products and services like oil changes, makeup, meals and more!
For more ways to increase your income to accelerate your vacation savings plan, check out these real ways to make money fast.
How do you prevent overspending on vacation?
I’m a financial coach and author + owner of Goodbye to Broke. I love all things personal finance, money management, and healthy living. And I talk to my dog way too much, if we’re being honest.