Canada | Personal Finance

6 tips to make that family vacation a reality

Budgeting and planning is key when travelling with kids in tow, experts say

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Family relaxing on rocky beach at evening, while cooking on a small portable BBQ “When it’s a family vacation, it’s about creating memories, spending time together and having a little bit of relaxation,” says money expert Jessica Moorhouse (Getty Images/Maskot)

You scroll through your social media feed and see your friends basking on beaches, kids frolicking in the sand. Where’s your family vacation, you ask? 

The fact is, you’re not the only one who did not budget for one. According to CPA Canada’s Summer Spending Survey, 79 per cent of respondents say they borrow money from their credit card, while just 30 per cent say they use savings from a vacation fund to pay for their holidays. 

But don’t worry – it’s not too late to start budgeting for your next family trip. Here are some tips from the experts on how to do so.

1. MAKE SOME CHANGES

Start with your overall budget. Where can you pull back and cut spending to allow for a monthly contribution to a vacation fund? What can you realistically afford? 

You’ll likely have to make some sacrifices says Rona Birenbaum, CFP and founder of Caring for Clients. Take a look at your budget, cut back and save where you can, she adds. This may mean saying goodbye to date nights for a while or stopping that $3 coffee purchase every day.

“The key is to have an overall family-spending plan, ensuring that the vacation allocation within that doesn’t put you into a cash-flow-negative situation,” she says. 

“A lot of people aren’t keen on doing the work that is necessary to look at all of their expenses and so [instead] they estimate what would be a reasonable budget." 

2. PICK THE RIGHT DESTINATION 

Don’t get caught up in the idea that a vacation requires air travel, says money expert Jessica Moorhouse

According to the CPA Canada survey, 35 per cent of respondents said they will spend their summer vacation in their own province or territory, while 27 per cent said they will have a staycation in their community. 

“Really focus on what is the purpose of the vacation and how [you] can do that within [your] means,” says Moorhouse. “When it’s a family vacation, it’s about creating memories, spending time together and having a little bit of relaxation. There are lots of ways that you can achieve all of those things without having to go to Hawaii.”  [See Canada is a large country. Here are 9 ways to see it inexpensively]

3. FIND THE DEALS

Look out for deals, says personal finance expert Barry Choi. For example, there are vacation packages that allow children to stay and eat for free, airline seat sales and hotel and car-rental discounts.

“Something as simple as booking your travel early can save you money,” says Choi, who also has a blog, Money We Have. “Parents need to be smart and stretch out those dollars.” 

If your kids are young, consider travelling off-season to avoid inflated prices on flights and accommodations. And don’t forget the sit-on-your-lap, reduced fare for travellers who are two years old and younger.

Wherever you visit, check tourism sites for attraction and transit deals, as well as free events. “Do a little research ahead of time,” suggests Birenbaum. “Take full advantage of whatever the city you’re going to is offering as an incentive for being there.” 

And don’t forget about points accumulated through travel reward programs. But be mindful of the terms and conditions when redeeming them, including where, when and what you can book, says Birenbaum.

4. PLAN TO SAVE

Build an itinerary around your budget. Have a day-to-day plan, factoring in deals and things you can do for free. 

“It maximizes what you get out of the trip and manages the costs,” Birenbaum says.

But remember, not every day must be spent doing something. Relax by the pool, avoid an unnecessary shopping spree and bring leftover foreign currency home instead of spending it, she adds. 

Moorhouse recommends adding up your receipts daily while on vacation and compare spending against your budget. Be sure to account for the currency exchange.

“It takes 15 minutes…and then you know what you can do and what you cannot do,” she says. “People think it’s a lot of work, but it really isn’t. You’ve got to make that choice for yourself. Do you want to stay on budget…or do you want to blow your budget…and pay the consequences later?”

5. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

Consider using accommodation sites, such as Airbnb, VRBO or Turnkey, rather than booking a hotel. You can save hundreds of dollars not just on where you sleep, but on food, which you can buy locally and prepare on-site, suggests Choi.

If moving around, take local transit instead of renting a car. Fares are cheaper, and saved cash can be allocated towards fun stuff like daily adventures and dinners out.

Vacationing with another family—be it renting a condo or cottage together—is another great way to spread the cost around. 

6. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

Maintaining a family is expensive, even before adding a vacation into the mix. An annual trip may not be feasible, says Choi, so keep this in mind: 

  • Vacationing with kids is a lot of work, not the vegging on a beach you remember. 
  • Travel with kids requires a bigger budget, so adjust accordingly.
  • Make it worth the wait and save for that dream vacation a year or two down the line. 
  • Tap into cheaper vacations closer to home, exploring your own surroundings. 

“Some parents feel they still need a vacation every year and that’s where your budget gets blown,” says Choi.  “You have to manage your expectations…sometimes you just can’t have it all.” 

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT BUDGETING FOR VACATION?

CPA Canada’s 2019 Summer Spending Survey shows that budgeting for summer spending causes stress for 19 per cent of Canadians. And a full 47 per cent say they have less money left after buying household essentials compared to a year ago. See our tips on how to budget for vacation and plan a carefree and wallet-wise road trip.