First and foremost, set goals to save up. It’s certainly the norm to use a credit card to book a room, and some establishments even require it, but pay in cash when you arrive. Don’t forget to get a receipt. Paying cash saves you all of that interest!

Divide each aspect of the vacation into chunks and “raise” the money little by little.

We save our aluminum cans and use the money to pay for tolls. Anything left over can be used for games on the boardwalk. Have a yard sale, or sell items online on Ebay, Craigslist, or Facebook to pay for your accommodations. Save your Christmas money and birthday money gifts to pay for meals. My daughter graciously donated a small chunk of her high school graduation money gifts to the vacation fund this year. It doesn’t take as long to save if everyone in the family contributes. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with working age teenagers learning how far one of their hard-earned dollars stretches. 😉

You can see how you could come up with quite a sum without even delving into your regular income.

Location, Location, Location

Do your research and locate a beach close to home to save on gas. The beach itself provides plenty of entertainment. If you’re looking for other amenities, such as a fantastic boardwalk, simple internet searches should help you find what you are looking for within the closest distance. If you drive a gas hog of a vehicle, consider renting a car. The money saved in gas may pay for the entire rental fee plus some, depending upon your situation and deals available. Additional benefits would be saving wear and tear on your car, and not having to worry about breakdowns. Our beach vacation destination is about 4 hours away.

Choose your season wisely.

Off-season rates are incredibly cheaper. Depending on which activities you like to pursue, off season could be a perfect time for a beach vacation. Our New Jersey beach’s water doesn’t really warm up until July. September is still a good month though, and prices do drop, but we have always had to contend with school starting. We search the rates for different hotels on the internet and stay away from pricier times such as holidays and weekends. If you have vacation time coming why not do it midweek for better prices and most likely less traffic.

Check and recheck when you pack.

Make sure you have all of your essentials to cut down on shopping trips when you arrive. Even though we have a very convenient CVS close by things can get pricey in tourist spots, and shopping trips on vacation can turn into a free for all just because it’s vacation time. I always make sure I have some CVS extra bucks saved up for such emergencies.

Pack your own food.

Getting to go to the beach and see the ocean once a year is a big deal for us. We absolutely love it and look forward to it so much that it becomes no big deal at all to pack a few simple breakfast, lunch, and snack options, including beverages. We eat our suppertime meal out, on the boardwalk or at a restaurant, so the trip has more of a vacationlike feel without breaking the bank.

Our hotel now includes a limited menu breakfast for its guests, which is an added bonus. You have to stick to the plan, though, and only order from the limited menu. If you think there is any chance you will falter and go over budget, plan to bring your own breakfast items. In the past with four kids we’ve been successful with milk and cereal bars and individual cereal boxes that you can tear open, add milk and eat right out of the box. If you require more substantial protein like I do, try hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter bagels, yogurt and granola, or store-bought or homemade protein bars. You can add a piece of fresh fruit or a 100% fruit juice mini juice box and there’s breakfast.

We make our lunch in the room and pack it in a cooler to take to the beach. Our traditional beach lunch is a wrap. I was so excited last year when my “just turned into an adult” daughter went to the beach with her best friend and asked me about the components of the wraps because that’s what she wanted to take to the beach for lunch. We get flavored wraps, turkey or ham, and baby lettuces because they roll better. I get a squeeze mayo. In all of the years we’ve gone, no one has become ill because we used mayo. I make up the wraps, cut them in half and store them in a large zip top bag in the cooler. We also take fruit cups or fresh fruit, granola bars and plenty of water. If you go to the beach all day like we do, be sure to pack enough snacks and water. Playing in the ocean helps you work up a voracious appetite. We are not beach loungers. We are wave jumpers. 🙂

Be sure to check your beach’s information regarding cooler sizes, beverage container materials, such as no glass, no alcoholic beverages, etc. Our beach does check coolers.

Be frugal with suppertime choices.

Even though we’ve found the boardwalk is a cheaper destination for suppertime than a restaurant, there are so many options, one could go overboard. We allot an amount for each person for the evening. Once your money is gone, you’re done. One of the more frugal and even more nutritious boardwalk options at many beaches is pizza. We look forward to one particular pizza joint so one evening we order a large tomato pie and some drinks. It’s very economical, filling and healthful compared to other boardwalk foods. We have a favorite restaurant we love there that offers early bird specials. It includes a limited list of meals, a salad, and a dessert. Keep your eyes open for this sort of deal to save you a ton of money.

When we check in to our hotel we’re often offered a booklet that lists local eateries and any specials or coupons. Check out your hotel lobby. They often have several different directories of that sort and even maps to help you navigate your area. Don’t forget to just ask. The hotel managers understand. They know what this economy has done to families, and they want to help you save money so you’ll want to come back next year. They live there or spend a lot of time in the area too, so they know all of the economical places to eat. Some hotels at our beach even host family pizza nights by the pool, to save you money, and of course to make their hotel more appealing.

Fun and Games

As I mentioned before, the beach in itself is entertaining, and many families, especially those with young children may be content to relax in their hotel room, or lounge around the pool during the evenings after supper. You may be able to convince older children that this will be the plan too. If not, simply walking the boardwalk and sightseeing can be entertaining. If you have a rowdier bunch, pick one thing to do each night and once the money is gone, that’s it. Do your research and see if activities such as amusement rides are discounted on certain nights of the week and plan your vacation around those nights, if that is something you know your family will want to do.

Make sure to have a family discussion during the planning process and before you leave to make sure everyone knows about the budget. My family has never complained about any limitations. When we started going to the beach as a family of six the kids were ages 10, 8, 7, and 6. They have always been thankful to get the opportunity to go, play in the ocean and appreciate the sights and sounds of a different environment. We’ve always had a limited vacation budget. They always have been able to ride the go carts, a few amusement rides and play a few games. The trick is to be picky and spend the money on something you know you will really enjoy. One year as teenagers they splurged for temporary tattoos. They were soon faded after we returned home, but it was what they wanted at the time and they were happy to have them and give up another activity to get them.


We rarely buy them and never miss them. Our favorite souvenirs are often photos, memories, or a few interesting sea shells.

Don’t forget emergency money.

The unexpected happens sometimes. You could misplace your money, incorrectly calculate an expense, have a rainy day and go to the movies, etc. Always include a little extra in your calculations. When we under spend, which is usually the case, we celebrate by enjoying a nice meal on the way home at a favorite restaurant that we do not have in our immediate vicinity. It’s the perfect ending to the vacation too, because when we leave our vacation destination we know that the “entertainment” is not completely over.

Happy Planning!

What do you do to save money on vacation?