Many Americans seem united in at least one common frustration: no matter how much (or how little) of a tax return we manage to get back from the government, it spends all too quickly. For those of us living paycheck to paycheck, extra money is often absorbed by things we need before we even have time to consider what we want. Sure, some families will add a new television to the home or find some other way to splurge, but for many people, the money is spent before the deposit even arrives into our accounts. Gone far too quickly. Then we’re left counting down a whole other year to the next one, promising ourselves we’ll make it last longer.
But this isn’t the only way to live. In fact, in my experience, it’s best to put back as much as one can afford into savings. Designate a particular percentage or amount that is to head straight for an emergency fund. This could help out during a job loss, car repair, or medical emergency. Having a little tucked away for a rainy day can go a long way to giving us a little peace of mind, particularly if we pretend like it’s not there otherwise to keep ourselves from spending it.
While considering an amount to put into savings is a great first step, we then need to consider the best ways to allocate the remaining amount. For many families, this amount may be humble, but it might be the only “extra” money that comes into the household that’s not already devoted to bills, home expenses, and raising our families. Often, we redirect our energies into dreaming of vacation destinations and figuring out just where we’d like to go if we’re going to use some of that return for this purpose.
If we can afford to throw every last dime into a vacation and be no worse off, why not, right? But many families can’t afford that, nor do they want to see the entire amount swallowed up in the space of a long weekend or a full week’s vacation. Just when we feel like this will be yet another year where we’ll have to skip a vacation, there’s hope! There are so many affordable ways to vacation if we just think a little bit outside of the box.
- Consider camping. Camping can be an affordable way to travel. In many states, a free park pass can be obtained from the local library to cover any related entry or parking fees. If we don’t have the gear to go, we can look for used gear online rather than paying full price for something new.
- Consider glamping. It’s a step up from camping. Glamping is glamour camping. It often involves a yurt, teepee, treehouse, RV, boat, or other structure designed to ease us into a camping experience.
- Consider hostels. Hostels are out there for those who don’t mind sharing communal spaces and roughing it just a bit.
- Check out AirBNB. Many homes offer rooms for rent or even entire locations for low prices. Be sure to book well in advance to secure an affordable rate. VRBO and HomeAway also list affordable vacation rentals, but AirBNB might have a bit more flexibility when it comes to finding the absolute least expensive options.
- Visit Groupon for travel deals. Keep an eye out for changing deals, and snag a good one when it comes up. Groupon nearly always has a discount code available to use for our purchases. LivingSocial is another site that offers discounted deals.
- Consider a staycation. It may not sound relaxing just to stay home, but when we treat our areas like tourists, taking day trips to see sites, it can be fun! I know my state offers a free zoo pass from the local library that can be checked out once a year. A staycation is a great opportunity to do all the things we’d like to do closer to home but rarely have the time to do.
- Consider a day trip or long weekend. Decide how far you want to drive. Two hours, three, five? What’s the longest you’re prepared to sit in a car? Then go online and map the circumference around where you live. Where could you visit in a 5 hour drive from your home? Which sites interest you in that area? Don’t think only of tourist spots. Parks, hiking trails, waterfalls, and other natural beauty may abound. Museums may also be a point of interest. Foodies might want to take a trip simply to try out local cuisine. Be creative, but decide first on how long you want to drive, and then figure out your best options there.
- Stay at a park. Many parks offer affordable accommodation in the form of cabins or inns.
- Consider agritourism. Look into local farms and other locations that may provide reasonably priced accommodations (and farm to table cuisine). Many offer experiences suitable for the whole family.
- Consider a cruise. This may seem like an expensive option, but I can tell you that it’s not. As a single mother, I was able to take my two children on a Carnival cruise for a week for less than many would spend for a long weekend away. The cost included all meals, entertainment, childcare, and gratuity. This is, of course, more affordable if you are in driving distance to a port. It is easily the most luxurious- and yet most affordable- trip I’ve ever been on.
We may have so many obligations that will absorb what little money we’ll get back. But many of us start longing for a vacation as winter extends itself further into the new year than we’d like. We start dreaming of cabins or beaches, drinks with little umbrellas, hammocks swaying in a breeze, and something sizzling on a grill as we bask in the sun. Whatever our escape fantasy for vacation, it may be possible to actually have a small, affordable vacation. It doesn’t have to absorb every last penny of our money. Instead, if we’re creative, we might be able to stretch it to cover savings, some basic needs, and a fun vacation, too.