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The Piggy Bank: The Affordable Family Vacation

Five easy ways to rein in travel costs this summer.

Summer is just around the corner, and for many parents that means time to break out the flip-flops and flotation devices and head to a sunnier climate with the kids. A vacation, however, can put a strain on your wallet, and even though you’re having fun catching up on quality family time, hotel bills and all those dinners out can add up quickly.

No one wants to be pinching every penny on vacation. So, now is the time of year to assess the amount of money you have saved for your upcoming vacation and determine what steps you can take to help bring down costs. Whether you’re sipping a cold drink by the beach, or screaming down a roller coaster at a theme park, the following tips can help you save money while you’re enjoying your time away.

1. Consider booking a home instead of a hotel. Especially if you’re traveling with a group, this option could make a lot of sense. According to recent travel industry research, rental properties cost 50 to 80 percent less per square foot than the average hotel room in popular destinations. Having a kitchen also allows you to cook one or two nights, and perhaps nab some eggs and toast for breakfast instead of heading out for a pricey brunch.

2. Reached your destination? Take public transit. Get out and explore the town or head to the beach while on your vacation. Taking busses or trams instead of a taxi or renting a car can save some vacation cash. Try at least taking transit during the day, and then take a taxi home when the kids are exhausted.

3. Pick the right credit card. This is a great way to prepare for your trip months in advance, especially if you’re flying. Many cards offer mileage rewards that can cut the cost of plane tickets for your whole family. Some cards also feature other travel bonuses, so you can earn rewards according to the type of traveler you are. The key is to plan in advance.

4. Establish a daily cash allowance. Set a daily budget to cover food, activities, and souvenir shopping. To have a cushion for small emergencies or unforeseen expenses, inflate that number by at least 10 percent.

5. Start planning for the next vacation. It’s OK to dream big—having goals on the horizon is one way to help you keep your financial future on track. So while you’re relaxing on this vacation, go ahead and speculate about the next one. Think about how much you want to save over the next year. Will you set up a savings schedule? What deals can you take advantage of today as opposed to a few months down
the road?

Vacations don’t have to break the bank. If you’re smart about saving before your trip, you can feel guilt-free about enjoying your getaway. Be sure to set aside a bit of money each month during the year, and you’ll find you’re well on your way. Once you’re there, the tips above are great ways to keep the final cost manageable.

Remember that the real value of a family vacation is the time you get to spend with your kids. And, whether you’re on a staycation or a cruise in the Mediterranean, kids can have fun doing the simplest and often cheapest things. The real goal is to get the most bang for your buck. That’s the best way to ensure that both you and your kids have a summer worth talking about for years to come.


Alexandra Wlassowsky is a San Francisco–based regional sales manager with Merrill Edge, which offers team-based advice and guidance brokerage services. She can be reached at 415-913-6028 or via email alexandra.wlassowsky@ml.com. Merrill Edge is available through Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporate, and consists of the Merrill Edge Advisory Center and self-directed online investing.

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