10 Practical Ways To Save Money For That Special Vacation

Everyone has that ‘someday’ dream vacation that seems just out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here is our list of practical steps to help get you started to saving money for that special vacation!

A few years ago, my husband and I hit a pretty low point financially.

Money was more than tight and it felt like we were never going to get our heads above water in the financial department. The stress of it coloured how we talked to one another, how we parented and definitely how we made purchases or thought of the future.

It’s a long story, but I’m happy to say that through some difficult work, serious restraint, and learning our lessons we were able to get into the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and not only survive, but thrive!

And you can do it too!

We learned many things through the process and feel it our duty to share our top 10 things we learned along the way:

By no means is this a comprehensive list. These are just our daily favourites.

1. First and foremost….quit living your life on loan to the bank and the credit card company.

We live in a culture that tells us we deserve everything our hearts, eyes, and minds want. Here’s the truth: NO, WE DON’T! Sure it may feel good to “have it all”, but when it comes time to pay the piper, that feel good feeling fades pretty fast. As a society, as a household, as an individual, we need to learn to do without and be content with less.

Make purchases only when you actually have the money to pay for it (with the exception of a house). I know… it’s a crazy idea.

2. Work with a budget – Stop managing your finances without some kind of computer software help.

It wasn’t until we were in trouble that we decided to work with a program that would keep us from making the same mistakes. We signed up with YNAB (You Need A Budget) and it made a massive difference!

With very simple online tutorials and help, we have been able to set up a monthly budget and savings plan to get our financial lives in order. It took a couple months to really be comfortable with the program and now I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The system tracks our spending and shows where we have extra and where we need to be more careful. As long as I stay on top of all the receipts (that’s really the key, isn’t it?) it’s dead easy and super helpful.

Here is a link to a free 30 day trial to see if it’s what you are looking for. It really helped us take control of our money in a whole new way.

3. Food: To Coupon Or Not To Coupon

I know there is debate here about what is best.

I have found here in Canada, that since stores ad-match and I don’t buy name brand items, I choose not to coupon. I tried it for a season and found I was buying food I never buy simply because I had a coupon. And many times I learned that the coupon only worked on the top brands and the store brands were cheaper anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen the extreme couponing shows and sit in awe of what they are able to do, but when I look at their storage rooms, it looks like they’re saving up for the apocalypse or something.

That’s just not realistic for me.

So instead of having my very own grocery store in my house, I shop almost exclusively at a store that has consistently low prices and when I couple that with shopping store brands and in-store specials, I get a pretty big bang for my buck. I buy produce in season and meat on sale and try and keep to the staples.

4. And while we’re on food, let me just say…make everything you can from scratch

I get it. Many of you work part or full time and don’t feel you have the space in the day for spending another couple hours in the kitchen. Or you have little ones around your feet all day. I’ve been there. The key here is to do what you can. My kids know better than to ask me to buy muffins at the store or ask to go out to eat for dinner. They just know. That’s not something we do unless we’re on vacation.

It definitely means more work in the kitchen, but I’m blessed to enjoy time spent there. Without buying prepackaged foods, I not only know what my family is actually eating, but I can also fairly easily make it stretch further or make it differently for leftovers so little to no food goes to waste. Homemade granola bars, desserts, snacks, dinners, and even bread can take a bit more time, but in the end taste better and costs less.

5. Stop Buying Everything Brand New

I used to frown at thrift stores as dirty places with nothing I wanted.

Then I realized the incredible benefits of frequenting them. Often the items in these stores actually have nothing wrong with them and have quite a bit of life left too. In the world in which we live, we really should be using things all the way…not encouraging them to go to the landfill before their time. With a little perusing, you can find most things you’ll need and many things you’ll want.

When Jay or one of the kids lets me know they need a new baseball glove or pair of jeans or anything, really, they know to wait a few weeks for me to locate the needed item at one of the many thrift stores around our area.

I get such satisfaction knowing I just paid $4 for a pair of jeans with the original tags still on them instead of $65. I wash most everything when I bring it home, and then, it’s usually as good as new.

6. Never Pay Full Price For Anything – Even The Items You Just Can’t Bear To Purchase Used

Every store has sales. Keep a list of the things you’re looking to purchase and then wait for the sale. Shop for next year’s summer clothes at the end of the summer. Buy school supplies after school has started and everything’s on massive clearance.

My favourite is shopping for Christmas decorations during the first two weeks of January. I’ll scope out anything I like before Christmas and instead of paying $40 for the decoration, I only pay $5 when the store is just trying to get rid of it. Yep, that one happened to me today (and it’s true for most anything seasonal). You can even do this with birthday gifts for the kids’ parties they will be invited to throughout the year.

My kids now know whenever they are invited to a party, they just go check the gift cupboard and find something they would like to give. I get the things when they’re on clearance and am therefore able to keep to a $5-8 per gift budget.

7. Don’t think you can afford that Hawaiian vacation? Think again!

Hawaii family camping trip vacation, Kauai camping

You’ll need to enjoy camping though!

Maybe you can’t stay in that $200 a night resort by the beach, but for just $3 a night we can show you how to have your Hawaiian vacation and not go into debt. We spent two weeks of our one month Hawaiian vacation camping on a pristine Hawaiian beach when our kids were just 3,2 and 6 month old and we LOVED it!

Sometimes you just need to get a little creative to have that special family vacation. Our whole family can’t wait to do it again, and soon.

8. Use Online Resources For Buying And Selling

And by this I mean places like craigslist.com or kijiji.ca or varagesale.com. Many communities will also have their own buy and sell site so go online to find what you’re looking for. This is also where you can make some money selling your used treasures. You can make a game of it by only purchasing something with the money you have made from selling things.

9. Change Your Mindset

Do you really need to have the latest and the greatest? – Drive an older vehicle so you don’t have a car payment. My husband is unusually proud of his 30 year old truck that was a grad gift from his father, but it’s still “running like a dream” as he can only say.

Use an older cell phone or none at all (eek! Yep, that’s me with my hand up. I only have the good old land line). Quit the gym membership and use the outdoors instead. If you really take some time to think about it, there are things you do every day that are pure luxuries. If you’re serious about looking for ways to save money, just take an honest look at your own budget.

10. Get Creative and get the kids involved

Saving money for vacation, Backyard chicken coop

They’ll have ideas too. My kids like taking the cans to the recycling and then getting to know how much money they helped put into the savings jar. Even when it’s just $10, they get a sense of ownership and pride in the process. Over the Christmas holiday, my daughter made cookies from her new cookie cookbook and took them door to door with her brothers to sell.

We put in a chicken coop and sell the eggs for our vacation fund. When the kids gather the eggs or wash the eggs or sell the eggs or clean the coop or feed the chickens…..you get the idea….they know their work is for a greater cause. They learn a bit of work ethic (bonus!) and feel part of the end goal. You may not be able to become a hobby farmer, but chances are that with a little thinking outside the box, you can put money away too.

We’re working our way to Disney at the moment. It’s taking a long time, but little by little we’ll eventually get there.

So how about you? What are your practical tips for saving money?


  • Great article Gretta! We recently returned from a vacation that had the whole family saving and dreaming for. Originally we planned for Disney but with girls aged 4&6 those line ups were not going to be magical moments. The things that helped save us big money was using points airmiles for some hotels and car rentals made a huge difference. A super deal on flights through an alert from YVR deals.com and Groupon and deciding that although not as big name as Disney Knott's Berry farm and resort gave us the magic and fun we were looking forward to. And beach time... Nothing could have been more affordable and fun as spending a few days on the beach and ocean! The girls sold and saved so we're able to have spending money for their desires they certainly were much more responsible for what they wanted to buy when it came from their pockets and not ours ;) best wishes for your next adventure! It will be worth every penny :) - Reply

    • Thanks for sharing! Love seeing families out there teaching their kids about saving money for vacation and how to be responsible with hard earned money. Sounds like you had an awesome time. Good choice on Knott's Berry farm and the beach for that age. We just got back from Disneyland with our kids and loved it. We went the first week in December to avoid the huge lines and it seemed to work. Our kids are a little older at 10,9 & 8. If you do ever decide to go be sure to read our blog post on our very best practical tips for families visiting Disneyland the very first time! https://www.travelingislanders.com/first-time-disneyland-tips/ - Reply

  • How interesting... We are just 34 days away from our ultimate dream vacation. We are headed to Maui and Kauai for 5 weeks! We saved airline miles and were able to get tickets for $5.60 each from Chicago to Hawaii! We are thrilled. We also have banked our timeshares and will be using three weeks from last year, this year, and next year. The other two weeks... we are CAMPING! We enjoy the outdoors, and although we prefer to RV , camping is the financially responsible choice for us. I think your family and mine are very similar in making financial decisions. For us vacationing is a priority. We know to avoid places, purchases, and even company that will keep us away from traveling. - Reply

    • Oh wow Silvana! You must be busting to be just days away from such an amazing trip. What makes it even better is how you are saving money and doing the trip on the cheap. Please drop us a line and let us know how it goes! Great job in planning such an epic Hawaiian vacation. J - Reply