I cut our vacation budget by 80% and we still had a blast!

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Coming up with a budget for our Michigan adventure was the first step to planning our trip. You can read about how I actually paid for the vacation here. Cutting the trip budget by $2800 did take more work and planning on my end, but I started early and have wonderful friends and family so it turned out to be a great and budget friendly trip!

Here’s the final budget comparison:

                          DREAM        REALITY

Place to stay           $640              FREE

Transportation          $800              $190

Gas                        $300              $220

Food                      $800              $250

Spending                 $500              $ 30

Clothes                   $300              $ 10

Gear                       $200              $ 10                                                

TOTALS                $3540             $700


I originally planned on leaving Friday and coming back on Sunday, so nine nights and ten days. I knew we would be tired and ready to come home by the end of the trip but I wanted to spend as much time as possible. I did the math and realized that each extra day would cost about $100 so we decided to stay Saturday to Saturday. Here’s the breakdown of how I saved money for each item in the budget:


Place to stay: Originally I wanted to stay in a hotel with a pool, preferably in Ann Arbor. It’s my vacation, what’s more vacation-y than a hotel, right? The most reasonable place I found that was decent was $80 a night. Since this was a big chunk of the budget I decided to ask my friends and family if we could stay a night or two with them. We ended up staying at four different places, two nights each and one night with my Aunt. It wasn’t the most convenient plan, because we couldn’t really unpack everything and it did feel like we were constantly packing and moving. The bonus was it saved us a big chunk of money in both lodging and food and gave us a lot more time to spend with our friends and family. Amount saved $640

hotel pool, relaxation, fun in the sun

Transportation:  My dream plan would have been to fly to Michigan and then rent a car to drive around up there. What we ended up doing was renting a car and drove there and back.

We do live 20 minutes from an airport but because it is not an international airport, fares tend to be high. The average cost for a round-trip ticket to Detroit is $350 per person. You can score cheaper fares flying out of Nashville, which would have cost about $200 per person. Nashville is 2 ½ hours North of us, so we would still have to drive and would have needed to rent a car once in Michigan. Since I have three day weekends with my job, it gave us extra time to make driving worth it. It’s a nine to ten hour drive which you can easily do in one day. I rented a car through Enterprise for one week for $190. During that eight days I drove 2,347 miles, crazy!! Amount saved: $610


Gas: If you’re going to drive on your vacation, an important item to budget for is gas. I knew that we would be driving around a lot to different cities (nothing over an hour drive) to visit people and since we weren’t staying in Ann Arbor, there would be extra mileage every day to get daughter to camp. The $300 in my dream budget had quite a bit of cushion added to it. I figured bare bones I would need about $240 for gas. The round trip mileage would be 1,272 and I estimated driving 100 miles a day times seven days. I rounded that to 2,000 miles and estimated we would get 20 miles to the gallon. Figuring an average of $2.40 per gallon of gas, that meant we would need about $240 for gas. We ended up spending $220 in gas for the whole trip for 2,400 miles (mostly highway miles)! Amount saved: $80

road trip, travel, map, car, adventure

Food: One of the first lists we started when we were planning our trip to Michigan was the restaurants we missed the most. I definitely wanted to go to my favorite Mongolian Barbeque in Ann Arbor, Chinese Sizzling in Dundee (the best chinese food EVER), Bill’s Hot Dogs in Ypsilanti, Pete’s Garage in Monroe (so daughter could sit in the cars), La Fiesta (daughter’s favorite Mexican place) and that’s just to name a few. We could have easily eaten out at a different favorite place for every meal. My dream budget planned for just that- us eating out for two to three meals a day on a budget of $100 a day. In reality, food was the biggest budget item and I think the easiest to pare down.

The first way we saved was on the road trip part of the vacation. Instead of going out to eat while on the road, we brought a case of bottled water and a small cooler with us. We stocked it with cold water and snacks so we didn’t have to buy any high priced snacks at gas stations. When we got hungry for lunch, we stopped at a Kroger and bought items to make sandwiches.

Once we were in Michigan, the plan was to save the bulk of our budget (about $40 a day) for dinner. Most of the places we wanted to go had an average entree cost of less than $10 so this seemed like a doable plan. For breakfast, we bought ready to eat items we could eat in the car- pop tarts, protein bars, etc and drank from the case of water we packed. For lunch, daughter had a meal plan through camp and being on my own I could easily eat for $5. Our dinner budget turned out really well due to our awesome family! My Aunts treated us out to eat two of the nights we stayed with them. We went to two different diners and had some great food with even better company.  We were able to splurge and go to all of our favorite restaurants the other nights and meet up with our friends that way. The food was as good as we remembered, but the company was really the best part of each night. Amount saved: $550

chinnese food, chopsticks, sushi, yum

Spending: This was our first real vacation in about ten years. I wanted to make sure that daughter enjoyed it and that we could go shopping and splurge if we really wanted to. That was the main reason for the $500 dream budget, I just wanted to have money available if she wanted something. It turns out we didn’t have TIME to go shopping! Between daughter being at camp all day and then our nights spent driving to meet up with someone and then going back to wherever we were staying, we were too busy to shop! Our last full day in Michigan and daughter’s first day without camp was Saturday. It turned out that no one was around to meet up with us to hang out so it became  a mom/daughter day. We drove down to Toledo and saw the Ghostbusters movie which was fun. We followed that up with our all time favorite Chinese place- Chinese Sizzling. We got the meal to go and ate it at the park where daughter used to play and where we got married. It was a great day!

Our entire spending money budget was our matinee movie tickets, a souvenir t-shirt  and the cost of a University of Michigan key chain that daughter bought for her dad. Amount saved: $470


Clothes:  I remember when I was little, we were getting ready for a big vacation- a cruise! It was the first real expensive family trip we were taking. Before that trip we mainly had gone camping or to Florida to visit my grandparents on vacations. This trip was different though, being on a cruise ship you had the dinners you had to dress up for and you just wanted to look nice. My mom took me and my sisters shopping for clothes and I loved picking out the different outfits and dresses that I wanted. The new clothes added so much excitement to the vacation!

Since then, clothing has always been an item on my vacation budgets. I set a dream budget of $300 because since it was toward the end of the summer, I knew that most of daughter’s clothes had seen much better days. I also knew that if we were going to a hotel with a pool we would both need new bathing suits. Once I had a reality check with the budget, the clothing line was the easiest to get rid of. Since we were staying places with family, we had could easily do laundry during the week. This meant we could wear our shorts/pants a couple times during the week. I made due with what I had in my closet and we were able to find daughter a couple things she needed from the resale store! Amount saved: $ 290


Gear: This might seem like a funny line item in the budget. When I was writing down all the people and places we wanted to go, I also came up with a list of things we ‘needed’ in order to go on this vacation. I wanted to get a nice camera so we could take better pictures than our phones. We also ‘needed’ car charges for our phones and laptop. I thought it would be nice if we could both have new earbuds for our phones. Well, this just like the clothing budget was easy to nix. We had a blast without buying any of the gear I thought we ‘needed’. We did buy a pair of earbuds for daughter and an auxilliary cord to hook our phones up to the car radio. Those were small purchases that made a big impact! Amount saved: $ 190

Totally all the savings, I was able to cut $2,840 from our vacation budget. It wasn’t an indulgent vacation, but daughter had a blast at camp and we got to see all of our friends and family that we missed so much. What’s one tip you have for saving money on vacation? I’d love to hear because I’m already starting to brainstorm for our next vaca!

Originally posted 8/7/17

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