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Frugal Living Ideas So You Can Save Money for Vacation

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Remember the Southwest Airlines tagline “wanna get away?” Is that still a slogan they use? I clearly haven’t flown in awhile…

Today’s guest post is by LJ from I’d Rather Walk. LJ and I are both members of the Dare To Conquer blogging mastermind tribe (watch my YouTube review).

In case you missed it on Instagram or on the email I sent out a couple weeks ago, I’ve been dealing with some health issues and was hospitalized for fluctuating but rapid heart rate at the beginning of the month. While my new functional medicine doctor has a good idea of what is causing it, I’ve had to intentionally slow myself down in terms of how much I can exert myself and make rest a priority.

(In case you didn’t know that I have a tendency to constantly be working on something, Peter had to firmly tell me no, he was not going to bring my laptop up to the hospital so I could work on blog work while I was stuck there overnight, because I needed to rest.)



So when I knew it was time for more content for you all, but I didn’t have the energy to create it myself, I reached out to my mastermind and LJ graciously offered to let me syndicate one of her posts. Be sure to go check out her site and show her some love for helping me out!

Grow Your Vacation Fund in 4 Easy Steps

If you’re ever going to take that big hiking trip you’ve been dreaming about, you’ll need to stash more money – or at least some money! – in your vacation saving account.

Whether you’re looking at a 1-2 week getaway or several months on the trail, these saving strategies add up.

Save Money for Travel

The first thing to do is to figure out how much money you’re going to need – so you know when you’re done saving :-).

Check out my post on planning your multi-day hiking trip for some good ideas on how to plan your trip so you can figure the cost.   I’ve also got some info on different lodging options that might help with your estimate.

The closer you are to your vacation date and the less money you have saved already, the more intense your saving activities will need to be.

Do The Math

It’s easy to figure total cost if you go on trip with a travel company .  They usually have a planned itinerary that includes food, lodging, activities and a guide all in one price.

That can save you time  – and sometimes money, too, so it’s worth looking into.

Hiking near Mont Blanc

You could also use a trip cost calculator, like the one I’ve linked to here, to help figure your savings goal.

Once you have a ballpark idea how much money you’ll need and when you want to go, you’ll know how much time you have to pull your travel stash together – that is, the time between right now and your vacation date.

FYI, the photos I’ve included in this post are from some fantastic trips I’ve taken – using money from my own vacation saving fund!

Habits That Steal From You

Do you routinely come to the end of your money before it’s time for your next paycheck? If this is a recurring problem in your life, it may not be about needing a bigger salary.

You could have spending habits that are not only keeping you in debt, but also preventing you from saving.

I’m not here to judge, but if this sounds like you (even just a little), unless you want your dream vacation to put you further into to debt, you might want to ramp up your financial planning skills.

Financial Organizing in 4 Steps

Managing money is a learned skill, and even though our parents tried to give us some pointers, a lot of us didn’t listen.   This is not a skill they taught in school, either.   I mentally kick myself over some of the things I did that set me back early on.

Fortunately, through simple frugal living and setting spending priorities, I was able to reset my finances and regain lost ground.  I’ll bet you can do it, too.

To help save money for travel, let’s revisit those budgeting basics, and maybe identify some bad financial habits to get rid of (along with extra expenses) on the way.

Financial planning can be summed up in these basic steps:

Fortunately, through simple frugal living and setting spending priorities, I was able to reset my finances and regain lost ground.  I’ll bet you can do it, too.

To help save money for travel, let’s revisit those budgeting basics, and maybe identify some bad financial habits to get rid of (along with extra expenses) on the way.

Financial planning can be summed up in these basic steps:

STEP 1:  Identify Your Goal

For our  purposes, we’ve already identified our goal as saving enough money for a vacation.

This means we need to find money to save for travel AFTER you’ve covered all of your normal expenses.

STEP 2: Track Your Spending

Do you ever wonder where exactly all of your money went?  Tracking expenses is the best way to find where you can cut back.

It’s also a powerful tool to identify how much you’re throwing away on random crap you don’t need.  You could eliminate these expenses entirely once you’re aware of them.


The easiest way to track your spending is to look at your online banking or credit card statements and see what you’ve spent on in the last calendar month.

  1. Curious tigers approach morning tour visitorsStart with your larger (monthly) bills like rent/mortgage, groceries, daycare, utilities, health insurance, student loans, credit cards,  etc.
  2. Next move on to car payments, parking, gas, and car maintenance and insurance.
  3. Entertainment is next and would also include monthly cable and internet bills as well as luxuries like visits to the nail and hair salon, (non-medical) massages, drinks and dining out, movies, gym memberships, sports events and shows.
  4. Don’t  forget about spending on new clothes and shoes.
  5. And cigarettes, gambling, designer coffee – whatever your addiction of choice is.
Queen Anne's Lace blossom against bright blue sky
Queen Anne’s Lace on Regency Lake

Next, take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle.  At the top write “NEEDS” to the left and “WANTS” to the right.  You might also call these  “Must Haves” and “Nice to Haves”.

Now put everything you spend money on (from your list of expenses above) into one of these two columns.

Be completely honest with yourself.   How many of those items were things you actually needed?  Will your life be destroyed if you have to go on without them?


When you’re finished, look at the “WANTS” column and next to each item write down how much they cost.  Next, add them up to get the total cost.  That’s how much you can save every month if you eliminate these expenses.

You may be surprised at how much you’re spending on non-essentials and luxuries.  Now that you’re aware, how do you change it?

The final step is to just stop buying things you don’t absolutely need.  It may be harder than it sounds.  Time for Step 3.

STEP 3: Set Your Budget

If you’ve identified the trip you want to take, you know how much money you need to save.   If you know when you want to go, you know how much time you have to save that money.

If you divide the amount of money you need by the number of months until you leave, you know how much EXTRA you need to put away each month.

Palo Duro Canyon SP, Texas

You’ve analyzed your living expenses for a month, so you know where your money usually goes.  Some expenses are fixed, like your rent and your car payment.  Other expenses are flexible, like the money you spend on food  or entertainment.



Now the big question is – how are you going hit your vacation savings target?

Flexible expenses  – the “WANTS”  you listed out above – are where you can probably economize most easily.

That said, let’s look at some ways you may be able to cut down on your fixed living expenses, too.


Reduce Your Utility Bills 

  • Turn down the heat or air conditioning and use a fan or wear a sweater.
  • Unplug electronics when not in use.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • If you have a gas fireplace, only run it on special occasions.
  • Only run full loads in your dishwasher and clothes washing machine.

Pare Down your Cell and Internet 

Ruins in Aosta, Italy

Take a look at your cell phone and cable bills.  Can you get a better rate or cut the cord?

I was getting a bundle for my home phone, cell (2 lines), and internet that cost way too much – and they kept jacking it up every month by adding little service fees.  Here’s how I fixed it:

  • I got VOIP for my home phone – saving $20/month.
  • I moved to another provider for my internet – saving $30/month.
  • I cut cable and got Sling and an HD antenna – saving more than $100/month.
  • I also paid off the cell phones and renegotiated my cell service to save $.

I have to juggle this yearly when my rate is up with the cell company, and the same with the ISP.  It’s a pain to keep playing these games, but if you don’t they’ll eat you alive.

Andalusian guard dogs on the alpaca farm

Some people are able to go without home phone,  internet, or cell phone, but I need them for work and emergency contact.   If you’re able to eliminate home phone line altogether, and can use free wifi at the library or a coffee house – even better!

Refinance Your Loans  

If you have a mortgage, car loan or student loans, you may be able to refinance and save some money on your monthly payments.

I did this one year when daycare rates went up but my work wasn’t giving any yearly salary increases due to recession.  My mortgage refinance freed up an additional $200/mo which was enough to cover the daycare increase I needed, plus a little bit extra.

This only works if your current loans are at a higher interest rate than the ones being offered today OR you can pay down the loan debt substantially as part of the refinance.

Pay Off Your Credit Cards: 

Wildflowers in Patagonia

Credit cards are great, but they make it too easy to overspend.   They can help build your credit score, but only if you don’t miss a payment.

Credit cards should only carry a balance if it is a dire emergency.  Even if it’s 0% interest, you’ll still have a monthly payment and that interest rate won’t last forever.  With the typically high interest rates, once you’re behind  you may never catch up!

You might also look into debt consolidation if you owe a balance on several credit cards.   Consolidate to the card with the lowest interest rate.

Credit cards should be paid on time and in full each month. Once this has become your habit, you can use credit cards to accumulate airline miles and cashback rewards that will save you even more!

Pay Your Bills On Time  

Paying bills late can ruin your credit, and cost you big bucks, too.  Almost all kinds of bills will have late fees applied if the payments are made past their due date.

Some monthly expenses allow a grace period before imposing a late fee.  (If you’re running short, pay attention to which bills allow a grace period and pay those a little late if you need to.)

Elevation sign at Elk Knob State Park, NC

Credit card companies make a lot of money from charging late fees. Fees vary from $35 to $50, or a percentage of the balance, depending on the credit card company.  If the late fee puts you over your credit limit, you can expect another $35 to $50 fee for exceeding your limit. Credit cards do not have a grace period. 

Get in the habit of making payments at least 5 days before they’re due. I would recommend making credit card payments online – especially when you’re carrying a high balance – to be sure you aren’t late.

Stop Paying Bank Fees  

There are three types of bank fees:  1) out-of-network fees, 2) overdraft fees, and 3) checking account service fees

1. Out-of-network fees are charged when you withdraw money from an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank. This charge is usually $3.00 or more.

Sometimes both your bank and the bank where you are making the withdrawal apply charges. That can add another $2.00+ dollars to your fees for a single transaction.

2. Overdraft fees happen when you charge your ATM card or write a check and there is not enough money in the bank to cover it. The going rate for an overdraft fee right now is $35 per instance.

Some banks apply overdraft charges on a daily basis until you deposit money to cover both the charge and the fee(s).  You can see how this could easily grow to be an enormous debt.

3. The third type of fee is a monthly service fee for a checking account.  It can vary depending on the bank and the services offered  – usually $10-20 per month.  Many banks offer free checking if you meet certain requirements.  It’s just a matter of finding one.

The easiest way to accumulate money is to keep it in your bank account until you decide to spend it on something meaningful.  Don’t let your money disappear due to avoidable fees.

Now that we’ve looked at how to save some money on your fixed expenses, let’s take a look at ways to save on non-essentials.


Church near Chamonix, France

People with less discretionary income are able to have nice things and save money as well if they’re willing to do without extras.

If you buy only what you need even just until you have reached your vacation savings goal and paid off any credit card debt, you’ll be rewarded with your next big adventure AND improved overall financial health.

Below is a list of “Nice to Have” things you could choose to do without in order to save money.

1. Manicures and Pedicures

Manicures and pedicures are a favorite way for a lot of people to pamper themselves. But with the cost of a monthly mani/pedi ranging from $50 – $100, these nail treatments can really impact your finances.

It’s definitely worth it to learn to how to do your own nails.  Doing your own nails could save you over $1000 per year.

2. Eating Out

Eating out means you don’t have to cook and it can be easier after a hectic  work day and commute.  The trade-off is the expense.

Not only can eating out be expensive, it can sabotage your healthy diet.  Most people tend to consume more (and specifically more empty calories) at a restaurant than if they’re eating at home.

If it’s not fast food, eating out will usually take you 1-2 hours.  I hate to spend the additional time – when in the same amount of time I could cook, eat, clean up and be on to doing something else if I prepare my food at home.

If you really enjoy cracking open a beer to relax after a long day on the trail, or that nightly glass of wine with dinner, how can you make sure it won’t undermine your fitness and weight loss goals or even cause you to gain more weight? Here's the plan!
Dining out in Dolonne, France

Brown bag it at lunch time – if you spend even $10/day to eat weekday lunch, that’s $200/month.  If you bring lunch 4 days instead and splurge on Friday, you could save over $100/month!

Savings from limiting dining out could easily add up to several thousand dollars a year if you eat out frequently.  And who knows what you could accomplish with that extra time?

3. Soda and Bottled Water

Buying soda when you’re at a restaurant can really add to the cost of the meal. Buying soda or bottled water at a grocery store is no bargain either.

Drinking tap water or filtered water can save you a few hundred dollars each year.  

Cutting sugary soda out of your diet could also help keep you from gaining weight or developing diabetes.

4. Junk Food and Impulse Buys

If I shop hungry or without a list, my grocery cart seems to end up with a lot more junk food and unhealthy extras when it comes time to check out.

Horses graze in fields adjacent to Schenck Forest.
Horses graze in fields adjacent to Schenck Forest.

Candy, chips, cookies and more just seem to leap into my cart if I don’t follow my own advice.   These bags of (mostly) empty calories can really show up on your bill and on your waistline.

5. Salon Hair Treatments

I started graying early and my hair is long and grows fast, so I learned to color my own hair at home in self-defense.   Paying for a professional hair color service and tip can easily go more than $200 per application for me.

If you have your hair done monthly, this can take easily $2000 a year out of your pocket.  If you don’t want to stop, consider alternating having it done in a salon with doing it yourself every other time to save some money.

6. Gym Memberships

Gym memberships are usually bought in a fit of motivation with the intention to use them every week to get in shape or lose weight.  Unfortunately, we know what usually happens.   “Resolution” memberships are used feverishly through January (maybe), but are mostly unused by the time March rolls around.

If you’re not sure you’ll use the membership very much, save yourself the money. These days, there are lots of options for where to get some exercise.   You can work out at home, or outdoors – and it’s free.

On the other hand, if you really think you’ll use it, shop around for the best gym membership deal you can get.  Try to only pay for things that you’ll actually use.

7. Throwing Food Away

Wasting food can be very costly.    This all goes back to your grocery list:  before you shop you should have some idea of your meal plan for the week.

Plan to cook using your fresh (perishable) ingredients earlier in the week so they don’t go bad before you get a chance to use them.  Also, if you cook in quantities for more than one meal, have a plan to use the left-overs in another dinner or bag lunch.

Eating everything you buy at the grocery store could save you $600/year or more.

8. Stop Auto-Pay Subscriptions

It’s very easy to sign up for a free trial, and let a few paid months pass before noticing that you’re not using the service.

Of course, they make you jump through hoops to cancel.   But cancel anyway, or better yet – don’t sign up in the first place.

These services may not cost much initially, but if you have a few of them the costs will add up.  Depending on what you’re paying for and not using, cancelling could save you hundreds of dollars per month.

9. Designer Coffee Drinks

Coffee house near Grand Junction, CO

I make coffee at home, and it costs about $5/week.  Buying coffee at your favorite coffee shop each morning could cost $5 or more per day, and add over $100 to your monthly spending.

Fancy coffees with all of their additives can also add hundreds of calories to your daily intake.  Is your daily mocha frappucino with whipped cream and sprinkles really worth that extra five miles on the treadmill?

10. Expensive or Trendy Clothes

I don’t shop at all for recreation, and only go when I need something specific or I’m buying a gift for someone else.  That said, I’ve still managed to accumulate more clothes than I ever wear.

Before I go out and spend money on something new, I go shopping in my own closet.  

Palms on St. Petersburg Beach, FL

Sometimes just trying a new combination of items I already own or haven’t worn in a while will do the trick.

It helps to buy classic well-made items that won’t go out of style or fall apart after only a few wearings.

If you like to shop for recreation, or do need a specific thing, decide in advance how much you can spend.

Mentally total everything up as you walk around, so you know when you’ve reached your limit.  Also, never pay full price – unless you’re already in an outlet or discount store.

If you’re going shopping with friends, withdraw the cash you plan to spend beforehand.  

Leave your credit cards at home so you can’t succumb to peer pressure and blow your budget.

11. Vices and Addictions

Smoking, drinking and buying lottery tickets (or other types of gambling) can break the bank very quickly.

Chimney Rock SP, near Asheville NC

I drink sparingly at restaurants or bars, where a single drink can cost $10 or more.

If  I’m going out with friends, to cut costs we usually share a bottle of wine or some beers at home before going to dinner or a show – where I might order one drink.

If you’re not careful, calories from alcohol can also subvert your weight loss program.

I don’t smoke, but I know it’s very expensive.  A carton of cigarettes costs over $50.  If you smoke a pack a day, this would cost at least $150 a month.

I’ve never really been into lottery tickets, but if you are, it’s basically just giving your money away.  So, maybe just keep your money and call that a win?

If you’re gambling for entertainment, the rule of thumb is to never bet more than you can afford to lose.

Giving up smoking could save you $200/month. Giving up drinking out could save you $200/month or more.   This is a total savings almost $5,000 a year.

12. Going Out

Instead of spending lots of money at a club or movie theater every weekend, you could invite friends over to your place for a movie night.

Or throw an outdoor party if you have a lawn or patio.  Organize a game night or music night.

Better yet – get outside and go on a group hike.  It’s inexpensive and good for you.

Take your dog, your spouse, and invite some friends 

STEP 4:  Set Your “New Normal” Budget

Old corral fence at the Wolfe Ranch, Arches NP

Now that you’ve found some ways to spend less, take another look at your monthly budget.

Add a line item for your monthly travel fund savings, and lower the amounts you’ll need for expense items where you’ve found new ways to save.

Budgeting effectively doesn’t need to feel like punishment.   When I was a young single mother with a really tight budget, I actually enjoyed paying bills.

To me, paying my bills meant that we were “safe” for another 30 days.

When you have control of your expenses (and not the other way around), you’ll be more confident and you’ll work even harder to meet your goal.

Saving Money Won’t Always Be Easy

It seems that saving money doesn’t come naturally to most people.  Almost half of all Americans  don’t have even $400 saved for an emergency fund.

The formula is simple:  Live below your means, and save the rest.  But implementing the formula may not be easy. 

Social pressures, relentless marketing, and lack of willpower eat away at our resolve. Some people may have additional obstacles — obligations to support loved ones, debilitating injury, chronic disease, or a lack of good-paying job opportunities.

Lake James SP, Marion NC

If that’s the case for you, it may just take you longer to reach your savings goal.  Following through is the most difficult part, until your saving tricks become a normal habit.

Just keep your eye on the prize –  a full savings fund for a wonderful adventure vacation!


Originally from Minnesota, LJ has made her home in North Carolina since 1995.
As a single mom, she began hiking in the area when her daughter was in grade-school and has been leading adult hikes in local forests since 2009.  Over the years – in between work and school schedules – LJ and her daughter spent as much time as they could hiking across the US and around the world.Despite lifelong chronic asthma, LJ has successfully hiked under some difficult conditions, and visited a lot of beautiful places.  Now, in her 50’s, she still hikes and also shares her hiking adventures and advice about getting outdoors with kids on her blog I’d Rather Walk (  Hopefully she’ll inspire you to some outdoor adventures of your own – both with and without your children in tow.

If you’ve read this far, you know her tips are good. Don’t forget to share this info!

hot to save money for vacation 

Thanks for sharing!

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