Admittedly, the least fun part of planning a trip is figuring out how you're going to pay for it. But coming up with a plan and then sticking to it is the best way to make sure next year includes your dream trip, whether that means beachcombing on Maui, museum-going in Chicago, or theme park-hopping in Orlando.
It's important, say experts, to look for ways to involve your children. "The most important thing kids need to learn about managing money is how to make choices, which comes up all the time in planning a family vacation," says Janet Bodnar, who wrote the "Money Smart Kids" column at Kiplinger's Personal Finance.
Here are 5 ways for save up for your family vacation:
Make it a family project. Brainstorm with your kids about simple ways to save here and there to meet your goal. Hold a garage sale. Collect your loose change in a vacation jar. Sell outgrown toys on eBay or Craigslist. While you track your progress, periodically point out those valuable life lessons. "Small amounts really do add up over time. Having patience really can pay off," says Bodnar.
Turn on auto pilot. "The very best way to save money is to take it off the top before you even see it," says Bodnar, who suggests setting up an automatic transfer into a savings account earmarked for your vacation. A $150-a-month contribution adds up to $1,800 in a year—perhaps not enough for a grand getaway, but also not chump change.
Devise a pay-off plan. If you're only able to sock away half of what your vacation will cost, Bodnar says it's vital to pay off the remainder within six months of returning home. "It's so important not to get in over your head," she says. "For most people, six months is a manageable amount of time."
Pull from different pockets. Spread out your expenses across multiple credit cards, says Daniel Ray, editor of CreditCards.com. "Most experts recommend that your credit card debt should not go above 30 percent of your limit on any individual card and also of your total credit limit."
Figure in your paycheck. If your employee benefits include paid vacation days, you don't need to save up 100 percent of your vacation price tag, says Bodnar, since you can finance part of your vacation with your paycheck. "Whatever you would have spent at home for food and recreation during the same period can be put toward your vacation budget," explains Bodnar. So if your family of four typically spends $250 on groceries and $80 on recreation and entertainment in a week, that's $330 you won't have to save for your weeklong getaway.
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is a family travel expert at MiniTime.com, a vacation-planning site with reviews of kid-friendly hotels, restaurants and attractions.