7 Ways to Save $2,000 for Your Summer Vacation

The best vacations are debt-free. Here’s how to save for one.

Sometimes, you need a real vacation. Not just a weekend camping at the lake or a road trip to Grandma’s cabin – a real getaway. It can be hard to justify a spendy trip when you have to save for retirement or pay off student loans, but with a nip here and a tuck there, you can remake your budget without too much pain. And at the end, with the worries of home far away, you’ll be glad you did.

Make a budget.

Sit down with everyone who’s going on the trip and figure out everyone’s priorities. Take into account transportation, lodging and food, of course – but don’t stop there. Familiarize everyone with your destination’s main attractions. You don’t want to get all the way there before you find out those aquarium tickets are $75 at the door and it’s the only reason Aunt Sally wanted to go.

Use your tax refund to start a savings account.

Most American families get more than $1,000 back from the federal government every year. Instead of blowing that money, start a separate account devoted to vacation savings. You’ll have fun watching it grow while you get excited for your trip.

Change your direct deposit.

Yeah, it can be a pain, but take the time to fill out a new direct deposit form with your employer. Socking away $50 to $100 from every paycheck into your new vacation savings account will add up fast.

Side note: If your tax refund was huge, you might be able to offset the effect of saving more by just altering your withholding. A giant refund means you’ve been giving the government an interest-free loan.

Make up for that extra savings.

The idea of a vacation fund is that you don’t have to loot it for funds. So you’ll have to make some sacrifices. You might consider a monthlong spending freeze, where you don’t spend on anything except necessities like food and gas. Get tips on weathering a freeze here.

Meal planning is another good way to save. If you look at how much you spend on food every month, you might be shocked. So eliminate those takeout lunches and pizza deliveries for a while. Dust off your cookbooks, examine your pantry, and make a plan every week before grocery shopping. You’ll save a ton, and you might even look better in your swimsuit when it’s time to hit the beach.

Get everyone involved with earning and saving.

If you’re taking kids or teens on your jaunt, tell them their souvenir and shopping budget for the trip is their responsibility. They can mow the lawn, babysit, organize the garage – all the stuff they got paid for before, only now that cash goes into the vacation fund.

Don’t underestimate how much money you could earn by having a garage sale or putting outgrown toys and furniture up for sale online, either. You’ll just be freeing up more space for vacation memories.

Use the right credit card.

If you’re flying to your dream destination, consider a credit card with a rewards program that pays off in airline miles. Use the card to buy gas and grocerrosan-harmens-18418.jpgies, then pay it off every month while the miles rack up. Just make sure you can use those miles when you actually want to – and that the affiliated carriers go where you want to go.

Book in advance.

This vacation is happening, right? So book it. You’ll get better deals on airfare, hotels and tickets to big attractions like museums. Sometimes, getting early passes to theme parks lets you cruise past long lines like a VIP. And forgetting to pre-book tickets to some in-demand attractions means you just won’t get to go.

Five summer vacation spots that won’t break the bank

IMG_3571.JPGSometimes, you just have to get away and take in some new scenery. Good thing America is full of destinations where you can choose how much you want to spend once you get there.

Yellowstone National Park

A road trip to one of America’s natural wonders will take you past enough landmarks to justify a vacation unto themselves: South Dakota’s Black Hills, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, the Grand Tetons and more. Take out an almanac and plot different courses there and back for variety.

Just be sure to leave enough time in Yellowstone itself, where you could spend weeks exploring geysers, waterfalls, jewel-toned hot springs, canyons and wildflowers. Bears, bison and elk provide even more photo opportunities in the park.

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Lodging in the nearby towns of Jackson Hole, Cody and West Yellowstone is available at varied pricing levels, so book as far in advance as you can. You can also take a tent and camp at one of the 2,000 sites within the park if you reserve it in time. Eating within Yellowstone can be pricey, so pack a cooler with food and drinks at a grocery store outside the park every day.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach is a popular tourist destination, with lots of flights going in and out every day on discount carriers. Look for sales on individual airlines’ sites as well as popular travel booking sites to get the best deal. There is no shortage of beachfront condo-style hotels competing to fill rooms, either.

Once you get there, Myrtle Beach has a lot to offer besides the beach. The world-class Ripley’s Aquarium is the city’s biggest draw, with the Family Kingdom Amusement Park & Water Park close behind. Companies offer ziplining, kayaking, boating and diving for the active vacationer – or you can just sit on the beach and relax.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston has more history per square mile than any other city in America. Once you get there, you can discover the city’s rich Revolutionary War heritage on foot on your own or with the help of a guided walking tour. Business travel makes downtown hotels close to attractions, like the waterfront and theater district, popular during the week, with better deals on weekend nights.

One money-saving deal to consider is the Go Boston Card, which lets you skip lines and gets you into a long list of destinations at a discounted price. You can choose which kind of card you want based on the number of places you want to visit, or just custom-load one according to your plans.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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Once you’re out of spring break territory, this Florida beach city calms down into a destination for wide sandy coastlines, open-air dining and water sports like kayaking. The city’s arts district has grown up around Las Olas Boulevard, packed with galleries, boutiques and world-class dining. If you get tired of the city and beach, you can take a boat tour into the Everglades or tour a historic estate.

You can fly into Fort Lauderdale, but you can also check for cheaper flights into Miami and West Palm Beach. Once you’re there, you can take water taxis on the canals or use the city’s trolley service along the beach and downtown. Finding a beachfront hotel in your price range might not be as hard as you think, especially in summer, because of all the competition.

Austin, Texas

Austin has carved out a reputation that stands apart from the rest of Texas. The state capital is also the world’s live music capital, with a thriving cultural scene and welcoming attitude that keeps it hopping year round. Austin has a well-developed bus and light-rail system that connects downtown to the airport. You can also rent a bike and use the city’s system of lanes and trails.

Because Austin is such a popular destination – you’ll want to avoid the South by Southwest festival if you’re keeping costs down – it has a lot of available places to rent via services like Airbnb. There are also affordable rooms at hostels near 6th Street, ground zero for Austin’s late-night live music scene.

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Wherever you end up going this summer, a little research beforehand will save you money on hotels and transportation. But once you’re at your vacation spot, don’t be afraid to ask the locals their opinions on the best diners or dive bars. They’ll steer you to great, under-the-radar places you might not find in your guidebook.

Vacations are about making memories, so concentrate on finding the kind of unforgettable experiences that money just can’t buy.

Three Affordable Summer Vacations Here in Missouri

Go See the Show-Me State

With school out and vacation days accrued, the temptation of a quick, inexpensive weekend away is getting stronger. You don’t need to hop on an airplane to satisfy your wanderlust – check out these three awesome retreats and getaways all across the state.

Johnson’s Shut-in State Park

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With 8,647 acres and camping, hiking, swimming and rock climbing available, Johnson’s Shut-in State Park is a place unlike any other. The “shut-ins” (an Ozark term) are deep narrow channels of the river flowing over large, smooth rocks, perfectly forming a natural water park. Could there be a better way to spend a hot summer’s day?

There are cabins available to rent but the park is well-equipped for camping, so pack up the tents. You can try your luck fishing for dinner in the Black River but just in case, throw in a few different meals.

Weston, Missouri 

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After you shop on the Plaza and catch a Royals game in Kansas City, Missouri, head over to Weston, Missouri. Less than an hour from Kansas City, this small town is the definition of charming. There are several bed-and-breakfasts to choose from but sleep can wait – explore the many antique shops, restaurants and wineries the town offers.

For the foodies among us, plan ahead and reserve your spot for dinner at Green Dirt Farm. This sheep farm has earned national awards for its cheeses, and the farm-to-table dinners pair its fresh offerings with local chefs. This is a dining experience you won’t find anywhere else.

Hermann, Missouri

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Headed east instead of west? Stop by Hermann, Missouri, for some rest and relaxation. This historic community is especially eventful during the summer months, with festivals and celebrations held nearly every weekend. If you need a break from the area’s wineries, you can check out the museums, many of which honor Hermann’s strong German heritage. Or, bring your bike and hop on the famous Katy Trail for a few miles of true outdoor Missouri beauty.

Mapping out and budgeting for your trip before you hit the road will help ensure that you don’t overspend. You may even consider downloading an app like Gas Buddy to ensure you fill up cheaper.

Where is your favorite getaway in Missouri? Any hidden gems? Share your favorite Missouri vacation memory with us in the comments.