The holiday season has been known to break even the best of budgets. Not only are there presents to purchase and decor to be bought, there’s also those last-minute travel plans that can cost a small fortune, especially if you need to travel to a different city, province, or in some cases, a different country. The good news is that, unlike an unexpected car breakdown or medical bill, the holidays roll around at the same time every year, making it possible to plan for them. Our Budget Planner + Expense Tracker can help with this, but before we tell you more about that, here are ten ideas to help you keep your holiday budget on track.
10 Ways to do Holidays on a Budget
1. Stay With Family
Want a holiday vacation on a budget? If a family member has room in their house and you won’t be at each other’s throats after a few days, forgo the hotel and plan to use their spare bedroom, basement or even the couch! You might also consider purchasing an air mattress. You can pick one up at Walmart for less than $50, which is a lot cheaper than the cost of a hotel for a number of days. Plus, it can be deflated and stowed away when not being used, making it more convenient for your hosts.
2. Use Airbnb
If staying with family or friends just isn’t an option, budget your trip with Airbnb instead of pricey hotel rooms. This service lets you rent short-term lodging when you travel thanks to a network of hosts willing to give up their home, guest space, or spare room temporarily for a modest price. It’s a great way to keep your trip budget in check.
3. Take a Bus or Train
If your family doesn’t live too far away, consider taking a bus or train ride there. Sure, we all love our cars, but why spend all that money on gas? And not to mention the stress of traffic. Instead, you can just sit back and relax the whole way, and maybe even catch up on some reading. If you start searching now, you can probably find last-minute deals on bus and train tickets. Worried about not being able to get around while visiting? Chances are you’ll be driving around with family anyway, and if you need a night out away from all the familial mayhem you can always take an Uber or Lyft.
4. Set Price Alerts and Shadow Surf
If you’re searching for flights but gasping at the rates, you can always set an email price alert (this is especially useful on aggregator sites, like Hotels.com or Kayak). Also, when looking for flights, remember to go into private or incognito mode (also known as “shadow surfing”). This way, your browser doesn’t collect information about what you’re looking for, which some airlines will use to raise rates on the dates you want.
5. Pack Smart
All too often, we wind up packing at the last minute and shoving double the items we need into a suitcase without much thought. Then, we wind up paying the price for it at the airport in extra baggage fees after they weigh it. If you’re staying with family over the holidays, try to pack light and plan to wash a few items if you need to. Most carriers allow one personal item like a purse or small backpack, and a carry-on bag at no cost. Unfortunately, today there are also many carriers that charge for even just one carry-on. Have a second bag? That can cost you $50-$100. If you’re really serious about saving, bulk up—wear layers and an extra coat to avoid having to pack them. It’s an easy way to eliminate some budget items!
It's also a good idea to pack some snacks whether you’re travelling by plane, train, or automobile. Snacks on-the-go can get very pricey, especially at the airport. So pack a few of your favourite snacks from home; since you’ll likely be gorging on holiday hams and other fattening foods, you might want to go the healthy route and pack some veggies, hummus, cheese, and fruit.
6. Ship Gifts
If you want to bring presents with you but they’re bulky, consider having them shipped to your destination ahead of time to avoid the hassle of lugging them around, plus the extra cost they may incur if you’re flying. If you shop online and are able to purchase all your gifts on one site, you may even be able to get free shipping. Otherwise, consider gift cards (those pack easily enough) or other small items. And always know that your family will be glad you made the effort to see them for the holidays if you do opt to go gift-free. Shipping wrapped gifts also eliminates the worry of having security unwrap them to see what’s inside for security purposes.
7. Travel During the Week
If you can avoid travelling on a weekend, it just might help your holiday budget. Travel site Kayak has crunched the numbers and reports that Canadians generally fly cheaper on domestic flights when leaving Tuesday and returning Friday. For international flights, your best bet is to leave on Thursday and return on Monday. Of course, if you’re having to take unpaid days off work the cheaper flight may not be worth it, so keep that in mind when doing your search. You can also save if you’re willing to take undesirable flights, like an early morning flight, red-eye, or a non-direct flight.
8. Leave Early
It’s tempting to wait until the last minute to arrive at an airport in order to catch a few more Z’s or avoid the temptation to visit the shopping outlets featured in most airports nowadays. However, leaving early can save you money. Airports are crowded during the holidays, and you never know how long lines can be. Paying for a new flight after missing your original flight can really hurt your holiday budget.
9. Take Advantage of Technology
There’s no better time to take advantage of what your smartphone has to offer than the holidays. For example, weather apps can let you know if conditions won't be ideal for travel. By downloading your carrier’s app, you can also get flight updates and alerts notifying you if departure or arrival times have changed (this can save both time and money, especially for those who may be picking you up at the airport). These apps can also notify you of any gate changes to ensure you make your flight and don’t wind up paying for another one.
10. Prepare the Kids
Anyone who’s travelled with children knows that a vacation with them often requires a vacation from them! You can help ensure the trip goes well for you and them through some simple preparation (this will also save you money on a pricey last-minute book, toy, or treat). Depending on their age, be sure to pack crayons and colouring books, reading books, treats, and downloaded movies on a mobile device (cheaper than paying for a carrier’s movie rentals!). And, don’t forget about yourself. While you may have prepared your kids, you may want to bring a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to drown out the sound of other parents’ unprepared kids!
Prepare for Future Holiday Spending By Budgeting Better
At the start of this blog, we mentioned our Budget Planner + Expense Tracker. We know that understanding how to budget money can be complicated, but this great new tool can really make a difference, and help you through the hectic holiday season. As a combination of our Budget Planner and Expense Tracker, this all-in-one tool only requires you to plug in some financial basics and then start tracking your expenses. The template does the rest for you, letting you know when you’re over or under budget. Plus, a new feature also lets you know how your spending compares to general spending guidelines. Of course, this isn’t just a travel budget spreadsheet—while it does act as a great vacation budget planner, it’s also perfect for everyday living. You can download it now for free to get started.