7 Ways We Spend Less on Vacation

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Our family loves to visit new places. We get asked all the time how we can afford to take our family of nine on a vacation every year. I must admit, it hasn’t been easy, but we have learned a few tips and tricks throughout our 20-year marriage.

Here are seven ways we’ve learned to save.

1. Go Camping

Staying in a campground can save you $100 or more per night off of local hotel prices. When we go camping, a typical night with water and electricity costs between $20-$25 per night at a state or federal campground. While private campgrounds can be a bit more expensive, they often offer more amenities that will keep you busy.

2. Use Hotel Deal Sites

If you must stay in a hotel, consider booking on some of the online discount hotel sites. Keep in mind, though, that you will not always be able to request two beds, so if that is a requirement, you may not be able to book on certain sites.

3. Pack Your Food

Packing your own food helps you to save money and time, especially while you’re traveling. A typical meal that we pack will include a sandwich, chips and a piece of fruit. This is so much cheaper than having everyone go into a popular fast food restaurant and order a large combo. When I was a child, for dinners in hotel rooms, my mom would bring her crockpot and cook up a tasty feast.

4. Find Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free

Since we always travel with children, we often search for the restaurants that advertise that kids eat free. Typically, before we leave on the trip, I will do a search online for the town we will be in that day, followed by the words, “kids eat free.” There are websites that regularly update which restaurants do this. On one of our past vacations, we were able to eat out on a daily basis, due to all of the free food my kids were getting.

5. Subscribe to Restaurant Newsletters for Money-Saving Coupons

About five to seven days before you leave for vacation, visit several of your favorite restaurants’ websites and subscribe to their newsletters. Typically, they will email you a coupon for something free from their restaurant. Sometimes it’s just a dessert, but other times, it’s a full meal. Be sure to do it well before you leave on your trip, because sometimes, you won’t receive your coupon for a few days. Keep in mind that the coupon will often expire within 14 days of the date that they send it to you, so you don’t want to sign up too early.

6. Find Things You Can Do for Free

With a family of nine, we typically cannot afford to spend money on all of the attractions that you see others spending money on. Instead, we usually pick out one major activity that we want to do, and the rest are activities found by searching the web for free or cheap things to do in that area. We have had many adventures relying on these free (or cheap) activities, including at our regular vacation stop, Branson, Missouri.

7. Drive, Instead of Fly

Most of the time, if you are traveling with a family, it will be much less expensive to drive, instead of fly. We like to research where the cheapest gas prices will be and fill up in those locations. We have also researched how to save money on gasoline and have implemented many of these tactics while traveling.

Hopefully, these ideas can also help you to stretch your vacation dollars while still enjoying fun activities.

[Editor’s note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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13 Ways Breakfast Could Help You Fix Your Money Problems

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Sure, there are “morning people,” but for the rest of us, getting up, getting dressed and getting out the door to work is pretty much just a giant hassle every morning.

Figuring out what to eat on top of that? Pffft. That drive-thru on the way to the office is looking pretty good.

Americans spend $47 billion each year on fast-food breakfasts, according to 2014 figures from brokerage firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. And a recent New York Times story reported that almost 40% of millennials surveyed said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it.

Cereal? Really? The original convenience food is no longer convenient because of dishes?

Seriously, if you’re wanting to save money – toward a new home, car, emergency fund or paying off your student loans or credit card debt – not wanting to wash some dishes is costing you, and not just a little. If you spend $3 each weekday on coffee, that adds up to $780 a year. That $4 egg sandwich twice a week? $416.

There’s a cheaper, easier and healthier way to go about getting your morning fuel. It takes a little advanced planning, but you can eat well, plus save time and money in the mornings. Here are 13 ways to do that.

1. Eat the Cereal

Even the expensive $4-plus boxes of cereal are still one of the cheapest breakfast options around. If you’re really too lazy or busy to wash a bowl and a spoon, spend a little more and buy some disposables – that you can recycle.

2. Make Your Own Coffee

Seriously. It’s not hard, and you can probably get better quality beans anyway. Plus, you can make it just as you like it.

3. Just Juice It

If you can’t start your day without a liquid sugar hit, squeeze your own juice at home. It’s easy and inexpensive (if you choose the right fruits!) and you can do it the night before and keep it in the refrigerator in a travel mug ready to grab and go.

4. Go for Value Menus

If you have to eat out, try to find a breakfast spot with extra-cheap alternatives.

5. Prepare Breakfasts in Advance & Freeze

There are literally dozens of options here. Making pancakes on Saturday? Double the batch, cook and freeze. Pop a couple of pancakes in the toaster come Monday morning and BAM! You have breakfast in 1 minute.

6. Take Advantage of Breakfast Meetings

If you’re in a position to do so, plan or attend breakfast meetings where your company buys the coffee and pastries, breakfast tacos or donuts. Everyone wins.

7. Hotels With Free Breakfasts

If you’re traveling, breakfast can be crazy expensive, especially at the hotel — $30 for room service is crazy, as is the $20 buffet downstairs. Look for hotels with free breakfast options when traveling. Even if you can expense your meals, it could free you up to spend a bit more of your per diem on dinner.

8. Buy Ready-Made Breakfasts at the Grocery Store

If you don’t cook, you can still save money by stocking up on pre-made breakfast items like muffins, biscuits and sausage or breakfast burritos (and if you have a coupon, bonus!). Pop in the microwave, grab and go. And unlike that pesky, inconvenient cereal, there’s no bowl or spoon to wash.

9. Eat Your Fruit!

Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes. They’re nature’s individually wrapped convenience foods. They’re inexpensive and they’re great alone or paired with one of the above options, or a hard boiled egg, peanut butter – any number of options await you.

10. Cold Pizza – There’s Nothing Wrong With Leftovers!

Have some leftover pot roast? Wrap it in a tortilla with some cheese and you’ve got a quick, protein-rich breakfast taco. Mac and cheese? Why not? Who says breakfast has to be, well, breakfast?

11. Bubble & Squeak

The Brits totally get the concept of using leftovers for breakfast. Toss it all in a pan with some potatoes (you can use eggs if you like), fry it all up and “Bob’s your uncle!”

12. Freeze-Ahead Smoothie Bags

If you want to be an overachiever in the breakfast category, buy some freezer bags and fill them with your favorite fruits, veggies, chia seeds, flax, whatever and freeze. Dump in the blender, add protein powder and the milk or juice of your choice and breakfast is served.

13. Day-Old Pastries

If you live near a decent bakery or grocery with a bakery counter, check out what time they start discounting their pastries. Some places offer them at half-price in the afternoons. You can stock up and freeze ahead your breakfast for several days at a pretty tidy savings.

Remember, saving money can help you pay off your debt, but can also build a good credit score. And a good credit score can help you save on interest when it comes to credit cards, mortgages, auto loans and other financing. (You can check your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

More on Managing Debt:

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