One way to pad your family vacation account is by selling items you no longer want or need. "After 10 years in our house, it was full of junk. So we've been cleaning out and putting stuff on Craigslist to sell -- sort of an endless garage sale. All the cash goes into our vacation kitty. Cleaning and saving, we win both ways," says Bruce Stoff of Ithaca, New York.
"When my son was 4 years old, he came to me and desperately wanted to go to Disneyworld in Orlando to meet his hero: Buzz Lightyear. Naturally, I wanted to make that dream come true but as a single mother already living paycheck to paycheck, I wasn't quite sure how it was going to happen," says mom Holly. "However, rather than disappoint him, I decided to get creative and involve him in his own wish. We went straight to our neighborhood dollar store and bought a small plastic container (the kind with a hinged lid) and a packet of Buzz Lightyear stickers. When we got back home, he and I sat at the kitchen table and decorated the box and wrote 'Wish Box' on the top with a permanent marker."
Holly said she and her son saved up money and not only were they able to go on the Disney vacation, but her son learned important lessons on saving money along the way.
"Some financial institutions let you arrange automatic withdrawal from your checking account to a savings account," says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Freedom Debt Relief. "Also check with your employer for automatic deposit into your savings account. Record this expense like a bill every month to painlessly accumulate savings. If necessary, start with a small amount like $25 or $50 per month and increase it whenever possible – when you pay off a credit card with a $50 monthly payment, increase your savings by that $50. With the same outflow you have today, you'll be paying yourself."
Gallegos says that writing down and budgeting for goals may not be exciting, but it is the top way to save for a vacation. "The key is to set and write down goals… with your spouse and family members. Make sure to price out your hoped-for vacation and build it into your budget plan."
"Start handing over old-fashioned bills for your routine expenditures," suggests Gallegos. "Research shows that people who do not use debit or credit cards are less likely to throw that extra item into the shopping cart or make an extra purchase, and typically spend 15 percent less than when using a credit or debit card."
Don't forget about those credit card rewards! "If you have a credit card that offers rewards points, check your statements to see how many points you have," says Gallegos. "Then visit the rewards Web site to find out if you can convert the rewards into cash or gift cards. Some credit cards even double the value of your rewards at specific retailers. Savings: $20 for one double-your-dollar reward."
"If and when you receive extra money (from a freelance job, gift or even activities such as a yard sale), save rather than 'blow' the excess money," says Gallegos. "Once you are used to living on your budget, chances are good you'll actually feel more comfortable if you stick to that budget. If you stash the 'extra' – in addition to the regular pre-determined amount – you'll see your savings take off."
"Whether it be a picture of your vacation destination, the name of the destination or just the word 'vacation' - write a reminder on your credit card or debit card, put a picture in your file of bills or put it a visual in your checkbook," says Williams. "Bottom line is that if you have constant reminders of what you would like to save for, then when it comes time to make discretionary expenditures, it will be easier to ask yourself which would I rather spend money on ... 'mindless' purchases or our vacation."