An easy weekend vacation budget planner

An easy weekend vacation budget planner
An easy weekend vacation budget planner

Sometimes a big trip just isn’t in the cards. Sometimes it isn’t in the cards for the upcoming month, quarter, or even year. While that situation is definitely a bummer, there’s no reason not to take advantage of what’s around you. And I’m here to help you take the stress out of planning with an easy weekend vacation budget planner.

(By the way, I’ve got plenty of inspiration here and here and here for when you’re ready to have some fun locally.)

Big bonus: traveling locally is much easier to save for!

This is not a system I use every month – sometimes we decided to save some extra money or some months we just need to throw all our money at a bill to whittle it down as fast as possible.If we’re really lucky, some months we just happen to have extra money available to use.

Travel is possible, guys, it just takes a little finagling.

Ready to finagle?

Fort Wayne, winter 2016: a sub-$100 weekend thanks to a cheap rental car and couch-surfing.

Fort Wayne, winter 2016: a sub-$100 weekend thanks to a cheap rental car and couch-surfing.

Create a general spending budget for weekend trips

The biggest part of this vacation budget planner is to create an easy benchmark amount for a weekend trip. This number should not only reasonably fit into your budget but will also be enough to actually enjoy yourself. Ready to figure out how much you need to save to have an epic weekend adventure?

My budget looks like this:

  • 6% of your monthly salary
  • Additional cost of 1-2 [experiences].
6% of your monthly salary

Why 6%? Well, because two days makes up about 6% of a 30-day month. While I’m sure no one spends their money equally across the days, I’ve found this to be a decent-enough benchmark to measure out a moderate splurge weekend. If more money is going towards savings or debt, reduce this number. Alternatively, if you’ve got extra fun money this month, you may want to allocate more.

That being said, I’d guess 6% is a comfortable number for most people.

Tack on extra for your favorite experiences

Love museums? Tack on the average cost of one or two museum entrance fees. Want to take a guided tour? Figure out a typical rate for your area and tack it on.

For me, it’s all about food. I try to do a little bit of research about where I want to eat, choose one mid-range and one higher-range meal, and then add the average cost of a meal at both places to my budget.

My average weekend budget*
*If this seems high or low to you, feel free to adjust to your liking. After all, this budget is all yours!

Madison Indiana Guide: downtown

Madison, Indiana: a sub-$75 one day adventure full of coffee, wine, and snacks!

How I pull money from my salary

I follow three basic steps when saving for a weekend trip:

  • Take out 6% of my salary right away.
  • Cut out one luxury per week.
  • Aim to earn 2-3 extra hours’ worth of money.
Take out 6% of my salary right away

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I have a specific savings account set aside for travel which is super handly when I’ve earmarked some of my salary for travel. (Occasionally this savings account has been a well-hidden envelope stuffed with money just because sometimes I like to go old school.)

6% of my salary

Cut out one luxury per week

For me this is a pretty obvious one: food or coffee. Even on a very tight budget I usually have at least one lunch out or one coffee in the morning each week. (Let’s be honest, probably more.) By cutting out one of these luxuries each week by preparing food or coffee myself, I can save around $25 each month.

Not much, but that’s about 20% of my weekend trip budget for items that really aren’t necessary.

saved by going without

Aim to earn 2-3 extra hours’ worth of money

This used to be much easier for me since my previous job worked on a swipe in/swipe out system and they were always happy to have people stay later to help out. Now I’m paid for 35 hours of work regardless of how much I’m in the building or not.

Still, at nearly $15/hour, for me 2-3 hours of extra salary is about 1/3 of my weekend budget. That makes splurging on a weekend adventure sound much more feasible, right?

extra salary
So aim to make that extra 2-3 hours of money any way you can.

Ideas for those extra hours: ask for extra hours at work // sell something you don’t use anymore on ebay // offer a service on Fiverr // browse local listings for odd jobs

Pro tip: spend all your time discovering really cool spots so you don't waste time spending money!

Pro tip: spend all your time discovering really cool spots so you don’t waste time spending money!

Exploit money-saving techniques

  • Follow what’s cheap.
  • Don’t pay for accommodations.
  • Take advantage of last-minute opportunities.
Follow what’s cheap

Once I’ve chosen my destination I try to check out what’s going on for free (or at a reduced cost) in order to maximize the money I’ve saved. You can use this list of resources to find some great free or low-cost options from all over the world.

For deals on dining or experiences, I’ve become pretty dedicated to trawling Groupon for deals on activities I might otherwise say no to because of cost.

Don’t pay for accommodations.

Aside from travel costs, accomodation is by far the most expensive part of taking an overnight trip.

My solution? Don’t pay!

Check out Couchsurfing, the site that lets you meet up with people willing to host you for free for a night or two. Not only are the people on Couchsurfing generally really friendly (who else would be willing to host complete strangers?), but they’re also a treasure trove of ideas for what to do or see on your weekend trip.

Take advantage of last-minute opportunities

If you’re thinking of flying somewhere, try Kayak‘s Last Minute Travel page for a map of flights from your airport. Expedia offers a similar service.

For hotels you can try Jetsetter for last-minute deals.

So now you’ve got a pretty simple weekend vacation budget planner! Now all you have to do is figure out where you want to go! Please share any great tips for saving money that you may have in the comments below!

  • Really interesting system & post! One question though about Couchsurfing… I will be honest: I’ve never tried it because I feel strange as it’s free, that I am somehow beholden to the host and will feel obligated to spend time with them, hang out, etc. Most of the time when I’m somewhere, I’ve got my agenda planned out and I just wanna check in and get out. I guess I feel more comfortable paying because then I know my time is really my own…. how has your experience been?

    • Good question! You’re totally right in that Couchcurfing is generally a pretty social place but there are definitely people who just want to open their space and not spend all their time with you. I’m definitely not a big socializer, so here are my take-aways:

      1. Most hosts will have a pretty clear profile re: what they expect, so I always look for the ones who say they’ll be out working a lot, have a totally separate space for guests, don’t plaster “will drag you to every spot in town” on their profile! (Trust, it’s pretty easy to tell who’s running their place like a super-cozy backpacker’s hostel!)

      2. I’m super clear in my intro message that I’ll be really busy with my own stuff so won’t have much time to spend with them. In return I toss in an incentive like a meal, gift from home, etc. as bribe and/or apology. Most of the time people are pretty pumped for something like that.

      Hope that helps a bit. While I agree that renting your own place is always best, CS can work no matter your travel preferences if you try hard enough (and want to save some money)! Good luck 🙂
      Polly recently posted…An easy weekend vacation budget plannerMy Profile

  • I really like this idea. Couchsurfing doesn’t work for us, but usually we try to save at other parts of the budget or earn more on the side to make it work. I love that you broke down your final cost for a couple of the trips you took!
    Elizabeth recently posted…Travel Month: September 2016My Profile

    • Yeah CS can be tough for any of number reasons and we don’t always do it, but it can be a lifesaver (er, budgetsaver!)

  • Mar

    These are such great tips! We follow the 10% rule for our retirement fund, it definitely would not be so hard to do 6% for a travel fund. Great tips, thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for reading, Mar! Sounds like you’ve got great discipline re: saving already so I’m sure if it’s a priority you can make it happen!

  • I’m so bad at budgeting. I save a lot, but I’m not good at keep track of my expenses. Since moving to Russia since I make about $600 less a month, I’ve been more aware of my spending habits – although the temptation here to spend is less than in the US. I’ve noticed though that my boyfriend and I spend a LOT on food because we both hate cooking. We end up going to McDonalds a lot. I keep telling him I can’t afford to and he says he’ll pay. I want to scream “THAT ISN’T THE POINT!” At least he’s good with money even if he does eat out a lot.

    This is great though and I like the idea of putting some real money in an envelope. I actually kind of started doing this with private lessons. I’ll put half in an envelope for rent and keep half with me for spending money. Then everything I make at my job I keep in the bank for when I need it.
    Jasilyn recently posted…GULAG History MuseumMy Profile

  • When you plan some long trip e.g. to other country nice way to save money is checking day by day in incognito window flight and hotel prices. When you browse the OTA websites in private with incognito mode they can’t manipulate the prices on website. It’s the best way to catch cheap flight or hotel.

  • I’ve couchsurfed by myself before and really liked it – despite not being the most social person lol. But I do like the idea of not paying, if that’s doing only day trip adventures or staying with friends somewhere (which I always do when I’m down in London from Scotland!)
    Camila @ AdventitiousViolet recently posted…Book Roundup #7My Profile