YNAB tree logoAustralian flag
It looks like you're located in Australia.
We have an Australian version of our website.

Please confirm your location and we’ll send you to the appropriate site!

Maximize Your Vacation Budget

Article preview:

  • Most people want to relax on vacation but spending stress tends to dampen the mood
  • Using the the Four Rules to plan your vacation budget results in less money stress
  • Your dollars have more value when they’re aligned with what matters: be clear on your priorities and line up your money to match

Even if you’re the type who optimizes every travel rewards point and stays in the most budget-friendly AirBnBs, are you really maximizing the full potential of your vacation budget?

Let’s revisit a stressful, “normal” way to make travel plans and spend money on vacation, and then a new, prioritized way of saving and spending vacation funds using YNAB’s Four Rules to create and manage your travel budget.

Learn this simple spending management method and your getaway won’t be sidetracked with any stress about money. A relaxing family vacation is possible (and you don’t even have to use the YNAB budgeting app!).

The Stress-Free Way to Spend on Vacation

Meet Spencer and his wife, Madeline, who recently went on a stress-free, paid-in-cash trip to Disney with his extended family.

Spencer and Madeline outside of the Disney gates.

Where is it you want to go? Disney? A beach house? A cabin in the mountains?

Once you know where you want to go, let the planning commence! For Spencer and Madeline, they had about six months’ notice for a big joint trip to Disney. The plan was to do four nights in the park, five nights in a hotel, and a flight to Anaheim from their home state of Utah.

Stressful Trip: Wing It

Peaceful Trip: Make a Loose Plan and Start Saving

Spencer and Madeline made a list of vacation costs for this trip. Here’s what Spencer’s list looked like in YNAB with their specific categories:

A list of vacation expense categories for an upcoming trip.

They estimated costs just shy of $3,000 for the two of them and found a sweet bundle deal at Costco that would save them a load of money on park tickets and a hotel room.

“Look for bundling options wherever you can. We found a hotel and ticket deal through Costco that gave us $250 free in the park. That was a big thing,” Spencer said.

With six months to save and a solid estimate of how much money they’d need, they started setting aside money for this trip from each paycheck, plus any extra that came from bonuses, until their categories were fully funded.

Now buckle up, next comes the interesting part. You might just rewire your brain for a whole new relationship with money.

Stressful Trip: Swipe and Deal With It Later

Peaceful Trip: Give Every Dollar a Job (Rule One)

The ol’ swipe and pray is a familiar motion for many vacationgoers. Spencer remembers it well:

“We used to monitor how much was in our accounts and if we paid our bills before we left. This even happens when you have enough money to enjoy yourselves. Things were just unnecessarily stressful.”

But now, with YNAB’s first rule, you give every dollar a job. If you’re a master of rewards perks, maybe only a few dollars need to go for airfare (for Spencer, it was $400, for you, it might only be $15!). Other dollars will go for hotels, some will be set aside for park tickets, entertainment costs, and dining out. Here’s what Spencer’s trip budget looked like, using the vacation savings he’d set aside:

Assign your vacation dollars to specific spending categories.

With everything laid out, it’s the perfect view to prioritize what matters. Maybe you spend high on food and low on lodging. Maybe you save on cheap flights and splurge on a vacation rental with a pool. What matters to you on vacation? Spend there!

For Spencer and Madeline, churros were a priority. “We love ‘em. We wanted a dedicated spot for that, for peace of mind to make sure we can have them.”

Stressful Trip: Get Derailed by Unexpected Costs

Peaceful Trip: Embrace Your True Expenses (Rule Two)

It’s easy to make a budget for the top-of mind travel costs: hotel, food, and flights. But what about those other sneaky expenses of vacations? The pet-sitting, the parking, tolls, the souvenirs, and expensive airport drinks?

With YNAB’s second rule, Embrace Your True Expenses, we encourage you to embrace not just the top-of-mind travel costs, but the sneaky ones too!

Things Like:

  • Travel insurance
  • Rental car
  • Pet boarding/pet sitting
  • Child care
  • House sitting
  • Souvenirs
  • Luggage
  • Tickets
  • Parking fees
  • Rental cars
  • Uber/Lyft/ride share
  • Embarrassing matching shirts and hats for the family picture

Think ahead on these potential budget busters and act now by saving extra in your vacation budget. You don’t always need to get granular, but we always encourage a bulked up “miscellaneous category” to cushion the blow of sneaky costs.

Stressful Trip: Bust the Budget

Peaceful Trip: Roll With the Punches (Rule Three)

Vacation goes like this: you plan to spend $200 on food. Then, you actually spend $800 on food. At this point, it’s so easy to give up and go on a spending bender, feeling guilty the whole time.

The new way? Roll with the punches. That’s YNAB’s Rule Three, and it gives you permission to bend your budget without the guilt.

Overspend on food? Move money from your miscellaneous category to cover the extra. Spend less on transportation costs? Beef up the souvenirs category when you see how much Mickey ears actually cost.

Money can be moved from category to category to cover overspending or redistribute excess.
After flights were purchased, there was $102.37 left over that could be assigned to a different expense.

Move money from one category to another to cover overspending or to redistribute what you didn’t spend.

Stressful Trip: Worry About Money on Vacation

Peaceful Trip: Relax on Vacation

When you’re on that dreamy vacation, you can feel completely relaxed and at peace with spending (just how it should be). After all, you have the money set aside to spend, a killer deal on flights, and you’re not going into credit card debt while you scarf down an incredible soft pretzel.

“When you think about budgeting and vacation, those things are polar opposites in people’s minds. People don’t think having a plan equals relaxation. But to me, it was like night and day. We were able to go out and spend when we wanted to spend. Instead of checking our account, we were checking YNAB,” Spencer shared.

Make Your Next Dream Vacation Happen

Where do you want to go on your next vacation? Disney? A national park? A European castle? An overwater bungalow?

“Put it in your budget! If you don’t, it’ll get overlooked. Whatever makes you happy, put that in your budget. It makes your life better in a whole lot of different ways,” said Spencer.

Lay out your plans for the year and beyond. Heck, why not throw in a line item for a spontaneous trip you don’t know of yet. Even if you don’t start funding these things, it’s powerful to see what you want in front of you.

Track your vacations and savings progress easily in one place with YNAB.
Use aspirational budget categories to keep you focused on your goals.

And YNAB makes it easy to start saving in smaller monthly chunks for your trip. Take your own Disney trip—where the average cost for a family of four is just shy of $6,000.

Enter your savings target and date needed by in YNAB.
Set a savings target to help motivate you to set aside money monthly.

Enter your savings target and date needed by in YNAB.

You’ll sock away $500 a month if that trip’s a year away.

Save monthly for your vacation.
Save monthly for your vacation.
Track your savings progress with progress bars in YNAB.
And track your savings progress along the way.

Track your savings progress with progress bars in YNAB.

Then you can make your own list of spending priorities, divvied up by what matters most to you.

Assign your saved dollars to the categories where they're needed.
Assign your saved dollars to the categories where they’re needed

When your spending doesn’t match your priorities, there’s no amount of bargain hunting that will make you feel good about those hard-earned dollars leaving your account.

Plan your next vacation budget with YNAB’s money method and feel yourself fully relax—just how a vacation should be.

Make a list of your estimated vacation spending in YNAB to easily put this money method to use. Try it free, no credit card required.

Related Articles
Maximize Your Vacation Budget