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12 Ways to Enjoy Spring Break on a Budget

Posted by MoneyKey on March 12, 2019
Learn how to enjoy spring break on a budget

Here at MoneyKey, we have Spring Break on the brain. We’re dreaming of beach vacations where the only item on the schedule is soaking up the sun by the ocean with friends or family. But as a trusted source for online payday loans, we can’t help but temper the idea of a dream vacation with the reality of just how much a week-long escape would cost.

The average holiday under the sun can ring up a tab, and it may not be one your finances are prepared to cover. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck staying home, turning green with envy as you watch friends share pictures of their elaborate getaways!

This last-minute guide to the holiday can help you get away without overspending. With a mixture of budget tips and travel advice, we’ll help you organize a trip that fits your finances. Whether you’re a college student looking to party or a tired parent ready to relax, here are 13 ways to enjoy Spring Break on a budget.

1. Set appropriate expectations

If you’ve ever played the computer game The Sims, you may know about a cheat code that gives you an unlimited bankroll. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to padding your bank account in the game of life.

Although an installment loan or a line of credit can help you manage an unexpected expense, few financial advisors would suggest using an online loan to finance your vacation. If you aren’t sure when it would be a good time to use an online loan, take the time to learn more about the benefits of a direct lender when you’re facing an emergency — not dreaming about Cabo.

Setting your expectations to match your financial reality will not only help you plan a practical holiday, but it will help you avoid feeling disappointed with your trip. When you accept from the start that you won’t be staying at the Villa Machiavelli in San Casciano, Tuscany —at $11,658 per night with a four-night minimum, it’s the world’s most expensive Airbnb property — you won’t be frustrated when you arrive at your budget queen motel room.

2. Boost your savings

Whether you’re planning a family spring break on a budget or an affordable solo-trip to the beach, a savings account is the fuel to your jet-setting ways. The more cash you have set aside, the more you’ll be able to afford on your trip.

piggy bank

That much is obvious. What isn’t always so clear is how to set aside these savings in the first place. Luckily, it can be as simple as spending some time with your budget, tallying your expenses, and dividing them into the “needs” and the “wants”.

The “wants” are the fun extras in your budget that help you live more comfortably, and a vacation can become the biggest one of them all. You may find that you need to eliminate other “wants” if you expect to go on a holiday.

If you aren’t sure what qualifies as a “want”, think of it this way: although you may miss them when you get rid of them, their absence won’t have a negative impact on your health or comfort. While eating is a “need”, takeout lattes and snacks from the convenience store are what constitutes a “want”. Although a uniform for work may be a necessity, buying new loungewear every week is a frill.

It might help to look at your list of “wants” and see if you’re willing to give up any for the sake of your vacation. Eliminating takeout and other splurge items are some of the most common ways to generate savings, but it’s not the only way to free up cash in your budget.

You may have already started saving money in the new year by getting into shape or quitting smoking. Improved savings are just an added bonus to achieving these New Year’s resolutions. Not only will you spend less on cigarettes, but you may also save in long-term healthcare costs thanks to your healthier lifestyle. The way you set aside money for your trip is personal, depending on your budget and lifestyle. The important part is working hard to whittle down expenses so you can free up more cash to put towards savings.

3. Prioritize your experiences

Whether your budget is an in-app feature, an Excel spreadsheet, or a scrap of paper, forget whatever it looks like. For now, imagine it as a birthday cake.

birthday cake

The cake represents the cash in your budget; there’s only so much that can fit in the pan. Each expense takes a slice out of this cake, and once you “serve” a slice of it to cover an essential part of your vacation, there’s less remaining cake to “serve” to the remaining expenses.

Although there’s a limited amount of cake to go around, remember you’re the one who dishes out the slices. You get to choose how large or small each slice is just as if it was really your birthday. You can cut it so that each expense gets an equal amount, or you can slice it so that each piece is a different size.  

With this visual in mind, think about your priorities when you split up your budget. You may be able to give a bigger chunk of your cash to go towards experiences if you’re willing to allot less money elsewhere in your budget.

Let’s take, for example, your accommodations. If you downgrade your 5-star hotel to a 5-bedroom hostel, you’ll save a considerable amount of money you can then put towards another part of your trip. If you’d rather not bunk with strangers, you may be able to make a concession in another area of your budget. You may be able to keep the luxury hotel room if you stick to free activities or skip expensive restaurants for snacks bought at the grocery store.

There’s no wrong answer, as long as you don’t take any drastic measures to extend your travel budget – like taking out an installment loan. As a high-cost, short-term loan, it’s meant for emergencies when you need help covering urgent and unexpected bills. If you’re curious about what constitutes a financial emergency, check out this post to understand what an installment loan is and when it’s appropriate to use one.

You may also want to check out the rest of our blog, where we’ve explained the difference between payday and installment loans. Knowing how these short-term loans differ can help you make an informed decision about your personal loan should you ever need to apply for one.

4. Choose the right destination

Location, location, location — you’ve heard this one before, but it’s not just a beloved mantra of real estate agents. Travel agents and other wayfaring individuals mumble it under their breath as they search for cheap destinations. That’s because the cost of your trip can rise or fall for no other reason than location. Choosing the right one becomes all the more important when you’re sticking to a small budget.

sandy beach and ocean

Every year, the U.S. News & World Report updates its travel rankings to publish its top 10 list of best cheap spring destinations. They analyze expert and user opinions on more than one hundred locations, comparing thoughts on hotels, cruises, things to do, and travel rewards programs to find affordable and accessible Spring Break locales.

This year, Cancun, Miami Beach, and South Padre Island make it to the top three positions. Not impressed by these locations? Check out this longer list of cheap destinations to find some inspiration. Chosen by influencers and other travel experts, these destinations include a combination of local secrets and exotic options.

5. Buy your flights at the right time

If you want to find the lowest price possible, a common rule of thumb is to purchase your flights on a Tuesday. Or was it Wednesday? It happened to a friend of a friend of yours, who once found tickets half off the original price on a Thursday and swears by this schedule ever since.

airplane in the sky

Sound familiar? The origins of this urban legend can be found in an earlier time when managers used to create sales manually. Nowadays, these managers have given complex AI systems this task. They update prices automatically in a way that can be hard to predict, so there’s no longer one day of the week that’s significantly cheaper than the rest.

There is, however, a prime booking window for purchasing your tickets. It ranges from 8 weeks in advance of a domestic trip to 12 weeks in advance of an international jaunt.

Are you holding out on that ultra-low ticket price released at the last second? You might want to rethink that strategy. The worst times to buy flights is one to two weeks before your vacation.

6. Time your flights

person in airport looking at flight times

Timing is everything — and not just when you buy your flights. Your dates of travel play an important role in your final bill, too.

If you miss the prime booking window, you may be able to find some savings by avoiding travel on the weekend. Weekend fares see an increase of as much as 35 percent compared to mid-week flights. According to online travel agency CheapAir, flying out on a Wednesday instead of a Sunday will save you $76 per ticket.

For extra savings, consider packing an eye mask and booking a red eye — or a flight that departs and arrives early in the morning. Red eye flights are generally cheaper than more sought-after mid-afternoon flights. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to sleep while you’re in the air and arrive at your destination bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

7. Be really flexible

Spring Break is one of the most popular times to travel as people are looking for a sunny escape from a long winter; the hurricane season is still a distant possibility for most tropical destinations; and students of all ages, from kindergarten to college seniors, are out of school.

These make up the perfect storm of influences that can bring up the cost of your vacation. If peak-travel prices put pressure on your budget, see if you can change up the dates of your vacation. You might save a considerable chunk of cash by traveling a week or two before or after most Spring Breakers hit the beach.

8. Put the robots to work

There may be some fluctuation in prices depending on the airline, airport, as well as a variety of other insider factors. With so many variables affecting your fare, it can be hard to know for certain when you’re getting the best deal possible.

Apps like Skyscanner, Google Flights, and KAYAK rank on Frommer’s top 10 list of aggregators that take all the hard work out of comparison shopping. They use highly effective algorithms to sort through the available flights for your travel dates and present them all in one place. Depending on the app, you may also find the best listed prices on hotel rooms, rental cars, and vacation packages.

They also use their number-crunching powers to predict how much these listed prices will rise or fall in the future. This feature may help you decide between booking right away or waiting until the fares are expected to drop.

9. Skip the add-ons

Once you’ve snagged a great price for your flights, make sure it stays low by avoiding hidden airline fees. Things like seat selection, checked luggage, and even in-flight meals sometimes come at an additional cost.


Avoid paying more once you get to the airport by:

  • Forgoing assigned seating and priority boarding. Some budget airlines will charge you more for these privileges. You may save some money if you can accept general seating and boarding.


  • Pack carefully. Some airlines will charge extra for checked baggage on their cheapest tickets. To make sure your luggage doesn’t weigh you down, check in with this guide to learn how to pack a compact bag — it has a video showing Marie Kondo’s method of packing a carry-on.


  • Measure your overhead luggage. You may get dinged by an extra charge if your carry-on exceeds their size and weight limitations. Always check to see what these restrictions are for your ticket before you pack to make sure you come under the limit. They may be smaller than you realize! Just recently, two budget European airlines have come under fire for their strict carry-on policies.


  • Pack a snack. In many cases, budget airlines will charge extra for snacks and meals — even if your flight exceeds four hours. An empty stomach at 30,000 feet in the air is a convincing reason to shell out the big bucks for a sad-looking sandwich of indeterminate deli meat, but back down on Earth, you’ll regret this unnecessary splurge. Double check to see if meals are included at no cost before you reach the airport. That way you’ll have time to pack any of these flight-friendly snacks to keep your belly full on a budget.

10. Consider an all-inclusive trip

Flights, accommodations, meals, and more — there are a lot of moving pieces that make up the average vacation. It can be a headache to keep everything straight if you’ve never organized a trip before.

huts on the beachfront

An all-inclusive vacation may be a simpler alternative. True to its name, an all-inclusive trip includes everything in one price at booking, so you won’t have to pay for meals or entertainment in-person while you’re there.

It may also be one of the best Spring Break ideas for families on a budget. Some of the top all-inclusive resorts allow children to stay for free, giving cash-strapped parents a break on their holiday.

Some resorts end up being the best Spring Break destinations for college students on a budget, too. Young families and party-goers don’t always make the best resort mates, so be careful to read up on the reviews of your destination before you book it. Check to see if the resort is family-friendly or adults-only to make sure you find the right amenities for your needs.

11. Hit the road instead

When leaving on a jet plane threatens to topple your holiday budget, hitting the road may offer a cheaper way to travel — especially if you don’t have to rent a vehicle for the trip.

driving along the coastline

The U.S. has more than four million miles of road to explore, taking you along some of the most famous routes in the world. From Route 66 to the Overseas Highway (U.S. 1) and everything in between, there’s bound to be an amazing road-side itinerary for your vacation.

The main thing stopping you from taking a cross-country road trip is time. Check to see if you have enough of it to accommodate driving to your destination. If it’s too far, consider switching up your plans for something closer.

12. Just stay home

Your dream Spring Break may involve sipping piña coladas on a chaise lounge under the hot sun by the beach. But the reality of your Spring Break on a budget may prove you don’t have enough money to spare on any kind of travel, let alone a trip to an oceanside resort.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up on excitement. A staycation can be a fun or relaxing way to spend Spring Break if you plan it carefully.

There’s no right or wrong way to experience the staycation. It’s your chance to do all the things around the house or in your town that you’re too busy to do during your normal schedule.

person reading from a tablet

If you aren’t sure what that can be done, we’ve made a quick list to help you get started:

  • Community events: Between your library system, community center, and local museums and art galleries, there’s bound to be a free or affordable Spring Break program for kids and adults. With drop-in classes and special events, these institutions promise a fun family Spring Break on a budget.


  • Check out local visitor centers: No matter where you live, there’s likely a state organization or public building that operates all year round. Visit their website to see if they inspire any ideas on how to spend your vacation as a tourist in your own town or state.


  • Do your chores: It may not be as restorative as a week spent lounging by the beach but ticking tasks off your to-do list can help you feel productive. If you’ve been putting off important errands or simple household repairs, now’s the time to get on top of things. Taking on minor maintenance can help you avoid facing a major breakdown later on. Don’t worry if your work around the house reveals you need to take on major repairs right away. You can get in touch with MoneyKey for help with essential repairs you can’t ignore.


  • Catch up on sleep, books, and Netflix: A Spring Break spent at home is the perfect excuse to sleep in late, read all day, and binge-watch a series all night. When your normal work schedule makes it too hard to keep up with the latest shows and news, take advantage of your vacation time and relax at home.


  • Get some fresh air: Watching the dogs play in the dog park, exploring the neighborhood on a bike, or hiking through a state park — there are a ton of free outdoor Spring Break ideas for families on a budget. Go online to see if there are any free outdoor events you can visit.

These suggestions can help get the gears turning, but don’t let our ideas of the staycation limit what you plan. A staycation can be a totally unique experience — you just have to think outside the box!

Choose the vacation that fits your finances

A tan isn’t the only souvenir you may bring home from a beach vacation. If you aren’t careful, you might return with a significant amount of credit card debt. According to the LearnVest Money Habits and Confessions Survey, nearly three-quarters of Americans come home from a holiday with debt, owing an average of roughly $1,100.

Although the plastic in your wallet makes it easier than ever to book flights and hotels online, you should ignore the temptation to use it to finance your vacation. Remember to treat these financial products like an installment loan or line of credit. Just as it’s inadvisable to take out a loan you can’t repay, using your credit card to pay for a holiday you can’t afford is a bad idea.

Admittedly, this means Spring Break is a challenging time for anyone on a tight budget, but it’s possible to plan a vacation without compromising your finances. You’ll find it easier when you consider this list before you organize your trip. From using the right tools to book your flights to opting for a road trip, these tricks may help you find a compromise between having a fun and financially responsible vacation.

A quick game of word association usually connects Spring Break with things like sun and sand, but they don’t have to play a starring role in your springtime vacation. You can organize it any way you want, with no beach or expensive price tag necessary.


Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and does not constitute financial, legal or other professional advice. For full details, see MoneyKey's Terms of Use.

Posted in: Financial Tips Holiday Tips Lifestyle

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