Thrifty Thursday: Our first vacation on the Dave Ramsey plan

I guess if we were COMPLETELY following the Dave Ramsey plan, we wouldn’t have gone on vacation at all because we’re only on “Baby Step 2” which is the debt snowball phase, but I have great memories of family vacations growing up and I think it’s important to have those same experiences with my kids. Plus, we have season passes to Sea World that we had purchased prior to starting our Dave Ramsey plan and I couldn’t let them go to waste!

In addition to the fun that we had together as a family, one of the great things about this trip was that we paid for it entirely using cash and we managed to come home with $140 in cash!! In the past, when we have gone on vacations, we had a great time, but we would come home knowing that we had overspent and dreading that credit card bill. This time around, the only thing we were dreading was having to catch up on laundry.

Here are a few tips for helping you stay within your budget on a vacation:

*Check out Ebates – I’ve been an Ebates user for over a year now, but I didn’t realize that you could also book hotels through the site until recently. They have links for a number of popular hotel chains including Best Western, Choice Hotels, Holiday Inn, Marriott, and Wyndham Hotels and the cash back is typically between 1-3%. They also have links for a number of popular discount travel services such as Priceline, Orbitz, Hotwire, and as well as links for a number of airlines such as Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines.

*Invest in gift cards – We bought gift cards to pay for our hotel from a local grocery store and earned discounted gas for doing so. You can also earn gift cards for air travel from Swagbucks (Delta and US Airways miles and Southwest Airlines gift cards). In addition, check out and to earn gift cards for popular restaurants. We used a number of gift cards that I had earned from various websites to help offset the cost of meals.

*When choosing a hotel, look for locations that offer a free breakfast or have kitchens in the room. This also helps to cut down on out of pocket expenses for food. If your room has a kitchen, visit a local grocery store and at least prepare basics like breakfast and sandwiches on your own to save money.

*Take your own snacks. We have young kids, so snacks were a must have. We took a cooler with fruits and vegetables and our room had a small refrigerator. We also had crackers and other snack items. If you are visiting an amusement park or other attractions, check on their policies beforehand to see what kind of food you can take in with you. I took fruit, crackers, and juice boxes (for some reason at Sea World, you’re not supposed to take the straws in) in a backpack to keep the kids going until we left for lunch.

*Consider season passes or city passes to maximize savings. Check out this article here for more information.

For more ideas about how to have summer fun on a budget, check out these articles here.

Summer Fun on a Budget: Fee Free Weekends at US National Parks

This is straight from the US National Park Service website:

America’s Best Idea – the national parks – gets even better this summer with three fee-free weekends at more than 100 national parks that usually charge entrance fees*.

Mark your calendars for fee-free weekends this summer:

  • June 20-21, 2009 (Father’s Day weekend)
  • July 18-19, 2009
  • August 15-16, 2009

And to make the fun even more affordable, many national park concessioners are joining the National Park Service in welcoming visitors on this summer’s fee free weekends with the their own special offers.

Here’s a tip – many national parks never charge an entrance fee, so you can plan inexpensive visits year round!

For a list of family fun activities this summer, visit National Parks: The Place to Be for Family Fun.

*Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

Summer fun on a budget: indoor fun!

On rainy days or days when it’s too hot to go outside, there are still plenty of fun things you can do inside (that don’t include TV or video games) to keep your kids busy.

Earlier this week I shared some craft ideas for entertaining your kids here.

Here are some more ideas:

*Bake – pick out your favorite cook (or other kid friendly recipe) and start cooking! My kids love to help in the kitchen

*Board games – My kids absolutely love it when we get to pull out the board games and we have a closet full of different ones that I try to rotate through so that they don’t get tired of playing the same thing over and over again (although for some reason they never seem to get tired of Candyland).

*Build and indoor fort – Grab your pillows, blankets, and sheets, and get creative! If you need some ideas, here are some great articles:
Building an indoor fort (from

How to build an indoor fort (from

*Indoor picnic – instead of eating lunch at the table, spread out a blanket and have an indoor picnic. This breaks up the monotony and my kids love it!

*Puzzles – my kids love puzzles. I have found some great, inexpensive puzzles for $1 at Dollar Tree and it’s a great boredom buster.

Here are some more great articles with ideas for indoor fun:

*Rainy Day Activities for Children Ages 6-10

*20 Fun, Indoor Activities for Bored Kids

*Rainy Day Fun and Boredom Busters for Kids

Summer fun on a budget: season passes and city passes

Season passes – If you have a theme park in your area that your family enjoys, you may want to consider buying a season pass. Many parks offer season passes that are not much more than a day pass and once you have made the initial investment, your family can go over and over again so it makes a “cheap” day out.

Zoo memberships are another great investment. Many zoos offer “reciprocity” at other zoos when you purchase a membership which gives you free admission or heavy discounts. Check with your zoo to see if this is an option and if it is, it cuts down on sightseeing expenses if you go out of town, too!

City passes are another great option for cutting down on sightseeing expenses. They are currently available in 11 different areas and include a bundle of activities for about 50% off the regular price. For example, the Southern California City Pass includes: 3 day park hopper admission to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure as well as admission to Universal Studios, Sea World, and the San Diego zoo.

City passes are currently available for the following cities:
*New York
*San Francisco
*Southern California

You can get more information about what activities are included for each city pass or purchase one here.

Summer fun on a budget: Crafts and other fun ideas for toddlers and preschoolers

During the summer months, you’ll be faced with rainy days or days where it is just too hot to go outside. Crafts are a great idea for keeping your toddlers and preschoolers entertained. Here are some of my favorite, budget friendly resources!

*These books by Trish Kuffner have been an absolute lifesaver in planning activities for my kids. They are available with free super saver shipping through Amazon and they are part of the “four for three” promotion (you get one book of equal or lesser value free when you purchase three participating titles).

*Websites with free or cheap ideas and printables:

DTLK – this is one of the first “kid” sites I discovered when my daughter was about 2 and we were working on skills like coloring and learing the alphabet – they have lots of great printables and kid friendly craft ideas

Enchanted Learning – lots of great printables and activity ideas for preschool-aged children and school-aged children – we subscribe to the magazine also, but you can get great kid craft ideas and kid friendly recipes online, too!

** is offering an instant $3 off your subscription when you subscribe today, so you get a year’s subscription for $6.95.

Make and Takes – I subscribe to this blog and love getting my “daily fix” of craft ideas and kid friendly recipes!

Make and Takes

No Time for Flashcards – lots of great, affordable, ideas for kid fun!

No Time For Flash Cards

*Websites where you can purchase craft packets or other activities for a reasonable price:

1-2-3 Preschool Projects – Order a sample activity for free or order themed boxes or activities for the entire month. Prices for the activity packets and boxes are affordable, but they do kind of “get you” on shipping. – lots of great preschool activities and ideas for making bags and swapping them with your friends

Oriental Trading Company – they have lots of great craft packets for preschoolers and school-aged kids. My daughter loves the “activities” I have gotten for her from here. Many of the activities come in “units” of 6-12 which means you can make things for family and friends or it provides a source of entertainment if you have a playdate. Don’t forget to order through Ebates to get 3% cash back (and a $5 bonus using this link if you haven’t signed up with them yet)