Summer Family Vacation on a Tight Budget

Family on vacation

Your budget is tight but you still want to take the family on a fun vacation this summer. I can help you with that. This has been the story of my family’s summer every year, and we have found a lot of ways to save money on family trips.

The biggest expenses on the family vacation are transportation, lodging, food, and souvenirs, so I have a few thought how you can cut one or all of these costs to give your family a memorable vacation without a high price tag.

Lower Transportation Costs

The easiest way to cut your vacation costs is to stay closer to home. Do you live near a place others visit on vacation? Travel close to home and see the place like visitors see it.

If you want to travel away from home, go off-season. In the summer, go to an area known for winter vacations; in the winter, go to an area known for summer vacations. Sure, you will deal with weather, but that’s just fun.

Lower Lodging Costs

The biggest range of costs for your vacation is in where you stay. Even if you stay in a hotel or motel, you can often pull the costs down by checking discount websites or using a discount (CAA/AAA or military, for example).

The best way to save money on lodging costs on your summer vacation is to camp. Even if you don’t want to pitch a tent, a lot of campgrounds offer cabins. Cabins cost more per night than a spot to park a camper or put up a tent, but they cost less than a motel, and you don’t need to buy the extra camping equipment. You do need to be prepared with cooking (pots & pans) and sleeping equipment (sleeping bags or blankets), but cabins can save you money if you already have all of this.

Where to go? Why not just start big with the national parks of Canada. You can find spectacular beauty and sites of historic significance across the country.

Is camping a mystery to you? If you’ve never been camping and don’t quite know how, you can even find camping instructions on the Parks Canada site. They even have an app with recipes, checklists, and tips.

Lower Food Costs

One of the biggest expenses of traveling with the family is food. Feeding a family of four three meals a day can cost more than a hotel room.

Find a local grocery store and make your own meals. Even if you don’t have access to cooking equipment, you can have great uncooked meals. More than once my family has quietly rolled our cooler into a hotel.

Not only does making your own simple food save you a lot of money, you can choose high quality, whole foods rather than accepting the quality you get in an inexpensive restaurant.

Lower Souvenir Costs

Really, you don’t need souvenirs at all, but you will almost certainly hear the cries of “Mom, can I have this?” My strategy is to start out with a distraction that creates its own keepsakes. Rather than taking home stuff from the trip, we remember by taking photos.

When my kids were little, I bought them simple cameras so they could document the trip from their own point of view. The follow up at home was important. We would create albums or frame photos on their walls. I like how this gives my children freedom to frame their own experience, and it helps me see what they find significant. In the era of smart phones and tablets, you have a lot of options for equipment, but I still think it’s important to put the equipment wholly in your child’s hands.

Another idea for souvenirs is to collect small mementos of specific experiences. If you are heading to national parks or national historic sites, check out the Xplorer programs for children. When you arrive, you check in and get a booklet or equipment that leads children on activities designed to help their understand what that park has to offer. U.S. national parks have a similar program for Junior Rangers. We did a variety of activities from an hour to several days. When they returned with completed activity books, the park ranger held a little ceremony to award them patches. My kids collected those patches from their junior ranger activities and sewed them onto their backpacks. They still talk about the activities as they point out the patches.

Go Slowly

Make sure that you leave enough space in any vacation or staycation to enjoy your time together and unwind from the relentless pace of your normal life.

I’ve found that the activity that left my kids the happiest on most vacations was swimming in a motel pool. Simple, but it works wonders. Whatever you do, leave enough space that the kids can play and you can chill out. You don’t have to leave first thing every morning. A vacation shouldn’t feel like work.

The Really Cheap Summer Vacation

If you just don’t even have the option to travel because of the costs, you can still create that vacation feeling and fun summer memories. There is no requirement that you leave home each summer. Sure, it’s fun, but that pressure to do right by your kids can be stressful when you just don’t have the money to spare. You can make this a summer of fun without staying away from home.

Day trips. Take day trips to all of the tourist spots within a few hours drive. Even if you have seen the historic houses and scenic views around your region, for your children, a lot of this will be new. Help them see their own home for the first time.

Backyard camping. Have a weekly campout in the back yard. Cook your dinner over a fire and tell silly stories. Everyone will remember these nights more than random evenings spend in a crumbling motel.

Indoor camping. If you are more of the indoor type, you can still have a campout with the family. My family loves doing this. We pull the cushions from every couch in the house and cover the floor. Everyone brings their bedding, and we make one big nest. Then, we play board games, read aloud, watch a movie, or have a picnic. Anything you can do sitting on the furniture, you can do lounging on the floor. Difference makes the fun. It will seem completely silly to little kids, and they will love it.

Make Your Own Fun!

You don’t need to spend money to have fun with your family. You have a lot of choices to bring down costs and create beautiful summer memories for your children. Have fun!

Photo Family Enjoying View on Vacation – © Eric1513 | Dreamstime.com

Baby on a Budget: Cloth Diapers

Baby wearing Bummis cloth diaper

In my quest to save you from buying piles of baby stuff you won’t use, I’ve been outlining the essential baby basics on a budget.

You will change a lot of diapers. Elimination is one of those baby needs you meet one way or another.

As with baby carriers, you save money when you buy diapers that can be used from baby through toddler. We’ve got the solution for even a tiny diaper budget.

How Many Diapers Will a Baby Use?

Short answer: you will change 3000 – 6000 diapers on your baby.

During the first couple of months, you will probably have 12 diaper changes or more a day. If your newborn eliminates every hour, you change the diaper every hour in order to avoid discomfort and rash for your baby. That number will gradually dwindle to 4-5 diapers a day before your toddler uses the toilet.

12 x 30 x 3 = 1080
10 x 30 x 6 = 1800
8 x 30 x 6 = 1440
6 x 30 x 3 = 540
4 x 30 x 3 = 360
Total = 5220

Even if you are lucky and find that your child learns to use the toilet early and doesn’t eliminate as often, the lowest estimate for number of diaper changes per child is about 3000. I’m going to use that lowest number so I have a generous place to start when comparing with disposable diapers, but I want you to realize that it could be almost double that number. Babies’ needs vary.

How Many Diapers Do I Need?

Short answer: you need 24 prefolds and 4 one-size diaper covers.

On a budget, choose the lowest number of diapers you will need. I’ve seen more than one family make do with a dozen diapers, but you will end up washing more than once a day or leaving your baby in a wet diaper (which can cause irritation and rash). I consider 18 the minimum to start for a family washing diapers every day. The number of diapers used per day will go down quickly, so your laundry will go down quickly.

Just to keep being generous with the numbers, I am going to use 24 as my comparison number. Buy 24 prefold cloth diapers and 4 one-size covers, and a few accessories (like wipes or wash cloths and a bucket to hold the dirties), and you are set.

Compare Diaper Prices

  • $690 Disposable Diapers
  • $600 Cloth All-in-one Diapers plus Newborn
  • $240 Cloth One-size All-in-one Diapers
  • $231 ($195) Cloth prefolds with sized covers
  • $177 Cloth prefolds with one-size covers

The clear winner is prefold diapers with one-sized covers.

1 set of 12 Organic Cotton Prefolds, Infant Size
1 set of 12 Organic Cotton Prefolds, Premium Size
4 Bummis Simply Lite one-size diaper covers (Made in Canada!)

Our calculations

  • Disposable diapers – 3000 diaper changes x $.20-25 each = $690 ($.23 x 3000)
  • All-in-one one-size (no newborn) – 12 AIO x $20 = $240
  • All-in-one one-size plus newborn – $240 + (18 Newborn x $20 = $360) = $600
  • Prefolds with sized covers – 12 organic cotton Infant prefolds $44.96 + 12 organic cotton Premium prefolds $59.98 + (3 x 3 x $14 = $126) = $231  SPECIAL: Bummis Super Brite sized covers are on special right now for $10 per cover. Knock that total down to $195.
  • Prefolds with one-size covers – 12 organic cotton Infant prefolds $44.96 + 12 organic cotton Premium prefolds $59.98 + 4 one-size diaper covers $71.92 (4 x $17.98) = $177

Simple diaper bonus: prefold cloth diapers are by far the easiest diapers to wash. You can use and accidentally abuse cotton, and it still performs. For answers to your diaper cleaning questions, start at our Cloth Diaper Laundry Hub.

Why Shopping Local Will Save You Money in the Long Run

Saving money with diapers isn’t just a matter of the price you pay up front. I’ve heard many sad stories of people who thought they had found great diaper deals, but it turned out that they bought trouble.

Nature Mom has outlined the reasons shopping at bynature.ca or any other local store will save you money when you are buying for baby. The store in Orillia has a staff that is trained to help you succeed.

We’ll help make sure the diapers you choose are best for your individual circumstances. You won’t have to try multiple styles to get it right. We can help narrow down the many choices to the absolute best choices for you.

Every cloth diaper purchase from bynature.ca includes our 10 years of experience helping thousands of parents with cloth diapering. We’ll ensure you get off to a good start from day one, with everything you need to be successful.

We’re easy to get in touch with when you need help. Email, phone, or stop by the store, and we can help troubleshoot with fit, leaking, overnight diapering, washing issues, etc. This saves time weeding through the crazy responses online. (We joke, please don’t put your diapers in the dishwasher! This could be a costly mistake.)

Many local stores offer consignment sales so when you are done with your diapers, if you choose quality brands and followed recommended washing instructions, you might be able to resell your diapers through the local stores. Our next cloth diaper consignment sale at bynature.ca (our Repeat Sale) is coming up fast already! We’ll start registering consignors next month for our Spring Sale on March 22nd. (Check in on Facebook or get our newsletter for updates.)

How do you know if your diaper is safe, a counterfeit, or under warranty? When you talk to us in the store, we help you understand these issues. They do matter. It’s like having insurance for your investment. Authorized retailers can also help with warranty issues, and there are many unauthorized sellers online.

Bottom line, cloth diapers are an investment. Spending your money with a local retailer helps to secure this investment. That $50 or $100 you might think you’re saving buying from a big box store is easily worth the independent retailer’s time and expertise when you need it, as well as your own peace of mind throughout your cloth diapering experience.

Are You a Super Saver?

Go diaper free with infant pottying (or elimination communication). You will still need some diapers but not nearly as many as you would cloth diapering full time.

More Baby on a Budget

Next week I’ll talk about breastfeeding essentials. As you can guess, doesn’t involve much more than you and your baby.

Baby on a Budget: Just One Baby Carrier

Wrapsody Hybrid Baby Carrier Wrap

 

Before you have a baby, you probably aren’t sure exactly what you need. I’m sharing my experience to help you avoid buying stuff you won’t use.

A baby carrier is one of the baby essentials I recommend for you, even if you have a short list and a tight budget. Save money by buying just one baby carrier.

Why Is a Baby Carrier Essential?

  • Your baby gets what s/he wants: being close to you.
  • You keep baby close enough to kiss, so you become atuned to your baby’s needs. (The “attachment” in attachment parenting.)
  • You are free to use your arms and keep moving.

Especially in the first few months, most babies want to be very close to their parents. After babies start to move around, they will still spend a lot of time asking to be picked up. You have a higher vantage point to see the world. You are comfort when there is too much stimulation. Even a toddler wants to be held a lot. I still think of my little boy (before he was 6′ tall) saying, “Hold me,” and me getting out the sling that was sturdy enough to hold a toddler.

You will hold your child a lot. A baby carrier makes that a lot easier.

How to Save Money on Baby Carriers

Baby carriers are an expensive item because they involve a lot of high-quality fabric. I wouldn’t advise you to save money by getting a low-quality carrier or low-quality fabric. This is a safety issue. The baby carrier industry has done a great job in the past few years creating a standard that keeps your baby safe. It’s worth choosing a carrier that adheres to the high standard.

So, my alternative method of saving on baby carriers is to get just one carrier that works for all sizes and situations.

The One Baby Carrier: Wrapsody Bali Stretch Hybrid

The staff at bynature.ca recommends the Wrapsody Bali Stretch Hybrid as their most versatile and economical carrier over the lifetime of your use.

  • Wear newborn to toddler
  • Use as front carrier, hip carrier, or back carrier
  • One size fits all. 6 yards of fabric with hemmed, tapered ends so it is easy to tie
  • Soft fabric doesn’t create pressure points on your body, like heavier wraps or too quick wrapping sometimes creates
  • Compact enough to fit in your bag
  • Includes a DVD to help you learn wrapping

It is perfect for newborn.
Wrapsody Bali Stretch Wrap Aphrodite pattern

Perfect for napping babies.
Wrapsody Bali Stretch Wrap Alyssa

And also perfect for toddlers who really need to see the world.
Wrapsody Bali Stretch Wrap Chronos

What makes this carrier a particular favorite is the soft, stretchy fabric. This 100% cotton fabric is soft like a stretchy wrap but strong and supportive enough to function like a woven wrap.

One of the most important things for about a baby carrier, since you will be spending a lot of time wearing it over the next few years, is what it looks like. I hated my baby sling that had pastel baby patterns on it. I always reached for the one that matched my clothes (black). Think about how you dress, and buy your baby carrier accordingly. You will save yourself having to buy another one because you hesitate to wear the first.

With the Wrapsody Bali, the choices are gorgeous. Each one is unique because of the variations in hand-dyed and batiked fabric (from Bali, Indonesia). You can get a beautiful pattern, if that fits you, or a rainbow stripe, or a more subtle, neutral color. You have choices, and they are all dyed with baby-safe dyes (no heavy metals). You baby will suck and chew on the carrier, so that is important.

You will probably be wearing this carrier every day for a year, most days for the year after that, and occasionally into the third year. You will get a lot of wear out of your baby carrier. Don’t let the price tag scare you into skipping the baby carrier or opting for a cheaper version that you will have to replace.

Choose wisely the first time, and you will save in the long run.

More Baby on a Budget

All this month we will feature posts on saving money with babies.

See my short list of baby essentials and the stuff you will find on all of the other lists but you probably won’t use: “Baby on a Budget: What Do You Really Need?”

What is the best way to save on cloth diapers? Find out in “Baby on a Budget: Cloth Diapers.”

And, simplest of all, what do you need to buy to breastfeed? My answer in “Baby on a Budget: Breastfeeding Supplies.”

Freeze It! Save Time by Making Double

Woman cooking soup

Oh, no! It’s 5:00PM, and I don’t have a clue what’s for dinner. Don’t you wish you had a nice, home-cooked meal in the freezer you could just pop into the oven. So many of us are stressed and busy beyond our ability to cope well. No time for dinner too often means resorting to feeds that we know very well are not good for us.

My solution has been doubling my favorite meals, but keeping my family from getting bored by freezing half. Then, I have a quick, easy meal later.

A month ago, I bought a chest freezer, so I’ve been excited to fill it up. I’m not so excited that I’m likely to go the way of once-a-month cooking (cooking a month’s worth of meals in a day), though. That thought fills me with the dread of standing in the kitchen all day and of eating the same food for a month. If that idea overwhelms you, too, take baby steps. Just double some of your favorite meals. As this becomes routine, you might even get more ambitious.

Containers. Using freezer-safe, tempered glass containers makes it very easy to stack and store your frozen food. If you are going to freeze more than a week in advance, you might want to invest in labels and markers so you don’t end up leaving food in the freezer too long.

Recipes. Start with your favorite foods that are easily frozen. Many soups and sauces freeze well. We double time-consuming meals like lasagna and pot pie, freezing one uncooked. We don’t usually freeze foods with a lot of vegetables because I don’t like the texture of some thawed and reheated whole vegetables. It is easy to add fresh vegetables to reheated meals, though.

Buy on Sale. Be flexible enough to take advantage of a good sale when it happens. Looking for red-label foods that are set to hit their expiration date in a couple of days saves us money already. Don’t just freeze the raw ingredients. Double what you make as well as what you buy, so you can freeze the meal.

Don’t double new recipes. For the same reasons, don’t plan to freeze foods that you haven’t tried before. If you didn’t like it the first time around, you’ll likely just leave it to wither away into ice dust in the corner of the freezer.

If you are ready to save time and save money but you aren’t ready to make freezing meals a new lifestyle, doubling what you already love to eat is a great way to create no-stress dinners for your family.

Image © Littleny | Dreamstime.com

Dinner on a Budget

Young family making dinner on a budget

When you are making a healthy dinner on a budget, you balance two needs: keep the quality high and keep the grocery bill low. The more work you are willing to put in and the more you plan in advance, the less you will end up spending and the easier it will be to keep this balance.


Grow It Yourself

Can you plan dinner a year in advance? Sure, sort of. It’s not too early to plan your garden for the year.

It’s nice to eat fresh vegetables, and you may also want to preserve your own food to save money. My mother always made pickles and salsa. We seldom bought these at the store. I guarantee we won’t need to buy mint tea for a long time, but there is nothing else we grew this past season that will cover our needs for the whole year. I aspire to grow enough of one food that I can make it worth the time and effort to preserve a year’s worth from our own garden. I have two ideas for foods I think I could cover out of my garden if I focus our efforts for the year: berry preserves or pickles.

Even if you don’t grow your own food, you can buy foods when they are abundant and prices are low then preserve them yourself. Some farmers markets are in their last few weeks right now.


Buy Ahead

One way to cut costs is to buy food as it is discounted. If you want to take advantage of daily specials (“Must be sold today!”), you will need somewhere to store the food. You don’t even really need to plan in advance, as long as you are willing to do a bit of improvisation once the moment of recipe decision comes.

A small, energy efficient chest freezer costs only a few hundred dollars. Chest freezers run more efficiently than upright freezers, and they freeze most efficiently if they are kept full.


Cook It Yourself

When you’re tired and hungry, you are much less likely to make the less expensive choice for dinner. Just to for comparison, and to encourage you to plan ahead, this is what my family of four pays for a chicken dinner.

  • Eat out chicken dinner, restaurant, $40-50 (if you are lucky)
  • Buy chicken dinner, fast food, $20-30
  • Buy chicken dinner, grocery store, $15-20
  • Buy a cooked chicken, grocery store, $6-8 + another $10 for side dishes for $16-18
  • Buy a raw chicken and cook at home, $5 for 2 chickens (on special) + $5 for tortillas, avocado, cheese, and lettuce for a total of about $10 (and, it lasts for a couple of meals)

I base this on the two chickens I bought this weekend (“Today’s Special”), which provided a great Sunday lunch and dinner for about $10. We didn’t really plan ahead, but we improvised around the best deal available.

Even if you only eat take out food once a week, that can add $100 a month to your food budget. If you actually eat out in a restaurant, you add closer to $200 a month. It doesn’t seem like much at the time, but it all adds up quickly

What you need on those evenings when you are tired and hungry is something you can pull from your freezer and heat up.


Divide Meals

If you need quick, easy to heat and eat meals, make them yourself. Before I was married, I could make a huge pot of soup on the weekend and eat it for a week when I got home late. With four people to feed, we can sometimes get three meals out of one pot of soup or chili or two meals out of a dish of lasagna.

Look at your family’s favorite foods and figure out which are most easily scalable. Then, make a lot, divide it into enough for tonight and later. Freeze the rest in the right amounts for a whole dinner, and you have a very easy meal for another night. It’s your own two-for-one meal deal.

It is possible to be frugal by buying the cheapest foods, but don’t fall into that trap. Eating processed and prepared foods costs you more in health and wellness in the long run. Stick with whole foods, single ingredients that you put together yourself.

Eat well and inexpensively!

Image © Arne9001 | Dreamstime.com