Raise your hand if you’re not taking your kids to Disneyland over Spring Break. Me neither. My husband and I are working really hard to improve our savings and credit standing at the moment and our goals don’t exactly jive with a trip to the happiest (and arguably the most expensive) place on Earth. Watching friends and co-workers pack the kids up and head for “Mickey’s house” (or another equally expensive destination) can be sad for parents who are focusing on financial security or who simply don’t have the extra cash flow to justify those kinds of expenses. What are budgeting families supposed to do to compete?
First, don’t compete. It’s hard to hear about other people’s lavish Spring Break plans without comparing your “backyard staycation” and feeling unsettled about it. But the bottom line is, there’s nothing wrong with doing what is responsible for your family. Your daughter may not get to have a pair of personalized Mini Mouse ears this year but one day, if you play your cards right, she’ll get a college education without the burden of crippling student debt. Which is more important? I think it’s obvious. If you can’t afford the big vacation this year, it is better to admit that than to try to figure out a way to do it despite financial constraints (hello, credit card debt!). Comparing your financially conservative Spring Break plans to someone else’s more “exciting” plans is an exercise in futility. You can’t know how much saving or scrimping went into that big vacation or, if they did not save, how much debt that family will carry as a result. All you can know is how important financial security is to your bliss and peace all year long. You know what is most responsible for your budget. Be glad for those who find a way to take the big vacations but don’t forget to be proud of yourself for doing what is best for you and your family!
The next step is to remember that Spring Break doesn’t have to be expensive to be special or memorable. When I was young, Spring Break was filled with mid-morning cartoon watching with my big sister, seeking “shelter” in the back yard with my little brother as the rain rolled in and hiking around the woods of Northern California with my dad looking for accessible roads into our favorite fishing spots. Since my parents ran a business together, taking trips to far-away places wasn’t an option. They simply couldn’t leave the company alone without its leadership. Sometimes they would take us to the coast for a weekend — no more than a few hours from our hometown — but usually we would spend the time together doing nothing too exciting. My mom would make popcorn for movie nights and my dad would build us tents in for “camping” in the back yard but we never did anything huge … which was kind of nice. We spent those weeks at our home in the mountains, making memories that my adult self is incredibly thankful for. For the record, I didn’t go to Disneyland at all during my childhood and I am a fully functioning member of society. I’m living proof that expensive Spring Break trips are not necessary to form well-rounded, happy children or wonderful family memories.
Finally, remember that exercising a little bit of creativity can take a ho-hum Spring Break and turn it in to something extra special. If you don’t want this year’s Spring Break to come and go without any “WOW” moments, try looking online for some budget-friendly ideas to create some extra pizazz. Pinterest has thousands of great ideas for spring activities with kids – most of which require more enthusiasm than money. This article from Learnvest is also packed with some great ideas for budget-conscious (and very cool) spring break activities. If nothing online works for you, consider my go-to ideas for making saycation magic during Spring Break:
- It’s Fanny Pack Time: Take your family and become “tourists” in your own town for the day. Contact your local chamber of commerce for some free or low-cost points of interest near your home, pack a sack lunch and get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with your own back yard!
- Shhhhh! Visit the local library to pick up some new reading material then head to a park or any shade tree for a picnic and story time. If you want to add an extra touch, do some research on age-appropriate books that have been made into movies. If you can find the movie (Amazon Prime is great for this) then try to find the book to match. After your park day you can come home and watch the movie as a family.
- X Marks The Spot: Geocaching is the modern equivalent to treasure hunting and packs a ton of excitement for kids of all ages. Strap on your hiking boots and a light jacket and head for the hills! Geocaching.com is a great place to start. The homepage has a short video that explains the whole concept and, as you may have expected, there are apps for it, too!
- Park It! Parks are an easy, accessible go-to for people with children of any age. Whether it be a small playground, a State or National Park or a local soccer or baseball park, let your imagination lead you. Grab a bat and a ball or a pair of walking shoes and let the day unfold. Most State and National Parks have camping with reasonable rates, too. Just remember, springtime temperatures can vary dramatically. Be sure to bring your extra-fluffy sleeping bags!
If you have more ideas for fun, low-cost Spring Break activities, leave them in the comments below!