Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Family Travel: Saving Money & Having Fun

This past weekend, my family and I took a trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Virginia.  We spent the weekend there and the kids and adults alike had a blast. True to form, I am always looking for ways to save money especially on things like eating out.  Having spend nearly $600 for accommodations and admission to the water park, I did not want to drop another few hundred on food.

After reading several reviews, I learned that the food at the park was a bit pricey and not all that great. Which was OK with me, because we were going to enjoy the water park, not enjoy a fine meal.  As a family of six, we could have easily spent $70 bucks for a modest meal at the hotel restaurant, for one meal. We probably would have spent $250 dollars to eat had I not gotten creative with the money saving tips below.

Decide what is important. When planning a family trip, one of the biggest areas to save is on food expenses. If you are going to a place where one of the most critical features is to experience the food, then by all means plan for it!  Our goal was to have fun at the water park, so it was a no-brainer to save money on food since we weren't missing a 5 star experience at the park restaurant. So if you're looking to shave some money off your next trip keep reading.

This tips also work best for trips up to 3 hours from home. We drove, so it was easy to transport a crock pot and pre-purchase frozen items without them melting or going bad. Of course, you can always ship a crock pot to your destination if its worth the expense or use a cooler to transport items that may spoil on trips with longer drives.

Tip #1:
Figure how many meals you will need to plan for. In our case we left Saturday after breakfast and were returning Sunday evening. We ate breakfast on Saturday before we left home. So we would need lunch and dinner on Saturday and breakfast and lunch on Sunday and of course, snacks. Once you know how many meals you need to plan for you can being to prep.

Tip #2:
Brown bag it. Lunch is a easy meal to brown bag. I packed lunch for each child to eat on Saturday once we arrived.  Sandwich, snack, fruit and juice. Relatively inexpensive but filling.

Tip #3:
Crock pot meals! Here is where I saved the most money. For dinner on Saturday I made Cheesy Chicken and rice in the crockpot, it cost me just $10 to feed 6 people. Great savings.  For lunch on Sunday, I made crock pot mac and cheese that we ate with chicken bites. This meal costs about $12 to feed 6.

  • Instead of taking bulky seasonings for the meals, I pre-measured the   seasonings and put them in a small zip lock bag. This way I didn't have to carry full size salt, pepper, garlic, etc... See image for idea.
  • For easy clean up, get crock pot liners! I had some that I got for free during a Harris Teeter super doubles event. Once we were finished with the meal I just needed to remove and trash the crock pot liner, no need to clean the crock pot and deal with a mess. I highly recommend these!

Tip #4:
Go for frozen breakfast sandwiches and no-mess meals for breakfast.  I purchased Jimmy Dean's sausage and pancake thingy on a stick for breakfast Sunday. All I had to do what heat them up in a microwave and serve.  The kids loved it and there was no mess.  The package came with 12 for about $7. I purchased a carton of orange juice for about $3 as well.  Another inexpensive meal, at about $10 for six people or about $1.67 per person.

Tip #5:
Pack snacks!  I purchased snacks (fruit, snack cakes, chips) because I knew the kids would be hungry between meals at the park.  We could have easily spend $100 at the concession stands alone, but I purchased about $15 in snacks and saved us a pretty penny.

Tip #6:
Use coupons! For every meal I made in which I had to purchase items I had coupons that saved me about $3 per meal.  For example, I purchased a bag of Tysons chicken for just 6.99 by using a $1 off coupon at Target. I purchased a bag of Anytizers for around the same price also with a $1 off coupon. I shaved about 25% off my grocery bill for this trip with coupons.  I also had coupons for Little Debbie Cinnamon Buns and Pringles which were some of the snacks we took.
I also purchased about $9 worth of disposal plates, cups, etc... for just $5 using coupons :-)

Tip #7:
Work with what you have.
I made simple crock pot meals, using many items we already had which means the less I have to buy.

Tip #8:
Set expectations. Let kids know what is to be expected. We informed the kids up front that we would not be eating out and prepping meals in the hotel room.  This avoids the asking/begging for pizza, hot dogs or whatever they would see while there.

Despite my planning, we did wind up spending money on food. We are all still hungry Saturday night (we ate dinner early) so we spent $35 on 2 pizza pies.  And actually it was the best pizza I had in quite sometime.  It wasn't from their restaurant  but an auxiliary restaurant on site. It was delicious! I also treated the family to their choices of cookies, ice cream or any treat they wanted from the snack shop. Spending about $20. Before we headed out Sunday, we treated the kids to nacho's (some kids had fries) from the snack shop for about another $20.  This is $75 total. Imagine what we have spent on food if we didn't prepare in advance. We saved a lot, and splurged a little.  Everyone went home happy.

I will do a review of Great Wolf Lodge soon, but I wanted to share how to save money on your next family trip.

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