The Anxiety-Free Vacation?

To have a large family means living a frugal life.  For our family, we live frugally throughout the year, which allows us to have a more than satisfying Christmas season and to vacation once or twice a year.

One of my foster favorites is exposing our kids to new places and experiences and seeing the wonder and awe in their eyes.  We make a lot of memories and we hope our kids will never forget them.  Vacation is one of those special gifts we are privileged to give our kids.

Traveling with 114 children (okay, 6, but same difference) is quite the undertaking.  Without a doubt, our crew needs a vacation.  It’s been a year of change, school stress, loss and for each of my children, a certain level of grieving.  They need excitement, fun and to feel the sand between their toes. Two of our teen girls have never been to a beach, so we are thrilled to see them experience the ocean, the sand and a luxurious, oceanfront condo for the first time.  And I can’t lie, it’s also pretty entertaining to see them get hit by their first salty wave.

Though I LOVE vacationing, there is always a little anxiety (okay, a lot) that comes along with it.  Yes, I have a trauma-based/completely irrational/all-in-my-head/I-know-it’s-coming-to-get-me shark phobia from my childhood that involves the movie JAWS, which my Dad still denies showing me at age 3 (love you, Dad.)  And I may or may not have slight panic attacks when my husband leaves a 1/2 car link between the vehicles while traveling 70 MPH on a busy highway.   But my anxiety is mainly regarding sticking to the budget.  The thought of the slightest debt or a of hint of going over budget is enough to cause heart palpitations.  Being a control freak is one of my life long battles and I own it.

Eating at higher priced restaurants isn’t something a family of 8 can do very often.  Sometimes we avoid going to restaurants during our vacations because the expense adds up quickly.  We typically go out to dinner to a nicer restaurant once.  The reason for this?  My loves who carefully craft and masterfully carry out passive aggressive manipulation tactics on these special evenings out.  Before we get out of the car, we all hear the same lecture about choosing a meal that’s $10 or under and a reminder that we are all ordering water.  However, without fail, we sit down and one master manipulating teen will try to stretch it to the $12.99 meal and another will ask for the $5.99 fruit smoothie because her meal is only $6.99.  This is the point where mom stops having fun and begins envisioning the giant wave that will wipe the two of them out the following afternoon.

Souvenirs are another issue.  I try to avoid the high priced souvenir shops and stick to grabbing the kids the $5 destination tees from Walmart.  I also can’t stand to see them buy high priced junk for the sake of buying high priced junk.

Before we know it, that $2500 vacation has hit $3000 and mom not only grieves the end of the vacation, but returning home to the lovely credit card bill that will haunt me next month.

This year, the hubs and I came up with a different plan.  This plan is sure to take all of the financial stress out of the vacation (I hope) and to teach our five older kids the value of money while giving them an authentic life experience with budgeting.  We sat all five of the older kids down and shared THE PLAN.  They were actually pretty excited and have already begun scheming.



-Each child will receive $100 when we pull out of the driveway

-Each child is responsible for budgeting their $100 for the week

-Mom will grocery shop for all meals plus extras to be cooked/eaten in the condo

-Beginning the minute we pull out of the driveway, they are responsible for all meals out, souvenirs, sodas, junk food, snacks for the road etc.

-We will eat at nicer restaurants 3 times during the week (SAY WHAT?  3 TIMES?!)

Our two newest girls had giant smiles and were nothing but gracious and excited.

Our youngest daughter thought the heavens were shining down on her.  Of course, Mom and Pop will have to help her budget, but considering she eats like a bird, she will no doubt, come home loaded down with souvenirs like strange, cheap animal statues and 12 more stuffed animals.

Of course, our college-aged Smarty Pants and equally intelligent middle daughter began trying to figure out how to carefully manicure/manipulate this plan, so we had to add a few stipulations.



#1 They may not take any of their own money (Smarty Pants will blow her savings, which is for a car)

#2 Any money not spent by the end of the week is to be given back to the parentals

#3 If they run out of money, they are out of luck.  That means they will be eating in the condo for the remainder of the week and/or packing sandwiches for the drive home.


Overall, the teen girls are excited, optimistic and have already started planning to share appetizers, eat light and raid the Dollar Tree for junk food so they can do more shopping.  I rarely buy junk food, so they have already planned a Ramen and Shasta binge.  They also love going to the local restaurants together that are within walking distance and are more teen budget friendly.  So, the plans are already underway.

Here’s to Momma’s fingers being crossed that this year’s vacation will be filled with great memories and will stay under budget and anxiety free!  Now all I have to worry about is potential shark attacks.  Dang.  Now the real anxiety begins.

Wondering how this worked?  See the follow up Article here: The $100 Vacation Plan


Please share other vacationing ideas below!  How do you travel with a large crew and save money?  


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  • Sounds like a great plan! You’ll have to report back about how it goes.

    Are there a lot of extras (paperwork and permission and such) required to travel outside of state or country with foster kids?

    • Jodi, we have only traveled out of state. The case worker has to get permission from the parents. Generally, the parents are pretty supportive because they have met us and trust us. We have only had one incident where the parents refused. So, we had to go to court to override them. Their excuse was they didn’t want their child bonding with our family. The judge thought that was ridiculous and granted the trip.
      Traveling out of the country is new territory for us. I’d love more info about that from experienced foster parents. A cruise and a trip to Niagara Falls are on our wish list. I need more info!

  • I am curious why any overage has to be returned to the parents. That seems to me to void any positive efforts to ‘stay in budget’ and is only serving to allay the parental concern of not doing so while removing in advance any entreaties for additional spending that are sure to happen anyway.

    In 1959 our smaller family took its first ‘real’ vacation which was to Miami, and we drove…from Connecticut. My brother was twelve and a half, and I turned fourteen during that trip. We spent a week in Miami Beach (which was safe back then) and each morning my dad gave us five dollars each to eat and entertain ourselves between about ten until three. In today’s money allowing for inflation that was equivalent to a little under $41. I don’t remember what we did with the leftover money but it did not have to be returned. There was just one rule…we had to stay together.

    It is not what turned out to be a very generous allowance that I remember from that trip. Dad was not one to stay on the beaten path so we stopped frequently at the roadside rip offs. I watched him lose a hundred dollars on a shell game when we stopped to see the two-headed calf…and to this day I seldom gamble…to me it is throwing money away.

    The little town we came from had one African-American family…fairly affluent. I had never seen ‘colored only’ signs in my life and they spurred questions from us kids that resulted in a two and a half day conversation about segregation which cemented my belief in equality for the next 56 years.

    And we learned the results of a good work ethic. Off the beaten path again (to my father there was no such thing as ‘lost’) we toured some pretty shabby areas of New York City when we were told that if you work hard you will avoid living in such places. It was fairly late in life before I realized that for him anyway he worked (he was self employed) to keep poverty at bay, not to amass funds to buy things ‘in the budget’ and that it is a much easier goal to keep ones self out of poverty…which is measurable…then it is to amass great funds and try to compete against everyone else…which does not carry the same ability to be measured. It is when I learned that money buys security and contentment and that those things carry a price tag different for everyone. When you get elderly it is nice to have learned how to be happy with what you have.

    On that particular trip we of course ran short of money so the return trip involved scraping together what cash was left, budgeting for the gasoline for the car, buying a few loaves of bread, and a couple pounds of baloney and driving straight home without stopping. That too was a lesson learned.

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