Why Being Too Frugal on Vacation is a Bad Idea

Being frugal on vacation isn't a bad thing, but it can interfere with having fun when taken too far. Don't let being too frugal ruin your vacation.

Hear me out – I’m all for being frugal and getting the best deals possible, especially where travel is concerned. Lodging, gas or plane tickets, eating out, and being a tourist can get expensive pretty fast.

That’s why it’s important to be strategic and plan out what you’re going to do ahead of time. You want to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on something that’s not really worth the money.

However, being too frugal on vacation can happen. I’ve only taken a handful of vacations on my own, mostly because I used to view travel as a luxury I couldn’t afford. Every time, I’ve tried to take the cheapest route possible.

After a bit of reflection, I realized that was the wrong way to go about it. While trying to save money on various sights and attractions isn’t a bad thing, you can go overboard with it. It’s almost like the extreme couponing of vacation, if that makes sense.

In my experience, being too frugal on vacation has been a bad idea. Here’s why.

It Can Defeat the Entire Purpose of a Vacation


A vacation is supposed to be fun and relaxing, right? But when you’re busy writing down all your expenses, or checking your bank account, the fun can get sucked out of your trip quickly.

How many people actually do that while away? Well, maybe I’m an oddball, but that’s exactly what I did during one vacation.

At the time, we were on a rather tight budget. The vacation itself was kind of spontaneous because it was a last minute birthday gift for me. I wanted to make sure we didn’t go crazy with expenses during our short one-week trip.

That resulted in me writing down every expense, and tracking it to the penny. Tolls and gas added up quicker than I expected, and by the time we arrived, we didn’t have much room left in our budget.

Looking at that sheet of expenses was downright depressing most of the time we were there, and we ended up not enjoying ourselves because we were too concerned with our spending.

You Lose Focus


As you can tell from above, our vacation didn’t even feel like a vacation because we didn’t get to do anything out of the ordinary.

Yes, we enjoyed the beach and walking around in unfamiliar territory, but that was about it. We purposely booked a hotel room with a kitchen so we could do a lot of cooking in. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you should be able to plan at least a few restaurant visits.

Focusing on the numbers consequently makes you lose focus on your trip. I was so caught up in staying under a certain amount of spending that I kept saying “no” to so many adventures. There were a lot of memories that could have been made that we missed out on.

Don’t let frugality get the best of you during a trip. If you have a habit of being uptight about spending like I do, try and relax. Realize it’s a once-or-twice-a-year event that’s meant to be somewhat of a splurge. As long as you’re not dropping thousands on tours and souvenirs, or maxing out your credit card, you should be okay.

Travel is About the Experience


If you’re worried about the numbers instead of enjoying yourself, you might need a change in mindset.

At the time of this particular trip, I was still in college and wasn’t working. I wasn’t setting myself up to enjoy the trip by being so miserly with everything from accommodations, to food, to our budget.

I didn’t realize I’d be taking away from the overall experience of traveling. The purpose of this vacation, to me, was to relax and enjoy a change of scenery.

Except it turned out that my definition of that was to pretty much be “at home” in a hotel, somewhere else. Does that sound like a true vacation to you?

I was simply in the wrong mindset to take a vacation, if there is such a thing. While you shouldn’t get carried away and make excuses for spending simply because you’re away, you also shouldn’t cheap out on everything.

Honestly, if you’re spending a decent amount on a vacation in the first place, you should make that money count. Ironically, I was concerned about spending, but our lack of spending made the entire vacation kind of worthless. You should get the most out of your trip!

Being frugal on vacation isn't a bad thing, but it can interfere with having fun when taken too far. Don't let being too frugal ruin your vacation.

How to Avoid Being Too Frugal on Your Vacation


I’m going away in August and I plan on making this my best trip yet. You can be sure I won’t be repeating these mistakes! What do I plan on doing differently?

For one, I saved ahead for this trip. I have more than enough room in my budget to have fun and say “yes” to more things.

If you’re going to take a vacation, make sure you have the money to do it right. Getaways should be special, and limiting yourself isn’t fun. If spontaneity is your style, have a dedicated savings account for travel so you can pull from it when needed.

I’m also a huge fan of planning ahead. Take a look at the things you want to experience on your vacation and price them out. This way, you can save appropriately.

On a separate vacation, I really wanted to take a jet ski tour out on the ocean to spot dolphins. I managed to find a few coupons for it beforehand, and I knew the price, so I was able to budget it in. I got to enjoy that amazing experience without any worry!

Travel hacking is another great way to leave yourself more room for doing things on your vacation. We all know accommodations and flights can take a huge bite out of our travel budget, and by using rewards points that you can earn through credit card promotions, it is possible to travel for free, or for pennies on the dollar. When you combine free airfare or lodging through rewards points with what you’ve saved for your trip, now that whole saved amount can go toward enhancing your trip! Here are some of the best rewards credit cards that will help you greatly reduce the cost of travel.

Lastly, just make sure your finances can handle a vacation. You don’t ever want to feel guilty on your trip, or feel regretful after the fact. That takes away from the entire experience and feeling that way isn’t worth it. Don’t let anyone pressure you into going away, not even yourself!


Have you ever been guilty of being too frugal on vacation? How do you make vacations work for you and your budget? Do you like to plan ahead or jet off on a whim? What are your thoughts on travel hacking? 


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Erin M. is a personal finance freelance writer passionate about helping others take control over their financial situation. She shares her thoughts on money on her blog Journey to Saving.


  • Gina says:

    I totally agree with this! When we budget for a family vacation, we consider parts that are worth scrimping/saving and others worth splurging. And I always budget for “extras” like grocery deliver when we get home (saves an errand when you’re exhausted) and a photo book to make of the trip. It’s easier to relax when you are not penny-pinching the whole trip.

  • Money Beagle says:

    I agree. One strategy is to set aside a pool of fun money as part of your vacation budget, which are for items that are not individually priced out beforehand. This allows you flexibility in your vacation and you don’t have to worry about whether you’re spending too much as long as you keep within your fun money pool.

    • Erin says:

      Yes, great idea as well! There’s always going to be something you come across that you weren’t expecting, but want to do. You shouldn’t have to limit yourself.

  • Dane Hinson says:

    We have a family vacation planned at the end of the summer. I usually try to “front end” my frugality when it comes to vacation. In other words, do all I can to save costs and travel efficiently until the plane takes off. After that you just have to enjoy the time away.

    • Erin says:

      That’s basically my approach as well. I’m a thorough researcher, so I try to get the best deals on accommodation and tickets. I’m just glad I have enough saved to enjoy my trip in August, as I haven’t had a proper vacation in a while and want to enjoy it!

  • I put money into a vacation fund each month so that I can spend without worrying as much.

    That said, I do as much as frugal research as possible beforehand: good hotel rates, airfare tickets, discounted attraction tickets, free attractions, etc.

    Once we’re on vacation, I worry a little about money, but I try to keep it at a minimum.

    I realized just how super frugality could ruin a trip when we were in NYC. I went to a conference that my employer paid for, so we got a ticket for my husband and stayed an extra 3 days. I was stressed about money most of the time. Tim had to convince me to pay extra to go all the way to the top of the Empire State building. I was grumpy about it — the ticket prices were bad enough as it was — but once we got up there, I realized that it was worth it. Since then, I’ve tried to relax a little about vacation expenses.

    • Erin says:

      That sounds like something I would have done. It’s always been difficult for me to part with money, no matter what, but I’m slowly realizing some expenses are truly worth it. Especially when you’re paying for experiences like that one!

      I’ve never been to the top of the Empire State Building, but I did get to go to the top of the Statue of Liberty in 6th grade for a field trip (before I had money worries, thankfully!). NYC has so much to do, and I haven’t enjoyed spending time there when I’m concerned about how much everything costs.

  • I’ve been guilty of this before, but now I love the freedom that comes with savings some funds in advance, and planning as much as possible what you’ll spend your money on, then going for it! My wife also loves doing all the planning and works hard to get the best deals so that we can spend a little more freely while we’re away.

    Hope you have a great time away in August Erin! Sounds pretty exciting to be making it your best trip yet!



    • Erin says:

      Thanks, Jason! I’ll be volunteering half the time and sight-seeing the other so it will be an interesting trip. =) Planning and saving in advance is really the best way to go to avoid any regret post-vacation.

  • No reason to be wasteful, but you definitely shouldn’t deprive yourself after saving so much to take a trip. Enjoy it.

  • Jason B says:

    I always plan ahead before I go vacation. That’s the best for me since I’m on a budget right. Once my income gets higher I will take a spontaneous trip somewhere.

    • Erin says:

      I can’t wait until I have enough saved up in a travel fund to take a spontaneous trip. For now, spontaneous day trips or weekend trips will do. =)

  • Great post Erin! I’m trying to be more frugal, as I’m NOT frugal by nature. But I can see where you are coming from that you don’t want to ruin a vacay by being too frugal. You don’t want to come home to a busted budget either, so balance is key!

    • Erin says:

      Yep, as with most things in life, it’s all about balance! You don’t want to completely restrict/deprive yourself, but you don’t want to go overboard, either.

  • Planning really can eliminate the worry of spending too much money. We try to book as much as we can through points and then pre pay for everything possible so that money spent on the trip is mainly for meals, gas or if something comes up that we really want to do.

    • Erin M says:

      The idea of prepaying is a good one! I can imagine that alleviates a lot of worry, because you don’t have to think about it. The money is already spent!

  • I have actually never had the issue of being too frugal on vacation, because I allow my vacations to truly provide me with a break from everything, including watching budgets. I plan and save in advance for the vacation and have contingency money and then when I go, I just enjoy myself with my family.

    • Erin M says:

      That’s the best way to approach it. I think my “vacation mindset” stems from how my parents took vacation when I was younger. We always tried to be as cheap as possible, and with money was tight as it was, we probably shouldn’t have been going away in the first place!

  • Hannah says:

    My parents would always give us a set “snack” budget while we were on vacation. We could actually use it for whatever we wanted, but we weren’t allowed to ask for money on the trip. I think that saved them from having to say “No” on vacation.

    • Erin M says:

      That’s an interesting way of approaching it with kids! I hadn’t thought of how they could potentially bust budgets on vacation. 😉

  • The last time when we had a vacation, I already set a budget for our 1 month vacation together with my daughter and my sister. Actually, my budget exceeded, but it was alright for me because I expected it already.

    • Erin M says:

      I have to imagine it’s hard to budget to the T with a longer vacation. It’s easy to figure out what you’ll do for a week or so, but a month is hard to plan for!

  • I won’t be going on a vacay for quite a while, but when I do I’ll be making sure I have enough saved up that I don’t have to ruin it by thinking too much about being frugal.

  • I agree that the time to worry about your vacation budget is before the trip, not during it. Sometimes we plan a small drivable getaway instead of a full trip away to save money for future travel. Not every trip needs to be a full-blown vacation, but if that’s what you’re planning, you should definitely enjoy it.

    • Erin M says:

      I agree, Gary! Weekend getaways are a lot of fun, and for the most part, that’s all we can usually afford to budget for. Might as well make the most of any trip you decide to take.

  • Whenever I am on vacation, I just keep my mind off of the expenses. I just have fun and stick to my plans and budget. And, I also allot some money for unexpected expenses. This is what I do, which help me focus on having fun more.

    • Erin M says:

      Good point – unexpected expenses can definitely pop up on vacations as well as in our day-to-day lives. We should always try and plan for them as much as possible.

  • I’m right there with you! My wife and I save enough for vacation so we can spend freely without worrying about spending too much. We pretty much only splurge on vacation, but that’s what’s important to us, so I’m ok with it.

    • Erin M says:

      Exactly – I don’t splurge too much on everyday things, so I’m learning to be okay with splurging on travel. It’s definitely better to spend your money on what you value the most!

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