How to Take a 3 Month Long Summer Vacation for Cheap

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Do 'three-month summer vacation" and "cheap" belong in the same sentence? Find out how to have a really fun summer vacation or even staycation on a budget.

Happy Thursday! Many of you might have read about our journey to dump a boatload of debt. Despite some hurdles, things are moving along and we’re doing a fairly good job of budgeting and spend-tracking as we look for more money to put toward our debt.

Things are tight, however, so when the subject of a summer vacation came up, we weren’t quite sure what to do. We haven’t taken a real summer vacation in quite some time, so the thought of a “real vacation” where we actually leave our home and stay somewhere else sounded quite fun. That being said, let’s face it; we’re kind of broke right now, so, is a stay-away vacation really a wise idea on a tight budget?

Enter: the Staycation. You’ve all likely heard about a staycation, where you stay at home for your vacation and do fun things in your mostly local area. John recently had a great post entitled “Staycation Ideas That Don’t Suck” that has all sorts of good ideas for cheap entertainment ideas near your home. However, we didn’t really want to have my husband’s week off of work be packed with all sorts of activities, even if they were super fun.

So here’s what we decided: We’d take our budgeted staycation amount, and spend it as we saw fit over the 3 month summer break. The rules of our 3 month long staycation?

1. We had to Spend the Money on Something we Normally wouldn’t do


No trips to McDonalds or bowling with our staycation funds. The money had to be spent on things we normally don’t spend money on now with our super-strict budget. For instance, last month, we drove up to a cute little tourist town about 20 minutes or so north of here, to go hiking at a state park near there.

The little town was SO cute, and boasted, among other things, an old-fashioned drive-in restaurant that also had a mini-golf course behind it. The kids have never mini-golfed before (I know: SHAME!) so Rick and I made a plan to go back up there for one of our staycation adventures and play mini-golf and eat at the drive-in restaurant.

2. We had to stay within the Allotted Budget and Plan we Decided on


One of our plans for the staycation was a drive down a local highway sprinkled with cute little towns and attractions. We mapped out beforehand where we were going to stop, and what we were going to do at each destination. The promise we made ourselves before we left, though, was that we were not going to get off track budget-wise, even if we saw something super fun and cool.

If we could take money from another staycation activity we had planned, great. If not, we’d just enjoy what we had in front of us.

3. We had to Make the Money last throughout the Summer Vacation


No blowing it all in one day on a spontaneous trip to an amusement park. Instead, we were going to do our research and find several activities, some for each month, that would bring enjoyment to the family while still staying within our allotted budget.
The great thing about planning a summer vacation this way, at least for us, is that the fun is lasting all summer long. The kids have gotten to do things that are new and exciting, we’ve enjoyed our extra time together as a family, and we haven’t spent $2,000 on a vacation that we just can’t afford right now. Sounds like a win-win to me. 🙂


What do you think of a three-month staycation that stretches all summer long? What did you do for fun this summer that didn’t cost an arm and leg?

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Matt Becker says:

    This is a really cool idea! I love that you have multiple things to look forward to and plan as a family throughout the summer. The typical 1-week vacation can definitely be a lot of fun, but it can also be a little disappointing in its brevity. This is a very cool way to spread out the fun while doing it in a way that keeps things affordable but also lets you do things that feel vacation-y. This is something I’d like to try out even if we were also scheduling a typical vacation.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, it’s been really fun, Matt! Makes the summer seem a whole lot longer. You really should try it some time. πŸ™‚

  • canadianbudgetbinder says:

    Hey Laurie,
    I think your staycation was fine and you know many people who are in debt feel they are entitled to continue spending, the both of you are not like that. I often say that if you want something bad enough you will do whatever it takes to get it. Keep at it and thanks for sharing.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, Mr. CBB! Yeah, there’s always a bit of guilt there, but we know that if we’re going to stay strong on our road to debt free, we’ve got to have a bit of fun along the way. πŸ™‚

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Hmm it definitely sounds appealing, unfortunately we had so much work to do on the house and rental unit that we could hardly call our summer a “staycation” even though we didn’t take a traditional vacation. I like the idea of having to spend money on something you wouldn’t normally do.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, I know you guys have been super swamped this summer. Maybe a nice fall staycation will be doable. The fall colors are so great all around the state here.

  • pauline says:

    Sounds like you had a lovely time. State parks often have a yearly membership that is really cheap and if they have a lake you can swim all summer for that fee. I lived in a college town so there were tons of free events during summer, if you look a bit there are always things to do.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      It’s been great! Yes, we do take advantage of the state park memberships too: $25 a year for all of the swimming/hiking you can do – what a deal! You’re right about the free things too – they’re usually available if you’re willing to look. Thanks, Pauline. πŸ™‚

  • ChanceCallan says:

    I like to stay home in the summer just so I don’t miss all the local events. In our area, there are fairs almost every weekend somewhere in a 50 mile radius of our home as well as Dragon Boat Races, Balloon Lift-offs, Ribfests, free plays in the park, local bands entertaining on sunny afternoons, holiday celebrations with fireworks…..none have admission fees, you just have to pack a lunch and bring the lawn chairs! One caution……there are vendors selling lots of shiny trinkets and delicious concoctions – all there to separate you from your hard earned cash. Either go with no cash in your pocket of set a specific budget for these type of events.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Sounds like a super fun city! I agree too – it’s important to set a budget in these types of situations.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    A staycation is a great idea!
    Our kids are little right now so they are so easy to entertain. On weekends when we’re busy, we just take them to one of the local parks or the local pool (costs $6 for our entire family to get in). They think they’re in heaven =)

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, yeah, that’s a great age where stuff like that works really well. Now that our oldest is a teenager, she has more lofty entertainment ideas, like a trip down south to watch a NASCAR race. πŸ™‚

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    Kids are entertained by anything. We are lucky to have lots of trails and cool scenery where we live. It’s fun to do one of the hikes that goes through old mining towns. Our daughter also really loves to just go on a picnic. We actually did that yesterday. We parked at the Burger King parking lot and walked down to a trail by the river. Not once did she ask about eating at Burger King.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That’s amazing! I’m not sure my kids would’ve forgone at least asking about BK, lol. πŸ™‚ We love the trails and hiking too, although it’s taking on less charm now that we live on land with so many wooded areas.

  • MonicaOnMoney says:

    This sounds like a great idea to stay creative and have fun all summer! I like that you set up specific rules too. I spend my summer working and not taking any time off, I know! Not fun. But where I live, it’s crazy hot in the summer so unless we’re in the pool or ocean, its too hot outside.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Maybe a northern states vaca would be in order for you during the summer months. It’s terrific up here in summertime: 80 and sunny. Not a staycation, but a great getaway for a hard-working girl. πŸ™‚

  • Alexa says:

    We took a little mini vacation that cost too much. But the girls and I also visit Chuck E Cheese pretty regularly for some summer fun. It’s the only place I can take them where we can eat and play an entire day for $30. At this point all three of us may be addicted!

  • Michelle says:

    Wes and I definitely need a staycation. We’re going on vacation next week and wish we had a vacation after the vacation haha!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, yeah, vacations can be that way sometimes. Michelle, hope you have a wonderful time next week!

  • Brad @ says:

    With two young daughters, just about every trip can be expensive! We wound up driving to Long Island, NY to stay with my wife’s parents for a week. While this probably doesn’t sound like a thrilling vacation to most people, they have a really wonderful pool and it’s just such a nice relaxing atmosphere there. So that only cost us some gas and tolls from Virginia to NY.

    When we’re home we like to take the kids to many of the county and city parks that are in our area, and take them to the river for a nice fun day.

    When they get a little older we’ll definitely visit Washington DC a bunch; can’t beat free museums!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That sounds like a wonderful vacation, Brad! We hope to be able to take our kids to D.C. someday too – glad to hear they have free museums too. πŸ™‚

  • William Cowie says:

    When you look back at the staycation many years form now, the thing that will stand out most is the “together time” — planning everything out together. Vacation time is more about together time than about where you go…

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I totally agree, William. That’s why it’s worked out so well to stretch our activities out over the whole summer. It seems like 3 months of fun instead of one week of fun. πŸ™‚

  • Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies says:

    That’s a great way to spread the fun around. We need to be better about doing this kind of stuff, but our summer had felt very full of projects!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      You guys and DC – they had a packed-full-of-projects summer too! A winter vacation is in order for both of you, I say. πŸ™‚

  • No Waste says:

    This is refreshing.

    I hope Staycations aren’t just a relic of the Great Recession in a few years.

    The greatest memories come from all the activities you describe. Just being together and having fun.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    What a great idea, Laurie! And I love your rule about spending your money on things you didn’t normally do. It’s easy to get into a rut. Having fun whether it’s close to home or away is so important. Everyone needs some time to relax and I bet it feels even better knowing that your fun was budgeted for and isn’t creating you new debt!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, it’s been a great plan for us. Putting all of those activities into one week would’ve been way more stressful for us, I think. Thanks, Shannon. πŸ™‚

  • Budget and the Beach says:

    I love those cute old-fashioned towns. I love the mom and pop stores, cafes, coffee shops, etc. Great way to spend a day. For me it’s the beach. So much frugality to be had there, but I just have to resist the friends inviting me to drinks/lunch/dinner after. That’s always the biggest temptation.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      They’re SO cute, aren’t they? We just did the beach thing yesterday and it was so much fun for all of us. We definitely have to do that more often before summer ends. Yeah, those dinners out can be huge budget busters. I really struggle in that area as well.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor says:

    I love the idea of a staycation. We’re doing ‘staytrips’ now instead of daytrips. We’re fortunate to have a lot of outdoor recreation and our city’s downtown within walking or short transit ride distance. There’s a lot to discover right in your neighborhood and community!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      What a great idea, Kurt! Yes, usually in most areas with metropolitan cities nearby you can find a good amount of stuff to do, I’m learning. πŸ™‚

  • Sean @ One Smart Dollar says:

    Sounds like a great time. Any time that you get to spend time together as a family is well worth it.

  • Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia says:

    Quality family bonding time doesn’t require extraneous amounts of money to be spent! I think your family’s approach is a great one. There’s nothing wrong with keeping things low key and local.

  • Nick @ says:

    What a very interesting concept! I’m not sure my wife would go for it though, she loves the beach!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Oh, I agree with her. When the debt is paid off, we’ll likely schedule in a real vacation as well, and it will be somewhere warm!

  • Keren @ Stepping It Down says:

    We actually prefer staycations over vacations, regardless of budget. Vacations are nice because they’re usually a week long, no work, no chores, nothing. But when you come back, it takes much more effort than normal to catch up on what should have been done while you were gone. Most times it’s nto worth it to us. If we do vacation, we usually only do short ones. Camping for a weekend, day trip to a museum across the state, etc.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      It sure does seem that way, doesn’t it? We’ll likely be doing both when the budget permits. πŸ™‚

  • anna says:

    That’s a cool idea, Laurie! I loved the drive-in restaurant idea, especially, since you just don’t see things like that anymore. The hiking adventure sounds fun, as well, and I love how it’s free!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, we really found some neat stuff. It’s amazing what’s available if you just look around. πŸ™‚

  • Peter says:

    Staycation, huh…? what a cool word. Every time we go somewhere with the two babies for a vacation, it doesn’t feel much like a vacation. We come back even more tired then when we left. Staycation just might be something we need.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Peter, it sounds like the perfect idea for your family! When the kids are young, going away for a vacation can indeed be very stressful, as you have experienced. πŸ™‚

  • Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    I read an article recently of a couple from NYC who took their honeymoon in… nyc. They also did it using Groupon/Living Social deals, so they got a hotel for a 3 day weekend and got massages and ate at nice restaurants. It was a staycation of sorts but there were hotels involved. I think in anyone’s hometown or nearby area, if you do even have the budget for a cabin at a campground, or even a tent, that’s another frugal way to expand the staycation experience.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      What a great idea! I agree Tara, between major metro areas, and even small tourist towns, there’s always likely something you can find within a couple hour driver.

  • C. the Romanian says:

    This summer we had no staycation and no real vacation yet, but I used to this back in the days for one week to recharge my batteries. I once wanted to live like a tourist in my city and despite skipping the hotel part, ate mostly out, visited tourist attractions (some nearby) and had a great time. Sometimes living in a place gives you for granted some things that tourists look at from a different perspective. So yeah, staycations are totally worth it.

  • KK @ Student Debt Survivor says:

    I’d love to do a 3 month vacation. There are so many things to do in the NYC area that we could do a new or different thing every day. The only problem? Work! If I could not work for 3 months that would be wonderful. My mom’s a teacher, so she could totally do a 3 month staycation if she wanted.

  • Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter says:

    I would absolutely love a 3 month vacation. I’m not sure if I’d want it during the summer,but then again, I don’t have kids and don’t particularly enjoy the heat. Great tips – makes me thing it’s possible for us one day.

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