Today I want to share with you some little tips and tricks that I use to save and earn free money for family vacations! Before Glenn and I even got married, we decided that family vacations would be a priority in our lives. No matter what was going on, we would make time to get away from home, away from our routine, away from work, and enjoy ourselves at least once a year. Vacations can be expensive, but they don’t have to be unreachable. With a little creative planning and a few apps, vacations that seem unreachable become completely reasonable.
Here is how we save and earn free money for our vacations:
Sacrificing Luxuries + Budget Line Item
For us, vacationing means giving up certain luxuries like cable TV, the newest cars, the newest iPhones (we’re always 1-2 versions behind), a bigger house with higher utilities, and other things. To us, getting away as a family (or just as a couple) is way more important. I’ve been told by people who have all of those extras that they wish they could afford a vacation. This comes down to priority. Are those extra luxuries priority? To us, they’re not. We keep our finances simple and have a vacation line in our budget. This way, it’s built in and is never a question if we have the money. Just like any bill we wouldn’t skip on paying, the automatic transfer from checking to vacation savings is permanent. If it’s on the budget spreadsheet, it might as well be carved in stone!
I am always planning at least one year ahead for vacations. Always. Sometimes even further out. This way when we save, it’s a little at a time and isn’t as overwhelming. We knew in July 2016 that we were ready to start planning for an October 2017 Legoland+Disney trip. Yes, that is 15 months out, but we were ready. This means we were starting to crunch numbers and already starting to save. Since it is January 2017 now, that means I am already thinking about what 2018 will look like. As soon as we’re done with Legoland+Disney, the money we’re budgeting will roll into the next trip.
Yard Sales and Consigning
I’m always looking ahead to joining forces with friends on a yard sale, and I’ve started selling Zoey’s old clothes and toys in consignment sales. Last year’s yard sale completely paid for my stay in Panama City. Completely! The year before, I earned half of our food money for Disney. In the consignment sale last fall, I completely earned everything I needed to buy Zoey new clothes so I didn’t have to budget for it. In March and August, I plan to consign again and hopefully get all her clothing needs as well as some cash needed for the travel days (toll roads, gas station coffee, meals on the road, etc). If I throw in a yard sale, those proceeds will definitely be designated for the travel days. These two sales are a lot of work, but worth it for the extra money.
We have figured out approximately what we earn in our tax return each year, and as such, we know what we will be able to set aside for our vacations. We always rotate between a big vacation and home improvements. The years that it goes toward home improvements, we usually do smaller trips, such as camping. This year is the year for a BIG trip so the return is going to cover the entire Legoland portion of the vacation. If there is any leftover, it will go toward the Disney portion. Either way, it will help pay for a good chunk of the total vacation.
Free Money! Great Apps for Earning Money
Most weeks, I do my grocery shopping at Aldi. If not all of it, at least a majority. However, there are times where we go other places, like Walmart, Target, or even Walgreens for different needs. And sometimes I end up doing all of my grocery shopping at Walmart if I need specific home goods or body products, too. It’s just easier. This is when these apps come in handy. Also, I sometimes end up using the rewards from these apps to buy the things we need to take with us on a trip so it’s less I have to spend in the weeks leading up to departure day. There is always something we need before a trip… new tires, clothes or shoes, snacks for the car, a “travel present” for Zoey…
Walmart Savings Catcher
This is by far the easiest way to get free money, with the least amount of effort. All you do is open the Walmart app, scroll down to Savings Catcher, and scan your receipt. I do this as I am walking out the door so I never forget to do it. In 2-3 days, Walmart will let you know if it found lower prices at its competitors, and will give you the difference! Sometimes I don’t earn anything back, sometimes it’s just $0.25, but there have been times I’ve earned $5 on a single receipt! My app picks up 32 competitors that it checks with, so I almost always get something back.
Redeeming: The catch to this app is your earnings can only be redeemed for a Walmart egift card that you can use online or print off and use in the store. But there is a trick! You can use this card to buy another gift card (maybe for a restaurant that you’re going to eat at on vacation, or a Disney card if you’re going to Disney). When I am saving my earnings for vacation funds, if I can’t find a gift card I need, I’ll use it to buy the items I need for the trip, like a new travel bag, or travel-size bath items, or snacks for the drive. I’ve even used this to get free camping gear (sleeping bags and an air mattress!). Every penny is helpful, and it takes just seconds to scan my receipt. Usually it’s scanned before I even make it to my car. If you are a heavy Walmart shopper, you have to sign up for this. There’s no reason not to!
This app takes a little more effort, but is an incredibly easy way to earn free money. Before you go grocery shopping, open the app and look up the store you’re going to. When you click on the store, a bunch of rebates will pop up. You just scroll through and unlock the ones you want, and these range from brand name items to generic things like bananas or eggs (I can pretty much always guarantee some money because they always have generic rebates). Sometimes you have to watch a 30-second video, sometimes you answer a single-question survey, but it’s all easy and quick to complete. When you’re done, you simply click on Verify Purchases, scan the items you bought, and scan your receipt. Within 24 hours, you get money in your Ibotta account to redeem.
Extra ways to earn money include connecting to your Facebook friends and being on a “team”. When your team redeems a certain amount of rebates, Ibotta gives all of you an extra treat. Sometimes it’s $1, sometimes it’s more! There are also bonuses. On New Years Eve, I earned $10 for free… all I did was redeem $1 in rebates on that day, and it gave me a $10 bonus. I didn’t even go shopping on that day… I scanned a Walmart receipt from the day before that I hadn’t trashed yet and just happened to buy some of the rebates it offered. Pure coincidence!
And let me just say that I never buy something I don’t need or want just to get a rebate. Also, if I know I can get something cheaper elsewhere, I won’t do the rebate. At that point, it’s not worth it.
Redeeming: You have to earn $20 before you can cash out, but when you are ready, you can either get cash through Paypal, or redeem for a gift card. Before our last Disney trip, I redeemed my earnings through Paypal and then transferred the funds to my checking account. This covered all of our gas down to Disney. In 2016, I got lazy and didn’t really use Ibotta as much, but I have now started up again!
REFERRAL BONUS! I have a code for you to earn $10 just for signing up and redeeming your first rebate! Use referral code FSJLOPF and you’re on your way to getting $10 for free! I also get $5 for referring you, which means that after you sign up and get your $10, you will also get a referral code to give your friends. 🙂 Happy shopping!
This app takes even more effort than Ibotta, but it can be as easy or as complex as you want it to be. It just depends on the energy you’re willing to put in. With Shopkick, you turn bluetooth on and open the app when you walk into a store. You earn “kicks” just for walking in, and can store up those kicks for gift card money. You can earn even more kicks for scanning certain items in the store. This can be a fun treasure hunt! Sometimes you get bonus kicks, too. You can also link your credit or debit card and earn kicks just for using it at those same stores, which is great! I earned 500 kicks just for entering my card info the first time.
Redeeming: This app takes the longest to earn money. Before our last Disney trip, I earned enough kicks for a $25 Target gift card, which I turned around and used to buy a Disney gift card for our souvenir money. It took a really long time to earn though, and I was really discouraged that I wasn’t going to hit my threshold for redemption. When I first signed up, I was getting 100 kicks every time I walked into a store, and I racked up quickly. Now I only get 25-50 unless it’s a bonus day, so it takes more effort to earn, and those treasure hunts are essential. I noticed that they now have an option to redeem kicks for a gas card! Driving from Nashville to Orlando isn’t cheap, so a gas card (or two) is what I’m working toward this year. Every penny helps!
Those are some ways that I save and earn free money for vacations. I also use Ebates when I do online shopping (the catch is you can only cash out quarterly), and I just downloaded an app called Checkout 51, which is like Ibotta in theory, but on a much smaller scale. It has a lot less options for rebates and it’s kind of messy compared to Ibotta, but they send you a check when you cash out your earnings, which is nice! We’ll see what I can earn before our vacation.
If you have any apps that you use to earn extra money, please let me know! I’d love to try them out.