beach on a budget


Are you paying off tons of debt, but feel like you NEED a beach vacation? It might be surprising that we take vacations while we are still paying off six figures of debt. When you are paying off big debt like we are, you have to be in it for the long haul. Small, inexpensive vacations rejuvenate us and are important family bonding time. For us, we have resolved that it is not that we can’t take a vacation– it is just that we have to do it on a budget. Obviously, the more expenses you can cut out of your life, the faster you will be able to pay off debt. But you can also be smart about your indulgences. You can take that beach vacation on a budget. 

We recently returned from a trip to Destin, Florida, inspired but otherwise uninterrupted by Hurricane Irma. We decided we ought to practice what we preach, and got a group of friends from church together to donate supplies to Hurricane Irma victims. We planned out our trip the week before Irma was supposed to hit, not really knowing what we would get when we arrived the following weekend.

We drove to an evacuee shelter and met several victims of Irma from the Florida Keys and listened to their stories about losing everything. It was humbling to say the least. Florida holds a special place in my heart —having spent summers in Destin as a child and living in both the Miami and Tampa areas after Danny and I were married. I’d do practically anything for that crazy state.


What we did to spend five days at the beach for a family of 3 on a budget of less than $1000.

(1) Stay in budget friendly accommodations.

You can find some seriously amazing deals almost anywhere in the world on both VRBO and AirBNB. We paid $65 per night for a studio condo practically on the beach in Destin. It was clean and small and perfect for us. But in addition to being able to find good deals, you can actually earn credit to both companies by referring your friends! Earn up to $5000 on AirBNB when your friends use your referral link, and the sky is the limit with VRBO. With either site, it’s a small commission you earn, but over time it can really add up and help reduce the costs of your own vacation. Having your accommodations paid for (or discounted) is a HUGE off set when it comes to vacation costs!

(2) Plan and cook (most) meals yourself.

You can save a ton of money on your next vacation by being careful not to go out to eat every day. Before we left, I made a few of our meals that were a little more involved so that we were not spending precious vacation time cooking. Knowing that the meals were already cooked also reduced the temptation to go eat out. So don’t spend your vacation time cooking and premake those meals so that you aren’t tempted by all the convenient touristy grinds and dines. On this trip, we budgeted to eat one meal out. We scored some delicious coconut shrimp for $7.99 each for our meal out. If you do opt to eat out, look for places that aren’t total tourist traps that cost way more than they should. Local is where its at!

(3) Entertain yourself.

Instead of going out and spending tons of money in the evenings, find things that you can do for cheap or free at home or otherwise. In the evenings, or when we otherwise weren’t at the beach, we entertained ourselves. We didn’t go to movies or take extravagant excursions (we will, when the debt is paid). We desperately wanted to rent a boat or some kayaks– we didn’t. Instead, we hung out at our hotel playing games (have you heard of Sushi Go??, Mexican Train is also a favorite) or hunting for night crabs on the beach with a big full moon or enjoying amenities at our condo including tennis, pickle ball, and the pool.

(4) Drive instead of flying.

If you can swing it, driving instead of flying can save you TONS of money, even though it is usually more inconvenient. We spent a total of $142 on driving when plane tickets to our destination were $450+ each. This also wiped out the expense of renting a car or hiring an Uber every time we wanted to go somewhere. We drove about 12 hours to get there. Of course, if you use credit card rewards points you could potentially score free flights. But where we are in life, any credit card rewards points get turned into cash and go straight to loans. One draw back from driving that you should keep in mind is that if you are having to miss an extra day of work, it might off set the costs of flying. If you are having to take off an extra unpaid day for vacation and you typically earn more per day than the cost of your flight, it might be worth it to fly instead of drive.

(5) Travel off season.

Traveling during your destinations “off-season” is one of the easiest ways to save a ton of money on your vacation. When we were traveling through Asia, we learned quickly how much it pays to travel off season, when less people are willing to.  I’m not saying that you have to travel during a hurricane like we did to score awesome deals. But if you can avoid peak season, you can get better rates on almost everything– car rentals, accommodations, activities, etc. And as a bonus, you’ll also avoid the crowds.

If you are paying off big debt, it is not that you can’t ever take a vacation or otherwise “treat yourself.” You just have to plan it a little more carefully, live on a budget, and follow the above steps in order to keep costs low.

What things have you done to save money on a beach vacation? We’d love to hear from you! 

P.S. Have you subscribed to our newsletter? We offer all the behind the scenes tips and tricks we’re using to pay off $600k of debt, including monthly debt updates.



  1. New reader from Frugal Girl!
    We are going to the Tampa area next week and I am going to pay more attention to what we spend. We do choose to eat at restaurants for lunch and dinner, but that could mean Chick-Fil-A or a street taco. We’re in a different stage of life than you, but can always learn and apply what we learn!
    We are mostly self-employed, and our friends spend much more than we do for most everything, but I think we have at least as much fun and can use what we save for other things we want! Thanks!

    1. Hi Jenny! Ah I love the Tampa area! Hope you get to hit up Honeymoon Island and Clearwater beach! And I agree– you can look for little savings no matter what phase of life you are in! PS- do you have the Chick Fil A app to earn free meals there?? Have a great trip!

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