Now that the family vacation is behind you and the financial costs are readily apparent, can we talk about how you can save money next year?

I know that a lot of you are thinking, “It would have been nice to have this email two months ago!”  Not true (and you’ll see why in a second).  Actually, the reason you’re getting this email AFTER most vacations are done is that I had to wait until you saw just how much a vacation costs to be able to share with you how to effectively plan one that won’t cost a fortune.  To put it simply, it’s important to plan ahead. Here are some suggestions for making sure everyone goes home with fond memories instead of empty wallets.

Set expectations early

Conversations about money can be awkward, but not as awkward as trying to figure out who should pay for what after the fact. When planning for extended family travel, be upfront about what you can pay for and what you can’t, and make sure all participants feel comfortable about sharing what they can afford. Talk about what kind of trip you expect to take. Should it include expensive dinners and private museum tours, or shared hotel rooms and affordable meals? Having clear and honest communication before you buy tickets means fewer arguments and hurt feelings down the road.

Spoil the surprise by planning ahead

If you want to pay for airplane tickets as a gift or are happy to cover the whole family’s hotel rooms, make sure everyone knows in advance. This can help everyone budget for the rest of their travel costs, but it can also be a starting point for talking about who’s responsible for which costs. Maybe you’re happy to pay for dinner every night as long as someone else covers lunches, or you’ll pay the rental car fee if they cover gas. Whatever it is, make sure everyone knows ahead of time both what they’ll receive and what they’re expected to contribute.

At the same time, purchasing airfare well in advance can save thousands of dollars, but requires commitment on the part of everyone who will be joining you.  The last thing you want is to have your nephew and his wife back out at the last second when you’ve had non-refundable airline tickets for four months.

Be flexible

If you’ve had some frank conversations ahead of time, it will be easier once you’re traveling to pick activities that are within everyone’s budget. But don’t forget that free and cheap outings—hikes, beach time, museums with free admission—can ease the pressure on those without much money to spare. Not every meal has to be in a five-star restaurant; cooking dinner together in a rented house can turn into a much more memorable evening. Also, not every sightseeing trip, shopping excursion, and dinner has to involve everyone. Let family members choose the activities they want—and can afford—to participate in.

Let technology help

Prevent the dreaded “Can you split this four ways?” scene at restaurants, and use technology to help you split checks and other shared costs. Apps like Zelle allow you to send money directly between almost any U.S. bank accounts with just an email address or mobile number.

Nobody likes unexpected tax bills or IRS penalties. So how can you minimize the possibility of errors on your return? And if an error does still slip through, what then? In both cases, it’s often a matter of paying close attention to documentation.

 

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