How to Afford a Vacation when You’re Broke

by Erika Torres

How to Afford a Vacation when You're Broke
How could you afford a vacation if you’re so broke all the time?

This was a question that I’m sure crossed the minds of many people when I told them Eric and I finally went on a honeymoon, two and a half years after getting married.

I think it all comes down to what your definition of broke is.

I think everyone picks and chooses what is important to them to spend money on. Eric and I do not have unlimited funds that we can just go out and buy something because we need it or want it.

I may reuse ziploc bags and clean with old rags made out of t-shirts instead of paper towels, but it’s not because I can’t afford to spend money on these items–it’s because I choose not to. I have Ikea curtains that are still in the bag from months ago, because I haven’t made it a priority in our budget to buy curtain rods for our bedroom.

And you know what? It doesn’t bother me.

If Eric and I made no effort to save money or contribute to retirement, we’d have a heck of a lot more money. But saving money is important to us for financial security and for the future.

I understand how people could look at our extravagant vacation and huff to themselves: “They’re bitching all the time about money and here they go spending money on a vacation.”

Just like how I look at other people and say “They’re flat broke all the time and yet they can afford that?!”

So let me break it down:

Costa Rica honeymoon budget

$790.94 for flights plus $102.66 in upgrades (for exit row seats)
$699 Groupon for first three days of our trip (covered hotel, food, transportation and activities)
$1390 for Travelzoo voucher for five-star hotel in Manuel Antonio with breakfast and two couple’s massages included
$175 transportation
$2113.27 in spending cash

TOTAL: $5,168.21

Could we have made it a cheaper trip? Of Course!

But we chose not to because this was our honeymoon! In fact, we ordered everything we wanted off the menu. We took every excursion we wanted to go on. We ordered room service–several times!

We weren’t trying to watch our budget every single moment. We wanted to have fun. Financially, the past two years have been really hard on us. This was a celebration of finally feeling like “hey, we can actually freakin’ afford a vacation!”

In the end, this trip cost us nothing out of our own pocket. Every single penny was paid through my side hustle income and no money was taken from our annual budget.

Could I have used that money to put a chunk toward my debt? Yes.

I know some people who fully believe in the Dave Ramsey don’t-have-any-fun-until-you-are-debt-free mentality, but I have always made clear that is not our debt payoff strategy.

If I hadn’t busted my butt to work on the side, we wouldn’t have had this money. And if I had put every extra penny toward paying off student loans, we’d be able to shave off some months off our debt payment strategy, but by then we’ll most likely have children, and traveling will be so much harder.

Despite going on this trip, I was still able to pay off two student loans in September and October. I am committed to paying off my student loan debt, but I am also committed to making lifetime memories.

By working hard on the side, and not spending money on things that aren’t important to you, we were able to afford a vacation even though we’re “broke.”  Finally, one thing I’m also happy about is we were able to afford everything without having to find a title loan online.  Kudos for us!

Is there something you spend your money on even though you’re “broke” ? What do you spend your money on that other people would view as extravagant?


Michelle August 1, 2015 - 8:14 am

I am so glad I am not the only one with this view on life! For 27 years I lived at home with my parents. Granted, I love them, but my dad’s so into Dave Ramsey and follows his every word I swear! My husband and I work really hard to save up for things like vacation and honestly. I’m already 30 years old. A lot of people say oh you complain about not having money and being in debt, yet you blow your money on vacation. My parents butted into our marriage for 2 years (almost 3 in September) especially when it comes to money. Well, I work hard at 2 jobs busting my butt just so I can save extra for vacation if I want. It’s only for 1 week a year. My husband and I are going to Venice Beach for our 3 year anniversary. Yes, it might be more logical to stay home and save money your whole life until you are out of debt, but I say live your life! Do you all agree?

Nellie July 31, 2013 - 12:26 pm

Goodness, you found some deals! We’re going to Costa Rica in Feb 2014 for a total of $2700 not including three lunches and three dinners and only for four days too. We have activities everyday though.

I started a new BLOG! and $1,000 Structured Settlement GIVEAWAY | Making Sense of Cents January 12, 2013 - 4:45 am

[…] How to afford a vacation when you’re broke Newlyweds on a Budget […]

Jessica @ Budget for Health January 10, 2013 - 11:50 am

We “splurge” on our tithing. The first 15% of our income is taken out for our church and where we see a need, even while we were paying of my $30k of student loans. Example- my friend’s dryer broke and she was overwhelmed with the cost to fix it so we chipped in $200 to help repair it. We would have loans paid off WAY sooner but Dave and I decided before we got married that we want to be able to enjoy a simple standard of living regardless of what kind of jobs or raises we got so that we could be a blessing to others instead of upgrading our lives.

Brian January 10, 2013 - 9:13 am

You got to love sites like Groupon and Travelzoo since they offer such amazing deals for vacations. These days whenever I plan a vacation, I make sure to look for deals on these sites. Congratulations on your marriage.

Kim January 9, 2013 - 5:44 pm

How did you like the Groupon portion of your trip? I saw a travel deal to Ireland recently and was nervous about buying it. If you had a good experience I might give it a second thought!

Lisa @ Lisa the Vegetarian January 8, 2013 - 12:21 pm

I definitely think you made the right decision going on this vacation, even while paying off debt. It’s a memory that will last forever and was also important for your relationship. I’ve gone on vacations too while paying off debt, and I don’t regret the money spent either. There’s only so much time in life to go off and travel to amazing places, so we have to take advantage of it. That’s my philosophy!

Kathleen, Frugal Portland January 8, 2013 - 12:09 pm

Did you get a lot of flack on your honeymoon post? Or are you attempting to cut those haters off before they comment? I think that money is so very personal, and if you can spend it without feeling guilty then by all means go for the splurge!

SavvyFinancialLatina January 8, 2013 - 11:39 am

Oh man! I want to do our honeymoon in Costa Rica! We got married 1.5 years, and still no plans for honeymoon. We have gone on other trips, but our honeymoon is going to be super special.
I’m thinking if we plan it right we can take our honeymoon in 2014 or 2015. At that point, we shouldn’t be stressed out over money (hopefully) and can take an awesome vacation we can splurge on! We are saving for our down payment right now.

Let’s see what I splurge on? Food….we definitely splurge on food. Maybe too muchhh…

Lea January 8, 2013 - 8:39 am

On our honeymoon in Hawaii, we rented this really fancy and expensive sports car because my husband saw it and had to have it. We had a blast driving up the coast with the top down and it was worth every penny because of the memories!

CeCe @Frugalista Married January 8, 2013 - 8:18 am

I definitely think it depends on your level of brokedness (I know it’s not a word!!). When I was single and on my own I was soooo broke that there really wasn’t room for any indulgence aside from a $1 coffee or taco bell here and there since I couldn’t even afford to save any money. I accepted that. Things are better for me now. I could always be saving more or contributing more to 403b but I am in a position to have my splurges and I do. If you truly have things in order then I think that you really should allow yourself those joys in life. You will NEVER have enough for retirement; you are always gonna owe on something if you own a home so if you plan and are diligent with savings then I think it’s great that you allowed yourself that honeymoon. You only waited 2 1/2 years for it!! My splurge is that I’ve spent $150 on designer jeans. There I said it!

Budget & the Beach January 8, 2013 - 8:11 am

You can’t let life pass you by never doing anything fun EVER. The fact that you even waited two years shows you how financially responsible you are. There will always be people who judge you for this and that, but it’s your life! Glad you had a great time!

Emily January 8, 2013 - 7:26 am

That is great. You deserve the honeymoon and you worked really hard to make it cost effective.

I view travel the same way. We work really hard to afford vacations because that is what we like to do, and it works for us right now. I cook at home all the time and we pack lunch for work every. single. day. and then we get to eat out on vacation! We’ve taken advantage of my airfare paid for by work, and my loyalty points from work travel to add in a trip here and there.

jobo January 8, 2013 - 6:52 am

that is SO IMPRESSIVE!! You are amazing!! Isn’t it the best when you can pay for a trip because you budgeted it out rather than charge it and worry about it later? Love it!!

Jefferson @SeeDebtRun January 8, 2013 - 5:34 am

it sounds like you are doing it the right way.. i firmly believe that people need R&R, and people need rewards in their lives.. you worked your tush off on all of that side hustle money and your and your hubby finally got to celebrate your marriage in a tropical place.. don’t feel guilty for a second about that!

Shrinking Libra January 8, 2013 - 5:30 am

I agree it’s all about priorities. As a single teen mom, it was important for me to make memories as my child grew up on a limited income. I made choices, although I wish some were different, for the most part I would not have given up the choices in which I spent my money where special moments and memories were created.

I remember, when my son turned 16, I threw him a family party at a restuarant and paid the bill for 25 people. My father was so appalled that I would do such a thing and scoffed as he called me money bags. Hinting that I was being frivolous with my money. This is a man that made more money than me, and hadn’t given me a birthday present in 12 years. Even though I was far from being broke, he still couldn’t grasp the concept.

And for my 40th bday later this year, me and my girlfriends are headed to Cabo.

It’s a balance of taking care of your needs, present and future while still living life.

shannon January 8, 2013 - 3:57 am

I am a firm believer that we are only young once and marriage prior to kids only happens once. This time should be for travel and exploring new things together. You aren’t going to sit on the porch at 80 and say”Damn, we shoud have never taken that honeymoon.” Good for you two!

Army Amy* January 8, 2013 - 3:11 am

It’s all about priorities! I think that y’all manage your money really well, but in the end, it only matters that you think you spend and save in the areas that you should. And for as swank of a vacation that y’all took, I think that’s a reasonable about of money for it to cost. You worked hard to have enough to make it happen.

I really love what you said about making memories. Yes! That’s so where we are right now. After spending the last year apart and not doing anything together, my husband and I want to travel and make memories together. It’s important to save for the future, but it’s also nice to “live in the now” once in a while.*

Michelle January 7, 2013 - 7:42 pm

I would have done the same! You saved your side hustle income and gained fun memories from it. People occasionally criticize me as well for traveling but I don’t regret it one bit.

Nurse Frugal January 7, 2013 - 7:34 pm

Good for you!!!! So exciting that you used your side hustle money to bust out that honeymoon! I feel like broke is a state of mind. People who may have enough money to barely cover the bills but are happy and healthy with awesome family might not consider themselves to be “broke.” I’m excited for your paying off your school debt!!! Such a huge accomplishment! YOu go girl!

Tori January 7, 2013 - 6:43 pm

I’m so proud of you guys for taking that honeymoon and allowing yourself to “indulge” or at least not take the least expensive possible vacation. I’ve been reading your blog forever (though only commenting recently) .I feel like you guys have made a lot of sacrifices (e.g. the love shack) and I’m really glad for you that you’re in a healthy spot that you can “splurge” to make memories together and have a great experience – not an item!

Tanner January 7, 2013 - 6:18 pm

I always think about that aspect of debt, and always come to the same conclusion… yes, I’m in debt. But I’ll be darned if I look back at these years and all I can say is that I paid down some debt. I’ve traveled to 5 different states, and hope the list continues to grow while I am still in debt, and not only after I’m debt free. Debt doesn’t define you. You’re only as chained as you make yourself seem. Debt is also not a disability… it’s something you can work, and as long as you’re working towards that debt free goal, there’s no rule saying you must enslave unhappily. Live life vs letting debt live it for you.

Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies January 7, 2013 - 5:31 pm

I totally think we’re on the same wavelength with posts today. Our map is definitely the thing that even though we felt like we were broke was something we wanted to frame and hang soooo much. When we first bought the house, we were throwing so much money into it, Mr. PoP was making diddly squat in terms of income, but the $600 we spent to frame it and hang it on our living room wall was so worth it. =)

Jordann @ My Alternate Life January 7, 2013 - 5:29 pm

I definitely spend money on vacations, in fact, I’m going to Boston with some family in February to catch my very first NBA game. The whole trip will cost us around $700, but it’ll be worth it since we haven’t been on any kind of trip for 18 months!

Things I don’t spend money on so that I can afford to travel and pay off debt at the same time include proper housing (we’re permanent house sitters), hair cuts, and cable, but hey – it’s worth it!


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