Saving Money for Vacation

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My family went on vacation the week of Memorial Day. It was a large group of us:  my immediate family (husband, me, two kids), my mom & dad, and my late-brother’s 7 children. In total we had 9 kids aged 9-16 and 4 adults. We went on a cruise that was generously subsidized by my mom. It was relatively inexpensive for us, as my mom covered the cost of the room. We paid our costs to get to the ship (we drove to the port in Galveston), our gratuities, our excursions, and any extras like souvenirs or mementos.

Little costs add up quick!

Even with our room on the cruise being paid, I still budgeted $2,000 for all the extras. It was $360 just for dog-boarding. Another $400 in gas costs. $400 for cruise gratuities. We broke the 17-hour drive into two days (each way), so we spent another $300 in hotel costs ($150/night, one night out and one night back). I also spent a couple hundred in new swimsuits and summer outfits and shoes for the kids. You can see how the costs add up quickly!

Saving Money Where You Can

Even though this trip was budgeted and planned well in advance, it still hurt a little when I was making all those big payments immediately before the trip. To offset the extra spending costs, I decided to do a No Spend Week the week before the cruise. One of the easiest places for me to save money is on FOOD. Food is a big part of our budget. We typically spend close to $200/week on food (combination of grocery store and eating out/to-go). Our pantry and freezers were well stocked, so I made the decision to buy NO FOOD the week before our trip. That way, we could eat through any perishable food we had on hand (leading to less food waste during our trip), and also save the money that would otherwise go to the grocery store that week.

Getting Creative

One of the caveats of eating through your pantry is that you must get creative with your meals. I think it’s kind of a fun challenge to see what I can make from the ingredients we already have on-hand. The meals may not be quite as balanced as I would typically like (more reliance on carbs and less on fresh veggies), but I think that’s okay for a one week period of time. In the end I came up with 4 good meals and we ate leftovers for two other nights.

The Meals:

Thai Chicken Curry with cauliflower rice and mini potatoes – I used chicken from our freezer. The curry sauce was in a jar from our local grocery store (Frys brand). Cauliflower rice from our freezer. And the potatoes were straight from our own backyard garden! This wasn’t the kids’ favorite meal but hubs and I liked it!


Crunchy Taco Hamburger Helper with guacamole, salsa, cilantro, and cheese – I used a box of Hamburger Helper that’s been in the pantry for ages. Thawed ground beef from the freezer, and used up leftover guacamole, salsa, cilantro, and cheese we’d had in the fridge from a fajita meal I’d made the previous week. It was a great way to use up leftovers before the guacamole and cilantro went bad! This meal was more carb-heavy than hubs and I would prefer, but the kids loved it!


Ham and potato cheese soup with fresh rolls – I had a ham hock in the freezer from Easter that still had a decent amount of ham attached. I boiled it to make ham broth, and got all the leftover pieces of ham into the soup. To it, I added potatoes (using up the last of the garden potatoes), some milk, and cheese for garnish. I also used up a frozen vegetable mix I found in the bottom of the freezer! The dough for the rolls had been in my freezer forever. I took them out to let them rise all day, and cooked them in the evening when we were getting close to dinner time. This meal ended up being more veggie-heavy than I’d intended (definitely a higher veggie-to-meat ratio), but it was tasty and still filled our bellies!

Tater Tot Casserole – A kid favorite! I used this recipe and modified a bit – I only used one can Cream of Celery soup and added some Worcestershire sauce for depth. I also had to get a little creative because we had no tater tots. We had 1/3 a bag of potato “crowns” that I used. That wasn’t enough to cover the whole casserole, but I also had a bag of frozen potatoes O’Brien, so I used that bag to fill in the gaps of the crowns. A little unconventional, but it worked! This meal may not have looked the prettiest, but it was tasty and provided lots of leftovers, too.

In the ends, we had a full week worth of eats and didn’t spend any money on additional groceries. Plus, we got rid of fresh produce that would’ve gone bad while we were away so it’s a double-win of eating what we had and reducing our food waste. Woo!

Do you ever get creative with dinner plans to use up what you have? What creative dinners have you made before?

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