An easy way to save for vacation

way to pay for vacationIt was a long, cold winter day in January. Though we were fortunate not to have snow on the ground, we hadn’t seen the sun in more than a week. We craved the warmth of the sunshine and fresh air. Unfortunately Spring was still almost 3 months away.

Alan and I decided a vacation was in order – and spring break was just 8 weeks away. We didn’t have any solid vacation plans for the year and went into the year knowing we might not have any big trips. But we were getting the itch to travel.

We brainstormed ways to take a trip south to warmer temps and water. With spring break just around the corner, we had visions of sunshine and white sandy beaches. But without travel rewards it would cost us a thousand dollars (or more) to fly somewhere.

Sunrise in Orange Beach, Alabama

An easy way to save for vacation

Then it occurred to me – we had some savings set aside that I don’t touch, but don’t have earmarked for anything in particular. Digit* to the rescue.

In January, my Digit balance was over $1800 (I signed up in June 2016). I figured we would need a little over $2000 to take a week-long road trip to Orange Beach, Alabama (a long, but doable drive for us). And since I had a no spend month in January, I had extra money in my checking account. I decided to just leave the extra money there and let Digit do its magic. By the end of February, we had $2400 in our Digit account – enough to cover the trip.

Although I know it’s still our money (mostly – I do get $5 per referral), it felt like an effortless, painless way to pay for the trip. Digit is now my designated vacation savings account.

Other ways we saved money on the trip

Even though the temperatures were chilly (50 – 60 degrees), it was better than the snow and cold in Iowa that week. But since it was so cold, we did more indoor activities than we would otherwise.


flight simulator
360 degree flight simulator. With Jake flying, I spent most of my time upside down or doing barrel rolls. πŸ™‚

The Naval Air Museum in nearby Pensacola, Florida was FREE and it was amazing! The kids wanted to try out the flight simulator, which was $20 for two people, but someone gifted us their tickets, so we only had to pay for two of us. We had a great museum tour and flight simulator for $20 plus the cost of gas.

USS Alabama

In addition, the USS Alabama Battleship is in nearby Mobile, Alabama. I found coupons for $2 off each adult ticket, so the total cost for the tour of the battleship, the submarine, and the indoor pavilion (with a great fighter jet display) was $52.

View from our condo

Of course the beach and the Alabama state park provided several hours of free entertainment. Alan and Cait actually went for a swim in the ocean, but Jake and I chose to watch from afar (the water was COLD!).


For the road trip, I packed lunches and tons of snacks, along with plenty of water (both on the way there and back). And our 1 liter thermos for coffee more than gets us through a long day of driving.

Inside the condo the night we arrived

We rented a 3 bedroom condo in Orange Beach close enough to Gulf Shores but far enough away to avoid Spring Break crowds. (We used VRBO.) It had an ocean view, a full kitchen and everyone had a comfortable, private bedroom ($1200 for 6 nights). The kitchen saved us on two meals a day since we ate breakfast and lunch in the condo.

I never know what grocery prices will be like when we travel, so when we take the car I pack a few groceries from home. We purchased a few items from Walmart while we were there and spent a total of $60 on groceries (I probably took an additional $50 worth of groceries from home, but ended up bringing some back home).

We did not skimp or save on going out to dinner. When we have the opportunity to have good, fresh seafood, we take it. And I found my favorite seafood – Royal Red shrimp (if you’ve never tried them, you need to!).


Though we had two nights of extra hotel costs, driving saved us money. Our car averaged 36 mpg and we spent around $200 on gas. If you add in the $300 for those two extra hotel nights, the cost was still less than flying since we don’t have travel rewards.

Total spent: $2200

My only goal with the spending was to keep it under our Digit savings, so this is a success!

How do you save on travel? Do you have a designated travel savings account?

*If you’re unfamiliar with Digit, it’s a amazing savings app. Digit connects to your checking account and uses algorithms to analyze your income and spending. It then moves small amounts from your checking account to your Digit savings account (with a no overdraft guarantee).

Though I do notice when Digit takes money out of my checking account, it’s never an amount that will keep me from paying the bills or otherwise interfere with my finances. It’s truly painless. (If you want more info, check out my review here.)

Update: Digit now has goalmojis! Just set up your savings goal and Digit does the rest.

Update (04/11/2017): Digit is now charging $2.99/month for this service. I admit, I was disappointed to learn this. That said, I think Digit is a great way to save, especially if you have trouble setting aside extra money each month.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, at no additional cost to you, I’ll receive a commission if you buy products through these links. See the full disclosure here.

42 thoughts on “An easy way to save for vacation

  1. I love Digit and have used it to fund a lot of my travels. I do have other designated travel accounts though as well and have money deducted monthly into this account. It’s nice knowing travel funds are in several different locations. Sounds like a nice trip!

    1. It’s always good to have a designated travel account. We have one as well, but it doesn’t have much in it at the time. That said, we send money to it each month, so it’s growing!

  2. Love this approach. When I used to spend mostly cash, I would collect and roll the change and deposit it into a separate account, which would be just vacation money. That wouldn’t get me too far now, as most of my spending is on credit (although a credit card with travel rewards!). Now I will usually transfer leftover money from my YNAB categories into vacation at the end of each month, though. It gives a nice little reward for underspending.

    1. Thanks, Matt. Love the change collecting – I like that you rolled it too. We have a change jar – but I’m too lazy to roll it (our bank takes care of it). Like you, we don’t use much cash anymore – most of our spending is on rewards credit cards (paid off each month!). It’s great that you reward yourself for having a surplus each month. And what better reward than a vacation!

  3. That vaca looks like SO much fun!!!! Glad you guys took the trip. It’s always worth the cash to spend time with family. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks, Laurie! It really was nice to spend the time together. πŸ™‚

  4. Sweet road trip! I’m ready for some hot weather. It should be about 60 deg here today, which should be a nice change πŸ™‚

    These days our travel costs are usually low enough that we can handle them from our checking account. But back in the day when Mrs CK and I were still just dating, we setup a joint savings account for vacations. We both set automatic contributions and then went on trips when there was enough saved up. Those were some of the first real vacations I had ever been on πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks, Mr. CK. I’m ready for hot weather too. I hate to complain, but we haven’t seen the sun in 2 weeks here. I’m ready. πŸ™‚

      You are the master of travel hacking lately – I can see why you don’t need to set up a specific account for it. I need to jump back on the travel hacking bandwagon.

  5. Sounds like a fun vacation! I personally use travel rewards, but we also use VRBO and make our own food. It saves a ton!

    1. Thanks Rachel! Travel rewards are great – we took advantage of those last year and saved a ton on a trip to FL. Making meals really does save so much money.

  6. Looks like a great road trip! I’m a big fan of digit. We used some of savings there for spending money on a recent trip. We usually try to save ahead of time for our vacations. We typically have enough lead time to do so. We so many activities going on int the lives of three teenagers its tough to take a last minute trip these days.

    1. Thanks, Brian! I really like Digit. I know I wouldn’t have saved that much if I didn’t have it. We usually plan way ahead too, so this spur of the moment (sort of) trip was different for us. And you’re right, planning a time when all family members can take a vacation is difficult. I’m not sure we’ll get a summer trip for this reason.

  7. That looks like an great vacation spot! We pay for our weekend getaways in a very similar way (I use Acorns). Whenever there is enough for a weekend trip, we take off!

    You’ve told me about Digits before but I’ve never signed up. When I do, I’ll be sure to grab your referral link.

    ** did the simulator make you sick? **

    1. Hey Ty! It was an awesome vacation spot! We plan to go back when the water temps are warmer. I use Acorns as well – maybe I have enough for a weekend?!

      Ha! No – the simulator didn’t make me sick. πŸ™‚ I love roller coasters or anything even remotely similar, so the simulator was great.

  8. Sounds like a pretty cool (and sneaky) way to save up for something fun! We’re really drooling over all the spring break photos on Facebook right now. We’d like to try Gulf Shores – we’ve had our eyes on it for a while. I’ve checked into VBRO before and it looks great!

    1. It was really fun! I liked the Gulf Shores area – the beaches are great. If you ever decide to go and need a 3 bedroom condo, let me know – the owner of the one we rented was great!

  9. We went to the beach ( 5 hour drive) in February for the same reason. Cabin fever and unseasonably warm temperatures. It was 75 degrees at the beach and 35 at the house. Even though the water was freezing, our toddler enjoyed playing in the sand and riding bikes (she sat in the cart).

    The Gulf Shores look awesome. I’ve never been but it’s on the wish list. The NASA Air & Space museum in Huntsville (northern Alabama) & the Air Force museum in Dayton, OH are awesome as well. If you like aviatian history a lot.

    1. Oh, how I wish the beach was only 5 hours for us. The drive to Orange Beach was 16 hours. One way. You got lucky with those temps! I would have loved 75 degrees.

      Thanks for the tips on the museums, Josh! My son loves aviation history and all things military.

  10. I’m glad you guys had a great vacation! We had a bit of sun here, but I would have taken some warmer weather. πŸ™‚ We kept a separate checking account for travel for years. Just this year we consolidated it a bit.

    1. Thanks, Ms. Montana! πŸ™‚ I usually save better – and in a separate account, but we didn’t have any trips planned. This was more of a spontaneous trip that wouldn’t have happened without that Digit account.

  11. We are diligent about putting aside a determined amount of money every month into our vacation bucket. We also earmark our credit card rewards for travel and vacations as well. Some years we end up taking smaller trips and let the leftover vacation money ‘rollover’ to a future trip.

    We haven’t checked out Digit yet, so we will need to take a look. Thanks for the info!

    1. Hi Mr. Need2save!I need to get back into those travel rewards cards and start some hacking. We took advantage of free air fare and hotels last year, saving us a on of money. It’s a good idea to save each and every month for travel – then it’s there when you want it.

  12. Digit sounds great! We’re really reluctant to use financial apps. A generational thing, I think. And you are so smart to pack a bunch of food for your travels. That’s a very effective way to save on costs. I’m glad you enjoyed a few restaurant meals along the way too. You stuck a very good balance. We have deprived ourselves of travel, and it really does feel like deprivation some times. After the mortgage is paid off . . . It will be a different story : )

    1. I understand about the reluctance to use financial apps. I was a little reluctant at first, but so far, no issues. I know I probably wouldn’t have saved that money without Digit.

      I’ve packed enough food for an entire week when we were on a strict vacation budget. But as the kids have gotten older, one of the highlights for them is the restaurant food (especially when we can get fresh seafood), so we budget it in. Sometimes that means giving up an activity, but we leave it up to them.

      It won’t be long until you have that mortgage gone and you can get that much deserved travel in, Ruth! πŸ™‚

  13. What a great way to pay for a vacation! I have yet to use Digit. We just got back from a week on the beach in St. Augustine, FL. The final cost is not tallied yet but usually runs us around $700 since we camp. We did a beach condo trip last summer with free flights, and that was awesome too. My toddler refers to it as the “inside” vacation since we slept inside!

    1. Camping is a great way to save money, Kalie! We’ve tent camped across the west before and it saved us a ton. My kids are more into the “inside” vacations since they’ve become teenagers, so we’re on a camping hiatus.

  14. What a great time! I imagine the kids loved the surprise when you let them know they were heading for the coast! πŸ™‚ I’ve never considered Alabama as a vacation spot, (probably because I’ve never been). What made you decide on the destination? Those beach pictures look beautiful.

    1. They loved it, even though they started to miss their friends toward the end. 8 days is a little long for them nowadays. πŸ™‚ We hadn’t ever considered Alabama either, but we will be back! We decided it was the closest drive with a great beach – those were the two requirements. And it was beautiful!!!

  15. It’s amazing how many great free attractions there are around the US- and the list gets even bigger if you’ve got a local zoo, science center, or similar membership with reciprocal benefits!

    1. The Naval museum was an amazing FREE museum! We loved it. Unfortunately the Blue Angels weren’t practicing that week, but they do practice there most of the non-winter months. Those memberships can be handy, particularly if you have one near you that you can frequent along with taking advantage of discounts when you travel.

  16. I love the pictures of your family Amanda! That sounds like a great trip. The Gulf Coast is so beautiful and getting there without the cost and stress of flying – that is a wonderful thing. I’m very interested in Digits, though I don’t use my debit card, only my credit card, for which I reap the rewards. Does it work if you don’t use your debit card?

    1. Thanks, Linda! It was a great trip! I love road trips – it’s great to see the countryside and notice regional differences in culture.

      No, you don’t have to use a credit or debit card with Digit. They link to your checking account – they use algorithms to predict your spending and income and take small amounts out to deposit in the savings account. Last week, Digit took around $20 out of my checking 3x and deposited it in my account. I truly love it! It forces me to save more than I would otherwise.

  17. Looks like it was an awesome trip…always good to get away to a warmer climate in the winter! We’re taking a short road trip next week. Since the kiddos are so young I don’t want to drive too far and have them be grumpy. Going to Hershey Park, then down to DC. Plenty of free museums in DC and hopefully the Cherry Blossoms will still be in bloom. Packing food is always a big money saver. We were able to use travel rewards to cover all our hotel stays so that’s good.

    1. It was an awesome trip! We did wish it was a little warmer, but can’t complain since it was snowing in Iowa. We started taking longer trips when our kids were 3 and 5 – we had to take our time and stop more frequently then. But, since they’ve grown up taking multiple long road trips each year since, we’ve got them trained. πŸ™‚

      Hershey Park sounds like a great time. We need to head over to DC sometime. I’ve been there, but that’s one place the kids haven’t seen yet. It’s awesome you are able to travel hack the hotels. Hope you have an awesome trip, Andrew! πŸ™‚

  18. We’re planning on a fall trip. We have dividend miles to use for air fare but aside from that, we haven’t investigated much travel hacking. We don’t have a designated account for travel expenses. We just make sure to move enough money into checking to cover the bills.

    We went to a few areas you were in during our retirement kickoff road trip and had a great time. I love that view from your condo! And I can see where the “Orange Beach” name comes from. We didn’t get as far south as you did in Alabama but it looks lovely.

    1. It was lovely, Mrs. Groovy! πŸ™‚ We will go back. I love fall trips – the crowds aren’t as bad with the kids back in school. Your method is how we used to pay for vacation. Digit felt like a bonus since we didn’t move any money out of our regular savings account, but in reality it all came from the same place.

  19. What a great idea and fun trip! We love to drive now that our two little guys are more chill in the van than out of it (DVD player helps the ride immensely as well). Picnic meals along the way are so nice too; we don’t feel gross the way we do after eating fast food. I forgot about Digit, but it seems like a cool trick for saving extra!

    1. Thanks, Mrs. COD! Ugh – I hate that feeling after eating the fast food. Not worth it unless you’re desperate, in my opinion!

  20. Haha! I loved visiting the Alabama, even though I got a nice welt on my forehead from getting into a gun turret. Looks like you guys had a wonderful time on your spring break vacation. Thanks for sharing. And thanks for explaining how Digit works. I heard of the app, but never had a grasp on how it works.

    1. I can see how you got a welt, Mr. Groovy! πŸ™‚ Thankfully I’m short, but Alan and Jake are both 6’3″, so it was comical watching them go in and out of the gun turret. They didn’t find it quite so amusing.

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