If you’re reading this, then I’m likely at the beach, soaking up some sun (while slathered in 35 SPF lotion, of course), listening to the waves crash and, if my children are cooperating, reading a good book. I’ve been looking forward to my family’s beach getaway for months now; I’ve been saving up our vacation money for months, too.

Setting aside your travel budget is tricky. Do you try to stick to your at home restaurant budget, even though you’re on vacation? Or do you splurge a little bit? Do you eat out at high-end restaurants, or do you attempt to be frugal? The questions – and the quandaries – are endless.

Cooking Instead Of Eating Out

When I’m on vacation, I don’t want to lift a finger. After all, that’s the whole point of going on vacation: to get away from the chores and obligations that bog us down at home. Cooking is, without a doubt, one of my least favorite parts of domesticity – and going a week without working in the kitchen is my favorite part of getting away from it all.

But dining out on vacation is pricy. At the beach, where themed seafood restaurants and pricy buffets abound, a dinner for four can easily run upwards of $50. Multiply that times the five nights we’ll be away from home, and you’re looking at $250 spend on dinner along – and that doesn’t even factor in extras like breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Buying your groceries and doing the cooking instead, however, can save you big bucks – and put more money back in your travel budget for fun extras (like parasailing, my husband wants to interject – sure honey, whatever you say).

What about relinquishing my cooking duties for the week? Simple. Instead of cooking complicated meals, I stock our condo’s fridge and freezer with lots of prepared meals – things like frozen pizza or lasagna. For breakfast, we subsist on fruit and cereal. It might not be luxurious food, but it feeds us with minimal damage to our budget… and minimal damage to my sanity.

Bring It With You

My family and I can get from our house to our beach rental in just under four hours. Since the trip isn’t too long, we usually pack some necessities in a cooler to bring along with us. The grocery store prices for basic supplies like milk, cheese, and bread tend to be higher at the beach than they are at home; combine that with the fact that we don’t hold loyalty cards to the grocery stores at the beach, and I can save myself 20-30 percent by buying many of the basics at home instead of once we arrive at our destination.

When To Buy Locally

Still, one of my favorite parts of going on a beach vacation is all the fresh, yummy seafood. That’s when I send my husband down to the marina or the pier. He can either partake in one of his favorite vacation pasttimes – dock fishing – or he can cut a deal with a fisherman coming into port from a day out on the open water. Buying straight from the source saves us nearly half off what we’d pay for a similar cut of fish at the grocery store, plus it’s fresher (even if my husband is then responsible for descaling it). And, if my husband is lucky enough to reel in a good-sized fish, we can feast on his catch of the day for free.

Don’t Overlook Your Grocery Budget

Remember what I said about cooking instead of dining out? Sometimes, you’ve simply got to live a little and spend that hard-earned vacation money on a nice dinner at a local restaurant. That’s why, when on vacation, I always combine my weekly grocery and dining out budgets into one “food” budget. This gives me a little more flexibility in my travel budget to go to a restaurant, even if the price for the meal is higher than my at-home eating out budget would allow.

And, since it’s vacation, I give myself a little extra, adding another 25 percent to my usual grocery and eating out budgets to cover vacation treats like ice cream or a cold pina colada. After all, it’s vacation – if you’ve budgeted for it appropriately, you deserve to spoil yourself a little bit.

Reader, what are your rules for dining out on vacation? Does your travel budget for food differ when you’re away from home?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke