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SALT LAKE CITY — You shouldn’t skimp on experience during summer vacation but you shouldn’t go broke either. And one area that can add up fast is food.
It’s also an area many families forget to include in their vacation budget.
“Food is something you really don’t think about but somebody has to, because you got to eat, right?” said Carson Smith, an Idaho resident vacationing in Utah. “We try to plan ahead and keep food with us so we don’t spend more eating out.”
A recent survey by ValuePenguin found food chews up about 27 percent of the cost of an average American vacation. The good news: There are ways you can save a lot on food.
“The first place to start is to have a plan,” said Shandra Madsen. She runs the grocery comparison service Deals to Meals, and she is a frequent road tripper.
Set a budget
Her first piece of advice: Set a realistic budget.
“You need to know how much you’re going to spend on your groceries or food throughout the vacation,” Madsen explained.
Madsen researches her destination and planned stops during a road trip. She’ll look up restaurant menus to see where she can stay within her budget.
Choosing the hotel
The Madsens are a family of seven, so they look for lodging that has a fridge and microwave.
“You want to have somewhere that can keep your food cold. A small fridge is fine,” she said. “Also, a microwave, something you can warm up meals in can save you a lot of money.”
No microwave? Take an electric skillet, slow cooker or even an Instant Pot with you on vacation.
“We’ve always been able to find somewhere that you can cook in the room,” Madsen said.
“Kids Eat Free” are three words you can also look for when choosing a hotel. Marriott, Holiday Inn and other chains offer free meals for kids that could lead to big savings.
Bring your own food
The Madsen family also brings their own food on their trips.
On her way to KSL Broadcast House, she bought a trunk load of food for $80.
“For the same price it would have taken to take the family out for one night, we could feed them for several days,” Madsen said.
The financial website Cheapism recently calculated the cost for a family of four to dine out at $56 including tip. If that family skips dining out just one meal a day during a five-day trip, they will save $280. Skipping two restaurant meals each day brings the savings to $580 for the trip.
“Take a little time to go through the grocery store ads. Find websites to help you find what’s on sale, and then stock up on those items and bring them along with you on vacation to save the most money,” said Madsen.
Stock up on snacks
For road trip snacking, avoid the pricey convenience store.
Instead, load up on treats, chips, soft drinks and other snacks before you go. Madsen says now is a great time to buy.
“All of those favorite snack items are always on sale in the months of July and August,” said Madsen. “So if you stock up and buy extra, you’ll have some for the rest of the year or whenever you go on vacation.”
Tobias Bradford and his family lives overseas but spend one or two months in Utah during summers, where they make a number of road trips.
They also buy groceries and snacks from the major supermarkets and warehouse clubs, and prepare their meals along the way.
“How much do you really want to spend on food?” Bradford asked. “The more you can conserve money in those areas, the more you have to spend on other activities that will bring your family together.”