Economic tough times or no, it just wouldn’t be summer without a trip to the beach. Who says a bad economy needs to cancel that? You can still make your annual sand and surf getaway this year, even if you’re pinching pennies. You just have to keep a few things in mind.


This is the big item, of course. Maybe you always go to the same great hotel right on the beach. This year might be time for a change. But how can you find inexpensive lodging? Consider these options:

  • Parks – many beaches are located close to state or national parks. These locations sometimes have reasonably priced lodges, inexpensive cabins, or almost-free campsites. Buying a tent is a lot cheaper than a week at a hotel. And sleeping under the stars could end up being the highlight of your trip!
  • House swap – sites like or allow families to trade houses with another family. If you’re open to several different beach locations, and willing to allow someone to vacation in your home, you may end up staying in a spacious and stocked accommodation for free! Use caution and follow all the safety recommendations on these sites for more information.
  • Sharing space with another family – sometimes you need to shop in bulk to get a good deal. That 4 bedroom rental house might have plenty of space for your family and another family with whom you are friendly, and it will cut the cost in half.


It’s surprising how much the cost of food can add up on a vacation. For most people, vacation equals take-out. Who wants to cook? But with a little planning ahead, you can save a crazy amount of cash by keeping it simple.

  • Having access to a kitchen is a big help when it comes to food. Ask the hotel if they have a small refrigerator they can put in the room and/or a microwave. Most people agree they can pack ahead cereal and granola bars and never purchase a breakfast while there. You can take it one step further and bring your own snacks and sandwich makings for lunch. That leaves dinner. Plan a few easy, inexpensive dinners you can cook together – pasta, frozen pizza, or hot dogs over a campfire. Then you’ll have banked some money to spend on nicer meals out for other nights.
  • Set a food budget. It’s easy to swallow a PB and J sandwich at lunch time when you know that you’re getting steak and lobster for dinner. By prioritizing where you want to spend your money, you can still treat yourself on vacation and stay within your budget.


It’s hard to imagine taking a trip without spending a lot of cash. Think about where your money usually disappears in this category and find a way to counter it. Bring back shells from the beach you found as souvenirs instead of buying something from a shop. Do you usually buy t-shirts for the whole clan? Why not make your own beach t-shirt using the items you gather? Here’s how:

Beach T-Shirts

Pack a white t-shirt for each member of the family before you leave. You will also need some squirt bottles and fabric dye. Mix up a strong concentration of the color of your choice. (This is messy – and perfect to do while you’re on the beach.) Lay the shirts flat and have each person arrange beach items on their shirt before you begin. Shells, seaweed, sand, shovels, whatever! Then spray away with the bottles of dye. Be careful not to get this on other items (towels or clothing) as it won’t come out. Give it a good strong dose and let the shirts dry flat for a few hours in the sun. Remove the items and you will see wonderful beach impressions on your new t-shirts. (Be careful not to wash these with other clothing at first, as the dye may fade.)

Drinkable Sea Water?

The beach is a place to relax and enjoy your family, but it can also be a place to learn. Here's a fun science experiment: fill a bucket half-full with seawater. Place a smaller bucket or cup inside so that it is taller than the water level but not taller than the bucket. Cover the bucket with Saran Wrap, placing something heavy on top of the inner cup. Within a few hours, the water will begin to evaporate in the hot sun, creating condensation on the plastic wrap, which will drip into the cup. You’ve just extracted fresh water from salt water!

Ocean Writing

Consider keeping a beach journal during your trip. Buy a blank notebook before you go and decorate it with stickers or drawings of the beach. Use it to record memories and observations during your whole trip. What to do inside the pages? How about:

  • Lists – colors of seashells, things you see in front of you, favorite moments of every day, animals on the shore
  • Poems – waves, sand, people, and more. There’s a lot to choose from when looking for a muse.
  • Stories – people-watch on the beach and take turns making up interesting stories about the people you see. Or imagine your own family on an adventure in your new setting and write it down.
  • Memories – record what you do, what you like, where you go, and what you see. Don’t forget illustrations!

This is one book that it’s okay to get sand inside!