If you're feeling bummed that you can’t afford big travel plans this summer, rest assured: you're not alone. Crunched by the economic crisis, families everywhere are considering going on a “stay-cation” this year, choosing to spend their vacation right at home. And while this may not feel like a vacation at first, with some creative thinking, it can be one of the best and most memorable vacations your family has. (Not to mention cheap!)

Before you plan your stay-cation, ask yourself a few important things:

What is it that everyone in my family likes about a vacation?

Figuring out what’s the most important thing for each person will help you set your schedule. Is it the not-cooking? The stops at the ice cream parlor? The souvenirs from gift shops? Playing board games in the hotel rooms? Not having work distractions or kids’ activities schedules? Write down exactly what everyone enjoys. And use this as a guide.

How many days can we take off from our schedules to spend together?

While it’s tempting to simply take days off from work and stay at home doing normal stuff, that would not be a real vacation. In order to treat this as a true vacation, the time has to be blocked off and guarded fiercely. No running around to swim lessons or the dry cleaners or bank. Consider leaving computers turned off, phones set straight to voicemail, and the newspaper delivery canceled. Chores are ignored, laundry postponed, and fun is to be had.

What’s our budget?

You might feel like there’s no money to spare. But money you would have spent anyway on transportation to work, food, baby-sitting and the like can be slotted for different purposes during this special time. Setting priorities based on what everyone enjoys the most will help you plan exactly where your money should go.

So what exactly can you do on a stay-cation? Most of us rarely explore our cities as tourists. We can probably think of places right down the road that we’ve never been. If you’re stumped, do a quick Internet search for family activities in your city. Call your local chamber of commerce and ask for some brochures.Vacations are usually about doing new things. So try to make sure you visit a new place, try out a new sport, or taste a new type of cuisine. Something that feels adventurous!

Can you afford a night at a hotel? Great! Try to find one with a pool. If that’s not in your budget, consider getting creative with new places you could sleep. Have friends leaving town? Offer to house-sit for them. Is there a local campsite with space for pitching a tent? If not, how about your own backyard! If all else fails, it can be fun to drag out sleeping bags and fall asleep together in the living room while watching home movies.

Everyone agrees what makes a vacation special is time spent together. So make family time the biggest priority of your stay-cation. Take walks together, play board games, look through picture albums, or make up stories--whatever it is that you enjoy doing together but don’t always have the time to do.

Consider spending a day volunteering together as a family. Food banks, thrift stores, and community garden are some ideas. This costs nothing and is a great way to do experience something new while spending time together.

Don’t forget the pictures! Do you ever look back at picture albums and realize they are all taken “on stage” – at ballgames, field trips, birthday parties, etc.? This is a great chance to get photos and video footage of your kids doing normal and everyday stuff at home. These might be the photos that make you the most nostalgic later on down the road.

The key is to keep it cheap. Set a budget of what you can afford and prioritize from there, based on what each person really enjoys. With proper planning, your stay-cation can produce some really great memories and relaxing moments for the whole family, without breaking your wallet.