After months of skimping, saving and planning, the annual family vacation is finally here. You head out for your much anticipated time away, but come back not only needing a time of recuperation from the hectic schedule, but also an exhaustive overall on the family budget.

What do your family vacations look like? Do you ever come home and think, “Next year, we’re doing something different?”

There is a time for that dream vacation, but there is also a time to ponder doing something unique and unexpected.

We began a new family tradition this year with my extended family; radically different family vacation on a budget.

Not just any budget, a “no spend” budget.

With three brothers that are entrepreneurs and an unemployed husband, we decided that if we wanted to make this vacation a reality, it would have to be a “no spend any money at all” vacation.

And by “no spend,” I mean that no spending took place on this vacation besides buying a few additional groceries, and an item at Goodwill (of course).

Our Pigeon Forge lodging was at a beautiful property that we’d already paid for, soย the only other out of pocket expense consisted of our gas.

We all brought cooler/meals with us, but then made a few runs to Walmart once we arrived. (Read a detailed account of saving money on food during vacation with many options.)

With five children, we can’t afford to eat out often, but we typically splurge on a few meals during vacation.

For the first time ever, not one bite of food came from a restaurant because we cooked all the meals in the condo . It was pretty funny to see the kids reactions the first two days.

At one time or another, every son, daughter, niece and nephew pestered, “When are we going out to eat?”

“We’re not.”
“What do you mean, we’re not? Not today?”
“Not at all. We are not going out to eat at all this week.”
“Seriously?”
“Seriously!”

Once they finally realized that we were not bluffing, everything was just fine. (I tell you honestly, this was hard for me to stick to as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

So was this a boring week?

Hardly. We got to engage a creative side that we wouldn’t have typically explored.

Now, I understand that since we had such a large group for our family reunion, this might be a bit like comparing apples to tomatoes if there are only four in your family. It typically takes the first few days of vacation just to unwind. If we realize that just spending time together and relaxing is the goal, that can happen with 4 or 44.

It’s easy to forget, especially on vacation, that the very best things in life are free.

Frugal vacations are my specialty, but I will save the “tips” for another post. (Check out an exhaustive list of ideas for saving money on food during vacation).

This is just an inside look at a few things that we did throughout the week to get your creative juices going.

Each morning after breakfast, someone led devotions with the kids.

morning devotions

It was a engaging time of discussion, and sharing of ideas on the topic of the morning.
Such great ideas for planning a purposeful family reunion

The teens were all situated on the floor and depending on how late they stayed up the night before, they may or may not have been overly participatory. ๐Ÿ™‚ The “kids” ranged in age from 5 through college age.

My eldest niece is an officially married women and they had their first baby in tow. She was excused from this family time…hee hee.

Planning a special family reunion

The first two days we never even left the condoย property. Most of the time on vacations, kids think they have to go, go, go, and we fall into the trap of their continual pestering. Setting the advance expectation that this vacation was going to be about family time, and cherishing the family relationship, set the tone for a great week.

The older boys hung out in the parking lot playing b-ball (without a hoop),

While the middle schoolers realized that playing on a playground can be “cool,” especially when it involves some aspect of danger while your picture is being taken.

goofing off on playground during vacation

There was lots and lots of “chilling” time, as the teens explained.

cousins hanging out on vacation
Sharing life together, hanging out in PJs, back rubs from cousin to cousin, laughing and giggling till the wee hours of the morn took place in grand proportion with this group.

examining the cool ride in the parking lot

Never underestimate the power of exploration with your little ones!

You wouldn’t believe how much excitement came from these Three Musketeers just from checking out the “hot ride.” They examined, dreamed and role played for 30 minutes. ๐Ÿ™‚

That 30 minutes occurred minutes before heading to the hotel lobby where someone was giving a Parrot demonstration. Parrot Mountain in Pigeon Forge brought some of their birds to show. It was a delightful hour, one in which I would have skipped had we not been searching for fun things to do on the property. Pigeon Forge has something for families of all ages and all budgets and this was the perfect spot for a reunion. Check out your options here.


By the third day, we girls were itching to go shopping! So where else would the relatives of the Frugal Fashionista go? Goodwill thrifting, of course.

We were on the hunt for a “mother of the bride” dress. We came awfully close, but we were worried that this beauty might show up her daughter. ๐Ÿ™‚
(Yes, I am bragging on my hot nieces, but you can look that good and still love to shop at GW.)

Thrifting on Family Vacation

Now I must add that these prices were a bit higher than I am used to. Good thing my “elderly” mother was along for her Senior Citizen discount because we all saved an additional 25%.
(May I look that fabulous when I am that old…70…shh, can you believe it?)
Yes, that is the only shopping we did for the week.

On the third day, my dad had scoped out this unbelievable community park.
The guys went early and it was old guys vs. the young guys for a war to end all wars.

Yes, we tend to get the testosterone going on our family reunions. See the picture on the left? Everyone playing was from our family, except one guy that was begging to get in on the action.


While the big boys played ball, the younger ones had a blast on the huge swing set.

Only my 18 year old niece would challenge some native Mexicans to a soccer game. This is a prime example of thinking outside the box on a “no spend” vacation. It was so much fun to watch them, and this was a highlight of their week.

As dinner approached, we all unpacked the picnic suppers that we had brought. Each family brought their own, and the smorgasbord included everything from fried chicken and burritos, to good old fashioned sandwiches.
It was such a beautiful evening, but we had to wrap it up in time to head back for the finales of American Idol. I think we got a few complaints that night from the loud screaming that came from the 4th floor when Kris Allen was declared the winner. ( I was actually alone in my room when the winner was announced…what was I thinking? I had to scream all by my lonesome.)

I had to go back one day early to speak at a conference. I missed the best part of the week, but was able to share in it through my son’s photography. The family hike solidifies the essence of what a “no spend” vacation is all about.

Reveling in the glory of the Creator.
Living dangerously by dipping in some ice cold waterfalls.
Pondering the silence and solitude of nature…
Amazing frugal family vacation
Ha – I can’t believe you fell for that one.
There was definitely no silence on this walk.
In fact, the irony of this picture is that the sign says,
“DANGER – falling deaths have occurred. Closely control children.
High Vertical Drop off.”Good thing we begin our child training early.

Did I forget to mention that from the four siblings in my family (me, and my three brothers) there are 29 children? I’ll let you ponder that math for a minute before I close. ๐Ÿ™‚

Planning a no spend vacation

The American “microwave society” screams that we must have everything quick.

Patience is no longer a virtue. We must spend money to have fun, and if we don’t schedule, schedule, schedule, it’s just plain BORING!

I encourage you to throw out that lie, and replace it with the truth.

If there’s ever a time where a picture speaks truth, it’s this one. This is what it is all about.

Quality relationships. Teenage sister, brother and little cousin enjoying life together.
No Game Boys, no X box, no cell phone, no Facebook…just LIFE!

Guess what?

We’ve already scheduled next years “no spend” vacation…and I can’t wait!

But maybe we’ll splurge on just one meal out, okay, I’d be up for two…. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Planning a no spend vacation for a family reunion

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