Eat Cheap in the Hotel: How our Family of 6 Saved Money on Vacation

Anyone else struggle with budgets and family vacations? As a mother of four, I want to create opportunities for memories and bonding time with my family, but it can be expensive! For most of our family life we have vacationed with family who live in another town. While that was and is great, I am trying to find other ways for us to go to different places and experience different things.

This year, we had the perfect opportunity to try something new. My teens wanted to attend AnimeIowa, and it was held in Des Moines this year. Far enough away that I didn’t want to drive back and forth daily, but still close enough that travel wouldn’t be too much for us. Plus, the conference had hotel rates that made it more affordable. We also love Adventureland, and we decided to add one day there since we were in the same vicinity. They even have Veteran/military discounts at the gate. Since my husband served in the Navy, that saved us even more!

The real challenge to our budget, though, was food. How would six of us eat 10 meals without breaking the bank?

I don’t know about your family, but our family does not eat out very often. My husband is an amazing cook (thanks, Babe!), and we eat healthy, delicious meals at home. When we do go out to eat, I find myself struggling to find something I’m prepared to pay for when I know he can make it just as well, if not better, at home.

When we were planning our family vacation, I was convinced the easiest way for us to cut the necessary budget was to figure out a way to cut out all the restaurant meals. But is that even possible when staying in a hotel for four days/three nights? It turns out, it is!

Eat Cheap in the Hotel: How our Family of 6 Saved Money on our Vacation

My number one tip is to be willing to look silly checking into the hotel. We had a “Beverly Hillbillies” moment as we checked into the conference hotel. They wouldn’t let us take their luggage carts–they insist on bringing up your luggage–and we had our toaster, griddle, and water kettle along with our bags and blankets. I had to swallow my pride and avert my eyes as we left our cart in the lobby and went up to our room. However, it was worth it.

Before the trip, we made a menu and meal plan. Ok, truth be told, my husband did this because the night he chose to do this I was exhausted and not ready to plan. The kids were being silly, and we were all just ready for him to take over the planning. We trusted him to decide on things we all enjoy. The main things we wanted were power pancakes (pancakes with added flax seed, chia seeds, etc.) and peanut butter (easy to add to just about anything.) He did an amazing job of looking at the food we already had at our house from our last grocery run, and making meals he knew we would all eat.

Food List:

tuna salad – made at home first
pulled pork – made at home first
power pancakes – made at home first
grilled chicken – made at home first
rice – made at home first
fresh veggies – cut at home first
whole wheat bread – enough to last the number of days for the number of people you have
peanut butter
sliced cheese
salad dressing
hot dogs
hot dog buns

Supplies List:

electric griddle
electric water kettle
water bottles – one per person


Day 1 

Breakfast: at home, before we left.
Lunch: at Adventureland in the parking lot – tuna salad on whole wheat bread and/or peanut butter on whole wheat bread (we did forget the jelly, but it worked out ok.) We took a water bottle into the park with us so we could refill it as we walked around. We all agreed it was ok to share the one bottle so it was easier to carry all day, except my oldest. She preferred her own, so she carried it herself.
Dinner: at the hotel – grilled cheese with pulled pork on whole wheat bread, carrots, and apples. We all had our own water bottles at the hotel.

Day 2 

Breakfast: at the hotel – power pancakes heated in the toaster (peanut butter and syrup optional,) scrambled eggs and avocado.
Lunch: at the hotel – the rest of the tuna salad or pulled pork on whole wheat bread, bananas.
Dinner: at the hotel – Steak, Chicken fried rice with avocado (he made it on the griddle!), salad with Ranch dressing.
Late night snack for husband and oldest – Domino’s pizza, the first food we bought from a restaurant. They only ate half.

Day 3

Breakfast: at the hotel – power pancakes or oatmeal, scrambled eggs.
Lunch: at the hotel – chicken fried rice, apples or bananas.
Dinner: the rest of the pizza, hot dogs, chicken fried rice, fresh veggies.

Day 4

Breakfast: at the hotel – the rest of the food, including steak, rice, eggs, toast.
Lunch: at a restaurant – this was the only meal out! And it was because I really wanted to go to P.F. Chang’s, and it isn’t here in our own town.

And, that’s how we did it! Yes, we made some sacrifices because we didn’t have all of the foods and drinks we usually have at home. Yes, we were a tiny bit hungrier than when we can walk into the kitchen and get whatever we want from the cabinet. But, we saved about $1000 because eating out for a family of six is pricey. That cost savings alone made the trip a possibility for us. It was our version of camping, and I hope it is one my kids remember fondly. I know I will.


Dawn lives life to play! Wife to Bryan and mother of four (ages 17, 14, 12, and 8,) she finds what she most enjoys and does it. Bryan tells people she hates a blank calendar; Dawn says she loves a colorful one. With a BA in Theatre and a certificate in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship from the University of Iowa, Dawn has successfully run two business and volunteered on numerous community theatre Boards of Directors. She currently colors in her calendar with Youngevity confidence consultation appointments, Chamber Singers of Iowa City board meetings, strength training and kickboxing at NLXF-NL, managing the office at BerganKDV, and setting as many dates with friends as she can. Dawn is passionate about respect and intentional choices. She loves coffee with cream, a good wheat beer, seeing someone discover something for the first time, and listening to audio books while driving.


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