We excited to share another great blog by special guest author Suzanne Rowan Kelleher from MiniTime.com, the family trip-planning site that makes traveling with kids easier. As a go-to travel expert, Suzanne has appeared on national TV and radio programs including CNN, ABC News Now and NBC News. She is married with three kids.

Early in the New Year is the perfect time to start thinking about your next family vacation. Admittedly, the least fun part of trip-planning is figuring out how you’re going to pay for it. But coming up with some strategies and sticking to them is the best way to make sure 2013 includes some fun time away with the kids, whether you’re heading to Kansas City or Niagara Falls.

Saving is a valuable life lesson, so don’t hesitate to involve your children. “The most important thing kids need to learn about managing money is how to make choices, which comes up all the time in planning a family vacation,” says Janet Bodnar, who writes the Money Smart Kids column at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

Here are a few 5 strategies for financing your next family getaway:

Make it a team effort.  Start brainstorming with your kids about simple ways to save here and there to meet your goal. Hold a garage sale. Collect your loose change in a vacation jar. Cut back on how often your family orders in and dines out. As you track your progress, point out those valuable lessons. “Small amounts really do add up over time. Having patience really can pay off,” says Bodnar.

Turn on auto pilot. “The very best way to save money is to take it off the top before you even see it,” says Bodnar, who suggests setting up an automatic transfer into a savings account earmarked for your vacation. A $150-a-month contribution adds up to $1,800 in a year!

Figure in your paycheck.  Do your employee benefits include paid vacation days? If so, you don’t need to save up 100 percent of your vacation’s price tag, says Bodnar, since you can finance part of your spend with your paycheck. “Whatever you would have spent at home for food and recreation during the same period can be put toward your vacation budget,” she explains. So if your family of four typically spends $250 on groceries and $80 on recreation and entertainment in a week, that’s $330 you won’t have to save for your weeklong getaway.

Devise a pay-off plan. If you’re only able to sock away half of what your vacation will cost, Bodnar says it’s vital to pay off the remainder within six months of returning home. “It’s so important not to get in over your head,” she says. “For most people, six months is a manageable amount of time.”

How is your family saving for your next vacation? Share your favorite travel tips and stories with the MiniTime community. Tell us how you saved up for your vacation to your favorite Great Wolf Lodge:

Charlotte/Concord, NC
Cincinnati/Mason, OH
Grand Mound, WA
Grapevine, TX
Kansas City, KS
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Pocono Mountains, PA
Sandusky, OH
Traverse City, MI
Williamsburg, VA
Wisconsin Dells, WI

For more tips on how to save for your next Great Wolf Lodge vacation, visit www.greatwolf.com/value.