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Ten tricks for avoiding high onboard bills

We all know the feeling that comes at the end of a cruise. After a week or more of saying, “Go ahead—I’m on vacation,” you get hit with an onboard bill that’s higher than you expected. Within seconds, your carefree disposition is gone, replaced with the sadly familiar stress of the real world.

Your relaxing cruise doesn’t have to end on such a sour note. All you need to do is make a few tweaks to your vacation routine to keep your final bill from coming as a shock. Here are 10 tricks you can employ to manage your onboard spending.

1. Check your account every day

Knowledge is power, and the more you know about how much you’ve spent, the more you can keep those splurges in check. Go to the purser’s desk every day (or every other, if you’d rather) and ask for a printout of your onboard bill. Some cruises even let you check your account on the interactive television in your cabin. Looking at the expenses you’ve already incurred may curb your enthusiasm for spending extravagantly. If you made many purchases in one day and can see how much you’ve added to your tab, you’ll be scared into spending responsibly the following day.

2. Make a budget and stick to it

Before you set sail, give yourself a daily vacation budget. Then stick to that budget when you’re on the cruise. If you only have so much to spend each day, you’ll have to choose between ordering that second daiquiri and buying a T-shirt in the gift shop. You’ll also know exactly how much to expect when the final bill gets slipped under your door.

3. Plan your splurges

Of course, you’re on vacation, so you don’t want to be a miser the whole time. Factor a few splurges into your budget, whether that means a hot stone massage or a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter trip. The best strategy is to plan these special purchases in advance. That way, you can save up for them pre-trip and know they’ll be on your bill. Plus, if you have a couple of indulgences planned, you can look forward to them and make them special events. If you splurge every day, the experience becomes more humdrum.

4. Choose shore excursions in advance

Similarly, choose your shore excursions in advance, and book them before your cruise whenever possible. You’ll be better able to set an excursion budget and choose tours that fit within your financial means. If you wait until you’re onboard to plan your port days, you’re more likely to get upsold by the shore excursions staff. Plus, if you haven’t already planned out a day on your own in port, you may be tempted to book yet another tour so you don’t have to do some quick destination research during your vacation.

5. Drink responsibly

Both alcohol and soft drinks can be overpriced on cruise ships, and your buzz adds big bucks to your bill. Limit yourself to a set number of drinks per day. You’ll make each drink count, won’t embarrass yourself in a drunken scene, and save money. If you’re a soda drinker, buy a soft-drink package on the first day of the cruise. You’ll receive unlimited sodas for a set price, which quickly works out to be cheaper than buying drinks á la carte.

6. Make purchasing decisions together

You’re in the casino gambling away your life’s savings while your spouse is indulging in multiple spa treatments and the kids are depleting your bank account checking their MySpace pages from the ship’s Internet cafe. Perhaps if you were each aware of the other’s purchases, you would restrict your own. A good idea is to check with a family member before you make a large onboard purchase. Perhaps they can talk some reason into you, or you can both agree to limit future splurges.

7. Buy souvenirs all at once

Onboard gift shops have a way of luring you back to their racks again and again throughout the course of the cruise. Today the main attraction is jewelry, while tomorrow will bring oodles of T-shirts. Resist the urge to buy something every day because these purchases add up. Instead, choose one day to do all of your cruise line souvenir buying. Perhaps that’s the day the shops offer a really good deal, or perhaps it’s a day toward the end of the cruise when you’ve exhausted all your in-port shopping opportunities. You’re likely to be more conscientious about what you spend on one big purchase than several smaller purchases.

8. Be a savvy shopper

On every cruise, you’ll find opportunities to get luxury items for less. If you must splurge, why not do so during a sale? For example, onboard bars offer a daily drink special, which is usually reduced in price. Also, certain ship events, such as the Captain’s welcome and art auctions, come with free or reduced-price cocktails. If you do your daily drinking at these times, you’ll save more than if you sidle up to the bar at any old hour. In addition, the spa usually discounts its services during off-peak times, such as when the ship is in port. You can save a bundle on these luxuries if you make your appointment for a time with cheaper prices. Look for special deals on photos, jewelry, cruise-logo clothing, and other items for sale onboard.

9. Rein in your children

If you give your teen a cruise I.D. card that doubles as an onboard credit card and let him loose on a mega-ship, you shouldn’t be shocked at the amount of Internet minutes, mocktails, snacks, and souvenirs he can buy in a single day at sea. If you’re not planning on watching your children 24/7, you may want to restrict their spending abilities. Many cruise lines, such as [% 15420 | | Royal Caribbean %] and [% 12025 | | Norwegian %], give you the choice to turn off the purchasing power of a cruise card. Do this, and you get to vet all of your kids’ onboard spending. If you’d prefer to teach the young-uns about financial responsibility, [% 11986 | | Carnival %] lets you set a per-day spending cap on your kids’ cards. A low per-day allowance will make your child choose between ordering a Virgin Colada and checking her email, and give you some peace of mind.

10. Pay your bill in cash

The ultimate roadblock to overspending is to pay your onboard account in cash. Many lines let you put down a cash deposit instead of providing a credit card at embarkation. You can either add to that deposit if you’re onboard account is running low or pay the difference at the end of the cruise. Knowing that you only have a certain amount to spend and that you’ll need cash on hand to pay up on the final day is a surefire way to keep spending in check.

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