Planning Your 2018 Vacation

Paying for a vacation is a lot like paying for Christmas, which seems to sneak up on people each year. You know Christmas is coming, so you should be planning for the costs all year. Similarly, vacation is coming so NOW is the time to prepare.

I can hear some people thinking that they can’t afford to save for vacation all year. Then the question is why they think they can afford the vacation by putting it on credit cards and paying the cost of the vacation PLUS the cost of interest.

It is easy to dream and spend countless hours planning and organizing the perfect summer vacation for the family. But the important thing is to create a plan for how to pay for it. 

Going into debt for vacation is not a good idea.  Vacations are a luxury not a necessity and you should never pay for a luxury by financing it. About 74% of Americans have gone into debt to pay for a getaway, according to a new study from financial planning company LearnVest. The study, which surveyed 1,000 adults, showed on average, Americans take on about $1,100 in debt for vacations.

In order to take a vacation and not go into debt, treat your vacation saving like any other monthly bill – figure out how much you spend on a yearly vacation and put 1/12 of that in a savings account each month. When vacation time rolls around, you will have the money set aside in a vacation savings account. Saving instead of getting into debt is a great lesson to teach your children.

To find money to save, look at everything you are spending in ALL areas and see what you can save for vacation by eliminating nonessentials, such as premium cable, fancy coffee on the way to work, fast food meals, lunch out, etc.  Making several small changes can amount to about $100 in savings a month towards that vacation.

As you think about a vacation for 2018, now is the time to start planning and saving in order to have a stress free vacation next year. Relaxing and treating yourself while you are on vacation is a great way to recharge, unless that indulgence wrecks your budget and you come home to a ton of credit card debt.

It’s possible to have a great vacation without overspending if you know when to make trade-offs. Find the parts of your vacation where you can compromise, and spend your money on what matters most to you.  

Staying in one place may be convenient, but changing accommodations during your stay can yield savings. Hotels in some big cities, such as Washington DC revolve around business trips on weekdays, leaving weekends open for tourists at less expansive rates.  At the same time, the weekends are more expensive in tourist-heavy destinations; so hotels may give you a better rate if you check in on a weekday rather than a weekend.

Investigate the area you are visiting and find free sightseeing. Monuments like the National Mall and Notre Dame cost nothing. Many museums, like New York’s Guggenheim and American Museum of Natural History, offer free hours every week or are donation-based. Consider stuffing your itinerary with free attractions. Skip the expensive attractions by planning your trip before you leave.

For road trips, prepare coolers full of meals to avoid fast food on the road. Food from home comes in handy at theme parks, where a small bite can cost as much as a full meal. Just check beforehand to make sure outside food is allowed. For bigger trips, visit local markets for snacks instead of eating out every time you get a little hungry. It’s similar to a technique you may use at home: eat cheaply to save for special occasions. But unlike at home, your special occasion on vacation may be one big meal every day.

Taxis and rental cars can be expensive. On a recent trip to Washington DC, our hotel charged $60 a DAY for parking, Needless to say, we left the car at home and took public transportation and Uber. Research the public transportation options to see if that’s a viable option for you.  We have met some interesting locals by getting lost on the subway!

Many people keep their kids shielded from financial realities which does not teach them anything about wise financial management. When planning for vacation, have a family meeting, talk about where to go, and make a vacation plan as a family. Follow up by talking about the cost of the vacation. Set up a “thermometer“ type chart on the fridge showing how much progress you are making toward your vacation savings goal.

Getting the kids involved in reaching the financial goal for vacation teaches them a lot about delayed gratification, making and reaching goals and financial stewardship. They will be much less likely to complain about cutting back if they are involved in the planning process and they can see a visual reminder of why the family is cutting back.

If you’re into vacations, you know that life is about experiences, not stuff.  You may be able to bulk up your vacation savings by selling your unused stuff to fund your vacation. Try Facebook garage sale groups, consignment shops, eBay, Craig’s List or an old fashioned garage sale

Do a Google search for “Free vacations” and you will find several options, which may or may not interest you, depending on your vacation preferences. You may be able to find a work-vacation opportunity where you can spend a few hours a day working in exchange for free room and board. Some wilderness and trail associations are looking for volunteers to help maintain the area in exchange for food and camping

Check out the Workaway website, which is for people who are interested in cultural exchange and learning. Volunteers get food and accommodation in exchange for working a few hours a day. Visits can last anywhere from a few days to a few months. Put your existing skills to good use, or try something new you would never normally get to do and pick up new skills along the way. Their site lists 1000s of active hosts in over 155 countries offering all kinds of places to stay.

We all need time away from our day to day work. Even God rested on the 7th day when he completed the work of creating the world. The key is to plan ahead so that you can enjoy your vacation and be debt free when you return home. Saving up for a big trip isn’t easy, but these strategies should help you save a little bit faster and have your trip already paid for before you leave home. 

After all, who wants to go on the perfect vacation and come home to a pile of debt?

Send an email to and let us know how your family saves for vacation.

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