Did you skip going on a vacation last year because money seemed too tight? When you look back over the year, does it seem like there might have been room in your budget for a trip after all, if only you had been more careful with your money? If so, it's time to make some changes to your habits so you can easily afford a much-deserved vacation this year. (For more, check out 10 Tips For A Cheaper, Better Vacation.)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
Here are some tips that will help you save painlessly:
Open a Dedicated Savings Account
When you have a single savings account, it's difficult to set aside money for a specific purpose. A good way to make sure that the money you set aside for a vacation actually gets used for a vacation and not for an unexpected bill is to establish a separate savings account.
Many financial institutions make it a piece of cake to open a new savings account. In addition, they won't charge you any ongoing fees to have the account or require you to maintain a certain balance. And if you open the account at a bank that you already use, you won't add another administrative chore to your list. For example, if you bank online and already have a savings and a checking account, you'll be able to view and manage your new vacation savings account at the same time as you manage your existing accounts.
As an added bonus, look for the best rate when opening your vacation savings account. Examine the different rates and restrictions on savings accounts, online savings accounts, money market accounts and certificates of deposit to see which one will provide the best return on your savings with the flexibility to withdraw the money in time for your trip. (To learn more, check out Handling High-Yield Savings Accounts.)
Pay Yourself First
Having a dedicated savings account will facilitate another savings strategy: paying yourself first. If you first allocate your paycheck to all of your bills and use the rest for discretionary spending, you might not end up saving anything for your longer-term goals and needs, like a house, retirement or a vacation.
If you instead calculate an amount that you can afford to set aside from each paycheck to put toward your vacation, the only way you won't meet your goal is if you raid your vacation savings account for an unintended purpose.
To simplify the process of paying yourself first, make it automatic. Set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your vacation savings account that are timed to occur just after you receive your paycheck. You'll have less money to spend on short-term discretionary items, like going out to eat, but you'll meet your vacation savings goal.
Time Your Vacation Wisely
Your vacation will be much easier to save for if you plan it during an off-peak time of year known as "shoulder season" when accommodations, airfare and car rentals are less expensive, but the weather is still reasonably nice. The savings can add up to hundreds of dollars and put your trip within reach much sooner. The off-season varies by location, so do some research on potential destinations and see which places have shoulder seasons that match up with the times you can get away from work. (Learn more in Shoulder Season: Your Ticket to the Perfect Vacation.)
Pay With Credit Card Rewards
If your credit score is average or better, you may qualify for a credit card that comes with a spiffy account opening bonus and ongoing rewards. Look for cards with travel-related rewards suitable for your destination. For example, Southwest currently offers a promotion that will give you 25,000 miles after your first purchase. As long as Southwest flies to your vacation destination, signing up for this credit card could be a great way to get a free plane ticket and shave hundreds of dollars off the amount you need to save for your vacation. If you'll be traveling with a significant other, he or she can get his or her own credit card and you can each get a free plane ticket. Credit cards that offer free hotel stays, such as Chase's Hyatt Credit Card and American Express's Starwood Preferred Guest card, are also good options.
Review Ongoing Expenses
When was the last time you shopped around for a better deal on your homeowner's, renter's or car insurance? If you can find a less expensive policy that still provides the level of coverage you want, you can put the savings, which might be hundreds of dollars, into your vacation fund instead of into your next insurance bill. If you have an auto loan, see if you could save money by refinancing into a lower interest rate. Evaluate whether you're making full use of your cell phone plan and if you're not, look into downgrading to a less expensive plan that will still meet your needs. If you regularly go out to eat, cut out at least one meal per week and deposit the money you would have spent at the restaurant directly into your savings account before you can spend the money on something else.
The Bottom Line
If you have disposable income, affording a vacation is simply a matter of prioritizing. If a vacation is a priority for you, start paying yourself first, using a dedicated savings account and taking a closer look at your expenses. Before you know it, you'll have enough money for your next trip. (For more, check out 5 Overlooked Vacation-Planning Tips.)