Summer is finally here, and if you’re anything like me, the outdoors are calling your name! Visions of sandy beaches, rolling parks, golden sunsets, smells of fresh cut grass and marshmallows roasting over a crackling campfire begin to occupy my mind as I drive home from the office. Whether you plan to take a longer vacation or a weekend close to home, there are tons of ways you can get away and spend some much needed quality time with friends and family without breaking the bank. Planning early Like most budget planning, it’s helpful to determine the total amount you would like to spend on your vacation, and then consider how you would like to allocate your funds in the smaller categories: activities, food, transportation and lodging. Each piece takes up a significant amount of your budget so deciding your priorities early on will help keep you on track and on budget. For instance, if transportation costs take up the majority of your budget, you may need to find ways to scale down on food, activities and/or lodging. You can consider cutting back by observing menu prices or packing meals rather than eating out; taking advantage of free or discounted tours and local festivals, camping, swapping homes or staying with friends and family rather than splurging for pricey hotels. If, however, you plan to stay a little closer to home, activities, lodging and food may serve as the highlights and larger portions of your budget. Websites like www.mint.com help you create a travel or vacation budget and offer specific tips on ways to save. Looking at the big picture In my experience, vacations are much more enjoyable and relaxing when I don’t feel like I’m working so hard to keep track of every penny spent and when I can return home without feeling like I’ve overspent. It’s worth doing a little research early on to determine how much you will realistically need to save and how long it will take to reach your budget goal. To make it even easier, I like to have a small portion of my paycheck automatically transferred into my recreational spending account, to slowly build funds throughout the year. Taking advantage of credit card rewards While it’s important to spend within your means, using you credit card for a portion of your purchases when you book or while you are on vacation can offer a variety of benefits. Not only do credit cards offer rewards, points and incentives for your dollars spent, they also often offer free travel accident insurance, just in case. Credit card providers also promote special deals or saving packages when you book hotels, airfare or transportation with your credit cards. When I return home, I typically use my vacation savings to pay down my credit card balance and save on interest. Make your savings goal a family activity A great way to get your kids involved with saving for your family vacation, as well as teaching them about budgeting, is letting them make decisions in your vacation budgeting process. Let them come up with ideas for destinations, activities, eat-outs and allow them to research the cost associated. Together, think of ways you can save or earn money to reach your goal, like a garage sale, cutting coupons or starting a paper route. Next time you are at the store and your teen has to have something, ask them if it’s more important than the horse back riding, or jet-skiing activity they researched and budgeted for, and what kind of compromise they are willing to make. If they still have to have it, ask them how they will make up the deficit. Sticking to your budget is all about considering the benefits and compromises in any purchasing choice and making thoughtful decisions. My final advice When I get into vacation planning mode I try to remind myself that though my time is limited, vacations are less about fitting in the most activities and more about enjoying each activity to its fullest with my family and friends. Ultimately, the more your family can participate in the hard work that goes into saving and preparing for a vacation, the more everyone will enjoy the products of their labor together.
Sarah Bohan is the Vice President Corporate Relations at MSU Federal Credit Union. MSUFCU's headquarters are at 3777 West Road East Lansing, MI 48823. Contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org or (517) 333-2208.