This winter has been especially cold, with several cities seeing the coldest temperatures in nearly two decades. Most of us would love to leave the cold weather behind and plan a vacation to a warmer climate. In fact, it’s tempting to throw all caution to the wind — simply quit your job and move to the Caribbean. You could probably leave tomorrow if you wanted, but since that isn’t practical, and planning a vacation in advance is, let’s start there.
Most of us need to take time off from work in advance, and also save money for a while before we head off. Conveniently, tax returns are on their way to many of us. However, just in case your tax return is already going elsewhere — or you need more than you are going to get back — here are some smart ways to start your savings now.
1. Open a Savings Account Solely for Your Vacation
This is easy, often free, and probably the most important thing you can do in order to start saving for your vacation. It is so easy to say we want to save, but when all of our money is in one account, it seems to disappear more quickly (and often without us remembering where it went.) If you open a savings account and dedicate it to just your vacation, you will easily be able to keep track of how much you save without accidentally using the money for something else. If you want to make your savings account especially efficient, sign up for automatic deductions as well. This, too, will help you stay on track with your savings.
How much you need to put in each pay period will depend on where you want to go and how many people will accompany you. According to Financial Wisdom, you will need to save $205 per month for twelve months in order to have $2,500 for your vacation; $411 per month to have $5,000; and $822 per month for $10,000. If you don’t know how much you will need for your vacation, consider checking out the Estimated Vacation Cost Worksheet.
2. Brew Your Coffee From Home and Make your Own Sandwich
This one probably seems obvious, but many of us don’t realize how much our regular extras cost unless we see hard numbers. For example, the average American spends over $20 per week on coffee, or $1,092 per year. Even if you were able to cut this figure by half, you would probably save $500 or more per year if you regularly purchase coffee out. One easy fix? Make it yourself at home.
In addition, with 66 percent of workers purchasing lunch rather than bringing their own, Americans are spending close to $2,000 per year on lunches. Yes, many meetings happen over coffee or lunch, but these meetings certainly don’t represent all the money Americans spend on these two non-essentials. If you really must have your coffee and your lunches out, try to cut back for a while, or at least until you get your vacation in.
3. Sell Your Junk
Yes, there are other people who might have use for all the random things you never use that are taking up space in your house. Every week in the U.S., there are an average of 165,000 garage sales, with an average of 690,000 people purchasing items, and over $4 million in total revenue per week. That is a lot of money made on things that people don’t need anymore. It does take time to sort everything, price it, and arrange it in your driveway, but it’s a win-win situation: when you’re finished, you’ll be a little bit richer, and your house will be a little bit neater too.
If for some reason you have an aversion to interacting with people you don’t know, or to garage sales in general, you can also try eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY). If you choose eBay, you may have to take the time to package and ship the items you sell, though. Craigslist is another option if you have leftover items from your garage sale, or you just don’t have time to put together one big sale in your driveway.
4. Travel Off-Season
We’ve all heard that you can save money by traveling off-season. Not everyone is willing to do this, but if you are, you will save money. You also might enjoy the fact that your resort or cruise will be less busy than it normally is during popular travel times. When traveling to a destination with high crowds, such as Disney World, your trip will be a lot more fun and less stressful with less people to contend with. If you are willing to go during the ‘shoulder season’ between peek and off-peak seasons — often spring or fall, but it depends on your destination — you can also save money.
By booking a vacation over a period when not as many people are traveling, you will probably be able to afford a higher-quality vacation for less, and this includes your accommodations as well. If you can stay in a five-star hotel for a three-star hotel price during the shoulder season, you should do it. The shoulder season will change depending on where you want to go, so be sure to do your research.
5. Last-Minute Deals
For various reasons, including family, work schedules, and just life in general, many of us have to plan our vacations in advance. There can be big savings for those of us who can afford to be whimsical, though; several train tickets, airline tickets, cruises, and vacation packages can be purchased at seriously discounted prices if you are able to purchase them last minute. One way around a set schedule (think: your boss will only let you have one specific week off at the end of March) is to take the week off in advance, and then check travel sites as you get closer. This is risky because you may not get your ideal vacation, and some vacation packages are only available over specific days (for example, Monday – Friday night).
Still, if you are open to multiple different locations, and if you are comfortable not planning everything ahead of time, then you should consider trying to score a last-minute deal. Several websites offer these deals, including the majority of the major search engines for plane tickets or hotels. You can also check out FunJet Vacations and Apple Vacations.
There are several other ways to save money on a vacation. Consider opening a credit card that saves you money on travel. Try to get your spouse, kids, or anyone else that is traveling with you to save with you. Tell your kids that they have to save their own spending money, or encourage your spouse to put their expensive salon treatments on hold for a year. If you do have kids, look for hotels that offer kids-eat-free deals or affordable daycare (some resorts actually include this as part of your package.) Many vacation spots are family-friendly and offer activities that kids can participate in with or without their parents. Also, if you aren’t set on an all-inclusive deal, consider requesting a room with a fridge. One of the most expensive aspects of traveling can be the food, and you will save a considerable amount if you mostly eat in.
Lastly, don’t automatically assume a travel agent will save you money. Yes, they will save you time, but be sure to double check whatever they tell you, as you may be able to save more money by booking your vacation yourself. In the end, the fact is that if you truly want to save big on your vacation, it will take some real work. But it will all be worth it when you’re lying on a sandy beach somewhere reaping the benefits of all your smart thinking and preparation.