Eleven months of the year, you're pretty good about sticking to your budget and managing your credit. But for a lot of people, that caution goes out the window when summer vacation rolls around. They plan a great getaway, but don't stop and figure out how much it's going to cost overall. Many use credit cards to finance the trip, but don't have the cash to pay off those bills the next month.
If you follow these tips, though, you can enjoy your vacation and stay within your budget.
Know before you go
Look at your family budget and find out how much you can afford to spend on your vacation. Then make a detailed vacation budget that includes transportation costs (airfare, train tickets, gas, car rental), lodging, food, entertainment (amusement park and museum tickets, bike rentals, movies, beach gear, ski lift tickets), and souvenirs. If the cost of the trip is too high, you can revisit some of your choices and lower your costs, going for fewer days or driving instead of flying, for example.
Start putting away money now
Divide your vacation budget by the number of months until your trip and have that amount of money automatically deducted from each paycheck and deposited into a separate savings account set up for your vacation. If you get a work bonus or tax refund and don't need it to pay down debt or pay bills, put that money into your vacation savings too. When your vacation bills come in, you'll have the cash to pay them easily available.
Hunt for great deals to cut your costs
Pre-vacation research can really pay off. Check hotel, airline, car rental, and entertainment websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds for special deals and coupons. Also look at travel sites like Travelocity, Priceline, Kayak, Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, and AAA for deals. Renting a condo or house rather than a hotel room can also lower your costs and give you the option to spend less on eating out. All-inclusive vacations and cruises may be another way to control what you spend.
Find creative ways to have fun for fewer dollars
Lower food costs by staying in hotels with free breakfasts and packing picnic lunches. Use credit card points to pay for plane tickets or hotel rooms. Consider vacationing with family or friends and splitting the cost of a rental house. Find out if your credit card, bank, or credit union offers discount tickets for attractions like theme parks, museums, and zoos. Camping can also be a great budget-friendly alternative.
If you can't afford a vacation this year, plan a "staycation"
If your budget is too tight this year for a vacation away from home, you can still relax and have fun at home. Visit nearby state parks. Take the kids on fun, free factory tours. Invite neighbors for a potluck barbecue. And start saving for a trip next summer.
With a little planning, you can avoid the post-vacation stress of big credit card bills, which could help that relaxed vacation feeling last a little longer.