6 Tips to Avoid Overspending on Your Summer Vacation
Reginald A.T. Armstrong • Financial Wellness
Summer vacation is a time for unplugging, relaxing, and having fun in the sun. It’s a long-established tradition where memories are made, families grow closer, and the world grows a little bit smaller as everyone packs up their suitcases to head to the lake, beach, or some exotic destination. Whether sticking to the old familiar places or checking new stops off your bucket list, good times are sure to be on the agenda. But if there’s ever an occasion in which budgets are likely to go out the window, it’s while on vacation.
You work hard for your money, so you and your family deserve to splurge sometimes. However, if you want to avoid frivoling away your long-term security and losing track of your financial goals, it’s important to remember not to spend recklessly. You can set a spending limit for your summer vacation and still have a fun-filled, unforgettable time. Here’s how:
1. Set a Budget
The budget you set is up to you. While there are no hard and fast rules for vacation budgeting, you’ll want to take the big picture into account. How much can you afford to spend without dipping into savings or going into debt? Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses or get suckered into tagging along with friends who can comfortably spend amounts that will cause you to break the bank.
When setting a budget, the most important step you can take is to get a clear picture of precisely what all of your expenses may be. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking a low-key vacation will cost less than it does. Go into it with eyes wide open, researching actual projected costs for airfares or gas and mileage, lodging, food, local transport, activities fees, souvenir shopping, childcare, entertainment, and more. It will all add up—likely to more than you expect, so be sure to do the math in advance and pad the budget for unexpected expenses.
2. Plan Early and Save
Spur-of-the-moment travel typically isn’t the most economical choice, especially when traveling with a family or larger party for summer vacation.
Early planning may allow you to take advantage of lower-priced bookings, choose from the best available vacation rentals (e.g., convenient to the action, saving on local transport), and scope out deals, packages, and special rates. Last-minute sales can indeed work out in your favor sometimes, but when you leave it up to chance, you are taking a risk that doesn’t always pay off and may limit your options.
When you plan early, you can set specific goals and save up in advance. Ideally, you should be paying cash for your summer vacations, not racking up credit card debt. This might mean skipping a year, opting for staycations or shorter trips, and planning for more extravagant holidays down the line. Setting aside $170 per month or $5.50 per day, for example, will cover an approximately $2,000 trip.
3. Limit Your Spending
Even with a budget in mind, it can be far too easy to get off track while on vacation. An extra excursion here, a few souvenirs there, and suddenly you’ve blown way past your estimates.
One helpful trick is to set spending limits per day, per person, or per line item. For example, each kid may have a souvenir budget or you may set a budget for park entry fees or show tickets. Some people find it helpful to set a daily spending budget—give or take—allowing carry over from day to day. If you’ve found this challenging in the past, you may even consider putting daily cash in envelopes or using prepaid debit cards.
5. B.Y.O.B. (and Food)
Food and alcohol can be some of the biggest expenses on vacation, and the most challenging to keep under control. A few extra appetizers, desserts, and drinks at a casual restaurant can skyrocket your spending faster than you realize. While you may want to enjoy some of the local food, wine, and cocktails, especially in locales famous for fare you can’t get anywhere else, you can save big by limiting meals in restaurants.
Bring at least some of your own booze and eats or stop at a local grocery store to stock up on staples and goodies. Even if you don’t have a kitchen in your hotel room, you can save a considerable amount by substituting a few meals out with sandwiches, snacks, prepared salads, convenience foods, and drinks.
6. Swipe Wisely
If you tend to be responsible with credit card spending and disciplined enough to pay off your balance every month, using a travel card throughout the year to earn points means you can use the rewards to cover hotel rooms, airline upgrades, or other expenses. Using a travel credit card during your trip may allow you to score even more rewards and enjoy additional perks, such as free travel insurance or rental car discounts.
But if you tend to overspend when you use credit cards, exercise caution. Bring the card with you to use for rental cars and hotel check-in, but check your spending at the end of each day or better yet, use your debit card for everything else.
Bonus Tip: Splurge!
It’s okay to splurge on vacation—within reason. Remember, you work to live, not live to work! If you are someone who craves luxury, identify one lavish indulgence that you consider worth it—one meal out at a five-star restaurant, upgraded airline tickets, or a spa treatment, for example. If you are someone who wants to create magic for your kids, treat them to one extra special activity during your time away. Everyone values different things, and there’s nothing wrong with choosing something to splurge on.
The better you plan, the more comfortable you will feel splurging. Rather than getting caught up in the moment by tourist trap extravagances that you’ll regret later, it’s usually best to make rational choices in advance.
Limited spending doesn’t mean limited fun
Vacations are about making memories, enjoying life, and rewarding hard work. Limiting your spending doesn't mean having to limit your fun or the experiences you have. Budgeting can enhance your vacation because it forces you to plan, set goals, and be intentional about what you get out of your time away.
Moreover, when you know you can stick to a reasonable budget for your summer vacation, you can feel confident about establishing vacation traditions and perhaps even vacationing more often without infringing on your long-term financial goals.