Vacations are supposed to be a time to leave your worries behind — including, presumably, your worries about debt. But that isn’t always the case.
According to a recently published survey by the financial planning website LearnVest.com, 74 percent of Americans have gone into debt to pay for a vacation. In addition, it takes Americans six months, on average, to financially recover from one. Those numbers aren’t good for anyone’s long-term financial interests, but there are ways to make things better.
First and foremost: Make your anticipated vacation spending part of your overall budget. In other words, plan your spending first and then go on vacation with that money later. You can do that by looking at your past vacation spending, setting a cost that's based in part on that information, and then dividing that number by 12 to turn it into a figure you can place on a monthly budget. Then, start saving.
“Budgets don’t have to be synonymous with deprivation and should be about making room for your long-term financial goals, while also allowing you to enjoy what you earn,” LearnVest CEO Alexa von Tobel said.
Here are some other tips you can use to stay out of vacation debt:
- Quit spending money by "saving money." Those sudden airfare sales may be great, but they often come with a short-term purchase window that leaves you without the time needed to save for a vacation. As a result, that "bargain" airfare might cost hundreds, if not thousands, in unbudgeted expenses for an unplanned vacation.
- You can save money during vacation, too. You may have budgeted for that trip to an expensive destination, but did you budget the money you’ll spend after you get there? If you plan carefully (eating fewer meals in restaurants, taking fewer or less expensive excursions, etc.), you can save significant money.
- Take a staycation to guarantee your next vacation. Successfully saving for a vacation takes most people many months, even years. Ending the vacation debt cycle and saving for the next vacation may be too much for your budget, but taking a staycation (one spent at home or nearby) can break this behavior and give you the chance to dump your debt.
These steps also can help you finance your biggest vacation of all: your retirement. The LearnVest survey found that saving for a vacation is a top financial priority of almost one-third of all Americans, but saving for retirement was a top priority of only 7 percent of the population.
"I see the breakdown as a financial need versus a financial want," LearnVest financial planner Matt Shapiro said in an article on the company's website. "You need to save for retirement, you need to pay off student loans, you need to pay your rent — but going on vacation is definitely not a need."