How to Make a Vacation Budget You Can Keep

With mask mandates and occupancy limits easing and/or lifting, millions of Americans are looking forward to a summer getaway with more excitement than usual. Entertainment venues are opening, attractions are up and running again and for some, it’s been two years since they’ve enjoyed a real summer vacation.

While it’s great to get away for some fun in the sun, it’s important to stick to a budget, even when on vacation. An over-the-top vacay you can’t really afford can mean spending months catching up on credit card payments and paying high-interest rates that may make it not worth the price. This year, attack your vacation with a financial plan that you can actually keep by following the tips outlined below.

Rethink your vacation

Everyone needs a time-out from the daily grind, but for those who are struggling just to get through the month and don’t have any money socked away for vacation, it may be a good idea to consider an alternative to a conventional getaway that can provide an escape from real life without the prohibitive price tag.

  • Take a staycation. Spruce up your spare bedroom with scented hand towels and miniature soaps and shampoos to make it look like a hotel and sleep there during your “vacation.” Spend your days trying out local attractions and/or shops you’ve never visited before. For meals, consider restaurants that are within driving distance that you’ve always wanted to try out.
  • Swap houses. If you have friends or family who reside in far-off places, ask them about switching houses for a week so you can each have an inexpensive vacation.
  • Go camping. If you already have camping gear or have a friend you can borrow it from, camping can cost next to nothing and be a fantastic way to enjoy a rejuvenating break from real life.

Create a budget

If you absolutely need to splurge on a real getaway, here’s how to create a realistic budget for your vacation.

  1. Review your savings. If you’ve been steadily saving up for this vacation, you’ll know how much you have to spend. If you haven’t saved up for this purpose, consider taking out an unsecured loan through your credit union and/or saving up until your vacation by trimming your discretionary spending.
  2. Prioritize what’s important to you. Before you begin assigning dollar amounts to every vacation category, identify what’s most important to you while on vacation. Would you rather pay more for an exotic location or splurge on fine dining at a vacation destination closer to home? List your vacation priorities in order of most to least important for reference.
  3. Assign dollar amounts to big-ticket items. First, you’ll want to choose a destination. You can look for inexpensive locations or a rental through Airbnb or HomeAway, or throw a ton of money at vacationing at your dream destination, depending on your personal preference. As part of this step, you’ll also set aside money for transportation to your destination, as well as accommodations.
  4. Divide and conquer. You should now have your remaining budget, along with a list of the remaining vacation priorities you haven’t yet covered. Simply assign a realistic dollar amount to your remaining categories. Be sure to include food, tickets to entertainment venues and attractions, gifts and souvenirs, transportation needs, and any costs you may need to cover on the homefront while you’re gone, such as home- or pet-setting. Factor in some “miscellaneous” money as well for unplanned expenses.

Stick to your budget while on vacation

Now comes the hard part: sticking to your budget while on vacation. Fortunately, with careful planning and willpower, this is not as difficult as it sounds. Here are some tips:

First, consider using cash only while on vacation. You’ll be forced to stick to your budget with no way to overspend. If you’re anxious about traveling with limited funds, you can keep a card at the back of your wallet, but be sure to keep it strictly for emergencies. Also, make sure you have a plan to keep your cash secure at all times since cash is not recoverable if lost or stolen.

Next, make reservations for whatever you can while you’re still at home. Think hotel, car rental, entertainment venues, and more. This way, you’ll leave fewer spending choices to make when you’re actually on vacation.

Finally, keep a copy of your vacation budget handy for easy reference throughout your vacation. Pull out your budget for review whenever you come up against a spending challenge.

Planning and sticking to a vacation budget will help make your time away so much more enjoyable. Instead of stressing over paying back sky-high credit card bills when all the fun is over, you can rest easy, knowing you’re covered and that you’re spending within a budget.

This summer, enjoy the getaway of a lifetime, but don’t let your budget go on vacation.