A 2016 study from the U.S. Travel Association showed that more than half (55%) of Americans didn’t take all their paid vacation days in 2016. While Americans took an average of 16.2 days of vacation last year, they left a cumulative 658 million unused vacation days on the table in the process.
According to the study, which polled 5,641 Americans who work at least 35 hours per week, plenty of workplace barriers have made taking vacation harder. For example, 37% of workers feared returning to a mountain of work, while 30% of respondents said no one else could do their job in their absence.
Worse, 30% of respondents said they don’t all of their take paid vacation days because they can’t afford to go anywhere.
While we can’t solve workplace problems that keep people from using their earned benefits, maybe we can help with the last one. Studies have shown that vacations are particularly good for the mind, and may help you relax and even become more creative. Psychology Today even states that “vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle” caused by work – and that “we emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again” and with a new perspective on our problems.
It would be a shame to miss out on those benefits based solely on lack of finances – let alone the fact you’re leaving earned benefits completely untouched. If you’re working full-time, you truly deserve a vacation – even if you need to game your finances a bit to afford it.
Start saving for your summer vacation right now
If you’re ready to get away this summer but don’t quite have the funds, it’s smart to start coming up with a realistic savings strategy now. And remember, your vacation doesn’t have to be anything fancy – even a relaxing camping trip or a trip to visit friends could provide the type of break you need to feel your best.
Regardless of the type of trip you hope to afford, the best thing you can do for a potential summer trip is start figuring out the financial side of the equation today. Here are some steps that can help you start saving right away:
Step up weekly bank transfers
With only a few months until summer break, monthly deposits into a savings account may not cut it. If you want to afford the summer trip of your dreams, it might help to figure out how much you can save each week and make weekly deposits instead.
If you hope to have $1,000 set aside for a trip in July, for example, you’ll need to save around $56 every week from the beginning of March through the end of June.
One of the best – and easiest – ways to make this strategy work is to open a targeted savings account and set up a direct deposit or automatic transfer. With a separate savings account, you may not be as tempted to spend your vacation fund on regular bills. Meanwhile, setting up direct deposit or automatic transfer will make sure your savings account is funded whether you remember or not. The main thing you’ll need to remember is to deduct the amount from your checking account each month so you don’t overspend.
Start a change jar
If you use cash at all, starting a change jar might be more profitable than you think. By adding your spare change – and extra bills – to a change jar each time you enter the house, you could pad your vacation fund with an extra $5, $10, $20 or more each week.
Trent wrote about his experience using a change jar several years ago. Based on his spending habits, he said he saved around $0.75 in change on an average day. During a regular month, that adds up to $22.50. While that’s not a lot of cash on its own, a change jar could be a great boost to your other savings efforts.
Make a few temporary lifestyle changes
If you want to afford a summer trip this year, cutting back on splurges for a few months can help. This could mean cutting out your daily stops at a local coffee shop, cooking at home an extra few times a month, or not drinking alcohol quite as much. It’s up to you to decide what splurges are worth cutting back on in exchange for a vacation.
Since dining out and entertainment are luxuries that are fairly easy to spot and cut, start there. Still, the key to making this work is actually putting that money aside. Whether you cut out dining, going out to the movies, playing golf, or another hobby, you need to put the money you save into a savings account for it to help.
Transferring money to your vacation account online is one of the easiest ways to “bank” your savings right away. Let’s say you normally dine out three times per week, spending around $30 for dinner each night. To build your vacation fund, you could cut down to once a week, then pocket the $60 you would have spent. To make this work, transfer the $60 to your vacation savings account at the end of each successful week.
Start earning cash on the side
If your current income leaves you struggling to save each month, earning a bit of extra money might be your best bet. And if you don’t want to get a traditional part-time job, don’t despair. There are plenty of ways to earn money on the side without picking up retail or restaurant work.
The opportunities to earn more money are endless, but don’t forget to think outside of the box. If you have a clean car and driving record, you could consider driving part-time (and on your own schedule) for Uber, for example. If you love animals, you could set up a profile on Rover.com and watch dogs in your spare time.
Certain websites will even pay you to take surveys, surf the internet, and watch videos online. Websites like Inbox Dollars, Swagbucks, and User Testing make it possible to earn an extra $10 to $40 per week just by performing basic tasks online.
If you’re short on time, you can use these websites to earn extra money while you watch TV at night – or in place of the time you normally surf the web.
Spring clean your home and sell your stuff
When you’re short on vacation cash, a yard sale can help. The good news for you is that it’s almost spring cleaning season as well. As warm weather approaches, it’s an ideal time to clean out your closets, spare rooms, and garage. As you clean each room or area, look for stuff you no longer use that you could sell.
Gather all your unwanted clothing, tools, supplies, housewares and exercise equipment, then find the best way to get top dollar. Depending on where you live, this could mean having a traditional yard sale or selling your items online. Either way works fine as long as you’re getting cash for stuff you no longer want or use.
The key here (as always) is making sure those profits go directly into your vacation fund – not toward more stuff that’ll just end up in the same junk pile two years down the road.
Start saving now for the vacation you deserve
If you’re ready to relax this summer, the best thing you can do is start taking actionable steps now. By saving weekly sums of cash or earning a little more in the short term, you could have a burgeoning vacation fund by the time spring is in full swing.
While the right strategy for you will depend on your lifestyle, it’s worth giving each one a try. Over time, you might even build habits that improve your finances for the long run – and well past your summer travels.
Either way, like it or not, summer will be here before you know it. If your idea of summer includes a getaway with your family, you need to start saving now.
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