Doesn't it feel wonderful to go away on a vacation and be able to leave all the cares of the world behind for a while and just focus on enjoying the moment (if you can let yourself go)? In the word of the bard William Shakespeare, it might feel like "...to sleep, perchance, to dream..." Of course, getting back to reality and coming down from that high might often be the bittersweet aftertaste, but the pleasant - maybe exhilarating - experience mostly outweighs the pain of the readjustment.
In today's world, it is more expensive than ever to go on vacation and this is made worse by all the financial commitments we have with seemingly fewer and fewer resources. But where there's a will, there's a way!
Plan. This might seem like a no-brainer, but too often, many of us decide on a vacation too late or too close to the time. Not only are fares more expensive the later you purchase, but you also miss out on possible deals you could uncover with some research and the luxury of time. Besides, once you have an idea of how much it's going to cost you, you are better able to save up for it. With the benefit of time and planning, one can conduct an objective cost-benefit analysis and decide what kind of a vacation to have. In other words, make a budget.
Review. It also helps to review your spending habits to see where your money is going. And this is useful periodically whether you're planning a vacation or not. Sometimes we realize that we spend money on things that no longer give us as much benefit as we originally thought. Some people people are horrified when they hear I don't have cable. "So what do you do for television", they ask, incredulously, as though it would be impossible to breathe without cable. I have a digital antenna, an internet-enabled TV and BluRay player with access to Netflix, Hulu, Vudu...and an HDMI cable connected to my laptop...who needs cable? It saves me almost $800 a year - almost half the cost of a ticket to Australia!
Carry Forward. Take your dinner leftovers for lunch at work the next day. It often tastes better the next day, anyway. And you know you could make that favorite sandwich of yours for a fraction of the cost you buy it at. It will also be better for your waistline as well....(I'm just saying....)
Bulk up. Sometimes, buying in larger quantities can be cheaper, so buy non-perishable and easily storable items that you use regularly like toilet paper, detergents and stuff when they are on sale. I'm not a big fan of coupons because it requires more effort than I'd like to put in and there are only coupons for the items I don't use or need. However, if that can work for you, take advantage of it.
Drink up. I love meeting up with the gang for drinks after a day at work or, at the weekend, go out for a night on the town. But even with happy hour prices, the cost adds up. Better idea: have happy hour; goof off with your friends, but do it smart: host it at home. Have them bring some drinks, or alternatively, have them contribute the equivalent of of a drink or two. You'll all get more than a couple of watered-down drinks and have a lot more fun.
Automate. For most of us, consciously moving money into a savings account is one of the things that gets put off most often and most easily. When I set a budget goal for a vacation, I set up the transfer of a fixed amount each week from my checking account into my vacation savings account so I don't have to think about it. That way, I don't have to rationalize why I need it more urgently for something else. Neither do I have the option to promise myself that I'll replace the amount at a later date. What I don't see in my checking account, I can't spend.
Earn points. These days, there are many credit cards and some debit cards that you can earn points on everyday purchases and that are redeemable for travel miles. Rack up as many reward points as you can year-round towards your vacation. Caveat: I am in no way advocating for you to go get yourself yet another credit card! If you are already shopping for one, find one that earns you meaningful points. If you already have such a card, make use of it. That's all I'm saying.
Offload. Turn your stash into cash. Look through your hoard in the garage, the basement, your closet and offload the things you have accumulated over the years that you no longer use or have never used. If you haven't used it in a couple of years, chances are you won't. Hold a yard sale and put the cash you make into your vacation fund. As UK grocery giant Tesco's philosophy goes: "Every little helps".
Focus. If you really want to go on your great, fabulous vacation, you need to tend it. Check in frequently to make sure you're on track and make adjustments if necessary. The reward will be well worth it.
Be creative. Think outside the card. I'm sure if you put yourself to it, you would be able to find a great many ways to build your great, fabulous vacation slush fund without financing it on your credit card. Remember, it's not about living a boring life, but about living a smart life to enjoy it even more.
But as I sign off here, I'm curious: If you had one wish for a totally carefree, all expenses paid vacation anywhere in world, where would you like to go? Use the comments feature right below this blog or post it on my Facebook wall.
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So have a happy vacation this year, wherever you go, whatever you do!
The Lifestyle Maven™