How to Save Money for a Vacation

Take the pain out of paying for your vacation by saving for it ahead of time. These tips from former Money magazine editor Sarah Max will save you from a post-vacation financial hangover.
By Sarah Max
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Like waking to a pounding head after a night of revelry, few things spoil the afterglow of a great vacation faster than the arrival of a whopping post-vacation credit card bill. Did we really need a room with an ocean view? Can we sell that one-of-a-kind Austrian cuckoo clock on eBay? Maybe we should have skipped Paris and visited the in-laws in Kansas instead.

Fortunately, there is a cure for the financial hangover that frequently follows a vacation, and it doesn't entail drinking pickle juice or staying in hostels. The secret is simple: Save for the trip—every last penny of it—before you pack your bags.

By doing so, you'll not only spare yourself the guilt of taking a vacation you couldn't quite afford, but you're likely to find that when all is said and done, the trip is far more gratifying. Set a goal, trim the pork from your personal spending, make saving part of your daily routine, and before you know it, you've paid for that trip to Paris. Our apologies to the in-laws.

Step One: It Starts with a Goal

The first step toward any kind of saving is to define your objective, whether it's surfing in Costa Rica this spring or driving cross-country next summer. If you're flying solo, write down your goal or talk it up to your friends. If you're married, discuss your plan with your spouse. If you have kids, get them onboard. Saving in and of itself is generally not very satisfying, says Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University. "But the moment we can put a tag, a goal, something concrete onto savings, we can visualize it, we can understand it, and therefore it becomes more rewarding."

If you already have a trip in mind, come up with a detailed budget that includes everything from airfare and accommodations to airport parking and dog-sitting. "People often overlook the cost of getting to the airport or being away from their home," says Justin Krane, a certified financial planner in Los Angeles.

Next, take that dollar estimate and divide it by the number of weeks to your departure. That's how much you should aim to save per week. Why weekly? Saving $320 a month might sound daunting. But saving $80 a week may just be a matter of brown-bagging your family's lunches or making other small adjustments to your spending.

Published: 22 Feb 2011 | Last Updated: 23 Feb 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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