9 Ways to Save for the Vacation You Deserve
Your dream trip shouldn’t always be a fantasy. Here's how to grow your travel fund and turn your bucket-list adventure into a reality down the road.
You've got a big trip on your bucket list (perhaps it's even one that's been postponed from 2020). It could be trekking with the gorillas in Rwanda, cruising around the Caribbean for a couple of weeks, chasing the northern lights in Iceland, or eating piles of pasta in Italy. You know you'll make it happen… someday.
Here's the thing, though: Your far-flung fantasies will stay the stuff of daydreams until you decide to turn them into reality. You already have the destination picked out—now you just need to figure out a way to pay for it. Keep reading for some savvy ways to save up for the vacation you deserve, so you're ready to go as soon as it's safe to travel again.
Set a Realistic Goal
What you aim to save should be attainable, based on your income and expenses. After all, if you're diligently stashing away some money every month, but feel like you’re hardly making a dent in your savings goal, you're more likely to give up saving all together.
“So many times, people will design their vacation and then attach dollars to it," says Jesse Mecham, founder of You Need a Budget. "But it’s better to come up with a reasonable number first, then whittle away at it when you start planning the trip. The reality is that we have only so much money.”
Once you have your goal set, divide the total by how many months you have to save until your trip, then add a separate line item to your budget for that amount.
Pay Yourself First
Once the bills start rolling in, it can be tough to find any money left over to put toward your vacation fund at the end of the month. Keep the money out of reach by setting up automatic transfers to your savings account every time you get paid.
“It’s also a good idea to open a specific account just for your vacation fund,” said Gaby Dunn, author of Bad With Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together. She added that separating the money from your general savings makes it less likely you’ll dip into it for another expense.
Pay attention to where you’re putting your money, as well. Savings account interest rates are pretty low right now, but still slightly better in online banks than brick and mortar banks. Sign up for an account with the highest interest rate possible—that's essentially free money you can use for, say, a fancy dinner in Paris.
Save From Your Smartphone
A number of apps can turn a smartphone into your best friend when it comes to saving for something big. “I use a savings app called Digit, which takes a small amount out of your account every day and puts it into a savings accounts for specific goals,” says Dunn. “It texts you every morning letting you know how close you are to your goal, and honestly, I completely forget about the money until I need to use it.”
A number of other apps also offer really clever ways to save without thinking about it. Acorns and Qapital, for example, can both round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and put the difference into a savings account. It’s small, but it adds up throughout the year.
Pick Up the Tab at Dinner
Nothing ruins a great dinner with friends quite like trying to split the check on a slew of credit cards. Offering to put the total on your card not only makes for a more seamless dining experience—it can also help you fund your vacation.
“If you have a rewards credit card that gives you a bonus at restaurants, volunteer to pick up the tab and get the points,” says personal finance expert Nicole Lapin, author of Rich Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Getting Your Financial Life Together—Finally “Then, have your friends pay you back instantly with a payment app.”
Resist Impulse Buys
Everyone’s guilty of stealing a few minutes out of the work day to scope out an awesome sale at their favorite online store. You don’t plan to actually buy that handbag, but now you’re seeing ads for it everywhere—and it’s getting impossible to resist such a great deal.
“Go to your browser and clear your cookies so you’re no longer tempted to make that impulse buy,” said Lapin. “That way, you end the trail for retailers and avoid indulging when you don’t want to.”
When you successfully resist an impulse purchase, reward yourself by putting a portion of what you would have spent into your travel fund. Think of it like a little bonus to make your trip that much more amazing.
Ask for Discounts
When’s the last time you asked for a discount on your cell phone bill or car insurance rates? If it’s been a few years, it’s time to give those companies a call.
“If you tell them you’re thinking of switching, they’ll almost always give you a better rate,” says Mecham. “This method works about every six months.”
Be kind, but firm when bargaining with the customer service representatives. And don’t be afraid to call back another day if you’re not happy with the current offer. Spending 20 minutes on the phone could help you come up with another $20 per month to toss into your travel fund.
Master Meal Planning
There are times we eat out to enjoy a chef-prepared meal and the company of friends. Then, there are all those other times we grab takeout after a long day at the office, a snack on the way to the gym, or that daily morning coffee. Mindless spending makes it so much harder to save up for the things you really want (like that escape to Hawaii in the dead of winter!).
“Anyone I’ve talked to who has saved up a lot of money or paid off a lot of debt has cut back on eating out,” says Mecham. “Learning how to meal plan as been the overarching approach that has worked.”
It might take a little while to break the habit of eating out all the time, but getting organized in the kitchen and planning what you’ll eat throughout the week can save you big bucks in the long run. And just think of all the once-in-a-lifetime meals you can eventually savor on your getaway.
Plan a Housing Swap
Hotel stays are often the most expensive part of taking a vacation. Rather than shelling out big bucks for a room while your home sits empty, consider arranging a housing swap that will help you save on travel costs.
“I have friends and employees who’ve done it, and it’s been a positive experience," says Mecham. "It just takes some dedication to make sure you’re finding the right people to swap with.”
Sites like Home Exchange and HomeLink can help you find a home to borrow on your trip. You could also take things a step further by renting out your apartment or house on Airbnb (and use that extra cash for your travel expenses). Just make sure you’re following the terms of your lease and local laws.
Put Your Skills to Use
There are only so many cuts you can make to your expenses. At some point, you need to focus on boosting your income if you’re trying to grow your travel fund. Enter the side hustle.
“If there’s something you’re really good at in your day job, try moonlighting it for clients during nights and weekends,” says Mecham.
The gig economy has made it easier than ever to earn some extra cash in your spare time. You could open up a store on Etsy, drive for Uber or Lyft, walk dogs with Rover, or take care of chores for your neighbors on TaskRabbit.
“Don’t set lofty goals, just start small and try to make a couple hundred dollars a month at first,” says Mecham.
And while it might feel like a drag taking on extra work, devoting your earnings exclusively to your travel fund will help you hit your goal fast—and give you the money you need to take a trip you’ll never forget.
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