According to a recent blog by the Wall Street Journal, Americans leave $52.4 billion on the table each year in unused paid time off (not including sick or personal leave). This lowers employee productivity and can lead to burnout and retention issues. It is also quite expensive for companies themselves, since the time and money associated with PTO are liabilities on their balance sheets.
Sometimes, though, it is just not feasible to get away, even if you follow these tips to save money on a family vacation. However, even if you're not able to get away to an exotic (to you) locale, that doesn't mean you should let your vacation days go to waste. Here are some ideas for a fun and productive staycation.
1. Complete a home-based project you've been putting off
Is there a project you've been hoping to complete that's too big to accomplish in a weekend? It may just be the perfect candidate for a staycation! Ideally, you want to take enough time off to finish what you have in mind — with a day or two left to relax and admire your creation, whatever it is.
Just be sure that your plan isn't too ambitious to accomplish in the time allotted, and that you have accounted for any other external factors. No one wants to start a project only to have to head back to work with it half completed.
And depending on what you're trying to do, the time of year can be a factor. For example, with highs above 110 degrees where I live, summer is probably the wrong time to be working outside. Plus, if I planted a garden now, everything would burn and die anyway. So the best staycation project for my locale would be something that is done inside. Yours might be different.
2. Play tourist in your own town
No matter where you live, it's likely that people from elsewhere come to your region or town on purpose! It's called tourism. So why should you fly or drive long distances when there is plenty to do right nearby? Here's a list of things that you can probably find where you live:
- Museums (historical, art, natural history)
- National, state, or local parks
- Botanical gardens and zoos
- Sporting events
- Theater, ballet, symphony
- Outdoor activities (hiking, swimming, skiing)
Admittedly, these options are not necessarily frugal. But being a tourist in your hometown has its advantages. The two main reasons that traveling is so expensive are:
- The travel itself, and
- Dining out, since you don't have access to your kitchen
Since by definition you already live in your state or town, you won't incur those expenses on your staycation. So you can be slightly splurge-y with the other stuff! Plus, lots of places offer discounts to locals, particularly during the off season.
Okay, volunteering can actually be hard work instead of relaxation. However, there's a lot of satisfaction to be had in taking your paid time off to pay it forward.
If you're like me, once your full-time job and other obligations are taken care of, there's not as much time as you'd like to volunteer in addition. This is especially the case if your chosen cause operates out of a location across town.
But if you are on a staycation, you can spend two or three entire days giving back to your community and still have plenty of time for some R&R. If this sounds appealing to you, consider giving your charity of choice a heads-up so they can maximize your presence.
Additionally, lots of charities hold events throughout the year, like a week-long adopt-a-thon at an animal shelter. When you're planning your time off, ask whether there's a labor-intensive event coming up where they could use some extra hands. That way you can plan your time off around it.
4. Purge and thrift
The Goodwill in my city most likely to carry designer clothing is 40 minutes from my house. The best used bookstore is 30 minutes from my house … in the opposite direction. During the course of my regular life, it can be tough to squeeze in a visit to either of those places, let alone both of them. And in the meantime, my bookshelves are filled with books I've already read and my closet is stuffed with clothes that no longer fit or that I'm sick of wearing.
The solution here is a purge-and-thrift staycation. The bonus is that you can start a donation pile in your spare time so it's ready to go when you are! Then all you need to do is load up the car and drop off your donations before spending as much time as you want putting your thrift-store ethic to work combing the shelves for good deals.
And if you've got some items to donate that exceed your car's capacity, then you can schedule a home pick-up. Lots of thrift stores managed by charities will come to your house, load up whatever you've got, and be on their merry way without you ever having to lift a finger. Lots of times it's easier for them to schedule pick-ups during the week, which gives you the opportunity to get a tax write-off, help others, and catch up on trashy reality TV simultaneously.
5. Learn a new skill
Finally, vacationing in your home is the perfect way to pick up a new skill, particularly one that you hope to incorporate into your everyday life. Whether you're interested in something like learning how to cook, playing a musical instrument, or sewing your own clothes, a week is long enough to pick up the basics and gain some confidence.
Once you've got a foundation in place to draw on, practicing or taking on smaller projects on nights and weekends becomes something to look forward to rather than something to feel intimidated about. Just be careful you don't buy a bunch of expensive equipment for a hobby that you're not sure you're going to enjoy. Use what you have, or pick your hobbies strategically and save!
There's time to invest in specialized tools once you're more experienced. At that point you'll have the added advantages of knowing exactly what you want and being able to save up for those things over time. And if you're already an expert, maybe the new skill you learn could be launching a side gig based on your know-how!
Do you enjoy a good staycation? What do you do when you've got time off but not the money or urge to travel? Share your experiences or ideas in the comments below!
Honey Smith has been reading GRS since at least 2008, right when she got her first â€œrealâ€ job and started getting serious about finances. She and her husband Jake are in their mid-30s and recently bought a home together. Currently, she manages graduate programs at a large state institution, and he is an attorney at a mid-sized firm.
Between them, they have paid off approximately $30,000 in consumer debt since she started writing for GRS in 2012. However, they still have nearly $200,000 of student loan debt, so she will continue to chronicle their debt-paydown journey. In addition to personal finance, Honey is interested in vegetarianism and cooking, gardening (despite living in the desert and having a black thumb), issues in higher education (including the student loan bubble and the slow death of tenure), and animal rights; however, her heart lies with fantasy novels, trashy TV and Skyrim.