The cure for vacation deprivation: A vacation budget

After a long and brutal winter in parts of the U.S., warmer temperatures and sunshine are finally heading our way. And, although it doesn't seem possible, an entire quarter of this year is behind us already. In most places, schools are out of session — at least for a few weeks — which means that families are taking their first major hiatus of the year. And everyone seems to be on Spring Break … except for you.

If you spend any time on social media, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Your Facebook and Twitter feeds are likely exploding with vacation updates ad nauseam. Sun-bathed selfies have become the norm, along with all those people “checking in” at their favorite resort or restaurant. And I totally get it. Vacation is fun, and people want to share their experience with family members, friends, co-workers, and random acquaintances. But sometimes they take it too far, and those hourly updates can become downright annoying in a hurry, especially if you aren't in a position to take a vacation yourself.

Vacation Deprivation Syndrome: A widespread epidemic

If you're feeling vacation-deprived, you're not alone. A 2013 study by travel giant Expedia concluded that 59 percent of Americans and 62 percent of workers worldwide feel deprived of time off. And, it isn't just due to lack of opportunity. According to the study, Americans only used ten out of every 14 vacation days they were awarded in 2013, leaving many as 577,212,000 unused.

But why?

The Expedia study highlights a few of the most popular reasons Americans often choose to forgo their precious paid time off. For starters, 27 percent of survey participants stockpile their vacation days for future use, perhaps for extended travel or maybe “just in case.” Another 24 percent have trouble coordinating vacation days with others, a problem I suspect is widespread among families with two working parents. A whopping 35 percent of Americans surveyed had to postpone or cancel vacation due to work obligations or deadlines, and another 17 percent chose to cash in their PTO and take the money in lieu of their earned days off.

Breaking the cycle

Even if you have vacation days and plan to use them, plenty of issues can force you to stay home. You know how it goes. You save up for a trip but spend the money fixing your leaky roof instead. Or, you find out your child needs braces and, as always, decide to put their needs ahead of your own. Life has a way of creating roadblocks when we least expect them, and we often end up sacrificing leisure activities in order to do the responsible thing.

Adulthood can feel rather unrewarding at times, but it doesn't have to be that way. Fortunately, there is one way to ensure that your vacation plans take a higher priority than they have in past years, and that the funds are there when you need them. The solution: A vacation budget.

How to grow your own vacation fund

Creating a vacation budget is just like raising funds for anything else. You simply have to make it a priority and then take actionable steps to get there. Whether you can save a lot or a little, the first step is to get started right away. Want a vacation budget of your own? Here's how:

  • Decide how much you can save — Whether you're using a zero-sum budget or tracking your monthly expenses in some other way, you need to decide how much you can allocate to your vacation budget on a weekly or monthly basis. Once you figure out how much you can save, make sure to add the amount as a line item on your budget so that you don't forget. Another way to ensure that your newly-created budget gets funded is to set up an automatic bank transfer once a month or on each payday.
  • Consider a targeted savings account — If you're afraid of temptation, it might even be helpful to send the funds to an entirely new account. J.D. has written about the joys of targeted savings accounts before, and says the strategy allowed him to buy a new car, purchase new furniture, and finance a few trips of his own.
  • Find ways to cut back — Want to save even more? Most people can come up with at least a few ways to increase their savings, just by cutting back somewhere else. For example, you could probably stand to scale back your entertainment budget for a while, right? Or perhaps you would rather let your grocery budget take the hit. It's totally up to you.
  • Add to the pot — Still not satisfied? If you want to grow your vacation budget in a hurry, you can always try to find ways to raise additional funds. Since it's finally spring, now is the perfect time to start planning a garage sale. If a yard sale isn't your thing, consider selling unwanted items on eBay or Craigslist, or finding ways to earn extra money on the side.
  • Leave it alone –– Once you begin making regular contributions to any targeted savings account, it can really add up quick. This is especially true if you've cut down your expenses to save more, or are finding ways to raise some extra cash. Regardless, the best way to let your fund reach its potential is to leave it alone. Seeing your vacation fund as an extension of your budget only increases the likelihood that it be spent elsewhere.
  • Make it stretch — Once your vacation budget is where it needs to be, start looking for ways to stretch it as far as it can go. For example, consider vacationing during the off-peak season when prices are cheaper. Consider traveling with family members and friends in order to spread the costs around. Keep your eye out for deals and be ready to book once the price is right.

Do you have a separate budget for trips? If so, how much do you budget each year?

Source: http://viewfinder.expedia.com/features/2013-vacation-deprivation-study

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Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
6 years ago

A lot of family vacations when I was a kid were to go visit the grandparents (same coast, different state) or camping in the motorhome. With 3 cats and a dog, that was the easiest and most economical way to do it. We saw a lot of the country, too.vacation doesn’t have to mean flying or cruising, although my kids might want it to. There’s a lot to see a couple hours from home, wherever home may be.

Money Saving
Money Saving
6 years ago
Reply to  Tina in NJ

I agree with you 100% Tina. Vacations don’t have to be elaborate and expensive to do the job. As long as they are relaxing and allow you to rejuvenate, they’ve done the proper job.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

I think this post has some great tips, but the angle had me scratching my head. Maybe it’s because we were discussing “keeping up with the Joneses” earlier in the week but going on vacation because you’re envious of other people’s vacations? Really? If this article was “all your friends have the latest smart phone, here’s how you can budget for one too” the PF community would be crying foul. If people want to take a vacation and they can afford it, go for it. Travel can be a rewarding experience. IMHO, people should do things because it makes sense… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Who said you need to go on vacation to keep up with the Joneses? I was just pointing out that other people’s vacations can be very in-your-face this time of year because of social media. I personally go on vacation because it keeps me sane!

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

Like I said, it just seems odd to me to set the stage with what other people are doing and the feeling of being left out. I thought your points about the warm weather coming and people not using their vacation were better suited to a PF audience. (It’s shoulder season too.) Admittedly, it could be because we Canadians are in spring/summer travel planning mode now — so much to look forward to! (Our spring break was in March.) Talk to me in the middle of summer when I’m looking at everyone’s cottage photos and I’ll likely have changed my… Read more »

Tonya
Tonya
6 years ago

I agree. It’s not the exotic locations that get you as much as the fact that you’re working and they’re not. Getting time away from work is a sanity saver!

Jon @ Money Smart Guides
Jon @ Money Smart Guides
6 years ago

Great tips. My wife and I budget for our vacation fund and transfer a set amount from our paychecks to the vacation account when we are paid. Then we take any unexpected money that comes our way and we throw it in the vacation fund as well. Many times this extra money is small, but when you keep adding it to the pot, it really does make a difference.

Dave @ The New York Budget
Dave @ The New York Budget
6 years ago

Travel is a priority in my life, but currently, working toward financial independence is a higher priority. So, I don’t have a specific travel fund. I am working towards a permanent time off scenario.

Chris
Chris
6 years ago

With a family of 5, I stock away about $150 every 1st and 15th in a Betterment.com account called “Vacation”. Any bonuses earned also go there.

Brian @ Debt Discipline
Brian @ Debt Discipline
6 years ago

We trying a keep a separate budget for vacation/ travel funds. We have family on the West coast and we live on the East coast. So airfare for a family of 5 these days can be costly going coast to coast. So planning is definitely in order to pull it off.

Dee @ Color Me Frugal
Dee @ Color Me Frugal
6 years ago

I always feel sad to hear that so many people don’t use all their vacation days, especially since Americans tend to get fewer vacation days than their European counterparts anyway! Great tips on how to grow the vacation fund here.

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

I’m taking 5 weeks off this summer and it took me 4 years to save up the time. I would have had nearly 2 months vacation but my company was bought by another company which only allowed us to carry over a certain amount of days and I was forced to cash out almost 1/2 the days I’d saved up. This is why I am working towards a lifestyle that only requires me to work 6 months out of year, or at the minimum 3 months off per year. And no, I don’t want to be a teacher…yet; I’m saving… Read more »

Tonya
Tonya
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Hope you have a lot of energy in your twilight years, because teaching can be exhausting!

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago
Reply to  Tonya

I hope so too! Though not as exhausting I hope as my next chosen career which is very physically demanding.

I’ll probably be more selective with what/ who I want to teach as I’ll be “retired” by then and only working for the experience (and perhaps some spare change) so I won’t need to take on the rigours of a full-on, full-time teaching career.

The sort of the things I teach will depend the sort of things I learn over the next 30-40 years.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

I was going to start ranting about the real availability of vacation time, but I figured I’d defer to experts instead. Here two points of view:

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/8/4/why-dont-americans-have-longer-vacations/the-vacation-gap-between-the-us-and-europe-is-wider-than-we-think

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

The standard amount of time Americans get off per year (10 – 14 days per year) is laughable (or cry-able). Even if you were ok with not being paid, many employers don’t allow that as an option of extending your time off. It doesn’t help that the U.S. is out in east bumblebee, away from 2/3 of the rest of the world. Travel time to those places are one week alone. I really do think that employers would find that they would have longer lasting and more refreshed employees if they allowed employees to stagger chunks of time off, like… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

I’m glad you’re the one who said it because I’ve been hammering on the “jobs are terrible” angle lately, to the point that I’m starting to sound like a partisan agitator. But no partisanship here, just an objective appreciation that “jobs” in America are quite terrible!

Holly@ClubThrifty
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I have to agree with you guys. My last 9-5 demanded long hours, weekend work, and overtime, and I only had 15 PTO days for the first five years. And since they were PTO, they were my sick days, my kid’s sick days, and my vacation days! I finally got 20 PTO days after five years but it didn’t help much since we often had to work extra weekends when other people were on vacation. We also weren’t allowed to take any unpaid time off, and our vacation days expired if we didn’t use them by December 31st. Now that… Read more »

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

My job gives a lot of paid time off (between 3-5 weeks depending on seniority, plus holidays and sick time). And I think some people who needed a break have taken unpaid, extended time off. But the thing is, even if that is allowed, it can be risky. If you leave your job for months at a time, they may discover you’re not as essential as previously thought.

Ray
Ray
6 years ago

My problem is that when you only have two weeks off and yet you have friends and family all over the country/world, it’s hard to feel like you’re actually taking time off for yourself. We spend five days of our vacation time every year over the Christmas holidays driving across the state to see different family members we don’t otherwise see during the year — I love my family, but hardly a vacation!

Becky @ RunFunDone
Becky @ RunFunDone
6 years ago

We use a targeting savings account to pay for our vacations, and it works really well!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago

I couldn’t imagine letting my vacations days go to waste back when I worked full time. That’s basically free money! Oh, how I miss paid time off.

Mrs. PoP
Mrs. PoP
6 years ago
Reply to  Kristin Wong

Not when you work commission, Kristin! Sure, Mr PoP still gets his draw pay when we take vacation, but he can’t really drop out of the sales cycle for a couple of weeks and not respond. He’d risk losing several months of work…

Judy Murray
Judy Murray
6 years ago

We own our own small business. We have to use our credit cards to purchases. we then use the points toward airline tickets and take the family on vacation. We need to take that time together. It’s never overly extravagant and we always have a great time. We never regret being together as a family on vacation.

johnbebad
johnbebad
6 years ago

1) I hate facebook and don’t use it. I can see how people get envious of all the posts when your faux rich friends are always updating about their awesome lives yet don’t have a pot to pee in. It does create a lot of issues for a lot of people I know. 2) Everybody’s desires and budget for vacation will be different. They key is doing what works for you and shutting out the noise. Personally we use an Uncle’s Condo once a year at beach at NJ beach for a nominal fee $400 and then spend another $800… Read more »

Mortgage Free Mike
Mortgage Free Mike
6 years ago

These are awesome tips. I like to give myself a challenge. If I want to take a trip, I challenge myself to find a way to earn an extra $1,000 — let’s say. It can be side hustles — such as banquet serving or pet sitting — or taking advantage of bank bonuses by signing up for a credit card or checking account. I also use Kayak and Top Cash Back to make sure I’m getting the best deal when booking the trip. These are just a few ways I can travel guilt-free.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

I’ve never seriously thought about a vacation budget. We budget for the “serious” stuff but never vacation. I haven’t had a real vacation (more than an overnighter) since 2006 and I really feel it. My husband and I never even traveled together (no honeymoon) so this article definitely speaks to me.

I don’t have paid-time-off so I rarely take more than 2 major holidays off per year, so its not only a mater of budgeting for the trip but also the unpaid days off from work…

Nikki @ Nikki Rae Ink
Nikki @ Nikki Rae Ink
6 years ago

We don’t have a vacation budget but really need to. There needs to be something to look forward to.

Patti
Patti
6 years ago

In 2012 I set the personal goal of using all of my vacation days AND I DID. It was wonderful. I am deeply grateful to be in the position to have vacation days and to use them for my leisure. I have decided to prioritize both travel and leisure in my life. I spent way too many years saying no to opportunities because I was in debt or using my puritan mindset (work work work) or just not in a happy place. Now I am no longer in debt and able to prioritize other things. When I worked with a… Read more »

Crystal
Crystal
6 years ago

We spend about 5% of our take home pay on trips and vacation travel. That’s about $4000 a year. We’re self employed and that time away is needed to stay sane. We’ve learned to really stretch it by taking cruises when kids are back in school (off season) and to maximize our other, closer trips by splitting the hotel and gas with friends.

travelbug
travelbug
6 years ago

The only excuse people have not traveling is that it does not have their priority. If it’s really important for you to travel, you will save. If you have all kinds of excuses where your money goes to (a car, expensive house), you are clearly not interested in it anyway.
I personally save 50% of my money and try to travel 6 months a year. I live cheap, don’t have a car and try to minimize my footprint.

Greets Travelbug from the Netherlands.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  travelbug

Though I agree with you, TravelBug its not always so cut and dry. My out of pocket health expenses could easily take up 30-50% of monthly expenses in any given month. Now, a solution would be to earn more money but that takes time.

Amy
Amy
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Good points, Carla. A lot of people have no, as in zero, paid time-off benefits from their employer (and these same people typically have little paid sick time and no health benefits, either). If they can’t afford to take vacations it’s not a personal failing on their part, or even a lack of planning. They simply cannot afford it. Saving and planning is great, but it’s not within reach of many, many people.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Amy

Yes, Amy, as I mentioned above, I have zero paid time off myself. Even the major holidays are on my dime.

redstar
redstar
6 years ago

We live in Hawaii and we learned flights leaving the islands are generally more expensive for locals than for flights coming in! How is that for a vacation-killer! Our last big trip was 3 years ago (to Japan) before we bought our condo…. and we are due for another one , but high-cost-of-living areas force you to do staycations more often. If an when we do go somewhere, we probably will need to set aside $4k for a trip outside the US and about half for the mainland. And I agree, Americans work so much and don’t get enough recovery… Read more »

Kasia
Kasia
6 years ago

I need to start a vacation savings plan. Until now we just took the cash out of our general savings but since we’re about to become a family or three budgeting for a holiday is going to be a must. The annual holiday will turn into one every 18-24 months as it’s a Europe trip to see family and cost us several thousand per year. Now we’re just going to focus on a couple mini long weekend getaways throughout the year to stay sane and one larger holiday every second year.

Alicia
Alicia
6 years ago

I love the idea of a vacation budget. We all deserve to take some time off for ourselves to relax and spend time with the family. In addition to budgeting in advance for your vacation, it’s also a good idea to start hunting for miles. If you do some planning, you can open a new credit card (assuming you have a strong credit score and haven’t opened up other cards in the year) that will score you bonus miles and free checked bags. You can also make some changes like paying for large expenses (maybe even your rent) on cards… Read more »

Riky N
Riky N
6 years ago
Reply to  Alicia

AirBnB is the way to go. In the past I’ve used it for staycations here in DC and it saves around $50-$100 a night plus I don’t have to fly or drive anywhere. This month we’re heading to Austin for a wedding and using it again. It is $40 a night for a guest house.

Lola
Lola
6 years ago

I have a vacation savings account but I admit there is not much in it. Except for visiting family and a four-day trip to Monterey, I haven’t taken a “real” vacation since 2000! But I am definitely feeling the itch and am thinking about starting a European vacation fund, separate from my other vacation fund which tends to get drained on family visits. I also use “vacation fund” money when family or friends comes to visit me and I want to treat them to dinner or something. I know a lot of separate little sinking funds don’t work for some… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
6 years ago

I have a separate vacation account and put about $200 a month into it. I own a timeshare and the maintenance fees are paid during the year (another separate savings account), so the budget is for gas, food and entertainnment. Since it’s a condo, I do most of the cooking and we go out a few times, which saves us a lot of money. Golf comes with the resort, for my husband, and I go to the beach every day, so our expenses are low.

DiDi
DiDi
6 years ago

I wrote about my own travel goal last week. Once I am out of credit card debt later this year, I’m going to save up enough money to pay for my first international trip in over 10 years. This is what keeps me motivated some days. Great tips!

Julie
Julie
6 years ago

Not the case right now in Southern California. Kids are all still in school, and the most they get is one week of Spring Break. I don’t know anyone that actually goes anywhere during Spring Break. We don’t need to thaw, in fact it is 90 today. And our 3 kids all had Spring break during different weeks.

But we will see the glorious vacation posts later this summer.

Thegooch
Thegooch
6 years ago

While I have a vacation budget that grows every year , I have a vacation fund, but I don’t take vacation because- I don’t get paid time off from my employer I’m paying off my student loans I’m saving to buy a car cash I’m saving for house down payment I’m behind on retirement savings, so I’m saving extra hard for it I can’t take time off and look at myself in the mirror, knowing that I’ve caused myself to pay more interest on the debt, delayed my much-needed car purchase , and delayed my house purchase, and will have… Read more »

Thegoog
Thegoog
6 years ago

El nerdo- that depends on your job. I love mine, and I get well compensated for my time. The sheer amounts of software design, development, training, documenting, testing etc brings me in contact with a large variety of people, technical challenges that makes every day different than the last, and it keeps me on my toes.

I could see how monotonous job would lead you to lose interest and be dissatisfied.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Thegoog

@Thegoog Right, but it’s beyond mere monotony. If you’re also Thegooch (I suspect a case of phone keyboard), you sound like you’re young and happily married to your work and don’t mind the long hours and the years without a break right now. Which is great. But write us back in a decade or two after the honeymoon is over. 🙂 Now, I’m not saying that work cannot be the most rewarding and exhilarating aspect of your life (I think it could be, and I once wrote an article here praising workaholic sushi chef Jiro Ono), but most people don’t… Read more »

TheGooch
TheGooch
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

We’re discussing something that is very subjective…how much paid vacation is needed vs how much is the standard vs how much businesses can afford to give. Only an individual knows ( and often they don’t even know ) how much they need. The standard varies by Job ( teaches get a month, for example, military as well, the companies that I’ve worked for are usually between 1-4 weeks based on tenure ). Then there is the business perspective, the dollars and cents, as it work. How much can each individual business afford to offer it’s employees and still make a… Read more »

Tonya
Tonya
6 years ago

I set aside $150 a month for travel. I’m a single mom of three kids, and most of the traveling we do is just local stuff–a weekend at the lake, etc. Sometimes it just goes toward gas and food. But my budget is always a bit tight, and with all summer off (teacher) and no extra money coming in, the money just flies. It’s nice to have some set aside so I don’t have to dip into my regular budget.

Lynne
Lynne
6 years ago

I surely know what being vacation deprived feels! I can totally relate to saving up and then something unexpected comes up like car repairs, etc. Great tips you shared that can help us eliminate this feeling. Thanks!

Drew
Drew
6 years ago

I’m a little late to the party on this post, but I’ll still add my two cents. The first thing I’ll say is that the most rewarding vacations (especially for kids) are often the least expensive. Take, for example, camping. Activities like sitting around a campfire, learning about nature, learning to fish, etc will create lasting memories and life skills. Disneyland will not. Second, and I realize this is not possible for everyone…but it may be possible to relocate to a place that is a vacation unto itself. If you live somewhere great, you won’t need to “get away from… Read more »

Marie
Marie
6 years ago

Working in customer service has drastically altered my view on vacations. Now, the days most people want off are the days that I can earn the most money. I have to admit that I enjoy the “I work on holidays” excuse to not drive a zillion miles to be with family that I can barely tolerate to begin with.

Lipgloss and a Backpack
Lipgloss and a Backpack
6 years ago

I have a big, cube-shaped TV that cuts off the outer 1/3 of the programs, I only get 22 channels and, while I own a car, I take public transit when I know it will be cheaper than paying for parking. When I’m buying new things I look for sales on high-quality things that will last, so I don’t have to replace them (my favorite winter coat is almost half my age, and I’m only twenty-nine!). Having fewer “things” than most people my age allows me to have more experiences!

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