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.
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?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.