Consumer Watch: How to save and budget for the best vacation

Consumer Watch: How to save and budget for the best vacation

June 7th, 2019 by Ellen Phillips in Business Around the Region

Ellen Phillips

Ellen Phillips

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

As a retired teacher, I remember my yearning for summer vacation (the latter term was pretty much a misnomer, however, as I was often taking classes during the time off). Even after that point, I still feel a big burst of excitement as summer approaches, especially when we're planning for a fun vacation – short or extended. Unfortunately, our two salaries of yesteryear didn't follow Hubby and me into our "golden years" so it's mandatory to take certain steps during the year so as not to beggar ourselves when vacay time rolls around. Perhaps readers already follow some of this plan, much of which I've mentioned in the past, and other steps compliments of my consumer-idol Mary Hunt.

First, it's imperative to set a budget, even if you're unsure of your destination or length of stay. I think most of us have an idea of an anticipated location so start here. For example, we plan to visit St. Maarten next year and, because we used to own a timeshare on the island, we have a good idea of associated costs (which ain't cheap!). Obviously, the amount is estimated; figure on the high side, including airfare, hotel, car rental, gas, food, sightseeing and other activities, etc. Research to get a sense of what you can expect to pay to arrive at price ranges for each category. Then add them together to get a total expected cost range. Finally, pad the figures with a reasonable buffer - 10% to 15% - to account for higher-than-expected travel costs or internationally traveling currency variants. This final number is your budget upper limit.

Set travel dates and figure probable costs for airfare, hotels/B&Bs, and local transportation before making reservations of any kind. Because of their high expenses, it's important to know methods that you need to do to save, the sacrifices to save, and, frankly, if you can even afford this type of vacation.

I always schedule a specific time to research the trip. For example, I start with all the "cheap" travel sites, such as cheaptickets.com, expedia.com, cruisecritic.com, and many others. Then I use these multiple online bookings and price-comparison sites to narrow down what I'll probably spend on each major item given my fundamental information, including where I depart and to where, dates when to travel, and so forth. Be sure to factor extras into your cost ranges, such as resort fees and baggage fees.

Set up a special savings account for your vacation. Years ago, when banks offered Christmas Club accounts, I took advantage of this saving method (especially with six grandchildren!) and when the institutions dissolved it became our vacation fund. Truly, it's amazing how quickly money adds up IF we keep our greedy hands off of the money for any other expense. I automatically transfer this set amount from a paycheck the first of the month, but readers might prefer weekly or biweekly transfers (and deposits). "Vacation Kitties" work!

Use some tax refund. Hubby and I were lucky this year to receive a decent refund mainly because of so many 2018 healthcare expenses. Knowing beforehand Uncle Sam would come through with some sum, we decided to use it for new carpet. Fortunately, after so much research and visitation, we got a great price – low enough that our "Kitty" received the refund leftovers.

For those folks who are still in the workforce, if you receive commissions or bonuses, do deposit at least some of the amount into that dream vacation account.

Travel rewards credit card are terrific providing we pay off the balance monthly. Not only does the credit card hand out free miles initially with its sign-up bonus, but every purchase on the card adds up. (Note: many reward cards mandate a higher interest rate than others. If you're a responsible user with good credit, many credit card companies will allow a lesser rate. Call to see if you're The One.)

Cancel nonessential subscriptions. Look into a service like Trim (highly recommended by my friend Mary Hunt) because these nice folks will find subscriptions to eliminate; Moreover, Trim negotiates different services (for example: cable and internet).

Cut out (or at least down) dining out. Whether a lovely restaurant dinner weekly or even monthly – and dining with friends often becomes even more expensive – or that couple-of-times-a-week fast food, eating out expenses add up quickly. Just be sure to deposit what you've saved into "Kitty."

(Continued next week)

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.