9 Tips For Saving Money For Your Summer Vacation, Even If You're Starting From Scratch

by Natalia Lusinski

With spring finally here, that only means one thing: It’s time to really start saving up for a summer vacation. Maybe you started to set aside money last year, but then the holidays came around, so you stopped… and haven’t started again. But, with summer just a few months away, now’s the time to get back to it. I know it may seem intimidating, but there are many ways to save money for your summer vacation. You may think you need to set aside a good chunk of your salary to do this, but that’s not necessarily true.

"For many people, a vacation may be the one time each year that they are truly able to relax,” Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet, tells Bustle. “Vacations allow people to forget about their everyday stresses, recharge their batteries, and enjoy family time away from the routine hustle and bustle. But while vacations can be fun, they can quickly turn into a daunting task when you have to figure out how to pay for them without going into debt.” Sound familiar? Sure, it may be tempting to just charge the whole trip on your credit cards instead of setting aside money in advance, but doing the latter is not as intimidating or as difficult as it sounds. Below, some finance experts weigh in on how to save up for your summer vacation.


Plan Ahead

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You may not be much of a planner, but when it comes to your summer vacation, planning ahead is key, Jennifer Barrett, Chief Education Officer for Acorns and Editor in Chief of Grow, tells Bustle. “No one wants to go into debt taking a vacation — but it’s really easy to do if you don’t plan ahead,” she says. “An Allianz survey last year found that millennials spent an average of $1,373 on summer vacations. But if you look at the data, many Americans don't have even $1,000 saved up. So it’s easy to see why so many people end up in debt.”

Instead, Barrett suggests a manageable way to plan ahead. “Estimate about how much you’ll need for upcoming vacations and divide it by the number of months until you plan to travel,” she says. “For example, if you think you’ll need about $600 for an August trip, plan on saving about $150 a month until then. That may seem like a lot, but it's about $35 a week, or $5 a day. And there are lots of small steps you can take to trim spending enough to get there, like automatic transfers.”


Get Specific About Your Monetary Travel Details

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Alongside planning ahead for your trip, also try to estimate little expenses you’ll have along the way, suggests Timolin Langin, The Money Magnet, Teacher-preneur, and author of Mind Over Money: How to Live like a Millionaire on ANY Budget. “Determine where you want to go and the costs for air and ground transportation, accommodations, meals, activities, souvenirs, etc.,” she tells Bustle. “For better prices, travel off-season. Factor the cost of all these items to determine exactly how much more or less you need in your Saving For Your Desire (SYD) account. A good rule of thumb is to add 10 to 15 percent above what you think you need for those ‘hidden’ costs. Once you’ve got a pretty good idea of how much the vacation will cost, review your budget, divide costs by said number of months needed to save, save coins in a jar or piggy bank, and perhaps have monies automatically transferred to your bank’s SYD account.”


Figure Out If You Will Share Vacation Expenses With Others

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While you are budgeting for your summer vacation, determine if you will be covering all your costs alone, or with others. After all, a $50 per night Airbnb may only cost $25 a night if you and a friend are sharing it. “Think about whether you'll be vacationing solo, with a partner, with friends, etc., because that will influence the overall amount you need to save,” Emily Shutt, ACC, Money Mastery Coach, tells Bustle. “It will also help you articulate your plans to friends, so that when those pricey last-minute girls’ trips pop up, if they're not aligned with your budget for your planned vacation, you can say so and share what your plans actually are!”


Automate Money Into A Vacation Fund Account

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Like Barrett says, small steps can get you to that big vacation, as long as you discipline yourself to set aside some money for it. For instance, instead of spending $5 a day on coffee from your favorite café, put that $5 into your vacation fund instead. “I’d recommend setting up automatic transfers once or twice a month from your checking account to a high-yield savings account (interest rates are still low, but there are some with an annual yield of 1.5 percent or more now),” Barrett says. “Another tip: Name your savings account after your vacation: e.g., Summer 2018 Vacation Fund. Giving your account a name that resonates emotionally can help you remember why you’re saving that money and keep you from withdrawing it to use for something else.”

Matt Reiner (CFA, CFP), CEO and cofounder of Wela, and author of Ready to be Rich: Smart Financial Advice for People on the Way Up, agrees about automating your vacation fund. “One of the easiest ways to set aside money for your summer vacation is to make the savings automatic,” he tells Bustle. “Depending on when you begin saving, whether it’s six weeks or six months ahead of the trip, the amount you put away each week will vary. Everyone rightfully advocates for automatic savings for things in the distant future, like retirement, but we need to advocate automatic savings for upcoming vacations, as well. The reward of a vacation that has been well-saved for teaches good saving and budgeting habits for other financial goals way down the road.”


Cut Out Little Things Or Put Monthly Subscriptions On Hold

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Just like cutting out your morning coffee run and saving that money for the Bahamas instead, you can also eliminate other ongoing expenses. “You can get that money together however you choose,” Shutt says. “You can start packing your lunch for work and consider pausing any monthly subscription services or memberships if they’re not critical,” she says. “You can always resume them later if you want! Plus, encourage free or low-cost activities with friends and family, and that will also save a lot of money. Going out to brunch every weekend or getting takeout all the time really adds up, but we don’t think about the total cost when it’s just $10-15 here and there.”


Use Travel Rewards Credit Cards

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While you don’t want to charge your whole vacation onto your credit cards, using credit cards with travel rewards is another story. “One of the easiest ways to afford a summer vacation is by signing up and using a travel rewards credit card for your everyday purchases that you would be making anyway,” Palmer says. “These cards give consumers travel points that can be worth big bucks in a short period of time. NerdWallet’s 2018 Travel Study found that Americans who sign up for a travel credit card get, on average, $901 in free flights and hotels in just the first year of having the card. That’s a ton of money that many Americans might struggle to set aside specifically for a vacation, and it could make the difference between staying home this summer or taking that dream vacation.”


Redefine “Vacation”

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When you think about going on vacation, you may think about flying across the world to a sandy beach. However, you can staycation, too. “Staycationing can be awesome — you don’t always have to go away to take a vacation,” Shutt says. “When my husband and I were both working really stressful jobs in consulting, we were traveling all the time and barely ever saw each other. We could afford to go on vacation, but preferred to stay home and just hang out together, because it was such a rare thing for us. It had the added bonus of being really inexpensive, though that wasn’t even a factor in the decision. Think about what you really want to do, not just what will make the best Instagram story!”


Use A Budgeting App

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With all the budgeting apps out there, they’re super useful when it comes to saving up for a vacation, too. “Use a budgeting app, like Wela, which helps you take saving for experiences like a summer vacation into account without making you feel like you’re taking away from other important financial goals,” Reiner says. “Wela’s bot, Benjamin, provides a Daily Spend Limit that is set based on all financial goals, including saving for valuable experiences that enrich our lives.” Plus, saving for a vacation seems more manageable than saving for a longer-term goal.

“By saving for this goal, you reap the benefits of the funded vacation much quicker than benefits of a financial goal that is much further away, like retirement,” Reiner says.


Start A Side Hustle

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Side hustles are another great way to save up for a trip — or anything really — and you can literally have all your side hustle money go into your vacation fund. “Consider adopting a side hustle,” Shutt says. “The gig economy is real and it’s only growing, so there are lots of different ways to make extra money that don’t require a long-term commitment or major change to your day job. Sites like TaskRabbit, Fiverr, etc., allow you to use your free time and talents to make extra money on your own schedule. It can also be really fun to do work that’s aligned with your interests and skills (though don’t forget you’ll owe taxes on earnings, so factor that in so you don’t get burned at tax time!).”

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to start saving for a summer vacation, even if the balance in your vacation fund is currently $0. “Saving money consistently over time will allow you to have fun without the anxiety, guilt, and shame that often accompanies debt,” Shutt says. “Once you get to experience the joy of taking a trip that you know you worked hard and saved up for, you’ll likely be encouraged to find even more innovative ways to save and earn more, which is very empowering!”

Why It’s Important To Have A Vacation Fund

If you don’t have a separate vacation fund, once you create one, it’ll help make vacation time easier down the line. “It’s important to have a fun or vacation fund so that you’re able to take advantage of exciting opportunities without blowing your monthly budget,” Maggie Germano, Certified Financial Education Instructor and financial coach for women, tells Bustle. “If you have money set aside for things like travel or fun, you’ll be able to plan trips or start new hobbies and still stay on track with your spending. It’s a great way to foster peace of mind when it comes to your money. And then the next time a friend asks you to go on a spur-of-the-moment trip, you’ll have the money to do it without being strapped for cash.”

Fun is also part of why you should have a vacation fund. “Have a vacation fund so you can have FUN, that is, create the memories and life experiences you value most,” Langin says. “For many working people, achieving our goals requires a budget or some financial planning, whether you just want to have fun in the sun or set aside funds for a summer vacation.”

Lastly, having a vacation fund will help you develop good money-saving habits for other goals, too. “For young people, retirement can be more than 30 years away, which is literally a lifetime away for millennials,” Reiner says. “Having a vacation fund and taking the time to save for it helps you build strong financial habits that will pay off when saving for faraway goals, i.e., a robust retirement fund.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to start doing all of the above ASAP… that is, once I short-list where to go on vacation.