The holiday travel season is approaching quickly. You might already know that I’m always up for a winter getaway that involves as much skiing as possible, and through the years I’ve honed some strategies and tips for how to maximize your dollars on holiday travel and minimize spending as much as possible. This is the most wonderful time of the year, so let’s include it in your financial plan and have it work for you!
Budget for it
The first piece of the puzzle is setting aside money for the trip. Nearly 45% of Americans prioritize travel in their budgets, according to a SunTrusts Banks survey. Personally, I set aside money from each pay period. It goes straight into the travel account and is used for flights, hotels, and other travel specific costs. Because I have travel as one of my financial goals, I budget a certain amount and systematically save for it.
How much to set aside? That’s up to you. What kind of travel do you like to do? Are you driving cross country, flying home to see family, or meeting friends to celebrate New Year’s? Whatever the holiday occasion, just like having a personal financial plan is important to setting up your monthly spending and savings goals, having a spending plan for your holiday travel can help you set some parameters on what you’d like to spend. Basic travel categories include transportation, lodging, food and drink, entertainment, taxes and fees, and possibly travel insurance.
Check your points
Chances are, you’ve got a credit card in your wallet that earns rewards points. Are you using it? A Bankrate survey found that about 3 in 10 credit cardholders (31%) have never redeemed their credit card rewards. In my opinion, if you have them, use them! Particularly when you might be paying an annual fee for those kinds of perks. My travel points have saved me thousands of dollars in flight travel.
Check out your point balances and see if you can cover any costs for your trip with them. If you’d like to be strategic about setting yourself up for your next trip down the line, you can find a whole subset of bloggers online who are experts in the earning and redemption of travel rewards. Just remember, it’s not a deal if you carry credit card balances—fees can more than eat up any benefits you’ll redeem.
Pick your splurges & cut some corners
Now’s the time to decide, what’s most important to you? The destination itself, spending time with family, or finding the perfect gift(s)? The key to making any trip more affordable is picking one or two categories where you’ll splurge, and then cutting back as much as possible elsewhere.
If your parent’s new condo is on the small side, consider booking an Airbnb in the neighborhood so you are close and don’t have to worry about transportation or food. Or perhaps bunk with friends or splits hotel costs with siblings. And instead of flying and renting a car, drive there yourself.(Hello 2017 road trip!). Be sure to check the gas prices and factor in time (and weather conditions) and ask yourself what is most important?
It’s all a balancing act—just like your monthly budget.
Stick to the plan & enjoy your trip
Now’s the fun part—kick back and relax, have some adventures, and take lots of pictures. Pictures are always my favorite souvenir from any trip. We often turn our photos into digital wallpaper for our computer or TV. It’s a great (and free!) way to bring your holiday fun into your everyday life.
After the trip, make some notes
Did any unexpected costs crop up? Did some things cost more than you thought they would? Take time after your trip to review how your actual spending stacked up against your projected costs and think about what you might have done differently. It will help you when you sit down to plan next year’s trip. I have a spreadsheet simply called “Travel” that my husband and I both have access to. We can see our previous trip costs and plan for the next one. We also have our frequent flyer, hotel and car rewards all together for help in determining which points to use.
As for the rest of the year…
If you can’t afford a trip, get creative. As last Memorial Day approached, more than 1 in 4 Americans had already decided to forgo a summer vacation, according to a recent Bankrate survey. Paying day-to-day bills and paying down debt were the two biggest reasons why. I get it. But try approaching it by what it is that you value and what you’re willing to give up. If staying back and paying down debt for the next six months will ultimately hit your goal, that might give you a chance to plan a really great vacation without the stress of not having the money at the time.
Skipping a pricey vacation when you can’t afford it is a wise financial move. But there’s plenty of inexpensive ideas to consider, like being a tourist in your own town, visiting state parks in your area, or exploring a part of your home state you’ve never seen.
A personal financial plan can help you with making your money work harder for you. Kelly Luethje is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and founder of Willow Planning Group, LLC. She provides financial education and guidance to help you live life on your terms. Kelly can usually be found on a mountain, or by a lake, working virtually with clients across the country.