Are you dreaming right now of blue skies, warm days, even sunny beaches? After the long winter we’ve just had, who wouldn’t?
Maybe it’s time for a “spring break,” adult-style. I wholeheartedly second that notion, but with a caveat: look before you leap. Otherwise, you may land in a big, budget-sized hole.
As the days lengthen and we become more energized, it’s easy to get excited. Spring airfare deals beckon, as does the promise of fun in the sun, the perfect antidote for cabin fever.
Where will you go? Mexico? Cuba? The Riveria? With money in your bank account—or room on your credit card—you may feel giddy with possibility.
Without careful planning, though, you could find yourself reeling, once you return, from a post-holiday hangover. And I’m not talking about the kind that goes away in a day or two—but one that can last for months.
A stitch in time saves nine
Having a trip all paid up before you go greatly reduces your chances of having to suffer and struggle when you return. For me, this means planning and saving for three to six months before embarking on that journey. How long it takes you to marshal your resources depends on your circumstances, and on the kind of trip you plan.
Here are my recommendations:
- Estimate your costs. How much will airfare and other transportation, lodging, food and drink, and other expenses cost? Do you already have the money you need to pay these costs without raiding your three-month emergency fund?
- If the answer is “no,” then you need a plan. Divide your vacation estimate by the number of months until you leave, then automatically save that amount into a separate vacation account. The key here is action: If you don’t put this money into its own fund, you may spend it impulsively on other purchases.
- Cut down on costs by thinking creatively. Some credit cards offer rewards that you can redeem for travel or lodging. AAA discounts and internet specials can also reduce expenses—especially if your travel dates are flexible. You might be surprised by how much you can shave off the cost of your trip!
- Shift your expectations to meet your reality. Do not raid your long-term money for a short-term need. If you don’t have the cushion in your budget to pay for a vacation at a Mexican beach or celebrity spa, consider visiting a national park, instead. You’ll get outside, find time for reflection (and maybe even get some exercise), and come home with a mind free of money worries. Then you can start planning for next year’s luxury beach getaway.
After suffering through another long, cold winter, you may feel entitled to a fabulous, fancy vacation. “I deserve this,” you might say as you impulsively book a trip that you really can’t afford.
Sacrificing your goals or your nest egg for what amounts to a quick hit of pleasure, however, is not only harmful to your financial health but it also can leave you feeling worse than before.
Taking the time and thought to plan ahead and proactively make your dreams come true – not just short-term, but long-term—is the best strategy for living your best life. Isn’t that what you really deserve?