Plan ahead for vacation savings

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, May 2, 2013

By Nathan Rice

It may seem a bit premature, but people all around Hampton Roads have begun the countdown to summer break.

Scrolling through Facebook recently, I saw one post that simply said, “11 Days,” referring to a long-awaited vacation, and another proclaiming, “One month until Florida.”

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But the downturn in the economy has forced many families to re-examine, adjust and even cancel this American tradition. So how do we plan our breaks when the economic conditions are shaky?

The first thing is doing just that: planning. Begin planning well in advance of your scheduled time off. Begin scouting out locations, and look for deals through advertisements and the numerous online sites dedicated to travel, hotels, rental cars and vacation packages. A little bit of research now can save you lots of cash in the future.

If your dates are flexible, look for the least expensive times to visit your preferred destination. Because summer is the choice time for vacation, the cost is typically higher. If you are able to push your vacation forward or back to a less popular time, you may be able to take advantage of tourist locations looking to attract business during their slower times.

Set a budget for your vacation and stick to it. We all want our dream vacation, flying overseas and staying at five-star hotels, but your budget may only allow couch surfing at Grandma’s house as you travel over the river and through the woods.

Visiting family while on vacation is a great way to save money on hotels. If spending time with family is not a pleasurable experience, you might have to weigh the cost of a hotel versus a night or two with your crazy aunt Susan.

Be sure to take into consideration things such as gas, tolls and other miscellaneous expenses. These often tend to sneak by you as you consider how much your vacation will cost.

If you plan to charge any part of your vacation, keep in mind how long those expenses will stay with you. For example, if you charge $1,000 on your card during vacation and only pay the minimum, say $30, it will take you 40 months to pay the debt and interest.

You may wish to give your children a part of the vacation budget. This allows them to know how much they can spend on all the overpriced souvenirs they simply must have at each stop. It can also help teach the idea of budgeting and the importance of making wise purchases, while reinforcing the fact that “money does not grow on trees” even while on vacation.

If money is too tight for a traditional vacation, consider staying at home during a vacation and visiting attractions near your own area. We are lucky to have so much to do in our area. Tourists flock to our beaches during the summer, yet we sometimes overlook them as inexpensive vacation alternatives. Busch Gardens, Kings Dominion, Colonial Williamsburg and more also are all within driving distance of Hampton Roads.

Finally, consider starting a vacation savings plan. Setting aside $10 or $20 each paycheck will give you a base amount to use for vacation 2014 — and, no, it’s not too early to start dreaming about vacation 2014.

Nathan Rice is the Relationship Manager of the Downtown Suffolk branch of ABNB Federal Credit Union. He is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.