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How to save enough money for a summer vacation, starting now

Cutting back on a few simple luxuries each week can add up to an August getaway.
Image: People sunbathe at Coogee beach on Dec. 14, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.
ValuePenguin found that the average cost of a 4-night domestic trip is $581, and the average cost of a 12-night international trip is $3,215.Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images file

“This week is stressing me out. Time for a vacation.

If you’ve been saying that to yourself lately, it’s probably true. Vacations aren’t just about letting loose and having a good time — they’re actually necessary for your health.

In fact, the Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that women who vacation only once every six years or so are at a much greater risk of heart attack than women who vacation twice a year. Additionally, the study found that 89% of vacationers experienced a drop in stress levels after just a day or two of vacation.

But so many people don’t take advantage of vacation time. In fact, 54% of Americans don’t use up all their vacation days in a given year. Our culture places a lot of value on hard work and long hours, but without taking the time off to recharge, it’s too easy to slip into a pattern of being overworked — and less productive. Employers actually need their employees to take a vacation every once in a while so it's worth taking the extra steps to get away and truly unplug.

Ready to Go? Here's How to Calculate the Cost

Of course, summer is quickly approaching, and vacations cost money. ValuePenguin found that the average cost of a 4-night domestic trip is $581, and the average cost of a 12-night international trip is $3,215.

Say you want to plan a vacation for August — that gives you more than three months to save. A long international trip may be out of the question, but that’s likely more than enough time to save for a shorter (but still rejuvenating) domestic trip. After all, you don’t have to jet-set halfway across the world to unwind and take a break from work.

Cut Back Your Weekly Expenses

Going by the ValuePenguin study, a domestic trip would be $144 a day, meaning a 5-day trip would come out to about $720 on average (for one person). The simplest way to save that much money in a short amount of time is to break it down into what you need to save each week. To save $720 in 12 weeks, you’d need to figure out how to save $60 a week.

Of course, everyone’s lifestyle and preferences will vary — it’s hard to save money on alcohol if you don’t drink in the first place. But regardless of your budget or spending habits, there are more than likely a few things you can cut back on to net you $60 extra in the bank every week.

  • Bring lunch to work two more times per week. Many of us opt to buy lunch out at least a few days a week as a convenient alternative to brown-bagging it — and each time, it sets us back an average of $11 as opposed to the average brown-bag lunch costing $4. Cutting two lunches out per week ($22 total) in favor of packing a lunch two more times ($8 total) could save you $14 per week.
  • Cut down your weekly grocery bill. There are so many strategies available for saving on groceries, from extreme couponing, meal-prepping to save money, or only buying fresh produce that is in season (and thus less expensive). One of the easiest ways to start saving right away? Use up what you already have. You probably have canned goods, frozen vegetables, and grains like pasta and rice stocked in your home that have been sitting unused for a while — so start using them. Additionally, consider cutting back your meat consumption. The USDA reported the average cost of ground beef to be $3.66 per pound as of this year. If you usually buy two pounds per week, cutting that out could save you about $7 per week.
  • Slash entertainment spending. As of 2017, the average cost of a movie ticket in an American theater rose to an all-time high of $8.95. Of course, if you live in a big city, you’re probably used to even steeper prices — a movie ticket in Midtown Manhattan will probably set you back more than $15. Instead of paying for an individual ticket for your weekly trip to the movies, opt to get cozy with your Netflix subscription. Or even try out a MoviePass membership at just $9.95 a month for unlimited (once-daily) movies. Your weekly cost will be down to less than $3, without having to give up your favorite date night activity. If you typically go to a $10 movie once a week, that’s a weekly savings of more than $7.
  • Stick to seltzer at happy hour. Going out with coworkers can be a great weekly tradition, and if you enjoy it, it’s not something you should eschew. But consider limiting what you’re spending. We think of happy hours as a way to save money, but in reality, they are just a way for bars to lure us into spending more. Cutting out those two weekly $5 glasses of wine could save you $12 a week when factoring in tip — and your health will thank you, too.
  • Opt for outdoor & home exercise over the gym. Exercise is a key facet of any healthy life, and if the gym truly motivates you to work out, try to find your savings elsewhere. But if you’ve been neglecting your membership basically since you got it, it’s probably not worth it for you. The average cost of belonging to a gym is between $40 and $50, meaning cutting that expense could easily save you $10 per week. (If you can’t negotiate out of your contract at the moment, call your gym and ask if they can freeze your membership for a few months.)
  • Make coffee at home. You’ve likely heard it time and again, but for good reason: buying coffee out adds up. In fact, Americans spend an average of $2.70 for one cup of regular drip coffee. If you buy that every day before work, that’s $13.50 a week just to stay caffeinated — much more if you’re buying more involved drinks, like lattes or mochas. Making a cup at home, though, could cost you as little as 18 cents, or less than $1 per week. Simply switching up this habit could easily save you $12 a week.
  • Total saved per week: $62

Of course, your personal trip costs may vary. Perhaps you only have to drive two hours to the nearest beach, meaning you’ll spend substantially less on transportation. Or, maybe you have your heart set on going somewhere with greater-than-average plane ticket costs.

Your personal expenses will vary, too. The point is not to follow a prescriptive plan for saving money on a trip, but rather to comb through your own spending habits to find the little ways you could be saving more — because they surely add up. If the above list won’t work for you, look at your own bank and credit card statements. Perhaps you could go without buying new clothes for a few months, or challenge yourself to make all your meals at home.

Stop Yourself from Spending Instead of Saving

Of course, coming up with a weekly savings plan won’t work if you can’t stick to it. Make sure you’re actually saving this amount each week, instead of spending it.

The simplest way to make sure you don’t spend a certain amount of money? Make sure you never see it in the first place. Automate your savings so that $60 is deposited each weekly paycheck (or $120 if you get paid every two weeks), so that you never have to think about it.

Another method is using a cash-only system. Sticking to cash means you are physically limiting yourself to a certain amount of money. It’s much easier to mess up when you have the ease of a debit card. Set out a specific amount of cash you’re allowed to spend each day, and try leaving your credit card at home to avoid temptation.

Making these small sacrifices for just a few months could mean the difference between taking the much-needed vacation you deserve this summer and not being able to. Trust us: making a few budget-friendly tweaks to your routine now is more than worth the mental health benefits that come with taking a vacation.


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