Start Planning and Saving Now to Enjoy a Great Vacation This Year

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Family on a beach vacation

As vaccinations continue to roll out around the country, many of us are looking forward to a long-delayed vacation. And gosh knows that's going to feel amazing! Vacations are a great way to recharge and make family memories, but they're a lot more fun if you don't come home to a huge credit-card bill. Thankfully, there are a few easy strategies to make sure that your vacation fun doesn't get overshadowed by the cost.

Step One: Count Your Pennies

You can't stick to a budget if you don't have one! Start out by figuring out how much money you have to spend. In a perfect world, you have a separate savings account called "travel,’’ and you make deposits into that account every month. But it's not a perfect world, so figure out how much money you do have, and how much more you can save between now and the travel date.

Not enough? Brainstorm ways to come up with extra cash. Can you sell some excess stuff? Do some babysitting? Trim your grocery budget for the next few months? Pick up a part-time job?

Build in some extra money for things that will come up while you travel. Travel delays, car trouble or higher-than-expected costs are a lot less stressful if you have a little money set aside.

Step Two: Prioritize

As my wise friend says, "You can have anything, but you can't have everything." The first step to creating a vacation budget is to figure out what really matters to you. Is your goal to ski and snowboard and sled? Maybe the hotel room doesn't matter, and a hostel would be clean, cheap and (often) fun. Do you dream of days by a beautiful pool and getting a massage? If so, you might want a nicer hotel but making simple meals in your room may be an easy way to cut costs. If you're traveling to a place renowned for their amazing food, perhaps you splurge on restaurant meals but curtail your activities to free sightseeing and museums.

Step Three: Seek Discounts

Take some time to do some serious bargain shopping. Check out travel blogs, discount purchase websites and area news outlets. Figure out the cheapest way to do everything on your list while still doing the stuff that you've identified as important. Think ahead about how to cut costs on basics, like buying simple breakfast ingredients at the local market or taking public transportation instead of taking taxis or ride-sharing.

Related: Check out military.com's travel discounts page.

Step Four: Stick to the Plan

Sometimes, this is the hardest part. Once you get to your vacation destination, it's easy to deviate from your carefully constructed plans. There's always something to tempt you to spend, from restaurants to activities to souvenir shops. Remember what's important to you, and if you spend off budget, do some quick calculations to figure out what will be cut back to find that money.

"Splurge on the things you love and cut ruthlessly everywhere else" is a basic tenet of most personal finance philosophies. It applies to vacations just like everyday life. By planning ahead and focusing your spending on the things that really matter to you, you can enjoy your travels without worrying about what it is costing.

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