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Start Planning Your Summer Vacation Today

It’s never too early to start thinking about warm weather, a cruise in the boat or a hike up a mountain. December is the perfect time to think about the money you’ll need to meet your summer vacation needs — especially with your wallets likely wedged open for holiday shopping.

Instead of charging your summer vacation on your credit card at the last minute, the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA) recommends taking time this winter to plan, save and earn so you can relax next summer without the stress of wondering how you’re going to pay for it all.

Budgets and Goals

While making a budget is right up there with Aunt Betty’s fruitcake among your favorite things in life, it’s the only way to estimate how much your vacation will cost. Airfare and lodging are the biggies, but don’t forget about food, entertainment, pet or child care, passports, visas and any other costs you can think of. With this savings goal in mind, you can set up a savings account exclusively for your vacation and have funds automatically deposited from your paycheck. Or, consider an online savings tool that transfers, tracks and often rewards your efforts.

Redefine the Holidays

Gift giving does not have to be the central focus of the holiday season. Redefine the season into something that truly matters to you and your loved ones. Volunteering together, playing games, making gifts or whatever you choose are sure to make memories that will feed your spirit for a long time — decades longer than the latest and very expensive electronic gadget or toy. It’s not too late to be the boss of your holiday!

Some other simple savings ideas include:

  • The trusty change jar — it adds up fast.
  • Barter to cover the unexpected. If your roof starts to leak or your water heater breaks, cash is not the only currency that can pay. What skills do you have that you could barter for other services? It doesn’t have to be web design or technical skills. Maybe you can trade mowing the yard?
  • Replace dining out with dining in.
  • Have potlucks when entertaining at home.
  • Bring leftovers to work instead of going out.
  • Break bad habits — fancy coffee drinks, smoking and sugar addictions are not cheap. Make a New Year’s resolution to cut back or quit altogether.
  • Take advantage of “free days” at your local museums, libraries, theaters and more.
  • Hold clothing swaps — Save money on clothes while enjoying time with friends. This is especially helpful with kids’ clothes that are typically outgrown before they’re worn out.

    Take a bite out of the food budget

    The money people spend on food during their vacation always takes them by surprise. Here are some ways you can eat on the cheap:

  • Picnics — Some of the best memories on family vacations are made at parks and rest stops along the way.
  • Kids eat free — Many national chains offer this on certain days of the week.
  • Don’t order kids’ meals — Let them share an adult entrée. It’s cheaper and healthier.
  • Make lunch the big meal out. It’s usually less expensive than dinner for nearly the same amount of food.
  • Crowd cutting sites — Groupon, LivingSocial and similar sites let you purchase deals at a discount for restaurants, entertainment and more in advance all over the country.
  • If staying in a hotel, get a room with a microwave and fridge.

Still falling short?

If you’re still falling short, maybe it’s time to reimagine your vacation. With lodging a top expense, dodge the hotel for some cheaper, if not more interesting, alternatives.

  • Home swaps — Swapping homes is a great deal for those who can handle someone else sleeping in their bed. Well-known travel expert Rick Steves offers some great advice on this worldwide option at http://tinyurl.com/ricksteeves.

     

  • Hostels — Hostels are not just for grungy, post-college backpackers. Couples, families and older folks are all welcome. Some hostels offer family rooms and private bathrooms, and many are located in the heart of the city within walking distance to major attractions. Check out Hostelling International at www.hihostels.com, which also has a link to its American counterpart.
  • Volunteer vacations — How does picking olives in Spain or teaching English in Costa Rica sound? Whatever your interest, there’s a volunteer vacation to match it, and housing and meals are usually included. Most volunteers are repeat customers — having found that volunteer vacations are much more fulfilling and even restful than the traditional vacation. Find out more at www.TransitionsAbroad.com.

Earn

Falling short does not mean you have to cancel your vacation. Shift your mindset from saving to earning with these tips:

  • Earning can be as simple as a trip to the attic. Underneath the dust and cobwebs may lie some valuable items you could sell on eBay or craigslist.
  • Have a yard sale and get rid of some of the clutter that’s been weighing you down.
  • Crafty? Sell your handmade items on Etsy or other such sites.
  • Market your own expertise or services.
  • Get a part-time job.

This shift in mindset from saving to earning is a powerful way to reach your financial goals, no matter what they are.

Talk to a CPA

A CPA can provide more advice on how to reach your financial goals in both the short- and long-term.

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