Although summer may seem like a mirage in the distant future, time flies--and the cost of a family vacation can be significant. The average American family spends almost $1,200 a year on their warm weather getaway, according to American Express. For many families, that's a big chunk of the budget, and it's never good to have a mountain of credit card bills show up right before back-to-school expenses roll in.
To make sure you're basking in the glow of a balanced budget this summer, consider these six strategies to start saving now for a vacation:
1. Start a separate bank account. By diverting just $20 a week into a designated bank account, you can accumulate a nice-sized nest egg to spend on your travels. If you set up the account to automatically deduct from your checking account, you'll hardly notice the difference.
2. Cut your grocery bill. Start with the basics: Grab a copy or two of the Sunday newspaper and start clipping coupons. Find out when your grocer doubles coupons and shop on that day to maximize your discount. Also, look into buying generic versions of expensive-branded products you may enjoy (Just because it's a labeled store brand doesn't mean it's inferior).
3. Open a new credit card. If you're looking to score some travel rewards like frequent flyer miles, rental car points, or free checked bags, you could apply for a new credit card with an attractive travel rewards program. With the Capital One Venture Rewards Card, for example, you get a bonus worth $100 in travel after just $1,000 in purchases within the first three months. With the Delta Airlines American Express Card, you get double miles on some purchases and a free checked bag when you fly. Just be aware a credit card application triggers a hard inquiry on your credit, which will temporarily lower your credit score.
4. Sell old electronics. If Santa left a new phone, tablet, or computer under the tree for you last year, make use of your old devices by putting them up for sale. It only takes a few minutes to make an account on eBay or Amazon, and you might be surprised how many people are interested in purchasing gently-used tech toys. Be sure to ship your items quickly and package them securely to minimize potential returns.
5. Reduce your gas bill. Check out GasBuddy.com, or download the website's free mobile app, which shows real-time gas prices by state and city. By simply entering your zip code, you get a list of the gas stations nearest you with the lowest prices. Also, take a look at the amount of driving you do each week for tiny errands. If possible, make all your stops in one trip, or stock up on items in bulk when you're at the store. Reducing frequent short trips will reduce how often you need to fill up.
6. Look for part-time work. Although your schedule is probably packed as it is, a part-time job can be a great way to beef up your vacation fund. The best thing about part-time work is that your commitment per day can be minimal, and these positions often aren't permanent. In other words, you can quit when you've saved what you need. Look at it this way: If you find a job working 10 hours each weekend for three months at $15 per hour, you can bank an extra $1,800 to spend on vacation.
Final thoughts. You can have a great time on your summer vacation without putting a significant dent in your checking account. In fact, most of these strategies don't involve a major sacrifice. With a little time, planning, and discipline, you'll be soaking up the rays without a financial care in the world.
What ways can you think of to start saving now for a summer vacation?
David Bakke writes on the popular blog, MoneyCrashers.com, a resource for money saving tips and ideas to save up for your next vacation.