Your summer vacation had better be worth it because, chances are, you are still going to be paying it off next year.
A new survey released June 20 from financial website LearnVest.com says that Americans take an average of six months to recover financially from a vacation.
Additionally, 66 percent of the 1,000 people who responded to the survey in May said they spend more than one month’s rent or mortgage on a week-long vacation, a finding especially troubling to Alexa von Tobel, the founder and chief executive officer of LearnVest.
Survey participants shelled out 10 percent of their annual income on vacations, on average. In fact, some 74 percent admitted to going into debt to pay for a vacation — with the average hole for a trip coming in at $1,108.
Pushing reality aside and taking on more debt to go on a trip is a bad idea because it can impact the biggest vacation of all — retirement.
“We all need a break, but there are much bigger things that matter,” says von Tobel, who is also a certified financial planner.
There are ways to avoid lingering debt from a vacation, starting with this four-step plan:
1. Pick the right card
Getting a new credit card might not sound like the recipe for smart spending, but strategizing your rewards forces you to plan months ahead for a trip.
If you start four or more months out, you could snag a travel rewards card with a hefty bonus of 50,000 miles, says Jill Gonzalez, senior analyst at Wallethub.com, a credit card information site. While you may not be able to use those miles for your summer trip because of black-out dates, you can store them for a future trip and benefit from other features of the card – such as no foreign transaction fees.
If you have existing debt, you can find balance transfer cards that offer a zero percent interest rate for up to 21 months. It is not the best financial scenario, Gonzalez admits, but “that buys you several more months.”
2. Save ahead of time
It should go without saying, but financing debt after the fact is a lot more costly than saving up ahead of time. Yet, given the number of people who go into debt to travel, the message does not seem to be getting through.
Tanner Callais, 32, makes sure he has the money in the bank before he sets sail. Callais and his wife, who run the cruise web site Cruzely.com, put money away each month in a separate savings account and do not plan trips until they have enough saved up.
“Once I set it aside, it’s set in stone,” Callais says. “Then I spend it, enjoy it, and it’s on to think about the next one.”
Von Tobel adds this pro tip: Automatically transfer out the excess in your checking account each month instead of “accidentally” saving by just leaving it in your main account.
3. Spend less on your trip
Summer is a high-priced season, so you might want to consider shifting your schedule to an off-season to get discounts.
This is what Callais and his wife do for now, although school schedules loom since they have a one-year-old child.
When they go on a cruise, Callais also chooses the least luxurious accommodations, operating under the theory the room does not matter since most of the time is spent outside of it. He also chooses smaller ports like Galveston, Texas, with the big advantage going to departure points within driving distance.
4. Pay off debt smartly
If you incur debt, try to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Pay all the minimums at all times and then pay down the most expensive debt first, von Tobel advises.
Make a second payment in the middle of the month when you get a paycheck because credit card interest compounds daily and not monthly, von Tobel says.
“It may only save you $10 or $15, but the point is that is extra money back in your pocket,” she adds.