How to Budget for a Vacation

Everyone needs a vacation but often we forget one of the most important aspects of vacations and that is the pre planning and budgeting that go into a successful holiday. Jeff Schwartz took time out of his busy schedule to help you plan for that long-awaited vacation.

Ben: Hello everyone. In today’s video, we’re going to be discussing one of my favorite topics: vacation spending. I know in our other videos we talked a lot about building credit scores and all the information and translating your credit reports, so I thought, why not change it up and talk about something a little more fun. So whether it’s a week away on a beach after surviving the holiday season, a March break staycation with the kids, or a good old fashioned summer road trip, it’s my hope that some of what we talk about today will help you save some money when you start planning your next well-deserved vacation. And to help us with that, someone who’s no stranger to warmer weather, Jeffery Schwartz, our Executive Director joins me today to help talk about vacation planning and ways to avoid a financial sunburn upon your return.


Jeff: Thanks so much, Ben. I’m not sure where the “no stranger to warmer weather” comes from, but I’ll take it. And happy to be here. Yeah, this is really an important topic, especially for Canadians. We love our vacations. And by the way, they’re good for us too. They’re good for our families, they’re good for ourselves, they’re good for our employers. You know, they’re an opportunity to de-stress take in some of the sunlight we’ve been missing. And we come back refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to face what life has to offer with a new perspective. The problem that arises is, how do we plan for it financially, and what drives our plan? Is it FOMO – fear of missing out – or is it just trying to keep up with the Joneses? These are really the wrong drivers, and by the way, they can be really expensive. So, let’s go back to why we love vacations in the first place, like distressing and quality family time. Let’s use those as the drivers to our plan, and by the way, they’re probably less likely to be expensive too.


Ben: Right. So, we want to prevent that financial sunburn. So, to prevent financing a vacation on credit and to try and curb the overspending during the vacation, today we’re first going to look at managing expectations as well as setting some goals to help you stick to your plan. Then we’ll take a quick look at some of the resources that you might want to use when planning your trip. Now you’ll notice the first one there says “Printed,” which in today’s app heavy high-tech world might seem a little odd. However, I’ll tell you firsthand as someone who’s travelled quite a lot, having an up-to-date guidebook, a pen, and a notebook is much more valuable than any travel gizmo or app. This might be hard to believe, but in some places in the world Wi-Fi or even the electrical grid can be patchy at best. sometimes local tech is the way to go. Anyways, the most expensive parts of the vacation are also worth taking a look at. We’ll explore some simple ways that you can save on travel accommodation, staying safe. So, is there anything else I missed there, Jeff?


Jeff: Ben, I think that’s a pretty good overview, but that last point that you hit on – the safety part – is a big one, and unfortunately, it’s also the part many vacation planners spend the least amount of time on. Being safe while travelling not only means getting the appropriate travel insurance for you, your family, or having your neighbour pick up the mail. It also means keeping an eye on things like your wallet, pickpockets, identity thieves, and scammers are known to prey on vulnerable tourists, so you need to do your part to keep your passports and your documents safe. Perhaps even bringing photocopies is a great idea too. It’s also a great idea to make sure that your credit card company or your bank knows that you’ll be travelling. Depending on where you’re travelling to, perhaps inform a friend or a family member of your travel schedule or itinerary, just so they know where you are and when.


Ben: Right, some excellent points there. I mean, planning your insurance coverage or copying your family’s passports isn’t as fun as planning out all the cool things that you want to do and see, so I can see why many people put it off, or at worse, you know, they travel unprotected. So, to start things off, let’s go ahead with the fun part and take some time to ask yourself, “What do I want to do?” You know, it’s okay to be selfish here. That’s what vacations are for. It’s all about you or it’s all about you and your family. Just make sure you know who is getting what. For the more financial aspects of this part of the planning process, we’ll just turn things over to Jeff.


Jeff: Thanks, Ben. It’s true: vacations are all about you or you and your family. So, start by managing expectations first. If mum wants to relax on the beach and your sons want to spend time fishing off a dock and you just want to go out golfing all day, who is really getting what, and is everyone going to be happy? It’s not easy to get everyone to agree on what to do, but if there’s a plan in place, then everybody knows what they should be expecting. One thing everyone should have input on is in regard to how it’ll be funded. And no, applying for a travel rewards credit card or drawing down on a line of credit are not the best sources for funding your vacation. Your savings should fund your vacation, and if you want to have a vacation, then you need to have a savings goal, and we’re going to talk about establishing that in a minute. Once everyone has more or less agreed to what the plan for the vacation is and the funds are in place, then you can start to look at what you can afford. Chances are, you can’t afford everything on everyone’s list, so you’ll most likely want to start there. So, what can we afford for this vacation?


Ben: Right. If you don’t have an idea of that, then you’ll probably wind up with some hefty credit-card bills upon your return. So, if you want to avoid that nasty financial sunburn from your vacation, then like any other financial goal, it’s going to help to set smart travel goals. Set some dates and times for a hotel booking and start looking at prices. Also, look at the cheapest times to fly to a location as those fluctuate quite regularly. Sometimes other countries might have a holiday or a festival and that can drive up the cost of tickets or hotels. So, start looking well before you travel.  Finding a cheap place is also time well-spent. So, look early and book early. Be sure to set some sort of plan in regard to what sort of activities or sights you want to go and see while you’re on vacation. And certainly, set some limits and a budget regarding how much shopping and how many souvenirs you want to buy. Now, I know Jeff is a big fan of financial goals, so Jeff, what’s the best way for someone to set a travel or vacation goal and stick to it?


Jeff: Well, just remember as you alluded to earlier: be smart. So, when you’re setting your travel goals, be sure to stick to the “SMART” acronym. Your goals need to be specific, like when you’re going and how many days and in what cities you need accommodations, and so on. Make sure you can measure these travel goals too – how much will it cost, what’s the exchange rate like, or how long do you have to save for this vacation. These goals also need to be attainable. Unless you’re an experienced mountain climber with the right permits, you’re probably not going to fly to Nepal, climb Everest this spring. That kind of attainable. Your travel goals should be realistic, so traveling around the world in 180 days may be a bit of a stretch for those with only two weeks holidays. And lastly and probably most importantly, these goals need to be timely. So put a time limit or a date on it.


Ben: Right. So, plan SMART. So, let’s take a second and plan SMART for a vacation. So, when people think of vacation and savings and budgeting, we tend to go long-term. I think this has something to do with the fact that we see our future selves as perfect, right? Like, I will quit smoking next month, or I will lose weight after the holidays. So, most people will hop on the Googler and they’ll start looking up prices and deals on the dream vacation that they want. So, you know, let’s say whatever you wanted to do is going to cost $4,200. So, we come up with a SMART goal like this. It’s SMART: Specific, it can be Measured, it’s Attainable, there’s a Time limit in place. But that could be hard for a lot of people, right? Three hundred and fifty dollars a month, to be exact. So, if the budget’s already tight, there’s only so much you can do. Now, what I see most people will do here is start expense cutting, right? They start thinking of ways to save. “Where can I cut out this or that, what can I get for a cheaper price, can I just live without this for now?” You know, the typical expense-cutting cycle, right? So yeah, don’t get me wrong, that can be a very helpful budgeting process, especially for serial overspenders. But you can really only cut so much, and often the cuts that are made can be hard to maintain or keep up with in the long run. Some of us just need a pumpkin spice latte or don’t want to cook once in a while. So, what can you do? Well, you still need $4,200 for that dream vacation. So, you know, let’s flip it. Is there any way you can make more money? Probably, yes, definitely? Well, maybe it depends on you. So, let’s say your goal is to increase your income by $100 per month. Maybe you drive for ride-sharing platform on weekends or you walk dogs in the neighbourhood. There’s an app for that. Maybe you sell some crafts on a site like Etsy, or you know you, just clean out your basement or that storage locker and start selling some stuff on eBay. Anyways, if you start now, you can make $100 or more per month. Great, you know, that is a huge bonus for you. You started working on a financial goal and that goal is going to get you closer to your dream vacation. And you’ve started to do it now. Then you can start looking at ways to, you know, save $250 a month which is now, you know, probably $100 easier and it’s going to require a bit less sacrifice and cutting back. So, it’s just something to think about. You know, there are two sides to the budgeting coin: income and expenses. So maybe try a shot at moonlighting or finding a side gig to get you that little bit of income which is going to help you get that much closer to your ultimate vacation goal.


Jeff: Yeah, Now Ben, so chances are then even before you start your vacation planning, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you must see or do while you’re there. If this is the same family vacation, what do they want to do? Their must-do lists and your must-do list might be different. So, what can you do? Well, like with any budget, you’ll want to prioritize that list and see how much it’s all going to cost. So, grab a pen and paper and sit down with your family or travel partners and come up with a list like this one here. So, we see here that obviously a trip to Paris is in the works and the traveller or travellers has prioritized their list as such. Now, doing some basic research work on Google can get you the info you need on pricing, reservations, and on and on. Then you can start looking at the cost and seeing if you can find any deals or promotions. Look at travel memberships like CAA and see what they might offer. You can also check with tourism offices in the place that you’re travelling to. Often what you’ll find are some city passes that combine entry and/or admission to a few popular tourist destinations while you’re saving at the same time. So now, let’s not forget to build in spontaneity. But we have to plan for it? That seems like an odd thing to say, like “plan for being spontaneous.” But yes, create a bit of a buffer fund for doing the unexpected, and that’s really what will make your vacation. Now, let’s not forget about the kids’ vacation too, and boy, can they be resourceful. Get them involved. Give them a budget and you’ll be surprised what they come back with. And maybe, just maybe, they’re going to be more inclined to do some of the stuff that you enjoy as well. Now, vacations are awesome, but like anything else, we need to be realistic or they can [inaudible]. Plan build in some flexibility, but don’t go overboard because you’ll pay for it when you get home and potentially for years to come.


Ben: Right, so those are some great points, Jeff. Like you never know what’s gonna happen when you’re actually out on your vacation. Often the best-laid plans can fall apart within a few weeks, but you know, having that sort of priorities and having the planning done before is going to help you keep on track. And then definitely having that small spontaneity fund. I like that. Having something to do or having the money for something that might randomly come up. So, as an experienced traveller, I mean, definitely look for those tourist discounts and city passes. But again, be sure to crunch the numbers before buying. You know, it says there, do the research. Do you need the all-inclusive City Pass if you’re only going to be there for a day or two, or would purchasing tickets to the sites that you want to see, you know, kind of a la carte be cheaper? I’ve had experiences with both. When I visited Paris, yeah, the City Pass saved me just over 50 euros. I’d included a mission to before of my must-see sites and several that were lower on the priority list. On the other hand, when I went to Japan, I crunched the numbers between the cost of a Japan Rail Pass versus buying the two train tickets that I needed. If I’d been travelling more frequently by train, then yeah, the pass would have been a big savings and convenience. But since I only needed to take the train twice, it was cheaper just to buy individual tickets. So, before you rush off and try and find the best deal and the cheapest passes, be sure to ask yourself the most important question in vacation planning: “Can I afford everything I want to do?” If you can’t, you know, is there a cheaper option? Is there something else that you can do? Sometimes you’ll find a range of services for similar activities, and not all adventures are priced as a standard, you know, Eiffel Tower ticket or something like that. So, you know, let’s take diving on the Great Barrier Reef, for example. If that’s the top of your must-do list for an Aussie vacation, that’s great. Start looking at how much it costs today. You’ll quickly find a whole range of dive shops and operators offering a dive on the Great Barrier Reef. But how much does it cost? What’s included? And are there any unbiased reviews you can look at before you put your cash down? Again, you know a simple chart like this one will help you decide what you can do and what you can afford to do. For instance, I was in Siem Reap, and booking a tuk-tuk driver to see the temples at Angkor cost about $50 a day if I were to book through the hotel. But you know, according to my printed handy guidebook, one could be arranged at the market for about 20 bucks. I wound up paying about 25 bucks a day because apparently, I’m not as good of a negotiator as the guidebook authors. But anyway, that was a 50% savings and it essentially got me a third day of touring for about ten minutes of work. So, you know, definitely do the research. It can save you a lot of money.


Jeff: Those are some great tips to help separate your vacation wants and needs, and some ways to save when checking off your must-do list. But something else you absolutely must do in travelling is finding accommodation. So, how can you save there? And that’s probably one of the most expensive areas. And don’t forget to try and find the true cost per night, because depending on where you’re travelling, there can be fees, special tourist taxes, or even different rates for the same room based on the day of the week. So, here are some quick tips. Being flexible is best. Use perks or rewards programs like your credit card rewards points or CIA or Marriott or Wyndham or any of the airlines because they may have some points that you can use towards your hotel stay. Research and compare on some large comparison or aggregator sites. Then call the hotel directly for a cheaper rate and then you probably have less chance of getting bumped. You can also sign up for these price drop alerts and sales. Many large travel websites or apps have these opportunities for you. Now, but again, don’t forget about all the costs that might not be so obvious, like tips, taxes, ordering room service, or raiding the minibar late one night. Now, if that’s too costly and a hotel room is out of the budget, and a hostel dorm is definitely out of the question, or maybe you’re travelling with a bigger group, then look into Home Sharing. There are tons of sites out there like Home Away – and that used to be Vacation Rental by Owner – or an Airbnb. But again, make sure you do your homework. Look at the reviews. And renter beware: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And there are many home-sharing scams out there, so you need to be aware.


Ben: Right. So, I mean, these are the tips that I needed 10 years ago. And also, the point Jeff made about signing up for price alerts, or price drop alerts, can go both ways. They can send you a price “jump” alert as well, and that one actually cost me some money when I was planning a trip to Beijing. I’d been planning it for months as I had some flexibility in my schedule, but I never actually got around to booking a hotel. The price kept fluctuating depending on the different dates I was putting in. Anyways, about a week later, one of the price drop websites I signed up with sent me an email alerting me that the price of the room I’d favourited earlier had gone up more than $30 a night, which was going to cost me about an extra 150 bucks. I had no idea that that was the start of Lunar New Year and that prices were surging for hotels, accommodations, pretty much everything. So, I’m also glad that Jeff mentioned the hidden or unexpected costs, and I forgot how quickly they add up. Sometimes it can be things you might not even think of. When I was in Vietnam, it was so hot all the time, 40 degrees day or night. But me being me, I still managed to forget to bring water with me on all the excursions, so that meant I had to buy water at the tourist sites, which obviously meant a huge markup. It took a few days for me to catch on, but I was wasting 4 to 5 bucks a day when all I really needed to do is just stop at a convenience store before heading out. So, accommodations, tons of room to save. Another area, flying or airfare, good room to save there as well. So that’s what we’ll talk about next. So, let’s say you’ve got a ranked list of things you must see or do. Your priorities, your wants, your needs, you know, what’s included, you know, how much it’s going to cost. You found some reasonably priced places to stay. The next big questions are, how are you going to get there? If flying is a choice, then yeah, it’s usually the most expensive part of any trip. But that also means there’s huge areas for savings. So just like with booking the hotel room, do the research, find the best prices, search on two to three of those comparison websites, and then call the airline directly. This also might lessen your chance of being bumped from the flight and it can leave some room for savings. So just mention the flight number, the website that you found the deal on, and of course, the price. See if they’ll offer a better one. When you’re searching for flights, try changing the airport filter to “all airports”. Many large cities have two or three airports and flying in and out of others might be cheaper than the main one. Some of my family snowbirds regularly fly to warmer climates from Detroit or Buffalo as a as opposed to Toronto or Hamilton and they save a bit while doing that. And don’t forget about those price alerts and the mailing lists. Maybe we sign up for a few of them from your favourite comparison websites, but just be ready to act. You can also save big like we mentioned earlier if your time is flexible. Looking at stopovers and Saturday night layovers might not sound like the start of a dream vacation, but it can save you hundreds, maybe even thousands, depending on where you like to stay and how you like to fly. I mean, getting crammed back in economy class is never fun but it gets you there and it costs the least. But you know, if you’ve saved a little bit more and you’re looking to unwind and relax, then I always find the longer the flight, the more first class or business class is worth it. Like when I taught English in South Korea for two years, whenever I flew home, you know, paying the few hundred dollars for an upgrade to first class was money well-spent in my mind. Besides, you know, comfy seats, extra legroom, which, don’t get me wrong is really nice on a 14-hour flight, I also got access to their swanky airport lounge, some extra baggage, priority boarding, and yeah, the meals on board were actually pretty good. So, it depends on the type of vacation you’re looking for. If you’re not flying, Jeff will take it from here.


Jeff: You know Ben, I absolutely love to drive, and if the opportunity presents itself, and we have the chance to drive through different cities and through different towns, you stop on the way, it’s so much easier. I love to be able to do that. And it’s great family time in the car as well. I’m not so sure if the Griswold family and everything their driving vacations felt the same way, but it’s definitely something to consider. And along those lines, I mean, if you are planning on driving instead of flying, you’re going to have to want to check on a few things. One is, if you’re driving, your car is reliable and in good shape. You got to give yourself some time and the car time to rest. And you don’t want to burn out on the drive, so you want to be able to afford some time in there to stop and see the sights and kind of smell the roses along the way. Something else you want to check is what are the fuel prices where you’re going and along the way? Is your car even good on gas? And if you’re one of the others that have an electric car, are there charging stations along the way? You want to make sure that you don’t run out of gas and/or charge and you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. What does the route look like? Is their construction along way or are there events happening that as well are going to slow you down? You need to build in extra time for that or even need to re-route. Now, if you’re renting, what kind of car do you need? What are the details of the rental and the fees, the kilometre charges, the insurance needs, how many drivers are you going to be using, and can you even drive it across the border if that comes into play? These are questions that you need to ask. And then ultimately, you want to compare rates. The rental car companies have a lot of aggregator sites that they work with. There’s also loyalty programs with the individual car companies and depending on when you book, will also give an indication of what your rates are going to be. So, the other thing is the insurance. See if your credit card has rental car insurance and it covers everything that you need so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re standing at the counter. Okay, these are just some great tips on how to save money if you’re designed to drive through.


Ben: Alright, if a credit card offers rental coverage, why do you need to pay for the additional coverage at the rental counter? These are all the questions that you need to have before. But a big question we need to talk about is travelling safely. So now it’s time to talk about the not-so-fun part of the vacation planning process: travelling safely. Life happens, even on vacations. If there’s an emergency or an accident, depending on where you are, your life could depend on your travel insurance. If it’s a medical emergency, yeah, you’ll be treated by a doctor. You’ll wind up in a hospital wherever you are, but without insurance, you could get stuck with a hefty bill. But travel insurance covers more than just medical emergencies and accidents. It can also cover emergency evacuation, trip cancellation, or even extended stays. This type of coverage is essential if you’ll be travelling somewhere where natural disasters, like hurricanes or typhoons, might strand travellers or cancel trips in, you know, like a matter of hours. And again, speaking from experience, one of my many travel oversights was that I didn’t know that there was a typhoon season in Taiwan. I also didn’t know that super typhoons were a real thing. Anyway, the super typhoon was on course to hit Taiwan the night before I was due to fly out. It was tracking to hit the island head-on, which wasn’t exactly great for me as I was on a coastal city just south of Taipei. I figured my flight would be delayed at best, but somewhere around 2 a.m., the storm headed further south and just kind of grazed the southeast side of the island. I was able to make my train back to Taipei. I caught my flight with time to spare, but now I always make sure to book my trips with the credit card that has trip cancellation and extended stay coverage just in case, you know, that does happen. I’m also much more aware of seasonal weather trends in other countries, such as monsoon, typhoon, or hurricane season. So those are some things you might not think about, but you definitely want to be aware of.


Jeff: Those are some excellent points, Ben. And to drive that home a little further, let’s look at a quick example. It doesn’t even have to be an exotic location. For $26 this poor young man who was hit by a car in Buffalo, New York could have avoided around $10,000 in medical expenses not covered by his provincial health care. So really, you want to be sure to include travel insurance for everyone that is travelling with you as part of your budget. You’ll also want to include at least a 15% contingency fund. You never know what’s going to happen, and even if you are covered, depending on where you are travelling, there could be a delay or lag time between the emergency and getting the money from your insurance provider. Many countries will want payment or even large deposits upfront. So, to put this into perspective, this is the money you hope to never use. But if you do need to use it, you’ll be glad you have it. And, I mean, if you don’t wind up using it, you can save them for the next vacation, or you can do some nice duty-free shopping at the airport before you leave. What better way to save some money and pamper yourself tax-free?


Ben: Right. Sure, it’s better to have it and not need it, right. So that comes down to your plan. So, when it comes to your vacation planning, be sure to use the SMART acronym. It’s synonymous with budgeting and financial goals, so whatever you want to do, you know, put it in writing. There’s a huge psychological component to that. Make it specific. Make it as measurable as you can. Be sure it’s achievable and relevant to your current financial situation, and if you can’t afford it right now, don’t worry. Just keep saving. And finally, be sure to put a time limit on it. You know, you want to have something done by this date or you will start doing something on this day. Or, you know, maybe it’s the 15th of every month, or payday. Make it a timely goal so you know that you’re getting closer to achieving it. And speaking of saving money, and well, in this case, saving money means spending your time. So, you know, spend as much time as you need researching the best prices and the best deals that are out there. If there’s any programs, loyalty programs or rewards points or membership services that can help save you money, you know, enroll in them or use them. And also, don’t worry about knocking everything off your list, either. I’ve experienced this all over the world. You know, I learned pretty quickly that, yeah Thailand is a pretty big country and that no matter what I did, there was going to be no way I was going to do everything on my must-do list. So that just means I’ve saved some stuff for next time I might be there. And the same goes for pretty much every other city I’ve been to. There’s always something I didn’t get to do but I can always do it next time know. What if you can’t afford everything but you still want to relax and take some time away from work, what would you recommend, Jeff?


Jeff: Well, you’re right, Ben. You might start crunching the numbers looking up places and costs only to find that there’s no way you can afford it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good time resting and relaxing. So why not stay a little closer to home and try a stay vacation. So, here are some great local cost-saving ideas. You might want to check out your local sites or free events around town. Check out your city or region’s website for a list of calendar events. And you might even visit a local spa, museum, or a play. Maybe just a night at the movies with your family or staying in and playing some games is what you really need. If you need help or want to check out a great vacation budgeting guide, be sure to check out our booklet. It’s got some great vacation spending planner tips inside along with the planner itself. And like we mentioned at the beginning of the video, having an old-school analog guide or expense tracker list like this is a great addition to a good guide book and can be a valuable part of your travel toolkit, one that you don’t need to plug in or connect to Wi-Fi with.


Ben: Right. That one there, it’s pen to paper, there’s no need to update or any of that sort of stuff. And I like how it has your estimated cost there as well as the total you spent. So, you know, what did you plan to spend, what did you actually spend. And that can do a lot to help keep you on track while you’re on vacation. So that brings us to the end of the video. If you have any questions, you’d like to direct at either myself or Jeff, please reach us at the email you see there. And for more great budgeting and planning tools, be sure to check out our resource centre on the Consolidated Credit website. Perhaps you just want a clearer picture of your own personal financial situation. So, you know, if you want to see how much money you’re spending or saving every month, then one of our nonprofit financial counsellors would be happy to give you a free budget assessment. And that might help you start planning your next dream vacation debt-free much sooner. Of course, I’d like to thank our executive director Jeffery Schwartz for lending us his expertise again. So, thanks for being here, Jeff.


Jeff: It’s a pleasure. Happy to be here. And to everyone out there, safe and financially-sound travels.


Ben: Great advice. Thanks

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