Personal Finance

How to make sure your summer vacation won't wreck your finances

Key Points
  • The more advance planning you can do for your vacation, the more likely you'll be to avoid overspending.
  • Tapping retirement accounts and using a credit card to pay for getaways can come with significant costs.

With the school year winding down and warmer weather taking hold, it's that time of year when many people get serious about planning summer escapes.

If you count yourself among those would-be vacationers and haven't set money aside for your getaway, there's a good chance you'll be trading those days of freedom for future pain. Even if you've set money aside, it can be easy to overspend on vacation if you don't do some advance legwork.

"If you plan to travel, you should have a plan to travel. It's that simple," said Alexander Joyce, CEO and president of ReJoyce Financial in Carmel, Indiana. "Take your time and really give thought to what you can afford. If you look at it emotionally, it will become a need instead of a want."

Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

In addition to booking your trip early to avoid potentially higher prices for flights and hotels, there are three big ways to make sure a vacation won't derail your overall financial picture.

Leave that retirement account alone

Joyce said he has seen people in their 30s or 40s who withdraw money from their 401(k) account or IRA to pay for a vacation.

What they often don't realize is that not only will they pay taxes on that withdrawal, they also are subject to a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.

"Sometimes even if they know it, they ignore it because they want the money for vacation," Joyce said.

On top of the tax implications, taking money early from a retirement account essentially is robbing from your future.

Say you withdraw $5,000. If you had left it in your account, and the money was invested in stocks and growing 8 percent annually, that $5,000 would become more than $50,000 in 30 years.

So what you actually robbed from your retirement is that larger number.

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Budget honestly

Joyce has a client who is taking her son to Europe due to a promise made when he was younger. As a single, working mom who lives paycheck to paycheck, she's putting the entire trip on a credit card.

Average credit card rates today hover around 17 percent. Say the trip is costing $5,000. If she could find $150 a month to pay toward that balance, it would take more than 15 years to pay off, and she'd end up paying more than $4,200 in interest.

That would mean her trip is costing $9,200 instead of the $5,000 initially charged on her credit card.

"Ask yourself what you can truly afford. You have to be disciplined," Joyce said. "If you can't afford to go to a certain place, don't go now. You can plan for it to happen later."

Average annual transportation costs for vacationing families

Airline fares$3,304
Buses between cities$252
Trains between cities$521
Local transportation on out-of-town trips$202
Taxis/car service on out-of-town trips$119
Gas for out-of-town trips$669
Parking for out-of-town trips$172
Tolls for out-of-town trips$71

Source: Source: ValuePenguin

Joyce encourages clients to set aside a money each month for travel. When you know how much money you have to work with, planning a trip becomes easier.

Also look at the real costs you'll encounter where you go. For instance, if you think you'll want to go on excursions or take Scuba diving lessons, look into the cost in advance and budget for it. Also be realistic about how much you'll spend on food and incidentals.

Leave the credit card behind

One of the problems with vacations is the sense of escape from real life, an attitude than can cause abandoning financial sense.

This disconnect shows up in the form of all those charges you put on your credit card during your trip.

"If you bring the credit card with you, you'll use it," Joyce said.

It goes back to having a vacation budget.

"If you have the discipline to say we only have a certain amount to spend, you can leave the credit card at home," Joyce said. "That way you don't spend $3,000 on a trip that you had only budgeted $1,200 for."

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