How to Stick to Your Vacation Budget (and Have a Fun, Guilt-Free Trip)

Your bags are packed. The weather looks perfect. Your out-of-office message is prepped.

But you’re worried about blowing your vacation budget.

According to Entrepreneur, the average American family of four spends around $4,580 annually on vacations. That’s a hefty chunk of change, and the last thing you want to do is stress over expenses instead of enjoying your well-earned time off. By taking a few simple steps before, during and after your trip, you can ensure that you return home refreshed and relaxed, instead of biting your nails over the bills.

Before You Leave

Research

Get an idea of restaurant options at your destination and approximate price ranges. Don’t overlook the authentic, delicious and affordable meals you can find at places like street vendors and grocery stores. Do the same for attractions. You may find some of your “can’t-miss” activities become “not worth it.” Look up free museum days and see if attractions offer discounted admissions for late-in-the-day visitors.

Build Room for Spontaneity

When you go on vacation, you inevitably find something you didn’t plan for: a can’t-live-without souvenir or an experience you didn’t see in your research. IndependentTraveler.com has a travel budget calculator that outlines various expenses that you may not have anticipated. Budget some cash in a “miscellaneous” category or pad a category, such as food, where you may overspend.

Know the Exchange Rate

Search online to get an idea of exchange rates. Knowing, for example, that 100 U.S. dollars is roughly equal to more than 2,500 Czech koruna can help you avoid taking too much or too little money from an ATM. You can also exchange dollars for foreign currencies before you leave and divvy money up for food, activities and transportation costs.

During Your Vacation

Do What Works for You

Especially with sites like Instagram, traveling can become a competition for the most beautiful photo backdrop. While friends, family and travel sites are great for inspiration, don’t let someone else’s “can’t-miss” spots throw you off your financial game. If you spend half your daily budget on an unforgettable lunch everyone recommended, consider a cheaper dinner.

Avoid Impulse Buys

You’ve built room for spontaneity, but there’s plenty that will try to lure you away from your vacation budget. Temper impulse purchases by doing one thing: Sleep on them. You can return to shops or attractions the next day after weighing the pros and cons. Besides, the best vacation memories are just that — memories. Experience is scientifically proven to make you happier than things. If you need to purchase gifts, consider a handwritten postcard. It’s thoughtful and affordable, and many souvenir shops even sell stamps.

Track Expenses

It’s essential to make sure you’ve got an accurate snapshot of what you’re spending. Add up expenses as you go. Then at the end of the day, you’ll know if you’re on track (or if you should look for more affordable activities tomorrow).

When You Return

Check Your Accounts

Using a mix of cash, credit and debit cards gets confusing. Do a quick audit when you return to check if you went off track — and to make sure no unauthorized charges sneaked onto your account.

Build Your Savings Back

Came in under budget? Put that money into your savings account when you return. Spent a little extra? Create a plan for replenishing the cash you dipped into, like shifting a fixed amount of your paycheck into savings each week.

Plan Your Next Trip

55 percent of Americans left vacation time unused in 2015, but having a vacation to look forward to is proven to increase happiness. Start looking at destinations for your next trip and determine what your new vacation budget needs to look like to make it happen.

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