It's important to my wife and me that we create a memorable summer vacation each year for our three young children. Each year we openly discuss as a family what kind of adventure we would like to embark on. For 2011, we made the decision to rent an RV and drive to Yellowstone National Park. The trip overall was a cherished experience that we'll never forget. But there was also something else that I will never forget -- that is, how much we spent on gasoline. Given where gasoline prices are today, now is the perfect time to plan ahead and budget for summer vacation travel plans.
As you begin to discuss your own options, it's helpful to put a dollar amount to how much you can afford to spend. I caution that whatever you do, do not spend money that you do not have. In other words, do not charge your travel expenses to a credit card that you plan to pay off in the future. Unfortunately, due to the rising price of gasoline, your dollar will not stretch as far as it has in the past. Build the extra cost into your budgeting so it doesn't take you by surprise when it's too late to make adjustments to your plans. You also don't want to end up dipping into important savings, such as your retirement account, to pay the bills afterwards.
There are ways to deal with rising prices at the pump that won't throw off a family's summer budget. Yet, strategies often involve cutting back on other areas of spending. I often coach my clients to learn to control the "controllables" in their financial lives. This is a helpful strategy to keep in mind for vacation planning, too. Gas prices are clearly not within your control. So what can you control? First and foremost, you can control your budgets, evaluating where discretionary spending can be cut to compensate for other costs.
Here are some recommendations that may help this year as you and your family plan your summer travel.
1. Look into the possibility of downgrading the normal star rating of your hotel room in order to save on overall lodging expenses. Maybe you can get by perfectly well in a three-star instead of a four-star hotel.
2. Instead of planning on dining out for three meals a day, visit a local grocery store and buy a number of ready-made meals and snacks.
3. Limit the amount of trinkets the family acquires on the trip. Consider giving each child a specific dollar amount, a vacation allowance, to spend on souvenirs and small treats. This can also help instill in your children an understanding of budgeting on a small scale that can serve them well as they get older.
4. If you don't like the idea of making some daily concessions, you could consider cutting the length of your travel. Instead of traveling for seven days, you could trim it down to four days and follow an increasingly popular choice: the "stay-cation" for a number of your vacation days. This can actually offer a relaxed, wind-down after your travels before returning to everyday life.
As I tell my kids, money doesn't grow on trees. Therefore we have to spend responsibly and not spend money we do not have. Creating a separate vacation fund, and also having a reserve fund to fuel (quite literally!) your day-to-day gas needs when prices do fluctuate through the year can help you spend prudently. This way, there is no way current gas prices can wreak havoc on your dream vacation. With a little planning and a few sacrifices, your trip can be just as amazing and memorable. And equally importantly, you can stay on budget and not end up with a nasty surprise when the credit card bill arrives.
ING Retirement Coach Jacob Gold is a third generation financial advisor. He is a published author of "Financial Intelligence; Getting Back to Basics after an Economic Meltdown", which was published in August 2009. Gold is a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner and FINRA Series 7, 66, 24 securities registered.
Securities and Investment advisory services offered through ING Financial Partners, Member SIPC. Neither ING Financial Partners nor its representatives offer tax advice.