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Rewards, Shopping, Travel

Start saving now for your summer vacation

Dawn Papandrea

Now that the holiday season is over, can we just fast-forward through winter and focus on summer vacation? Unfortunately, there are still a couple of dreary, cold months ahead, but it’s not too soon to start thinking warm thoughts and preparing financially.

Try using these three strategies to get a jump-start on funding your next adventure:

1. Target your credit spending to earn travel rewards.
My sister loves Disney Cruise Lines and uses her Disney co-branded credit card through the year so she can redeem the rewards points for onboard credit. This allows her to enjoy extras, such as spa treatments and upscale dining options, that would otherwise be beyond her budget.

The most well-known travel rewards usually revolve around accumulating airline miles or discount stays with specific hotel chains. If you’re loyal to one brand or tend to stick with one specific type of destination or experience, chances are there’s a card program to match your travel style.

The key with any rewards card is to pay off your balance in full each month so that interest charges don’t end up canceling out the value of the benefits you’re getting.

2. Start saving money in a separate account.
Remember when you were a kid and went on a family vacation? You weren’t the one who had to worry where the money was coming from or stress about spending too much. Your only order of business was to have a great time.

Planning ahead and knowing you have saved up enough to fund your trip can help you recapture that carefree feeling, and really enjoy your vacation. Think of it this way – saving for a trip gradually means that you won’t be shortchanging your budget all at once (or putting the entire cost on a credit card).

The best way to save for anything is to open a separate account that you can’t easily access and allocate and automatically send an amount from each paycheck there, just as you send some of your paycheck to your retirement fund.

3. Pick up clearance items a little at a time.
You might find last year’s leftover summer and beach gear at bargain prices right now – a practical way to use up any gift cards you received over the holidays. Also look for holiday clearance deals on luggage, and start stocking up on toiletries from discount stores.

In fact, shopping sales year-round can help alleviate hidden vacation-related costs that creep up at the last minute.

For instance, remember that Disney Cruise? My sister convinced us to go with her this year, so right after Halloween, I grabbed all the pirate costume gear I could find on clearance for when my family of four participates in the “Pirate Night” deck party. That’s one less expense I’ll have to worry about as the trip approaches.

Even if summer travel might be the furthest thing from your mind right now, start prepping your finances. Maximizing your credit card benefits, stashing away trip cash and picking up essentials a little at a time are the best ways to keep your vacation costs from snowballing out of control as your big trip approaches.

See related: 6 questions to ask when choosing a rewards card

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