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Don’t Go Into Debt to Pay for Summer Vacation

Planning a trip with several friends is a good way to spread out vacation expenses. (iStockphoto)

The allure of summer vacation may drive many Americans to spend more than they can afford. In fact, 1 in 5 vacationers said they will go into debt in order to pay for their summer getaways, according to a new MagnifyMoney survey.

Survey respondents say that they expect to spend an average of slightly less than $3,000 on vacation this year. About 20 percent of those vacation costs will be covered by some form of debt.

Using debt to pay for a big trip has never been more alluring. Americans are rekindling their love for plastic as household wages increase, and credit card rewards make it tempting to use plastic and rack up points that can be redeemed later. But credit cards also have the tendency to drive some consumers to spend more than they can afford.

Travelers who say they are planning to take on debt to pay for their vacation will spend nearly twice as much as the average vacationer. These debt users will spend $4,351 on average. Vacationers who plan to dodge debt will spend just $2,936. And debt users will use debt to cover an even larger share of their total vacation expenses – 38 percent versus 20 percent – according to the survey.

Not surprisingly, the vacationers who said they are debt-free were the least likely to finance their vacations with debt.

If you’d like to take a fantastic summer vacation – without racking up more credit card debt – here are a few tips to save on your getaway.

Don’t let your fear of missing out drive you into debt. In the survey, 31 percent of vacationers who have debt said they felt pressured to take a vacation, even though they’d rather pay down their debt. It can be difficult to stick to financial goals when it seems like everyone in your Instagram feed is uploading photos of themselves on the beach. Consider muting your social media apps for a while.

Visit a national park or state park. Skip the all-inclusive resort and plan a family camping trip to a state or national park. Parks typically charge less than $20 per person and many offer campsite rentals. Hiking is free, so pick up a map of nearby trails and spend the day exploring. By cooking your own meals on site, you’ll avoid pricey restaurant bills. Choose budget-friendly items you can repurpose for several meals. For example, a large container of oatmeal costs only a few dollars but should cover three breakfasts for a family of four. For mix-ins, purchase a jumbo container of trail mix, which can double as a snack during the day. Pick up enough ground beef for burgers one night and tacos another.

Use connections with family and friends. Lodging is one of the most expensive parts of any vacation. If you can find a free place to stay with family or friends, you’re well on your way to staying on budget. But you don’t always need a personal connection to save on lodging. If you live in a desirable city, you could check out house-swapping sites such as HomeExchange or HomeLink. The sites help match you with travelers who live where you want to travel and want to travel where you live.

Make it a group trip. For young adults, planning a trip with several friends is a good way to spread out the expenses. You can split the costs of an Airbnb or hotel room, divvy up the cost of gas and cover your meals on your own. The only thing to worry about is that everyone pays a fair share of expenses. Use apps like Venmo and Splitwise to keep tabs on who owes what.

Save ahead of time. Waiting until the last minute to plan a vacation is one of the easiest ways to kill your budget. Prices for flights only get steeper the closer you book to your travel dates, and budget hotel rooms can fill up far in advance in popular destinations. Even if you may not know where you want to travel, at the very least consider opening a separate savings account at the beginning of the year and setting aside money from each paycheck.

Travel off-peak. Peak summer travel begins after Memorial Day and extends through Labor Day. If you can hold off on the urge to travel during those months, you can cash in on off-peak prices for big-budget items such as airfare and lodging. Daily deals sites, such as Groupon, can be particularly good at scrounging up discount getaways during off-peak months.

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