Dollars & Sense

Summer’s here and that means picnics, fireworks and, if you’re like a lot of Americans, a vacation. A survey by American Express shows the average vacation in 2014 will cost more than $1,100 per person. Whether you’re heading to the beach, the mountains or even abroad, you’ll want to find the best bang for your vacation buck.

Vacations create fun, lasting memories for families, but they can also be a significant expenditure. Plan ahead, shop around and budget carefully, and you’ll be ready to relax and enjoy your trip.

Ten tips for fun trips

As you plan your next trip, here are 10 money and timesaving ideas to get you going:

Create a budget. Before you do anything else, decide how much money you have to spend on this trip. How much will you spend on airfare, hotel, food, rental car, gas and souvenirs? If you need extra time to save for a dream vacation, create a savings plan. How much money do you need to set aside each month to comfortably afford your trip? If it’s a quick weekend getaway, you might have enough saved to go now. If you’re planning a European extravaganza, you may need significantly more time to save.

Start your research. The planning and anticipation of a trip is sometimes as much fun as the trip itself. Get started in the planning process as early as possible. Research the area and attractions you’d like to see. Develop a rough itinerary so that you can start looking for bargains and deals.

Compare. This is the portion of your vacation research that may take the most time – and be the most confusing. Review multiple websites and compare offers. You may find a package deal for airfare and a hotel through an airline. You may find a tour package that includes hotel, food and admission to tourist sites, but that doesn’t include airfare. Read the fine print and make sure you’re making an apples-to-apples comparison when looking at prices. If you’re on the fence as to flying versus driving, visit AAA’s fuel cost calculator (http://fuel to compare driving costs against the price of an airline ticket.

Be flexible. Major tourist attractions will be the most expensive and crowded during the summer.There may be great bargains on everything from airfare to accommodations if you consider alternative dates. The same may apply to traveling weekdays versus weekends.

Eat economically. Food expenses can add up quickly. Look for hotels that include breakfast in your overnight stay. Many hotels also offer microwave ovens and refrigerators or even small kitchens. Preparing your own meals part of the time can also help your budget. Carry your own snacks and water to avoid overpriced tourist-location food.

Be a coupon clipper. Get online and look for coupons and special offers in the areas you’ll be visiting. Ask about discounts through your hotel. Membership in many associations, such as AAA or AARP, will earn you a discount on everything from hotels to meals to rental cars.

Look for freebies. Hotels catering to families frequently offer stay- and eat-free programs for kids. The same applies to restaurants, which may have special kids-eat-free deals with the purchase of an adult entrée.

Understand the fee frenzy. Flying the friendly skies? While some airlines let your luggage fly free, most charge a fee. You may also pay more to check your bag at the gate versus paying online before you leave home, so check in online before heading to the airport. Escalating baggage fees are a good incentive to pack light.

Rack up points. Regardless of whether you fly or drive or where you stay, if a company offers travel reward points, sign up for its program. You can redeem points for future travel, gift cards, merchandise and more.

Stick to your budget. You created that budget, now stick to it. You don’t want to come home from your trip with a big credit card bill hanging over your head.

Stay Home on the Range. If you don’t have the time or money to travel this year, be a tourist in your own town and enjoy a “staycation.” Create a small budget to visit some local attractions the tourists come to town to see, but you rarely take time to visit yourself. You can stay in your own home, but enjoy a few days out with minimal impact to your budget.

Dollars & Sense is a monthly column provided by the Oregon Society of CPAs

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