It is that time of year again when Summer vacation plans are in high gear. Many people are jetting off for a Shenzhen trip around Europe or a backpacking journey through Southeast Asia. But no matter the destination, only one thing will make it possible.
Low wage earners automatically think that vacations are for the rich, and this has led to over 658 million vacation days going unused in 2015 alone according to a survey done by Project Time Off. Survey recipients cited factors such as workload and lack of competent staff as a few of the reasons, but over one third alluded to lack of funds as the main determining factor.
However, taking a vacation should be something for everyone to look forward to after working hard all year. I am here to tell you that it is not some luxury only for the rich. A vacation can be afforded by almost anyone.
You might be craving a long awaited getaway but don’t know how to make it happen.
So, let me tell you how I saved for a Summer vacation while working for $9 per hour (around $1300 per month after taxes) as a Customer Service Agent in New York City. This was back in 2013, inflation has to be factored in, but these principles are timeless.
Know Your Current Expenses
The only way to even consider a vacation on a small wage is to know your daily, weekly and monthly expenses.
After I have paid the utilities, credit cards/loans, bought food, gas, and put away a few “rainy day” dollars every month, how much do I have left? This is the question you should ask yourself before anything else.
At this point in my life my main expenses were rent, food, transportation, two credit cards, and two monthly subscriptions (Netflix, Amazon Prime). I was twenty-two at the time, hence, I did not have kids, a mortgage or thousands of dollars in debt (which might change how you can apply this strategy to your personal situation).
When you have a gross estimate of your expenses, you can then decide how much of your income you can put towards a vacation. It is best to do this at least a year ahead of your desired getaway. I started the preparation work at least 9 months in advance.
Upon completing your expense sheet, you will have a better idea of where you stand. This means you will be able to know how much you can put towards a vacation from each paycheck.
After monthly expenses, I was able to save $100 per month, $50 from each paycheck (fortnightly). With this number I could then determine the following:
- Where I could go on vacation.
- What kind of deals are available for that destination. (For e.g. Expedia has daily package deals which include flights and a hotel to hundreds of cities worldwide). Tip: It is best to opt for the all-inclusive hotel options, this way you won’t have to worry about food, which greatly reduces your costs.
- How long I could stay.
Be cognisant of the fact that these deals change daily, therefore, when you buy will be determined by how much you have saved. But, it is always good to have a rough estimate of how much you will need before you even start saving. Once you have your savings set aside, check for great deals almost daily.
Remember also, that nothing is set in stone. Where you go will be determined by what you have in the bank. So if you only saved $700, and that can take you to Dallas, then go to Dallas!
Create a Saving Strategy
My bank at the time was TD Bank, which allowed me to have a free savings account along with my personal checking. There are many banks that offer this feature nowadays.
This option is best as it allows you to distribute your paycheck between both checking and savings with no hassle.
If you get paid via direct deposit, you can easily set this up with your employer. Have a certain amount of your pay sent to checking for normal spending and a certain amount sent directly to your savings. If you get paid via check or cash, then you have to be responsible enough to do this yourself.
At the end of nine months I had saved $1023.57. This is as a result of me saving $100 every month for nine months, plus I transferred a few extra dollars from checking to savings every now and then, as I knew I would not be using it all on a vacation. It was also a savings account after all.
However, the amount in the bank at the time of my trip (September 2013) was exactly $454.26 as I had purchased my Expedia vacation deal to the Dominican Republic two months before in July for $569.31. This included a 5 day, 4 night stay at an all-inclusive hotel in La Romana and a round trip on Jetblue.
Hooray!!! My Summer getaway was now a reality.
Plan Your Vacation in Advance, but Leave Room for Spontaneity
After all this planning and saving, I know you are just ready to jump on that plane and go live it up, but…not so fast.
Even though you will be staying at an all-inclusive hotel which offers a lot of amenities, you will need to have some spontaneous fun.
A vacation that is planned down to the wire can be monotonous and unexciting. Therefore, leave some room for one or two adventures. Many times you will not know about these thrilling excursions until you arrive.
After purchasing my Expedia deal, I had at least $300 to spend on other treats. When my best friend (he saved his own money) and I arrived in the Dominican Republic, after getting some rest, early the next day we were at the Concierge. We wanted to know some cool tours we could go on.
A hotel pool and beach is fun, but you want to get outside the walls and explore.
We opted for a RV tour of a Haitian refugee village and a Catamaran boat ride to Saona Island off the coast of Punta Cana. In total, this cost around $180.
When you plan your trip but leave some room for spontaneous happenings, you will not be surprised by your bank account when you log in. Vacation regret is a real thing!
There were other miscellaneous expenses such as clothes for the trip (extra items I did not want to put on credit cards) and paying for transportation from the airport to hotel, but this was not more than $170 and was all in budget.
At the end of this trip I still had over $100 in my savings account, which is a win if you ask me.
So you see, vacations are not just for the rich, because I was definitely no where near that at the time. Of course your personal situation will determine how much you can save, but this proves it is not impossible. Budget, save, and go use those vacation days. That is time you will never get back.
Have you ever saved for a vacation on a meager income?