Budgeting for a Vacation Post-COVID — When to Start and How Much to Save

Summer is still months away, but no one will blame you for looking ahead toward a possible warm weather vacation. After 12 months of lockdown life, dreaming of a getaway is not only understandable, it might be just what we all need right now. And now is the time to start budgeting for a vacation post-COVID, so let’s take a look at how you can set yourself up today for a great trip when it’s safe to take one.

Where Do You Want to Go?

Before you start saving for a vacation, it’s helpful to have a target destination in mind. After all, time spent in San Antonio doesn’t come with the same costs as a trip to San Francisco. Knowing where you want to go will inform your saving decisions as you build a vacation budget planner to reach your goal of taking a memorable post-COVID vacation. Ask yourself:

  • Will I need to fly to my vacation?
  • Is a rental car needed or will I use a car-sharing service, public transit and my feet to get around?
  • Where will I stay: an all-inclusive resort, a campsite, a self-catered AirBnB, a hotel with free breakfast?
  • How long of a vacation do I want to take? And, of course, how long of a vacation can I afford?

Vacations with flights, especially if you have four or more in your traveling party, are naturally going to be significantly more expensive than a road trip. While all-inclusive resorts may cost more than a rental home or hotel room, having meals covered may ultimately save you money. 

Do your summer vacation research first, then start building your vacation budget planner!

When Should You Start Saving for a Vacation?

In short, the time to start saving for your post-COVID summer vacation is now! Whether you decide to put loose change and extra $5 and $10 bills into a piggy bank at home or open a separate vacation savings bank account with a scheduled recurring deposit, starting to save for a summer vacation today will ensure you have the money to pay for a memorable trip once it’s safe to travel again.

How Much Should You Budget for Your Summer Vacation?

Before you create a summer vacation budget, it can be useful to have a monthly budget that shows you, in advance, how much disposable income you will have to put toward budgeting for a vacation. Now, add up expected vacation costs then divide by the number of weeks between today and the start of your trip. For example:

  • If flights look to be $300 roundtrip and you have 4 members of your family going on vacation, that’s $1,200.
  • If a rental car is needed once you land for a weeklong vacation, let’s say that will be another $400 for a minivan or SUV.
  • Regarding your accommodations, let’s plan for $200 a night, as an example. That’s $1,400 for one week.
  • For food, the next biggest travel expense after transportation and lodging, you need to calculate an estimated daily breakfast, lunch and dinner budget. Hotels with free breakfasts help make vacations more affordable, but still, plan on spending $30 per person per day on food, on average. That’s $120 a day for a family of four x 7 days for a week of vacation = $840.

There will be other costs too, like souvenirs and admission to museums or other attractions during your trip, airport parking costs, and possibly pet sitter’s fees back at home. And if you plan on drinking alcohol on your trip, even if just a glass of wine at dinner, then you’ll very likely spend even more per day. You should estimate these costs as well to get as full a picture as possible, keeping in mind that the examples above are the normal big ticket items for most vacations. 

Now, let’s continue with this scenario and do some more math to see how much you should be saving each week to have a completely paid for trip:

Airfare: $1,200

Car rental: $400

Hotel stay: $1,400

Food and drink: $840

Extras: $500

Total travel expenses: $4,340

Weeks until trip begins: 26

Amount needed to save each week to pay for your summer vacation: $167

Where to Find ‘Extra’ Money for Your Summer Vacation

How much do you spend on your weekly groceries? How about gas, tolls, eating out and takeaway food while at home during a normal week? All of that money you would be spending at home should be folded into your savings while budgeting for a vacation. Additionally, look for travel discounts through your AAA membership, book-now, travel-later deals due to COVID, and cashback on hotel and car rental bookings through sites like Rakuten. You might even find more affordable rental car rates through store memberships such as Costco.

Should You Pay Cash or Use a Travel Rewards Credit Card for Your Summer Vacation?

Paying with cash requires less financial discipline, as there will be no bills to pay when you get home from your vacation. However, it’s also worth considering that a travel rewards credit card can:

  • Give you up to 30 extra days to pay for your trip.
  • Kickstart your savings for your NEXT vacation!

Things to look for in a travel rewards credit card:

  • A generous sign-up bonus (X miles/rewards and/or a free hotel night each year if you spend X amount)
  • No annual fee (or an annual fee that’s at least waived for the first year)

Finally, you must have the discipline to only use the credit card for your vacation expenses you’ve been saving for. To avoid interest charges, you will also need to pay off the balance in full when the bill comes due. If you do this, you may benefit greatly with bonus reward points and miles that will help you the next time you begin budgeting for a vacation.

Read more: Creating a Budget on the Path to Financial Wellness

Divorce & Finances: How to Financially Prepare for Divorce

Nobody wants to think about getting divorced, and planning for an emergency scenario or major life event is hard enough as it is without juggling divorce and finances simultaneously. The unnerving reality of relationships, however, is that, statistically speaking, one third of marriages will end in divorce — and the divorce rate in 2020 may end up even higher. It may be wise then to think about how to financially prepare for divorce today, as a way of strengthening your financial and emotional well-being tomorrow.

How to Financially Prepare for Divorce

Financially preparing for a divorce can be a rather tumultuous affair but being diligent with your divorce and finances may make your present day life easier, and your future brighter and clearer. We’ll begin with the compiling phase of financially preparing for divorce.

Know Your Assets

Step one in divorce finance preparation is to know your assets backward and forward. This is especially crucial for a spouse who may have handed over control of     their financial life. Knowing your assets means, at a bare minimum, making a master list or spreadsheet of all bank accounts and balances, retirement plan assets, real estate investments, pensions, social security, brokerage account holdings, etc. Essentially, where is your money and how much do you have? While a list may suffice, ideally you’d have in your divorce finance portfolio the most recent quarterly or monthly statement for each individual asset. This will help you and your lawyer, if you’re using one for a potentially contested divorce, understand your and your spouse’s full financial picture.

Understand Your Liabilities

The other side of the asset coin is your liabilities. How much do you still owe on your home, HELOC, car(s), kid’s college tuition, personal loan(s), credit cards, and other debt obligations? Collect recent statements from each of your individual or shared liabilities as well, to fully prepare for your divorce.

Tax Returns

Finally, as you compile all your financial records, collect the last three years of tax returns, especially if you filed jointly.

Ask For Help

Even the most independent person can get lost in the weeds of a divorce; It’s okay to ask for help and build a support network to see you through this potentially difficult period. There are financial planners and advisors, CPAs and attorneys, trusted friends and wise family members alike who may be able to assist you in financially preparing for a divorce, whether you have children or not, and whether you expect your divorce to be a quick, friendly agreement or an elongated, embattled process.

The Here and Now

You’ve assembled a team to be in your corner and have a clear picture of your holistic financial life, from 401(k) statements to credit card balances. Now it’s time to go granular as you figure out how to financially prepare for divorce.

Save Money

One certainty of divorce finance is that your divorce will cost you…something, because even amicable divorces have legal, notary, and court filing fees associated with them. Start saving money to not only help pay for your divorce but to help you prepare for the next chapter of life too. Here are tips for saving money at every age.

Reduce Spending

In order to save money you’ll likely have to reduce spending but don’t cease all of your normal expenditures. You’ll still want to live your life — get your weekly takeout dinners, keep your streaming services active, buy the books you want to read next — you also want to show that your well-lived life has a cost associated with it. Exhibiting this fact could be helpful as the divorce agreement is drawn up by the lawyers and the amount of spousal support you need is set.

Track Your Expenses

How much do you actually spend on takeout each month? Annual vacations? If you don’t already have a budget to keep track of your month-to-month as well as yearly expenses (and you should!), now is the time to put that together to get through the divorce comfortably and to see what the next phase of your financial life will look like, where cuts will need to be made, and so on.

Thinking About The Future

Eventually, the divorce will be finalized and you’ll begin the next phase of your life. Here are some final things to consider regarding divorce and finances.

Open Accounts In Your Own Name

It’s possible that you don’t have a bank account of your own, or a credit card in just your name. As you navigate how to financially prepare for divorce and look toward your bright future, open accounts in your own name — and only in your name. You’ll start building (or rebuilding your credit) and also not have to fear getting ‘cut off’ from shared assets. You do not want to worry about having access to money before, during, or after your divorce.

Update Wills, Power of Attorney, and Beneficiaries

It’s likely that your spouse is tied, in some way, to most every part of your financial life. From being your Power of Attorney to the primary beneficiary of your life insurance policy and 401(k) retirement plan. Now’s the time to update all of these accounts with the names of people you trust, love, and will want to provide for in the future.

Therapy

While not necessarily a financial topic (although it may cost you money), consider speaking to a therapist or counselor during the divorce as well as after the decree is finalized. You may feel liberated, but be careful not to let complex emotions sneak up on you. Your emotional well-being is intrinsically linked to your financial well-being, so look out for yourself and treat yourself with kindness while embarking on your new life.

Read more: What is a good credit score?

Grow Your Garden With Only a Little Green

By Sean Pyles

Gardens can take many shapes — expansive beds of seasonal vegetables, decorative plants stuffed into an apartment, a shelf of herbs growing near a kitchen window.

Whatever the configuration, the fundamentals are the same: seeds, soil, care — and cash.

That last ingredient can be the hardest to come by. But no matter how ambitious your garden plans, you can control costs at each step.

Make a plan

Know what you want out of your garden and what you can afford before heading to a store.

“First step for a budget garden would be determining what your top priorities are,” says Ben Bowen, a Portland, Oregon, landscape designer. “Are you creating a space that needs to look good? Or is there some function like growing food or creating a gathering space?”

Once you determine the space’s purpose, then list each plant, pot and garden tool you would need.

Dream big, then come back to reality. Take a look at your budget to see what you can actually afford. A simple guide is the 50/30/20 budget, where half of your income goes to needs such as housing, 30% goes to wants and the final 20% goes into savings.

Your garden budget will likely come from the wants category, even though it might help you trim grocery spending.

You may be tempted to buy everything at once, but assembling your garden over time could help keep your spending in check. Building and planting a robust vegetable garden bed, for example, could cost upward of $500, depending on the size and complexity, Bowen says.

Shop smart

If you’re feeling sticker shock from that $500 figure, know that you can trim costs for your shopping list. You’ll have to put in a bit more effort, but the resulting savings can be significant.

Here’s a breakdown of shopping categories and how to cut costs for each:

Plants

FOR GARDEN VEGETABLES

Go for seeds over starts. While starts, or plants that have been partially grown already, are an easy way to kick-start your garden, they can be expensive.

For example, some vegetable starts cost close to $5 for one plant, but you can get a packet of seeds to produce many plants for less than $2. Start your seeds early enough so they’ll bear fruit during the peak growing season.

For starts, local nurseries may be the best value. They’ll often have plants grown on-site that are acclimated to your local climate. These can be hardier and easier to grow compared with starts shipped in and sold at chain stores, says gardener Kate Formichella, owner of Cape Cod, Massachusetts-based Flora Chella Design.

FOR DECORATIVE PLANTS

Think nearby here, too. Many local nonprofits have sales of native or easy-to-grow plants, often for just a few dollars. You can also get cuttings from friends for free; this is often easiest with succulents.

Soil

For something that’s everywhere, soil can get expensive fast. To cut costs, again check local resources. Farms and even landfills often have quality soil and compost they’re willing to give away, or sell and deliver for less than what you’d pay for bags at a chain store.

Gardening hardware

Garden hardware includes pots, shovels and hoses. Buying new gets expensive.

But there are sources of durable used supplies. Estate sales are one of the best spots to pick up cheap tools, Formichella says.

“Forget what’s inside the house at an estate sale and go right for the garage,” she says. “You’ll find shovels that are $1 or $2, and often they have durable ash wood handles. The tools you’ll find might be 40 or 50 years old and they’re hardy.”

Thrift stores are a good resource for pots, she says. If you’re doing most of your gardening inside an apartment and need a lot of containers, buying secondhand can mean big savings.

Be patient

A plant can take months to produce flowers or fruit. Likewise, ambitious plans for an outdoor garden lush with native plants or a chic indoor display will take some time to come together.

Assemble one piece of your garden at a time and consider holding off on some purchases until they’re more affordable. Some plants are cheaper once they’re out of peak season, and outdoor furniture to complement your new greenery will be less expensive in the fall. Focus on your priorities and play the long game. There’s always next summer.

About the author:

Sean Pyles is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. His work has appeared in the New York times, USA Today and more. Read more.

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Paying for a Summer Vacation on a Budget: Your 3 Best Options

Summer is here and vacations are calling. Whether you’re dreaming of an exotic trip or a weekend getaway, it can get pricey fast.

Wondering if you can afford a summer vacation, and if so, what’s the best way to pay for it?

Estimate the Cost and Adjust As Necessary

Last summer, Bankrate estimated a vacation for the average family of four ran over $4,000. Don’t let that price tag deter you. There are lots of ways to spend less on a vacation, such as:

  • Being flexible with your dates and destinations to find the best deals on flights and hotels
  • Driving to your destination instead of flying
  • Looking for last-minute specials on hotel rooms or rental houses
  • Renting directly with property owners through home rental booking sites like Airbnb or FlipKey
  • Picking a destination where you can stay with friends or family to save on lodging costs

Once you pick your vacation spot, estimate how much money you’ll actually need. Consider the cost of getting there by flight or car, plus the expenses at your destination, such as a rental car, lodging, meals, gas, activities, excursions, and souvenirs.

After adding it all up, compare the total to your current finances. If your dream vacation for this summer is more than you can afford, then scale it back to a more manageable sum or switch to a more affordable location.

Choose the Smartest of 3 Ways to Pay for Your Vacation

Now that you know how much you need, it’s time to plan which of the three payment plans is best for your current financial situation.

Cash

Cash is king, and it’s also the least expensive way to pay for your vacation since you avoid any interest charges. The most obvious source of cash is from savings. But if your entire savings consists of your emergency fund (a recommended three to six months of living expenses), experts advise against jeopardizing that to pay for a vacation.  

Instead, consider other creative ways to save or earn cash for your vacation. Between now and your departure:

  • Cut out discretionary extras, like eating out or nonessential shopping
  • Sell unused items, such as clothing, musical equipment, or furniture
  • Get a side gig, like delivering food or driving for a ride-sharing app

Credit Cards

While most financial experts advise against taking a vacation you can’t afford, i.e., one that leads to debt, there are some instances where paying for a vacation with a credit card is a smart choice that works to your advantage:

  • Travel Reward Cards: All card purchases earn you travel points or miles for flights and hotels, saving you money on some of your trip expenses. If you don’t already have this type of card, Investopedia advises that the rewards might make applying for one worthwhile, “if you are able to pay off your credit card balance monthly.”
  • Cash-Back Reward Cards: If you don’t travel enough to make good use of travel reward points, a cash-back reward card may be a better bet. Each purchase earns you a percentage of the total in a cash reward. According to Experian, it’s typically one to two percent, but “some cash-back plans offer a higher payback on a specific spending category.” If your card offers this on gas or travel categories, you’ll capitalize on that benefit while you’re on vacation.
  • Zero Percent Introductory APR Card: Opening this type of account specifically for your vacation can be a smart option if you only use the card for vacation expenses and are able to pay off the balance before the 0% introductory APR expires. 

Personal Loan

If those credit card options don’t appeal to you, the other alternative is a personal loan. According to ValuePenguin, “If you absolutely must borrow money to pay for your trip, a personal loan can be a better option than accumulating debt on credit cards.” The interest rate for a personal loan is typically lower than that of a credit card without a 0% or low introductory rate feature.

In addition, the monthly payment for most of these loans, including a personal loan through Prosper, is set over a fixed term. So, you’ll know exactly how much it will cost you every month and how long it will take you to pay it off. There’s also no penalty if you’re able to pay it off early.

It’s Never Too Early to Start Planning Next Year’s Vacation

If financing this year’s vacation is stressing you out, then start planning now for next year. Open a vacation savings account with an affordable direct deposit amount so you’ll automatically save with every paycheck. By next year, you’ll be able to afford the trip you want, without all the stress.

7 Financial Questions to Ask Your Partner

For most couples, discussing finances isn’t exactly romantic—at times, it’s downright awkward.

This Valentines day, we want to help couples avoid those awkward and potentially damaging conversations. Here are seven important questions every couple should discuss before taking the next big step, whether that’s moving in together or getting married.

How much have you saved?

According to Murphy’s Law, if something can go wrong, it will—which is why it’s important to have a safety net. Ask your partner about the emergency resources he or she has, and if one or both of you haven’t started saving, commit to getting a plan in place.

How much debt do you have?

Being in debt can add stress to any relationship. The average American has about $7,000 in credit card debt, and more than that if you factor in things like mortgages, student debt and auto loans, according to NerdWallet. If you and your partner are on the same page, you can work together to create a financial plan for paying these off.

What’s your credit score?

If you’re planning to make a big purchase or take out a loan together, it’s important that both you and your partner have good credit. Knowing your partner’s credit score will also help you understand how they manage money, since credit, debt and payment history all factor into your credit score. There are many free services for monitoring your credit score and identifying areas where you can improve.

How do you budget and save?

Everyone spends differently, so it’s no surprise that this topic can inspire disagreement. Perhaps one partner is a “saver” and the other a “spender,” or one wants a new car while the other wants to save for a European vacation. Online budgeting apps and modern financial planning tools like LearnVest make it easy for couples to share goals and keep track of spending.

What are your financial goals?

Do you and your partner have a 5 or 10-year plan? If so, are they aligned? These are important questions to ask, especially if you’re thinking of home ownership or hope to grow your family some day. A study by Prosper found that only 38 percent of Americans have a financial plan, although an additional 38 percent said they expect to create one in the future. Planning together — especially with dual incomes — will make it easier to achieve these goals.

How are you planning for retirement?

The Prosper survey results also showed that marriage encourages people to plan for the seemingly distant future. For instance, while 65 percent of married people said they understand a 401(k)—a common way to save for retirement—only 47 percent of single people felt the same. Other retirement options include opening mutual funds, investing in stocks, opening a high-yield savings account, or a combination. Regardless of what you choose, ask your partner what they’re doing to save so you can understand how that impacts your retirement prospects.

How do you envision sharing finances?

The decision to share finances depends on where you are in your relationship, as well as your personal preferences. While some couples pool the majority of their money into joint accounts, others opt to keep their accounts separate and split their expenses. Before you decide, research your options. Some routes, such as taking out a joint credit card, could have a negative impact on your personal credit if your partner racks up the bill.

While it’s not always easy to discuss finances, it’s important for a relationship’s longevity that both partners are on the same page. The ability to have frank conversations about money is a skill that you’ll be glad to have honed — and this seven question checklist is only the beginning.

Seven Tips for Sticking to Your Budget While Traveling

With the end of summer right around the corner, you might be thinking of squeezing in one last getaway. Whether you’re embarking on an old-school road trip or an international expedition, sticking to your budget while traveling is always important.

You’ve worked hard to save money for your travels and have carefully drawn up a budget for the trip—and it’s 100% possible to have a great time without veering off the path toward your financial goals. Check out our seven best tips for sticking to your budget while traveling.

  1. Track your spending. Use an app, pencil and paper, or spreadsheet—whatever works best for you. The key is to monitor your money throughout the trip to make sure you’re staying within your budget. Consistent tracking can help prevent overspending. Plus, you’ll know if you have any extra funds available to splurge on a special meal or other treat.
  2. Consider switching to cash. Using cash can make it easier to manage your expenses. Try giving yourself a daily allowance. Put the day’s cash allotment in your wallet, and when it’s gone, you’ll know you’ve hit your limit. If you’re outside the US, experts recommend using a local ATM to get cash because you’ll likely get a better exchange rate than from a traditional money-changing service.
  3. Be smart about meals. Eating out will probably be one of your biggest expenses while traveling. Consider alternative lodging options, like renting a home or apartment, which will allow you to cook money-saving meals for yourself. Our previous guide to affordable travel has several great tips about vacation rental websites, including Airbnb and VRBO. If you’re staying in a traditional hotel, it may be best to avoid the hotel restaurant, as it is likely among the more expensive places to grab a meal.You can also keep your budget in order by planning ahead for snacks. Visit a local grocery store to stock up on affordable bites so you won’t have to waste money on an expensive, unplanned meal when hunger strikes. You may also want to purchase supplies to host your own happy hour at your lodging to cut back on pricey bar tabs.
  4. Set realistic expectations. While it’s great to have a detailed budget, it’s important that it also be realistic. Be sure to leave room for purchasing a few souvenirs or having dinner at a special restaurant. That way, you’ll be able to enjoy your travels without any guilt.Bonus tip: Before you start loading up on souvenirs, think about your luggage. If you flew to your destination, going home with an overweight or oversize bag can lead to extra expenses.
  5. Try public transportation or walking. There are several perks to these methods of getting around. As long as it’s safe, they can be great ways to avoid traffic jams and explore like a local. Plus, these options are generally much cheaper than taking a taxi or ride-share service.
  6. Skip the tourist traps. While it might be fun to go see famous landmarks and popular neighborhoods, these “tourist-y” areas probably aren’t the most economical choices for having lunch or grabbing a souvenir. When you hop off the cruise ship, for example, try wandering a few blocks past the port to see where the locals eat. Chances are, you’ll find better food and save money while you’re at it.
  7. Look for free events. When it comes to entertainment, prioritizing free events can help keep your budget on track. Find out what’s going on in your area by checking out relevant social media pages and websites, or even asking your vacation rental host for recommendations.If you do want to attend a ticketed event, like a sports game or musical performance, it may be cheaper to buy tickets in advance directly from the vendor instead of using the services of a hotel concierge or other third party. Some cities have great options for discounted last-minute tickets, such as TKTS for theater productions in New York City.

Already dreaming about next year’s vacation? Find out if consolidating your high-interest rate debt with a personal loan could free up extra funds to put toward a memorable trip. Get started by reading our recent guide to simplifying your life with debt consolidation.