Despite the overwhelming evidence that vacations make people happier and healthier, American workers are taking fewer and fewer days off. Some feel pressure to be at work 24/7, especially now that working from home is so common. Lots of people don’t have the time to spend on themselves, and some simply can’t afford it. The US Travel Association study found that in 2018, “a record 768 million U.S. vacation days went unused.”
If you’re ready to get happy and healthier by taking a vacation but need a little help putting the financial pieces together, check out these 10 tips to save money fast so you can take some well-deserved time off.
1. Open a Separate Vacation Savings Account
Keeping your vacation fund separate from the rest of your money can help you resist the temptation to use it. Every time you save money in a certain area of your budget or make a little side cash, put it right into your vacation fund. Don’t link it to any of your ATM cards — and try to forget the money is even there.
Also make sure to check the rewards offered on your current credit or debit cards, too. Many of them have cash back rewards that can oftentimes be customized to fit your shopping habits and earn you a nice chunk of change to save for some R&R down the line.
2. Keep the Change
A lot of people save money here and there by keeping a jar for spare change at the side of their bed or laundry room. But if you don’t usually carry around cash or prefer to use plastic, there are also credit card programs that offer similar money-saving features. Aj Saleem, academic director at Suprex private tutoring, said his credit card’s program for saving change works best for him.
“Essentially, on every company purchase I make, the amount is automatically rounded up and the additional cost is automatically transferred to my savings account,” Saleem said. “This allows me to save up money without actually feeling the need to take away money from my account. The psychological benefit really helps me.”
3. Carpool More Often
Your commute to work is costing more than you think. According to Reuters, 10.8 million Americans travel more than an hour each way to work. For lower-income workers who drive to work alone, the commute eats up 8 to 9 percent of their income.
Carpooling is an effective solution to the problem of how to save money. If you start carpooling, the driving is shared among participants, so your — and everyone else’s — costs are cut.
According to AAA, it costs 58.9 cents per mile to drive a midsize automobile about 15,000 miles per year. If you work 21 days out of the month and have a 40-mile round-trip commute, you’re spending $23.56 per day, $494.76 per month, or $5,937.12 per year. If you carpool with someone from work for just half of the month, you can save almost $3,000 a year.
4. Cancel Your Gym Membership
Depending on what time of year it is, it might be the perfect time to cut your gym membership and start exercising outdoors. The average cost of a gym membership is $58. If you cut your membership in May and commit to either exercising outside or in your house for the rest of the year, you could add over $400 to your vacation fund. Depending on where you’re going, that amount could cover the cost of a round-trip ticket for your dream vacation.
5. Make It a Friends Challenge
If you want to add a little competitive edge to your vacation savings plan, get your friends involved. A friendly competition could be one of the most fun and best ways to save money. Bryan Clayton, CEO of Green Pal said he and his co-founder have an in-office competition in which they compete for who can sign up the most customers for their service.
“Each week the ‘loser’ has to throw $50 into the vacation fund,” Clayton said. “By the end of the year, we should have a few thousand dollars saved up to go towards our end of the year company vacation…This makes our work more fun and give[s] us something to look forward to.”
6. Shop Smarter
Using coupon apps is one tech-friendly answer for how to save money on groceries and other shopping expenses. RetailMeNot, SnipSnap, Groupon, and Coupon Sherpa are popular coupon sites, and new apps with different money-saving features are added frequently. Instead of coupons, for example, Ibotta offers cash-back rebates every time you shop, and Flipp gathers all the store circulars in one area so you can compare deals.
Jill Cataldo, founder of Super-Couponing workshops and author of the nationally syndicated newspaper column and video series “Super-Couponing Tips” uses Flipp to plan her weekly grocery trips. She saves 20 to 60 percent on her regular shopping items. “You’ll enjoy its coupon-matching feature too, which automatically points out additional discounts available on what you’re buying at the supermarket,” Cataldo said.
7. Drive for a RideShare
Uber drivers can make as much as $90,000 a year, according to the company. However, many hours you decide to drive for Uber or Lyft, remember that drivers have their own out-of-pocket expenses, too. If you have to rent a nicer car than the one you own, you’ll have to pay for that yourself. You’ll also need to pay for car insurance, gas and any repairs to your own vehicle. Your car could also get more wear and tear than it would if you weren’t driving it to make extra money. The best way to make sure you spend extra money you earn on a vacation and not out-of-pocket expenses is some good, old-fashioned tax planning.
As an Uber or Lyft driver, some of your expenses are tax-deductible at the end of the year, which means you could be able to recoup some of your costs. Because you’re considered an independent contractor and not an employee of a ride-hailing company, you are technically running your own business, as far as the IRS is concerned. According to TurboTax, small business owners can deduct business-related expenses like:
- Lease payments
Just make sure you also pay quarterly tax on your side income, so you don’t end up with an unexpected tax bill at the end of the year.
8. List Your Space on Airbnb
If you have a spare room in your house or have friends or family you can crash with on occasion, you can make some serious side cash by renting out your room or house on Airbnb. Listing your space is free, and you decide how much you want to charge and which days to make your space available. Hosts have to pay a 3 percent service fee, but guests pay Airbnb’s booking fees, which range from 6 to 12 percent.
Nicki Bruckman, founder of Explorer Chick, an adventure travel company for women, has been an Airbnb host for nearly a year. “It only takes one time to get everything set up through Airbnb, then it’s pretty seamless,” Bruckman said. “Your guests request reservations, which then get sent to you through Airbnb and text for your approval. After they stay, your payment gets transferred immediately to your bank account.”
9. Participate in Online Research
If you have a computer, good internet connection and some spare time, you can boost your vacation savings by participating in online research in the comfort of home. For example, UserTesting.com pays people just like you to test different products and services before they hit the market. Different amounts of pay are given “depending on the test type–your test feed will always show you the amount you’ll get paid for each test. Payments for completed tests are sent 7 days later.” That’s cash in the back you can use for a vacation!
10. Become a Virtual Assistant
Virtual assistants, also known as “VAs,” help people with a variety of tasks — all online. You can work as much or as little as you want, usually right from your home or within your local neighborhood. You can work for one client or hire your services out to as many people as you want. Plus, the services you can offer are practically endless.
From editing or managing payroll to building websites or conducting research, VAs make a median salary of $24/hour but can charge more, depending on the level of skill required for the task.
To get started, make a list of your core skills and start advertising them on sites such as Upwork and TaskRabbit. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll find people looking for your talents.
BONUS: Become a Hair Model
If you don’t care who cuts your hair, stop paying for haircuts and put that money toward your vacation savings instead. “A lot of salons that train students need haircut models on a constant basis,” said Jesse Harrison, CEO of Zeus Legal Funding. “The haircuts look just as professional because a professional hairdresser will check on the student’s work and fix anything that doesn’t look right. I have gotten $100 haircuts for free this way, wash included.”
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Morgan Quinn contributed to the reporting for this article.