Most Americans Go Into Debt to Pay for Vacations — But You Don't Have To

Most Americans Go Into Debt to Pay for Vacations — But You Don't Have To

In case you haven't noticed all the #wanderlust photos populating your Instagram feed, the summer travel season is here!

And if you're like most Americans, you've already got a few trips planned — and likely had to take a financial hit to help pay for them. According to the 2017 LearnVest Money Habits and Confessions Survey, 74% of people say they've gone into debt to pay for a vacation, to the tune of $1,108, on average.

Ouch.

Overall, the survey found many people prioritize their summer fun over their finances, but it's possible to pay for your next vacay without sacrificing other areas of your budget. Here are more surprising findings about the vacation-spending habits of your fellow Americans — along with tips to satisfy your adventure kick without digging yourself into debt.

We're Spending a Lot on Vacations

On average, Americans spend 10% of their annual income on vacations. A quarter of respondents even said they spend 15% or more.

While there's no hard-and-fast rule of what's appropriate to spend fulfilling that wanderlust, your total vacation spending should align with what you can afford given your One-Number Budget allocations. If vacation spending is impeding what you can put toward fixed costs, flexible expenses and goal contributions, then you may have to reset your travel approach.

Pro Tip: First, step away from the flash airfare sales.

"People get caught up in the idea that, 'I'm getting this $1,000 plane ticket for $300, so I'm saving $700,' but you're still spending $300 that you may not necessarily have," says LearnVest Planner Matt Shapiro, CFP®. Plus, if it goes onto a credit card and you're unable to pay off the balance in full, you're just paying more for the ticket in the form of interest or fees.

Instead, choose a destination and stick to it. The thrill of a discount might not be as enticing once you book: About three in four people say they're more likely to save ahead of time for a destination if it's one they most want to visit, rather than choose a destination based on the lowest price (for which they won't save).

You can also stretch your dollar before you hit your destination by crowdsourcing low-cost recommendations from friends who've visited before, or via social media, blogs and travel sites. Mapping your trip ahead of time can ensure you skip pricey tourist traps and get to the good stuff on your list, Shapiro adds.

RELATED: Saving for a Vacation Can Help Improve Your Finances

Most of Us Don't Budget for Vacations

We just saw how much of our paychecks go toward vacations, and yet a shocking 55% of Americans have forgotten or failed to account for them as part of their annual budget. Given two-thirds of respondents also said a week-long vacation would cost more than their monthly rent or mortgage, it's insane such a large expense often goes unplanned for.

If you fall into this camp, getting your vacation fund together is simple.

Pro Tip: According to our One-Number Budget strategy, your vacation spending should be factored into your non-monthly expenses. Tally up how much you spend on vacations in a year (look to past years' numbers for a good benchmark), then divide by 12 to figure out how much you need to stash away each month so you're financially flush once travel season hits.

"If vacation is a big part of your budget, set up a separate savings account and have a small portion of your paycheck directly deposited," Shapiro says. This makes saving a no-brainer, and you'll know exactly how much you have to spend on your vacation based on what's in the account.

If you're saving for an even bigger trip more than a year away, budget for it as a financial goal. In the end, "the more time and effort you put into planning, the better your vacation will be," Shapiro says.

We Cut Back on ‘Fun’ Spending to Help Pay for a Trip

The most common ways Americans save money before a trip are by cutting back on restaurant outings (50%); shopping less (48%); and spending less on entertainment (41%). Scaling back on discretionary spending can be a good start to padding your travel fund, Shapiro says, but it's not the only way.

Pro Tip: If you'd rather not give up your social life, brown bag your lunch three times a week instead of eating out, and you could save an average of $143 per month.

Avoid common budget-zappers that sneak in with the summer heat: Refill your own water bottle to save yourself the markup (2,000 times!) for store-bought H20; trade pricey sunscreens for budget-friendly ones just as good; and freeze your gym membership to save hundreds while you get your sweat on al fresco.

Finally, find quick ways to boost your income. Tap existing skills to earn money through a side gig (you might not even have to leave the couch). If you're able to, rent out your space while you're away. "It's worth looking into Airbnb or VRBO to put your current place up for rent, since it'll be empty while you're on vacation," Shapiro says. Doing so can help recoup a few hundred bucks without even lifting a finger.

We Prioritize Travel Over Retirement

Sure, dreaming of your next vacation is more alluring — and immediate — than thinking ahead to your golden years. While 32% of Americans marked vacation savings as a financial priority, only 7% said retirement savings was top of mind.

Pro Tip: Here's a dose of tough love: It's time to kick that thinking to the curb.

"I see the breakdown as a financial need versus a financial want," Shapiro says. "You need to save for retirement, you need to pay off student loans, you need to pay your rent — but going on vacation is definitely not a need."

As for your neglected retirement savings, a good place to start is making sure you're contributing to a company 401(k) or your own IRA with every paycheck. How much you stash away will depend on your situation; in the case of a company-sponsored plan, contributing enough to max out your employer match is a good goal.

There are also plenty of retirement calculators out there to help give you some guiding numbers, and they'll show you the sooner you get started, the better off you'll be when it comes time to hang up your hat at work.

And hey, now that you're a pro at plotting out your vacation goals, this simple mind trick can make you just as excited to save for your post-career life. Because even though you're excited about that backpacking trip now, you don't want it to happen at the expense of the many island getaways you'll have planned for the future.

RELATED: You Shouldn't Work on Vacation, and Here's Why

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