Mistakes You’re Making When Planning Summer Vacations While in Debt

Summer is here, and everyone you know seems to be on vacation. Your Instagram feed is full of photos of friends and co-workers lounging poolside at a resort or seeing the sights in a cool international city. You should probably book your big-ticket holiday too, right? Not so fast.

Why you need a vacation

Juggling the responsibilities of day-to-day life while also working full time can take its toll on your physical and emotional health. Taking time off of work is vital to maintaining your well-being—and too few Canadians are doing it.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by flight comparison website Skyscanner.ca, less than half of Canadians (48 per cent) used all of their vacation days in 2016. Twenty-two per cent said they used most of their days, 14 per cent used some of their days, and 15 per cent didn’t manage to take any time off.

By all means, use your vacation days—you’ve earned them. A vacation is an opportunity to relax and de-stress, spend time with family and friends and enjoy some “me time.” What it shouldn’t be, however, is a reason to accumulate debt—especially if you are already carrying a debt load.

The cost of keeping up with the Joneses

A 2017 survey conducted by MagnifyMoney in the U.S. found that the average American planned to spend $2,936 on their summer vacation that year. One in five (21 per cent) of respondents said they planned to go into debt to pay for vacation.

North of the border, vacation expenses run even higher. Skyscanner.ca’s Canadian survey found that 73 per cent of those surveyed planned on spending up to $5,000 on travel. Even though 20 per cent of the survey respondents had a smaller budget, they were still willing to spend up to $1,000 on their travels this year.

For many Canadians, $1,000 – $5,000 could cover a few monthly mortgage payments. That’s a lot of money. If you plan to pay for some or all of your vacation expenses with borrowed money—credit cards, a line of credit or a personal loan from an online or traditional lender—you can expect the cost to be even higher than the $1,000 – $5,000 range, depending on your interest rate. Credit cards in particular are the most expensive way to borrow money, with Canadian banks now charging rates between 20 to 23 per cent on popular credit cards.

Let your bank balance be your guide

If you can’t comfortably afford a vacation now without incurring credit card debt, will you be able to afford the cost later, when the interest starts accumulating on your statements?

Let’s say you spend $4,000 on your credit card, at an interest rate of 20 per cent, to pay for flights and accommodations for your family vacation. Then you diligently make payments of $200/mth to your credit card provider. How long will it take to pay off this vacation debt? The answer is 25 months—just over two years. And it will cost you nearly $5,000: $4,000 to pay the principal and another $906 to pay the interest.

Bottom line: if you don’t have the money saved, forget the expensive vacation. Consider how much it could actually end up costing you when interest is factored in, and let your bank balance determine what you do during your time off.

Budget-friendly vacation ideas

What can you do if an extravagant vacation isn’t in the cards this year? You could plan a family road trip to visit friends or relatives who live nearby. Your biggest expense would be the cost of gas, but you could stay for free and save money on dining out by having many of your meals at home, cooking and eating together.

Day trips are another fun option that’s even more affordable than a road trip. Alberta has much to offer, so why not explore this amazing province of ours?

Last but not least, you could plan a staycation packed with fun, low-cost activities. You might be surprised by the range of things you can see and do closer to home —for example:

  • Explore everything your city has to offer—check out your local zoo, galleries, museums and science centres with interactive, child-friendly exhibits. Most public galleries and museums have “family fun days”, especially in the summer, with loads of creative activities for kids at little or no cost.
  • Attend summer festivals—almost every small town has at least one of them, and St. Albert, Edmonton and Calgary have many, from music festivals and food festivals to K-Days and the Calgary Stampede.
  • Enjoy outdoor activities like family picnics in the sun, nature walks and visits to your neighbourhood pool, splash park or one of the many great lakes in Alberta.

Peace of mind is priceless

If you start saving money this year, you might be able to enjoy that big vacation next year, debt-free and guilt-free. However, if you’re having trouble paying off the holiday debt you’ve incurred over the past few years, on top of any previously existing debt, talk to a professional before it becomes overwhelming. With the right direction, you can be on your feet again, and planning for a well deserved vacation. Remember that vacations should be relaxing, and knowing that you’re not accumulating more debt will give you true peace of mind.