How much should you be spending on vacations?

Posted at 2:24 PM, Nov 16, 2019

(CNN) -- Even if you have most of your financial life budgeted down to the dollar, figuring out what you'll spend on vacation can be a lot more difficult to predict.

Prices for flights are constantly in flux. Plus, there are the unforeseen expenses like delayed flights, packages that are not as all-inclusive as you thought and tips and gratuities that mount up along the way.

Older Americans plan on spending more, overall, on travel in 2019 than younger people. Baby Boomers plan to spend an average of $6,600 on travel this year, while Gen Xers plan to spend $5,400 and Millennials $4,400, according to AARP.

But how much is too much for you?

Figure out what you can afford

One way to help determine the amount you can spend on a vacation is to follow the 50/30/20 budget rule, said Eric Simonson, a certified financial planner with Abundo Wealth, which provides financial advice and planning to travel lovers. In this plan, 50% of your income goes toward fixed costs like your mortgage, utilities, food and childcare; 30% is for discretionary spending; and 20% is saved.

"Travel falls within that 30% sleeve and a percentage of that 30% can be allocated to your vacations," said Simonson.

If travel is a high priority, you may find it competing with your other day-to-day spending on restaurants, concerts, shopping, golf memberships or alcohol.

"All the fun stuff," said Simonson. "But if you carve out a little bit from each one, and put it toward travel, you can have a nice amount set aside for a vacation."

Just make sure your interest in travel doesn't compromise your financial priorities, said Tyler Reeves, a certified financial planner at Plimsoll Financial Planning.

"Don't put any of your other non-negotiable priorities at risk," he said, including fixed expenses, paying off current debt, funding retirement and making sure an emergency fund is in place. "As long as you're not putting those in danger. Spend your money on what makes you happy."

Don't rely on plastic to pay for it

Never spend more than you have in the bank on a vacation, said Simonson.

That might seem like common sense, but Simonson said many families will put travel expenses they can't cover on their credit card and then they are still trying to pay it off a year later.

"This can add hundreds of dollars to the final cost of the vacation due to the interest charges," said Simonson. "It's best to budget throughout the year and save a monthly amount to be used on travel."

For example, setting aside $300 a month in a travel savings account will pay for a nice $3,600 vacation each year without having to use debt or pull from cash reserves, he said.

If you use a credit card as you are traveling, be aware of extra charges on some cards like, foreign transaction fees (typically 3%) that can be incurred on purchases you make outside the US.

If you don't have the money to pay for the vacation, then you should delay the travel or adjust your plans, he added.

Watch your rewards cards

Reward credit cards come with many travel benefits, including points that can be used to purchase hotel stays and flights.

Accumulating travel points is a great way to offset the cost of a trip if the credit card charges are purchases you would already be making and they are amounts you will be able to pay off at the end of the month.

When used responsibly, credit card points can be really helpful, said Reeves. But they often lead to an increase in spending that the person just can't afford to cover.

"People will find a credit card promo that will pay for a flight or a couple nights at a hotel, and they will spend way more than normal to get that bonus in a short time period."

Know the costs of a trip

It's easier to see what you could have cut and what was a total waste after you've spent the money. But planning a trip without a budget is a fool's errand.

Still, many people have no idea how much they plan to spend on a vacation, said veteran travel consultant Gabriela Aragon, of Aragon Travel in Florida.

"When you start working with someone you need to know about their budget," she said. "But 99% of people will never ever tell you how much they are planning to spend. I don't think they even know."

Know what is within reach, she said, and be flexible if you can't pay for it now.

If you cannot afford the vacation of your dreams, there are ways to scale back, said Aragon. She recommends shortening the length of your stay.

"Don't reduce quality. It is better to reduce quantity," said Aragon. "If you wanted to go two weeks, go 10 days. Go five nights instead of seven. Don't downgrade the experience."

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