Plan now, save later: setting vacation goals

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Long-range planning in winter can help you save money for a summer vacation. Make your vacation plans first, then set a goal for saving the money they call for.

Let's face it. Vacations are costly. So figure on traveling the least expensive way. If you drive, stay in budget motels, eat out of supermarkets instead of restaurants, and cover lots of territory quickly on the way to your vacation hideaway.

Look into other ways to travel, such as flying and, if necessary, renting a car at your destination. Flying will likely gain you more vacation days where you want to be -- at the seashore or in the mountains -- at less cost per on-site day than driving. Check special fares, night coach, and long- range booking.

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Consider alternative lodging and eating possibilities at your chosen resort. A hotel or motel two or three blocks back from the beach, or a room overlooking the parking lot instead of a mountain view, can save a bundle of cash. Or you might stay for less in a university or college dormitory.

You can cut your savings goal dramatically by planning to spend less on your vacation. If you can cut your spending from $1,500 to $1,000 by economizing on nonessentials, you simplify the task of putting money aside.

Saving with a specific plan in mind is easier than saving for no specific purpose. Label a special savings account "Vacation 1980." For graphic emphasis, draw a large vertical bar chart on the back of a calendar with your dollar goal at the top. Hang the chart on the wall where the household ears. As your savings grow, color in the bar chart. Fund-raisers use this graphic trick effectively.

Adopt the "little from many" rather than "a lot from a few" approach. That is, get everyone in the family to take part in contributing to "Vacation 1980." Teenagers can help. Working parents can contribute the cost of a dinner out once or twice a month. Spending less on food is easier when you stage "vacation potluck" meals once, possibly twice, a week.

While these tips can help build a vacation fund over several months, the big payoff comes from the putting money aside from every paycheck first. Pay bills and spend cash from whatever is left. The "pay me first" saving system works for any purpose, but it works particularly well when all the family is motivated.

To keep interest high, study and plan itinerary and activities at least once a week. Collect brochures and information from the visitors' bureau at or near your destination. Clip articles in travel sections of newspapers or magazines. Detail someone to borrow information from your library. The more you know about the area you'll be visiting, the more you will enjoy your trip -- and the quicker you can collect the scratch.

In this way, you can enjoy the planning almost as much as the actual trip.

If your vacation plan includes something other than travel, apply the same techniques of getting everyone involved, planning early, looking at alternative costs, and picking the best match-up of value and fun.

Having cash in your pocket helps you relex. You can enjoy your vacation instead of wondering where the cash will come from to pay for those credit card chits that arrive in showers shortly after you return home. If your trip or vacation plans are worth doing, they're worth saving for.

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