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How to budget for your summer vacation

Whether you are going to your state's beach or flying across the country to a warmer locale, stay on budget for your summer vacation with these seven tips. Tip No. 2: be realistic about what you can actually afford when you plan your summer vacation.

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    Lifeguard stands along the beach at Haulover Park in Miami Beach, Fla.
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Everyone needs a vacation from time to time. It's a break from the day-to-day grind and an opportunity to spend quality time with family. But just because this is your escape from responsibilities and reality, it doesn't mean you can spend money like it's going out of style.

Summer is right around the corner, so now's the time to think about your plans and budget. Here are seven tips to begin preparing your budget for summer vacation:

1. Estimate How Much You'll Need

To begin preparing your budget for summer vacation, research the destination and get a feel for how much you'll spend. This way, you know how much cash it'll take to make the vacation happen. There are several things to take into consideration. For example, what's the average hotel rate in the city? What are your transportation costs? How much will you spend on activities? How much do you anticipate spending on meals every day? Also, don't forget to include incidental costs in your budget, such as road tolls, souvenirs, fees for boarding a pet, or hotel parking surcharges. Based on these factors, estimate the minimum you'll need to save each week or month.

2. Be Realistic About Your Budget

You might have your heart set on a fabulous, envy-worthy summer vacation, but you need to plan a vacation you can actually afford. One of the worst things you can do is get into debt financing your summer vacation.

"Don't finance a vacation and place the cost on your credit card or line of credit unless you have a responsible repayment plan," says John Rosenfeld, head of Everyday Banking at Citizens Bank. "A credit card is a great convenience, especially when traveling, but if you don't pay off the full balance, you will incur charges that will add to the expense of your vacation and may make your vacation memorable in an unintended way."

3. Set Up a Vacation Savings Account

Some people make the mistake of keeping their vacation cash in their checking accounts or stashed underneath their mattresses. But with the cash easily accessible, it might be tempting to spend the money on other things. Instead, open a separate savings account specifically for your vacation money, preferably with an online bank so you can earn a higher interest rate. Also, look into automating your savings to ensure you're putting something in the account every paycheck.

"Set up an automatic transfer to a separate savings account on a weekly basis with whatever you can afford, [even if] it's just $25," says consumer and money-savings expert Andrea Woroch. "After 12 weeks, you'll have stashed away $300 cash without even realizing it. Though it may not be enough to cover your entire vacation, it can be used for gas money for a road trip or for meals."

4. Get Rid of Expenses That Drain Your Pocket

We're all guilty of spending money on stuff we don't really need. Unfortunately, these seemingly innocent purchases can be the difference between affording and not affording a vacation. You'll be surprised at how fast your vacation budget grows once you eliminate a few expenses and put the savings into your vacation fund.

"Cutting back on monthly spending will speed up your savings efforts," Woroch says. "Focus first on luxury services and include anything that you could live without for a few months or can do yourself at home like professional house cleaning, weekly car washes, manicures and pedicures, and dog grooming."

5. Know the Local Deals

A vacation budget may limit how much you can spend, but you can still have a wonderful time and experience new things in your destination city. If you take advantage of local resources, you might be able to do more without breaking your budget.

"Once you pick your vacation destination, sign up for local deal newsletters such as Groupon, LivingSocial, or Amazon Local Deals in your destination city," suggests Regina Novickis, consumer expert withSlickdeals. "This can be a great way to tap into experiences in the city at a much lower rate."

6. Sell Your Stuff

If vacation is right around the corner, and you don't think you'll save enough in time, sell unwanted stuff for quick cash. There's probably a lot of stuff in your house that you don't need or use. Go through your garage, attic, basement, and closets, and turn your trash into cold, hard cash.

"Selling unwanted stuff to pad your summer vacation budget is less painful, and can be as simple as selling unwanted stuff at a yard sale or online at Craigslist," says Kendal Perez, savings expert for CouponSherpa. "You can also sell that old iPhone that's been collecting dust at websites like Gazelle or NextWorth, and earn over $150 in some cases!"

7. Create a Plan to Stay on Budget

It isn't enough to create a summer vacation budget, you have to stick to it and only spend what you've set aside for the trip. If you haven't already, sign up for online banking or download your bank's app to your smartphone. When you're constantly swiping your debit card for attractions, meals, gas, and incidentals, charges can add up quickly and it's easy to lose track of how much you're spending.

Mobile banking is a practical way to keep track of your budget on-the-go, letting you transfer funds, locate ATMs, check balances, and pay bills, according to Rosenfeld. Additionally, you can avoid overspending by staying away from credit cards and bank debit cards altogether, and loading funds onto a prepaid debit card.

Glinda Bridgforth, personal finance expert and author of Girl, Get Your Money Straight, adds, "once you know how much you can allocate towards vacation, load it on a prepaid card, like a Green Dot Prepaid Debit Card, to ensure you're staying within the budget you've outlined and avoid overspending,"

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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