The snow has finally melted, the birds are chirping again, and for many of us, our minds are starting to wander with thoughts of summer vacation.  For many of us, worries about those extra expenses are also starting to creep in and disrupt those visions of lazy, hazy days with family and friends. Don’t despair! There are steps you can take right now to make sure your dreams can become reality:

1. Set a savings goal

Have a family meeting and discuss some realistic options from everyone’s wish list. Is it a trip to Europe? Camping? How about a staycation with day trips to the local water park? Setting achievable goals is the first step in planning your summer break, so you can determine how much money you will really need to have available to make the plan work. It’s important to set clear expectations and limits – for yourself and your family – to avoid stress and disappointment. Once you know what you’re working towards, you can break down how much you need to save per paycheque to help you reach your goal.  You can also discuss what each family member has to do to help reach the goal. Will the kids be responsible for their own spending money? Can working teenagers contribute a small amount to make the plan work? If an expensive holiday just isn’t in the cards for this year, be creative in the short term to come up with an equally enjoyable experience for all, and start working toward the larger goal for the future.

2. Create a spending plan

If you don’t have a personal or household budget, this is the first step to finding money for your vacation. It will likely be an adjustment to set some extra aside if you don’t know what you need for the rest of your expenses.  Check out www.mymoneycoach.ca for lots of great and easy tips and tools for simple budget building. Once most people take the time to track their spending and create a budget, they usually find it easy to identify expenses that they can cut back on so they can achieve their savings goal. Each member of the family, including the kids, can take a look at their own spending habits to see where they might be able to find some opportunities to contribute as well.

3. Look for expenses to trim

One of the easiest ways to find a little extra money is to trim back somewhere else. As part of your budgeting process, start to track different things you’re spending your money on.  Look at all of your expenses and decide where you can cut back. That could mean creating meal plans and taking advantage of price matching to save money on groceries, or taking a closer look at your communications plans to ensure you’re really using everything you’re paying for (or maybe you’re using more you’re your plan and paying for expensive overage fees).  There are so many different places our budgets leak money if we’re not keeping track, so take the time to look and see where you can plug some holes. One (or more) of these leaks may be your ticket to a vacation this year.

4. Get creative when it comes to saving money

PSST! Want to know a secret? There are lots of fun ways to get creative about saving.  There’s the 52 Week Money Challenge, collecting coins in a jar, or even the 30 Day Money Challenge. Did you know that you could save $465 in only 30 days? What? It’s true!

For each day of the month, save the amount of the date in a jar or separate bank account. Start by saving $1 on the 1st  of the month, $2 on the 2nd  of the month, and so on, until you reach $30 on the 30th. By the end of the month, you’ll have saved $465!

Challenge yourself and your family members to try this or to come up with other creative ways to save to meet your vacation goal.

5. Setup automatic transfers

We can be our money’s worst enemy, so we need strategies to keep it safe from ourselves. Your bank or credit union can help you set up automatic transfers from your chequing account into another account where it’s more difficult to withdraw, taking the money out of your reach and making it less tempting to spend. This could be a high interest savings account that is not linked to your bank card. If, for example, you were to automatically transfer $25 per week into a separate savings account, you would have $1,300 saved within a year. By breaking down your vacation savings goal into small amounts per week or per paycheque, the task of savings feels less overwhelming, and automatic transfers mean you don’t even have to remember to do it!

With summer finally just a few months away, now is a great time to start thinking about the ‘how’ of your vacation, as much as the ‘what’.  Go ahead and daydream about bbqs and days at the beach, but don’t forget to get real about your budget and spending, using these steps. Planning and saving ahead of time will avoid stressful, long-term credit card payments that can last long after the fun of the vacation has been forgotten!

Have a safe and happy summer!

Anne Arbour is the Credit Counselling Society’s Financial Educator for the Greater Toronto Area. Anne has over 20 years combined experience in facilitation and financial services, including operating her own small business financing company. Anne graduated with an MBA from York University – Schulich School of Business. She is passionate about promoting financial literacy in her community, about meeting new people and building strong working relationships. The Credit Counselling Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping consumers manage their money and debt better. CCS provides free, confidential credit counselling, debt repayment options, budgeting assistance and financial education. To contact the Credit Counselling Society please visit www.nomoredebts.org or phone 1-888-527-8999.