Vacations offer a much-needed break from the grind of working and everyday life. All good things must come at a cost, however, and sometimes that cost is much higher than expected.
“Overspending on vacation is a common occurrence for many people,” Bola Sokunbi, the founder of Clever Girl Finance, told HuffPost. “Countless temptations on vacation can put us in a different state of mind. We want to treat ourselves and overindulge. Additionally, many of us follow the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality. You put in the long hours to earn your money, and now it’s time to enjoy it by spending it on everything you want.”
If you accidentally stretched your budget a little too far during your last vacation, don’t panic. We asked experts to share their advice for getting back on track financially after a particularly overindulgent trip.
Assess the damage.
“The first thing you should do when you get home from vacation is know exactly how much you spent while you were away,” said Courtney Alev, a consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. “Look at your credit card statements and bank accounts to see a list of all your transactions, and think back to if you spent any cash.”
Don’t forget to factor in any outstanding expenses, like repayment to the friend who put their card down for restaurant meals or a final charge from the hotel.
“Although you may be fearful of looking at your bank account after vacation, the best thing you can do for your finances is to tackle it head-on,” Sokunbi said. “You may realize you’ve spent more or less than you thought.”
Take note of when your next credit card bill is due and whether you’ll have the funds to cover it so that you can take action quickly. Resist the urge to ignore the problem.
Create a realistic plan.
“Creating goals around your finances is a great way to get back on track and recover from overspending,” Sokunbi said. “Once you know how much you’ve overspent, you can make that number your savings goal. For instance, if you’ve spent $1,000 more than you intended, your goal can be to save that amount over the next two months.”
You can embark on a specific money-saving challenge to gamify the process and make it a bit more enjoyable. Tell your loved ones or find an online community for extra support and encouragement.
“Savings challenges encourage you to save a set amount of money each week for a period of time,” Sokunbi said. “It’s a great way to stay motivated when saving money.”
If you’re facing credit card debt due to your vacation overspending, you’ll want to prioritize paying that back as soon as possible.
“Create a debt repayment plan, figuring out how much you can afford to put towards your credit card balances to pay down these travel expenses faster before high interest fees start accruing, and makes these travel expenses even more expensive to pay down,” said Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance and budgeting expert.
“Considering the average credit card interest rate is over 24%, paying any interest on travel expenses means you will end up paying 24% more for it!”
She recommended getting a balance transfer credit card to give yourself time to pay off your debt without interest piling up. Try to be realistic as you make a plan.
“Establish achievable financial goals and timelines,” recommended Kara Stevens, the author of “Heal Your Relationship With Money” and founder of The Frugal Feminista. “Breaking down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps can make the process more manageable.”
Embrace a ‘little spend’ lifestyle, at least temporarily.
“You may need to make some temporary tweaks to your budget to account for the recent increase in bills, and attempt to decrease your nonessential spending,” Alev said. “There are certain tactics you can try ― for example, you can embrace a ‘little spend’ lifestyle, which essentially means you primarily spend on essentials until you’re in a better place financially.”
After indulging on vacation, tighten your budget to pay back debt or rebuild depleted savings. Don’t make purchases outside necessities for a week, month, or however long you need.
“If you usually allocate money to eat out each month, you can save that money and focus on preparing meals at home,” Sokunbi said. “Instead of spending money on entertainment, try having movie and game nights at home to save money.”
She also recommended implementing a 24-hour waiting period before you make a purchase and disconnecting your cards from online stores.
“Perhaps you don’t cut out every discretionary purchase either and only commit to cutting out those luxury services you really don’t need, like your once-monthly massage, bimonthly manicures, monthly house cleaning or weekly car wash,” Woroch suggested.
“Some of these services you could forgo for a couple or a few months while stashing away the amount you would’ve spent in savings to help pay off your travel. This could easily and quickly amount to a few hundred dollars, if not to a thousand or more, without making a big impact on your daily living.”
Budgeting tools and apps can also help with expense tracking and increase awareness of your spending habits.
“The cash envelope method is a helpful budgeting strategy to help curb your spending,” Sokunbi added. “With this type of budgeting, you allocate different amounts of cash to varying expenses in your budget. Once the money is gone, you have reached your spending limit. By using cash more, you become more aware of your spending.”
Be a savvy shopper.
Adopt a savvier approach to shopping for any necessities that you can’t cut out of your budget.
“Use cash-back sites for all those daily essentials you need to purchase, as the money you earn could be used to help pay off your travel debt,” Woroch said. “Meal-plan to save on groceries, and comparison shop.”
Whether it’s pet care supplies or home goods, switch from brand-name to generic options when possible. Make good use of credit card points as well.
“It’s also important to be consistent,” Alev said. “If your repayment plan and new budget aren’t feeling realistic once you put them in practice, and you see yourself falling behind, adjust them so that the goals you set are actually achievable.”
Don’t get down if you fall behind. Take an honest look at your needs and routines, and tweak plans as needed.
“You know your spending habits best, and you can avoid putting too much pressure on yourself by taking it step by step,” Alev added.
Shift your mindset.
“The idea of having to pay off the bills from your vacation may be overwhelming. But the longer you put it off, the more financial hardship you may face, especially if your credit card bill starts accruing interest charges,” Alev said. “Try a mindset shift: Viewing your temporary spending changes as a lifestyle choice to reduce your financial burden, versus viewing it as something you are forced to do, can alleviate some of that stress.”
Adjusting your mindset will not only improve your mental well-being, but it will also help you commit to habits that can get you back on track.
“Don’t shame yourself for overspending on vacation,” Sokunbi said. “After all, we only live once. Instead of dwelling on your mistakes, be proactive with your finances. Be more aware, focus on your goals and prioritize saving money. The more you focus on doing better, the easier you will manage your finances.”
Consider a side hustle.
“Another strategy you can try out is increasing your income,” Sokunbi said. “This can look like putting more hours in at work, or working a part-time job or on a side hustle.”
Talk to friends and get creative as you brainstorm ways to make a little additional money. You might try selling your unwanted clothes and other items on Poshmark or Facebook Marketplace, for instance.
“Look [for] a side hustle that you can do in your spare time to make some extra cash,” Woroch said. “It’s not something you have to stick to either; you could go back to it when you need extra cash, like when planning a big trip. I love flexible side hustles that don’t require much skill, like pet-sitting.”
Learn from the experience.
“Reflect on your overspending and identify specific reasons for it,” Stevens said, suggesting that you “learn from the experience.”
“Use these insights to adjust your financial habits and make better decisions in the future.”
In addition to ensuring your next vacations are less financially problematic, you can also apply the lessons you learn to your general finances.
“Use this experience as motivation to start or replenish an emergency fund,” Stevens said. “Having savings can provide a financial cushion for unexpected expenses and prevent future overspending.”