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Along with your cellphone provider…
And insurance carrier…
And gas station…
Getting away from it all may be more challenging during these scary pandemic times, but if anything, the stress and anxiety we all feel day in and day out make it even more crucial.
The problem is that going on vacation isn’t cheap. If you want to avoid getting into a debt spiral as a result of your next vacation, here’s an idea… get help.
No, I’m not suggesting you ask your parents to pay for your next vacation. They have their own financial stresses and don’t need more of the same from you (though if that vacation includes visiting with them, your costs could be significantly lower…).
If Vacation Isn’t Your Thing, How About Christmas Shopping?
My clients often want to put funds into their budget to pay for Christmas shopping without having to raid their emergency fund or put more on their credit cards than they can pay off in January.
That’s admirable. I’m all for it.
However, if you want to budget say 1% of your overall annual spending to cover Christmas shopping, is there a smart way to pay for it?
It Takes a Village…to Pay for Your Vacation or Christmas Shopping
Well, sort of… Here’s how you do it.
You get high-reward credit cards that give cash-back rewards.
My personal favorites are Citi’s Double Cash Mastercard (gives 2% unlimited on all shopping categories) and the Amazon Prime Visa card from Chase (gives 5% on Amazon purchases as a credit toward future Amazon purchases).
Here’s your 4-step action plan, once you have those cards…
Use your 2% cash-back card (whether from Citi or any other you prefer) to pay for anything and everything you can, except for orders from Amazon – use your Amazon Prime card for those.
At the end of each month, get the non-Amazon reward as a cash-back check and deposit it into a high-interest savings account, a certificate of deposit (that matures by the time you’ll need the money), or a money market mutual fund. Call this your “Vacation and Gift Account.”
When ordering anything from Amazon using your 5% reward points, transfer the money you just saved on that purchase from your checking account into your Vacation and Gift Account.
When buying those Christmas gifts, try to find good deals on Amazon, where you can use your accumulated points. If there aren’t enough points, use your Vacation and Gift Account to pay off the new charges on your Amazon Prime card. Use your Vacation and Gift Account balance toward any vacation costs too.
How Much Can You Save Up Like This?
Obviously, the answer depends on how much you spend throughout the year.
Let’s try to estimate for a family of 4 with a household income of say $80k. Note that this is for more normal times than during a global pandemic.
- Insurance (homeowners, auto, umbrella): $3,000
- Fuel, parking, and tolls: $4,000
- Auto maintenance and repairs: $2,000
- Groceries and supplies: $10,000
- Doctor visits, health coverage, and prescriptions: $6,500
- Restaurants and entertainment: $8,000
- Clothing, shoes, and services: $2,500
- Personal care: $1,000
- Miscellaneous: $3,000
All in all, that’s $40,000 in annual spending that should mostly be payable with credit cards.
Get 2% cash-back on all that, and you’ll save up $800 per year. Spend say $4,000 of that on Amazon, and the 5% rewards will net you an extra $120, for a total of $920.
Depending on the interest rate you get on your Vacation and Gift Account, you’ll earn a few extra bucks that’ll be thrown in by your bank.
Depending on your preferences, that should cover a decent chunk of your next vacation or more than cover your Christmas shopping.
A critical word of caution here…
Do not, under any (non-emergency) circumstances, buy stuff on credit that (a) you can’t pay in full at the end of the month, and/or (b) buy something more expensive or that you wouldn’t otherwise buy just to get the cash-back reward.
Either one of those will more than negate any benefit you get from implementing the above method.
The Bottom Line
If you’re disciplined enough to (a) not spend more in order to generate higher cash-back rewards, and (b) pay off your credit cards in full at the end of each month, the above method will let you easily save up over 1% of your overall spending each year. You can then use that money to help pay for your next vacation or this year’s Christmas shopping without raiding your emergency fund or borrowing excessively.
About the author:
My career has had many unpredictable twists and turns. A MSc in theoretical physics, PhD in experimental high-energy physics, postdoc in particle detector R&D, research position in experimental cosmic-ray physics (including a couple of visits to Antarctica), a brief stint at a small engineering services company supporting NASA, followed by starting my own small consulting practice supporting NASA projects and programs. Along the way, I started other micro businesses and helped my wife start and grow her own Marriage and Family Therapy practice. Now, I use all these experiences to also offer financial strategy services to help independent professionals achieve their personal and business finance goals.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.