How to Control Vacation Spending Before Hitting the Road

Before you hit the road for your next vacation, PNC has suggestions for how to save ahead of time and avoid spending too much.


If you’re like most Americans, you’ve already started thinking about summer travel. Unless you’ve hit it big in the lottery, chances are you might spend more than you want to once you hit the road.

Sandy Zimmerman, who manages PNC’s Retail division in the Columbus market, suggests vacation goers should set aside a little extra money ahead of time to help make the trip easier on the budget.

“Many people don’t budget for vacation, even though it’s one of the biggest expenses they’ll make all year,” Zimmerman said. “I have talked with so many customers who said their weeklong vacation costs more than their monthly rent or mortgage payment.”

Zimmerman suggested that the earlier you start saving for a large expense such as that dream vacation, the better.

“Consider setting up a separate savings account and have a portion of your paycheck directly deposited into it,” Zimmerman said. “This is similar to saving for retirement, when you don’t have access to a certain amount of money because it is going directly toward your future. You can use that same approach when saving for vacation and you will know exactly how much you have at your disposal.”

How Much Is Enough?

Zimmerman said it’s a great idea to look at last year’s bills to determine how much money you spent on vacations in the past.

“That way you’ll have a really good idea about how much you should save ahead of time,” she said.  “Think about those extra costs – splurging on a big meal, buying souvenirs, staying at a premium hotel. It’s okay if you do that, but if you don’t plan for spending that kind of money, you’ll regret it once your credit card bill arrives.”

Preventative Measures

There also are ways to reduce spending in the months before taking your vacation. Sure, spending less on entertainment and dining out would be helpful, but Zimmerman suggests that packing your lunch every day could save hundreds of dollars between now and the summer vacation.

“Don’t wait until the last minute to make your airline or hotel reservations,” Zimmerman said. “As soon as you know your plans, you should look for sales and jump on those. I’m not just talking 21 days out, but booking months in advance could save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.”

Once that hotel is booked, see if they include breakfast. Zimmerman suggests paying for one less meal a day could also reduce the spending budget.

family hiking in the woods

Slower Is Good

If you decide to travel by car, keeping the speedometer around the speed limit may increase your gas mileage and save you money at the pump – not to mention save you the unexpected expense of a speeding ticket

“Even the weight of your vehicle could add up to unnecessary expenses,” Zimmerman said. “Don’t pack too many bags. Reducing the weight of most mid- to full-sized vehicles by even 20 pounds may increase fuel economy by a full mile per gallon. That doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up over a long trip.”

Nothing is Cheaper than Free

When you arrive at your destination, Zimmerman recommends looking for free activities on local websites or social media feeds of city sites you’re visiting. “You can ask your hotel concierge for ideas – that’s what they’re paid to do,” she said. “Be sure to ask your friends who might have visited the same place if they have any suggestions for free activities.”

“It all begins with a budget,” Zimmerman said. “Just a little planning ahead could really make your vacation a memorable one, -- and not based on the bills.”


Learn how PNC's Virtual Wallet can help you budget »


Sandy Zimmerman
Columbus retail leader Sandy Zimmerman says the key to optimal vacation spending is to plan and budget for your trip.
Vacations are supposed to be fun. Be proactive early on with your finances so you won’t be surprised when you open your credit card bills after the trip ends.

– Sandy Zimmerman