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Vacations & budget-busters

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–A few years ago we called attention to the need for Americans to slow down a bit on the apparent obsession some of us have, thinking we need to take a better vacation this year than last. And, usually that will cost exorbitant amounts of money.

Today, things such as sticker shock at the grocery store, soaring gas prices, rising costs of flying, mortgage foreclosures and job cutbacks prompt us once again to offer some timely (perhaps we should say timeless) reminders.

Despite the fact that some travel companies say that travel is down — whether by plane, train, bus or car for the first time in more than a decade — this time of year many of us still get that itch that we’ve been led to believe can only be scratched with a vacation.

We are an entertainment- and recreation-oriented nation. Of course, vacations aren’t bad. In fact they’re good and can be very beneficial when kept in proper perspective. However, if you’re in debt you shouldn’t even think about using money that rightfully belongs to creditors in order to entertain yourself.

Those of us who are Christians need to rethink and reset some of our standards and resist this tendency toward lavish overspending. Let me put it this way: Now more than ever let’s begin to put some tight restraints on vacations.

Even if we were not facing the elevated prices that overwhelm us today, the problem has been that many Christian families don’t save for their vacations. Instead, they charge — it’s called instant gratification. And, it’s no secret that the primary source of credit card debt accumulation comes from vacations and eating out. These pursuits may be enjoyable and even legitimate at times, but they can hardly be considered essentials.

Families overspend on vacations because they haven’t saved enough for a holiday and so they use their credit cards. Quite often, the previous year’s debt is not paid off before vacation time comes again. And, as the debts pile up there is a greater desire to “get away from it all.” And, of course, that simply compounds the problem.

Unfortunately, bills eventually will become due and the debt obligation usually far outweighs any instant gratification.

This year, the gas price situation has presented some staggering restraints to vacation plans for many people. Gas prices make it more important than in previous years to stay within budget limits and look for ways to cut expenditures.

(Oh, did I mention that you should have a family budget that manages how you will spend your income, and that it should include planning for entertainment and recreation? You do have a budget, right?)

There are cost-saving alternatives available for your family if you are willing to consider them and are serious about staying within the percentage allocation of your budget for entertainment and recreation. You may not like all of the following suggestions, but at least consider them.

— Consider camping vacations to avoid motel and restaurant expenses.

— Select vacation areas within a couple of hours driving distance.

— Look into swapping residences with a friend, relative or Christian family in another locale to provide an inexpensive getaway.

— Consider taking a vacation with another family to reduce expenses.

— Although this one can be difficult for families with school-age children, plan vacations during off-seasons if possible.

— If flying, use the least expensive late night or early morning coach fares, and check fares on other than nonstop flights. You may have a favorite airline, but shop around. Ship stuff like golf clubs ahead instead of paying high airline fees for extra luggage.

— Play family games in place of paid entertainment. This could have a two-fold benefit; you save money and you might be surprised to discover that you actually like hanging out with your family.

— Don’t think that asking for a doggie bag is cheap; it’s your food, you paid for it. Eat those doggie bag leftovers for lunch the next day and/or “brown-bag” as often as possible.

— Consider purchasing the restaurant special of the day if it’s the least expensive item.

— Look at eating at restaurants that have “early bird” dinner specials from 4 to 6 p.m., which are far less expensive than menu items after 6 p.m.

— If you absolutely must take an extended or expensive vacation, save for it now and take it when you have enough money to handle it.

— We’re told that you’ll improve gas mileage by 30 percent if you will keep tires properly inflated, stay within the speed limit and don’t accelerate or brake rapidly.

This is a pretty basic list and there are many ideas you probably could come up with to help you have an enjoyable vacation that won’t bust your budget — if you’re willing to take a little time to look for them.

One thing is certain: God always has an alternative to debt. Once you commit to living within the means that God has provided for you, He will open all kinds of less expensive alternatives for you and your family to have an enjoyable vacation time of rest and recreation.

God knows when we need to have a break and some enjoyable rest. And, once our attitudes are correct and our values align with His stewardship guidelines, God will often provide it from unexpected sources.

Whether you’re in debt or not, try to stay within reasonable budget parameters for your vacation, and don’t let your vacation bust your plan for managing your finances.
Howard Dayton is co-founder of Crown Financial Ministries and the current host of Crown’s radio program, “Money Matters.” Dayton and the late Larry Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries, led by Dayton, merged with Christian Financial Concepts, led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries, on the web at www.crown.org.

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  • Howard Dayton