Whether you’re planning a ski trip in Vail, partying with MTV in Cancun or volunteering at an orphanage in South America, Spring Break is that blissful week in March when memories are made. While Spring Break may seem far off, and you’re just trying to survive finals, two words of advice can mean the difference between spending your break dog-sitting or letting loose at Daytona Beach — plan ahead.
By planning your trip early, you’ll be able to find the best airfares and hotel deals. March is infamous for Spring Break, and tourist companies nationwide bump their prices up for student travelers. So, resist your urge to procrastinate and start thinking about Spring Break now.
Unless you’re the Olsen twins, the number-one question looming in your mind is most likely, "How am I going to pay for this?" When Mom and Pop run dry and your sole hope of having enough cash to pay for Spring Break is based on your tax refund, it’s time to take matters into your own hands. The first step in saving is to create a budget spreadsheet.
Write down your income (paychecks, scholarship kickbacks, allowance, etc.) in one column and write down your expenses (food, rent, books, etc.) in another column. Then start slashing unnecessary spending. Rent movies instead of going to the theaters or limit yourself to one latte a week. Other helpful tips for saving include:
1. Book buy-back. You forked over $250 for that bio book and only got $27 in return, but put that money in your Spring Break savings account nonetheless. Twenty-seven dollars may not sound like much now, but all of that loose change adds up, and besides, it will go far in Mexico.
2. Brown bag it. Eat at home instead of ordering pizza at 1 a.m. and take your own lunch to school. Don’t live on Ramen noodles alone, but you’ll be surprised at how much you save by dining en el apartamento.
3.Student discounts. Every college across America distributes coupon booklets for students. Take advantage of them!
4. Mooch. That’s right, think of how much money you’ll save if you cancel your cable service, limit your shopping and mooch off of friends. You can always watch the big game at your neighbors’ or at the bar down the street, and your roommate’s closet can be like shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue.
5. Paper or plastic? Paying cash is always best, but many companies have credit cards designed specifically for students. Make sure you get a card with a low interest rate and pay off your bill in full each month to avoid finance charges. Don’t fall into the debt trap! According to some sources, more students drop out of college because of debt than academics, so charge wisely.
Update your budget spreadsheet at least monthly and watch the extra moolah start to pile up. Now that you’re on the right track to saving enough money, it’s time to address the second question milling around in your mind, "Where’s my Spring Break destination?" Because the answers to this question are endless, let’s just focus on money-saving tips during Spring Break. Consider these tips while you’re choosing a destination and you’ll be able to have the same amount of fun for less.
- Road trip. Movies have been made about this phenomenon, and a college experience is not complete without at least one road trip. Flying may get you there faster, but driving will get you there cheaper and with a stockpile of stories that will shock a stodgy relative.
- BYOG. Bringing your own grub will save you countless dollars. Whether it’s a cooler in the back of your car so you don’t have to pay for snacks on the road or you’ve stuffed your suitcase with granola bars, bringing your own food is a saving must.
- Public transportation. If you decide to fly to your Spring Break destination, do not rent a car while you’re there. Instead, use public transportation. It’s cost-efficient, and you won’t have to worry about driving back to your hotel after a night of partying. Contact your destination’s local chamber of commerce and ask for a public transportation schedule.
- Rental properties. Consider renting a condo or cabin instead of staying at a hotel. Your rental accommodations will most likely be larger and cheaper than the alternative.
Saving enough for Spring Break can take months of budgeting, but assessing your goals and figuring out how to reach them is part of a financial planning process that will serve you well, on Spring Break and throughout life. So, stay focused and you’ll soon be footloose and fancy free and making enough memories to last a lifetime.
Jennifer Stone is manager of consumer affairs at Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. – a nonprofit regulatory organization located in Denver, Colorado.
Copyright ©2005 Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.