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Travel Four money-saving tips to make your dream vacation a reality

As surely as January brings commitments to lose weight and feed the kids more vegetables, it promises credit-card statements, energy deficits and postholiday blues.

After a few weeks of intensely playing Santa’s helper, you probably need a vacation more than ever. But if you realize your bank manager would find the idea hilarious, you aren’t alone.

I know the feeling well. Early in our life as a family of four, my husband and I were a part of that vicious cycle. Spend like crazy in the lead up to the holidays and then juggle the credit-card bills for most of the first quarter, longing for a getaway, before starting the cycle all over again.

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What changed? In late 2010, we were preparing for a yearlong trip around the world. Knowing that it was happening in six short months was all the boost we needed to rein in spending. With a traipse across six continents on the horizon, suddenly the idea of spending money on yet another set of crystal candle holders seemed short-sighted – no matter how good the sale was.

It was one of many financial lessons we took from our planning that year that has persisted. Another? Money isn’t the only thing that needs to be budgeted. Your mental health can run a deficit, too, and when you begin to feel like you really need a vacation, you’re likely already weeks behind when you should have taken it.

And yet, a recent online study I conducted along with business owners Claire Zlobin of Life with A Baby and Jaime Damak of Je suis une maman found that many Canadian families aren’t necessarily taking the breaks they need. The travel-habits survey of just more than 750 families (conducted through social media) found that 44 per cent aren’t taking all of their vacation days and 52 per cent of those who say they aren’t travelling as much as they’d like note affordability as their main stumbling block.

Making sure you get the vacations you need in 2019 is going to take more than a resolution. It requires a plan.

For my family, making the shift came down to a few key decisions:

1. We made travel a priority. The light fixture in my dining room is 15 years old. It was the standard fixture installed when the builders handed over the keys to our home. I’d love something bigger, bolder and brighter, but I would love a trip to Fiji more. One day, we’ll change it, but that day is not a day when the money could instead be put toward travel. Trip-planning as a priority often means delayed gratification on some of the sparkly distractions trying to steal your dollars, but it’s worth it.

2. We’re becoming airline-point hoarders. It took watching pros such as Turnipseed Travel – who travelled around the world on points for the second time last year – to see how much I’ve been missing. The key is figuring out the right points-collection system for you. Some people swear by credit-card point collection, where every dollar spent on everything from gas to toilet paper nets you miles, but I stick to the old-fashioned way: collecting points directly with airlines by booking flights with the same ones, or their partners, as often as possible. Investigate the options and do what works best for you.

3. We pay ourselves. Set up small, regular automatic transfers to a savings account at your bank or with a system through your employer. I’m not a saver by nature, but I find I don’t miss money that doesn’t cross the threshold of my account. In fact, our trip around the world was made possible in part because my husband took advantage of a four-year savings plan through his workplace. Take help where you can get it.

4. We grab the deals when we see them. It seems to be a universal law that the deals won’t be there when you’re looking for them. Instead, you need to keep your eyes peeled for when they come across your screen. Sites such as ThePointsGuy.com, SecretFlying.com, nextdeparture.ca and YYZDeals.com tend to float great discounts across social media as well. Weigh the value of subscription-based services such as NextVacay.com or Scott’s Cheap Flights against the likelihood you’ll actually save enough money to make their cost worthwhile. The goal is to score an affordable trip so that your family has a bright spot on the horizon to work toward. Play your cards right and you’ll be boarding a plane sooner than you ever thought possible for that bucket-list vacation. Trust me: There is nothing better – not a chandelier or crystal candle holder – than the feeling that comes from knowing you’ve got a year of great travels in front of you.

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