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How to avoid a spring break money hangover

Save for your vacation all year long and

Save for your vacation all year long and you won't feel the crunch when the bills come in. Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto

Spring break doesn't just belong to college folks tired of pulling pre-midterm all-nighters in the library. Everyone needs an excuse to indulge, whether or not you're in school.

But jetting off for spring break like you might have in college is pricey (and seems exhausting after age 22). I searched the travel comparison website Kayak for weeklong all-inclusive resort vacations in Cancún, Mexico, booked one month in advance. For a trip in late March, the average cost was about $1,600 per person, which included flights, a hotel room and meals.

That is a ton of money for someone who doesn't have any extra cash.

Bottom line: You have no "extra cash" if you have no emergency savings. You have no "extra cash" if you're wondering whether you have enough room on your credit card. But with some planning and forethought, you can have an emergency cushion and a vacation, too.

Try this plan: Do something small, cheap and slightly less extravagant; save a little for emergencies; and then plan a guilt-free trip next year with money that's actually in your bank account — the very definition of "extra cash."

Protect your future first

Proactively saving money for emergencies you can't predict is more important than a big vacation. Find the money by cutting a subscription service you don't use or getting rid of extras on your cellphone plan you don't need.

Save $500 first, then reward yourself with a meal out. Get to $2,000, and take a day trip somewhere. After that, you'll be in a better position to spend on things you want simply because you want them. Add up your basic expenses each month, and keep saving until you can cover three months' worth, then six months'.

Treat yourself closer to home

While saving up, you're still allowed to do cool stuff. The trick is to pay for that stuff in cash so you're not building credit card debt at the same time. Here are some ideas for local escapes:

  •  A massage or spa service: A one-hour massage costs $73 on average, according to the American Massage Therapy Association, though prices vary depending on where you live. Search for a massage therapist through the association's therapist lookup tool.
  • A pasta-making class: I found options that cost $35 for a 1 1/2-hour class, $79 for a two-hour class or $140 per couple for a 2 1/2-hour class.
  • Go on a hike: National parks have free entry on certain days during the year, including Saturday, April 21, the first day of National Park Week. Spend a day at the closest one to you; pack a lunch and pay only for gas to get there.

Once your emergency fund is up and running, consider signing up for a rewards credit card, which can get you cash back to spend, or points for flights or hotel stays when you're ready to go away. Make sure to pay off the balance each month to avoid paying interest.

People who successfully save for vacation do it all year long. Put a specific amount each month toward travel. This strategy requires researching far in advance where you want to go and how much it costs. If that all-inclusive resort sounded appealing, set up an automatic transfer to your savings account for $133 a month, and you'll have $1,600 for next year.

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