Consumer debt in the US hit $4 trillion earlier this year and on average, Americans hold an estimated $4,200 in said debt. Although economists believe that this number is manageable, the same Bankrate survey found that some Americans believe they will never pay off their debt — which is why many might be staying home this summer instead of taking a vacation that on average can cost $1,928 per person, or $4,580 for a family of four.
While paying off debt is always a smart decision, it doesn’t mean you have to spend your summer sitting in a dark room watching Netflix. You might not get to enjoy the annual family trip to Disney or a couples’ retreat to the Caribbean but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the season while paying down your debt.
Here are a few summer vacation alternatives as well as the best credit cards (low interest, no annual fee) for working toward a zero balance.
Explore Your Hometown with a Staycation
It might seem corny, but a staycation is a fantastic way to enjoy summer on a shoestring budget. Staycations are cheap, fun and devoid of jet lag. With a little research you might be surprised by the variety of exciting activities in your own backyard.
The key to a successful staycation is trying something new. Do some research to discover new restaurants, bars, neighborhoods and activities in your area. Put a few dates on your summer calendar and begin to plan a list of activities that would excite you on any vacation: spending time outdoors, visiting museums and relaxing.
If a hotel stay is in the budget, you might luck out with cheaper options in your hometown than you’d find in a more popular tourist area. For example, in my hometown of St. Louis, there are multiple dates this summer that offer top hotels at under $200 (even $150) per night. And since you won’t have to worry about working around travel constraints, remember that sites like Hotel Tonight offer cheaper stays for those with flexible plans.
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Visit With Friends and Family
If you can handle a few nights staying in your parents’ spare bedroom or Aunt Deb’s basement, a family visit can be a great way to explore a different city, spend time with loved ones, and save money. (Just don’t arrive on their doorstep without contacting them first.) In addition to spending quality time together, friends and family are often the best concierges, showing off their hometowns with recommendations on local restaurants and other hot spots. Think of this as a great way to not only save money, but make your summer travel experience even more meaningful.
Complete A Project Around the House
Do-it-yourself summer projects can be enjoyable and rewarding (as long as you don’t get in over your head). Maybe you’ve always wanted to create the perfect backyard retreat or remodel a bedroom. Summer is a great time to take inventory around the house to see if there are any affordable DIY projects that won’t hinder your ability to pay down debt. Sites like Pinterest provide (free) inspiration, and you won’t have to worry about labor costs. Time spent planting that new garden is certainly more relaxing than fighting crowds during peak travel months.
Take A Mini-Vacation
One major problem when planning a summer vacation can be going overboard. It’s extremely easy to get carried away. What often starts as just a week in Honolulu can quickly snowball into a week at a five-star resort, complete with lavish meals and pricey drinks. Instead, consider taking a mini-vacation.
The key here is to adhere to a strict budget and plan each aspect before the start of the trip. This includes having meals and activities mapped out before arriving at your destination.
Some ways to cut down on vacation expenses might include driving instead of flying (if cost effective); opting for a mid-tier hotel such as a Courtyard by Marriott instead of JW Marriott; and forgoing formal dining for cheap eats like street food and food trucks.
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And Our Favorite: Stop Hoarding Points and Miles and USE Them
This might be extremely difficult for those among us who hoard points. Many frequent travelers have racked up tens (even hundreds) of thousands in points and miles but no matter how good a deal might be, many travelers can’t seem to pull the trigger to book a flight or hotel. With airlines and hotels devaluing points and miles programs more often than not, it’s important that you spend the points and miles you’ve earned. Rarely do the value of your points or miles increase in value.
If you are trying to pay down debt this summer, you might consider tapping into your frequent flyer and hotel rewards accounts instead of spending cash. As readers of TPG know (and even for you beginners out there), points and miles are extremely valuable and can take care of the cost of your entire summer vacation.
- How to Decide Whether to Use Cash or Miles for Airline Tickets
- How to Get Free Hotel Breakfast at Points Properties
- Redeeming Ultimate Rewards Points for a Free Hotel Stay
- How to Book a Cruise Using Points and Miles
See TPG’s latest valuations to ensure you’re getting the most out of your points and miles this summer.
Credit Cards For Paying Down Debt
While we don’t ever recommend carrying a balance on credit cards, if you find yourself in a situation in which you are unable to pay the full balance, it’s best to have that balance on a credit card with little to no interest and no annual fee. Furthermore, if you are looking to transfer balances from a credit card with a high interest rate, it’s important to find a credit card with waived- or low-balance transfer fees. Here are the top credit cards for paying down debt.
The Chase Freedom card and Chase Freedom Unlimited card are two solid no-annual-fee cards. Each card features a 15-month 0% APR period for new purchases and balance transfers. The variable interest rate following that 15-month introductory period is 17.24% to 25.99%. The card has a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of the transfer, whichever is greater.
The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has no annual fee and features a 15-month introductory period in which the APR is 0% for balance transfers. Balance transfers will incur a 3% fee. Following the introductory period, the card has a variable APR of 16.24 to 26.24%.
The Blue Cash Everyday Card by American Express, as with other cards on this list, does not have an annual fee. The card also features a 15-month 0% APR introductory period. Balance transfers are included in this 15-month 0% APR period, however, all balance transfers must be completed within 60 days of opening the account. Finally, the card will incur a 3% fee or $5 fee (whichever is greater) on all balance transfers.
The Citi Double Cash Card card offers 18 months of interest-free financing on all balance transfers. Balance transfers, however, will incur a 3% or $5 fee, depending on whichever is greater. Like all other cards featured on this list, the Citi Double Cash Card does not have an annual fee.
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- The Top Credit Cards With 0% Intro APR
- The Best Apps for Money Management
We can’t stress this enough: TPG does not recommend that you ever carry a balance on credit cards. Even if carrying a balance means earning a lucrative sign-up bonus, it’s important to pay your monthly credit card bill in full to maintain an excellent credit score.
If you are currently holding cards with high balances, summer is a great time to pay down these balances. Although this may mean forgoing a vacation, you will utter a sigh of relief once you’ve paid down your debt — especially come the holidays.
In addition to working to knocking off debt, there are numerous alternatives to a traditional pricey vacation. Opting for a staycation, following a strict budget on a smaller less-lavish vacation, or finally dipping into your points and miles are just a few of the ways to stay on track while having a little fun at the same time.
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