Take your time off. Relax. But you don’t have to go away. (iStock/iStock)
Columnist

Nothing makes me crazier than when people deep in debt try to persuade me that they are being financially responsible because they “saved up” for their vacation.

And I am not impressed that you saved for a summer trip to Walt Disney World with your children when you haven’t even set up a college fund for them.

Neither will I give you a high-five for paying cash for a cruise when you have continued to carry a credit card balance for years. Go have a picnic at a community lake.

Twenty-three percent of credit card debtors have been carrying the debt for at least three years, according to a survey by Creditcards.com. Another 14 percent have had the debt for at least five years, and 7 percent can’t even recall how long they’ve carried a credit card balance.

I’m sorry to tell you that you don’t deserve a summer vacation if you’re a financial hot mess.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy your vacation time. Take your time off. Relax. But you don’t have to go away.

And you won’t be alone. Millions of Americans won’t take a summer vacation because they simply can’t afford a trip, according to a recently released poll by Bankrate.com.

Forty-four percent of survey participants who said they couldn’t afford a summer vacation said day-to-day bills prevented them from taking a trip, and 22 percent said paying down debt is the biggest factor standing in the way of a holiday away from home.

“While a vacation is worth it, getting into debt isn’t. That just adds to the stress and takes away from the enjoyment of your vacation,” says travel expert Christopher Elliott, who writes the Navigator column for The Washington Post.

Read: How I got a perfect 850 credit score

Elliott frequently writes about the joys of finding overlooked places to visit in your local area as part of a staycation. He says staycations may be another big trend this summer.

“Yes, people can stay home and have fun,” says Elliott, author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” “Think of all the time you're saving by not having to go to the airport or spend hours or days sitting in a car. There's no ‘Are we there yet?’ because you're already there.”

Here are some pointers to make your staycation successful.

— Avoid the temptation to get to that list of things you need to do around the house. Would you fix a sink at the hotel? You are on holiday, so don’t do household chores.

— Do not tell people you are staying home. Act as though you’re gone by not filling your days with obligations with friends and family — unless they are part of your vacation-at-home plans.

— Plan your day just as you would if you were on a trip. Create a daily itinerary of things you want to do and places you want to visit. “Almost every city in America has a tourism bureau with a site that has suggestions for vacation activities,” Elliott says.

— To avoid overspending on your staycation, search for free events, concerts, movies or other things you can do on the cheap. If you live in a big city, various tourist attractions can still bust your budget. Your mission for your staycation if you’re in debt or your saving is anemic is to spend as little money as possible.

Read: How we sent our children to college debt-free

Definitely don’t go into debt for a trip. Or, take what you have saved for your vacation and use it to chip away at your debt, build an emergency fund or invest for your retirement. You deserve some rest and relaxation. But don’t sacrifice long-term financial security for a vacation you can’t afford.

Read more:

Beware the vacation moochers

Your friends’ social media posts are making you spend more money, researchers say

Travelers should avoid these virtual destinations

Color of Money Question of the Week

Tell me about your best staycation? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Staycation.”

Live Chat Today

I’m live at noon (Eastern time) today and taking your personal finance questions.

It’s also “Testimony Thursday.” Share your financial success stories. Have you paid off debt? Do you finally have an emergency fund?

You can join the discussion by clicking this link.

A debit card has its advantages

I’ve been having a lively debate with readers about the merits of a debit card.

It all started with this column: Credit card vs. debit card: Wow Air’s shutdown shows which is better.

I believe that for many people, it’s financially safer for them to use a debit card because it limits their getting into debt.

Some readers thought otherwise, arguing that a credit card is always better.

I responded with this: Yes, a debit card does have some advantages.

So last week, I asked: Are there any cardholders who prefer debit to credit?

Sallie Rhyne of Louisville, Ky., wrote, “Continue beating the drum re: debit cards! It’s a terrific cash surrogate.”

As one reader pointed out, “Many local gas stations here in Atlanta offer a 10-cent per gallon discount for cash or debit payments versus credit card.”

Laura Graser of Portland Oregon wrote, “I use my debit card at small local stores, which I would like to keep in business. Credit cards take 3 percent from the store, and debit cards 1 percent.”

“When I shop at a mom-and-pop store, I always use the debit option to minimize their fees because I value their service in my neighborhood and know how all those processing fees take a bite out of profits,” wrote Leah F. from Minneapolis.

Karen Holmes from Spartanburg, S.C., wrote, “I actually flinched when I read that some folks don’t believe in debit cards. I love mine! I remember the days when I had to write checks for all my purchases unless I had cash. I love the convenience of using a debit card.”

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Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested.

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