Did you know that the United States has the lowest amount of vacation days for employees than any other country?! Data from the World Tourism Organization (WTO) find that America ranks amongst the lowest in developed countries in the average annual amount of vacation time their citizens receive. Member-countries of the European Union (EU) like Italy, Germany, France and the England receive, on average, 42 days, 37 days, 35 days, and 28 days; respectively for time-off. Canadians benefit from an average of 26 days of leisure time yearly; the Japanese receive 25 days, while the United States trails behind with 13 days per year. What?! The United States is also one of the only developed nations without vacation-time minimums mandated by law. Employees in European Union countries are entitled to four-weeks paid vacation by law. For Canada and Japan, there is a legal mandate that workers receive a minimum of two weeks.
The irony of this phenomenon is that despite the paltry serving of free time, Americans are still reluctant to redeem their vacation time in its entirety. Some studies cite the behaviors of peers and supervisors as a major influence as to their unwillingness to leave the office. Other reports maintain that it is the demands of the workload that keep them chained to a desk and not smelling the roses.
Nonetheless, these reasons do not blur the necessity of taking time away from work. Distance from the job gives you perspective on your career decisions, reconnects you with your family, friends and your inner self. If, however, you are an American that has completely internalized the Puritan work ethic and finds that time away from work is for the idle and weak, take a couple of days off anyway. But do not do it for rest, relaxation and fun, do it for reassessing the state of your finances, charting your next career moves and streamlining your money outflow.
5 Vacation Do’s
1. Put it in writing.
With work not being a priority for a few days, you will best able to reflect, create and think on the shape of your finances. Get comfortable. Find a spot in your home where you are be alone. On three separate sheets of paper, you are going to brainstorm all of your financial accomplishments, your present financial responsibilities and your future financial plans. Writing everything down gives you the beginnings of a blueprint and guide to gauge your progress toward your particular financial goals. Seeing your financial “have dones” and “have not dones” in black and write may allay your concerns, shift your financial priorities, or catapult you into action.
2. Get really defensive.
When it comes to money, we focus our attention on playing “financial offense.” We actively engage in finding positions that pay more. We embark on financially sound endeavors–such as entrepreneurial projects, investment activities and reading fiscally savvy magazines and books. We seek to increase our income by bringing in more money. When we are on-the-go everyday, so it is hard to stop and take total financial inventory. But maximizing our income also has to come from playing strong, if not stronger “financial defense.” Unlike “financial offense,” financial defense focuses on what income you already have and attempts to reduce what money goes out of the budget. Strengthening your “financial defense” can create as much surplus income as a part-time job if done methodically and consistently.
Things to think about during your days off could include: Are there cable services that I do not need? What foods do I seem to let spoil because I don’t really eat them? Have I taken the 6-hour class to reduce my car insurance? Have I checked the website of my health insurance carrier for discounts on health and wellness services? Have I called my student loan provider to inquire if I could defer or cancel my loans in full or in part? Is there a way to reduce the amount of times I eat out? Could I be clipping more coupons?
3. Organize your files.
When we leave for work, we physically leave our homes. Given the demands of some of our jobs, we spend more time at work than we do our own homes. And once we return home, we may take a cursory glance at financial statements, policies, and reports or even pile them up with the intention of getting to get to them later. But usually our priorities boil down to tending to the basics: family, food, and rest in order to prepare ourselves for the same routine for the next day.
This trend leaves our finances in disarray. Make organizing your files a three to five day project. On the first day(s), locate your important policies, tax documents, titles and deeds. Spend one day purchasing basic filing tools: folders, file cabinet, stapler/staples, paper clips, etc. On the final day(s), file accurately and systematically. Once the foundation has been created for storing and retrieving files, updating them should be quick and easy. It is also a good idea to scan copies of some of these documents and keep corresponding e-files.
4. Clean-out closets.
With a few days to yourself, find out what hidden treasures and scary secrets lurk inside your closets. If you are cleaning a clothes closet, try the following the system: a) store out of season clothes away b) return unworn outfits with tickets to the store (if you can), c) identify clothes for consignment, trading with girlfriends, or potential yard sale and d) set aside clothes that require repair, dry cleaning, and washing. If you are brave enough to tackle a closet with appliances, the system is much easier. For the appliances that you use, keep ’em. For the appliances that you don’t, chuck ’em.
5. Pick up the phone.
There is only so much time that you can steal away from your job to conduct personal matters. The nature of correspondence that includes matters of money are usually time-consuming, involve paperwork, require follow-up and include more than one person. Take advantage of your time at home to refute errors in your credit reports, schedule information interviews for prospective career advances, confirm doctor appointments and negotiate with creditors about outstanding debt.
Kara is the founder of the personal finance and lifestyle blog The Frugal Feminista, an online home for financial empowerment, girl power and juicy living. Connect with her on Twitter @frugalfeminista.
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