Did you know the average vacation expense per person in the United States is $1,145? That’s more than $4,500 for a family of four, according to American Express.

If you’re planning a dream vacation this summer, or working towards a different savings goal, the experts at America Saves say the official first day of summer can be your fresh start. This week, make a plan to save money, reduce debt and build wealth. So when it’s time to pay for that vacation or other goal, you’re not taking on more debt, or squeezing another budget category.

It all starts when you set a goal and make a plan to reach that goal, because those with a plan are twice as likely to save successfully. America Saves suggests these steps:

Step 1: Set a goal

What are you saving for this summer? Here are some ideas to get you started:

• Save for a vacation.

• Save for an emergency fund.

• Save for fall school supplies or education.

• Save for a new car, air conditioner or appliance.

• Start your holiday savings fund.

Step 2: Make a pledge to yourself

to save

Deciding what to save for is the easy part. Not it’s time to really commit so you are able to meet your summer savings goals.

The America Saves pledge can help. It is designed to help you save money and reduce debt by thinking through your goals, and how much you want to save. Whether you are saving for a family camping trip or a back-to-school shopping trip, the pledge can help you save.

But it doesn’t stop there. Those who make a pledge with America Saves will receive information, advice, tips and savings reminders to help you reach your goal.

Ready to get started? Make a commitment to yourself today by taking the pledge at www.americasaves.org/for-savers/pledge.

Step 3: Create a budget

One of the first things you need to do to save more efficiently is to keep track of what you already are spending. When you know where your money is going, you can make a plan to save with a budget. There are many different ways to do this, so you’ll want to try a few out and choose the system that works best for you. The key to saving more successfully is to find a system that works for you and to stick with it through the entire summer.

You can learn how to create a budget and to download a budget worksheet for first time budgeteers at the America Saves website, too.

Step 4: Save automatically

The easiest and most effective way to save is automatically. This is how millions of employees save for retirement through 401(k)s and other programs at work. It is also how millions of Americans save at their bank or credit union. Not only does it ensure you will be saving every month, but it also puts your cash out of sight and out of mind so you feel less temped to spend it. It also helps if you keep your savings in a separate bank from your checking account, or at least an account you don’t have easy access to.

Step 5: Find more

money to save

Learn how to cut back on summer spending so you can save some cash and put it in your savings account instead. There are some great money-saving ideas in the America Saves blog at www.americasaves.org/blog.

America Saves is a research-based campaign which uses the principles of behavioral economics and social marketing to change financial behaviors. America Saves is an outreach project of the Consumer Federation of America, an association of non-profit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy and education.

K-State Research and Extension is a partner with America Saves to encourage Kansans to build wealth and reduce debt through saving. You can find the resources of Kansas Saves at www.kansassaves.org. The Ellis County Extension Office offers a group program called “Saving Dollars When You Don’t Have a Dime to Spare.” Contact me at (785) 628-9430 to schedule a presentation for your group.

Improve your financial life this summer by making a commitment to yourself to save money, reduce debt and build wealth.

Linda K. Beech is Ellis County

Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.