Why Don’t I Ever Take My Paid Time Off?

Ever since I’ve graduated from college I have been lucky to have jobs that give me paid time off. For those unfamiliar with the term, paid time off is often a combination of sick and vacation days that you can use whenever you want according to your organizations’ policies. I’ve had varying amounts of paid time off at each job I’ve held but I never managed to take it all. Can you tell I’m an American?

My Paid Time Off Dilemmas

Like many Americans, I have problems taking my paid time off. At my first company I saved it up because, well, I’m a saver at heart. I figured I should save some in case I ever needed it randomly. I did take about half of my allotted time but the rest went into my banked hours. I moved a few states away after a year at the job and my remaining paid time off was paid to me in a vacation check. It was nice to get the check, but I often wonder if I would have enjoyed the time off more.

At my second job I had intended to take every single one of my paid time off days. Shortly after I started I found out there many employees at my new job had maxed out paid time off accounts and it took 200 hours to get to that point. This was going to be a problem. I knew going into this job I wouldn’t be able to take time off from January to April because I was a accountant and tax season means long hours and no time off. I planned to take a bunch of time off in the summer when my girlfriend was moving in with me after she graduated from college.

Guess when a giant project came up? Right when I had planned on taking my vacation! To make a long story short the project was supposed to last all summer. This wasn’t a huge problem as I figured I’ll just take my vacation in the fall and winter! Then the project ballooned into the fall! I did end up taking a few days off in November/December but I had a ton of time built up leading into tax season again. I didn’t get to take all of my paid time off that year.

I once again got a check for my vacation hours when I left job #2 for my current job. It turned out job #2 just wasn’t a good fit for me. This time it wasn’t my fault though, I couldn’t take my time due to my crazy schedule. I honestly wanted to take my paid time off but I just didn’t get the chance.

I Have Once Again Run Into a Problem

Now that I am on job #3 I finally have an incentive to take all of my time off each year. My current company has a use it or lose it policy. If I have any time left when 2012 turns into 2013 I lose it! YIKES!

This time it isn’t my company preventing me from taking time off. I realized I’m subconsciously saving my vacation up again in case I need it later in the year! Granted I wasn’t eligible for paid time off until mid year, but I haven’t even taken a single day off yet. D’oh! I have plans to take all but 4 days at this point but I can’t come up with anything to do the other 4 days. It’ll likely just be a couple three or four day weekends but I guess I’m OK with that.

So how am I going to solve this problem for next year? I’m already trying to plan out my vacation for 2013! The problem is I can’t decide if I should take mostly long weekends or a whole week off a couple times during the year…

So can you help me out? How do you take your paid time off? In big lumps or just a 3 day weekend here or there?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. Next year I’m planning on my honeymoon but other than that, I hate taking vacation days. When sick, I work from home and the few times that I haven’t been sick but not at work? I “made up” the time either by coming in on a day off to get ahead (with boss permission of course) or worked from home. I just always worry that I’m going to have something come up where I will need my vacation days.

  2. I get 20 vacation days and although I am also a saver at heart- I use every last one of them. We usually take two week long vacations a year and a few long weekend trips. Then I save the rest for sick days in case my kids get sick. In December, I use any leftover days to sit home and watch the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or go Christmas shopping. =)

    Take your vacation days! You earned them~!

  3. I don’t have this problem. I have a use it or lose it policy too and I find I can’t last a year in my job without days off. I need that mental break.

    We usually take ours off in bulk because we head overseas for 3 or 4 weeks. We really enjoy the time away because we are gone long enough to really unwind.

    I have taken multiple long weekends before which are also really nice, especially in summer. We get sick days separately though so we don’t have to save vacation for that. If you don’t get sick days than your strategy might be different.

  4. In the past I usually just cashed out most of my vacation days at the end of the year. While the extra money was nice, I probably would’ve benefited a lot from the breaks. I’ve never had a job where they actually force you to take the time off though. Personally I just don’t like that system since a lot of people prefer to save some time off in case they need it later in the year.

    At my current job, time off means nothing to me since I work from home on whatever hours I want. So there is rarely a day that I don’t put in at least some hours.

  5. I pretty much take mine in blocks at a time. We have two banks, one is perpetual and you can only build up so much time before you stop accumulating new time. This pays out if you leave, so you have to draw down on it occasionally but you don’t want it down to zero either. The other is a straight calendar-year allotment that you lose if you don’t use it by December 31st. We’ve gotten pretty good about planning stuff so I can usually plan a few months out. This makes planning for work stuff easier, since I already have my time off planned before getting a new assignment.

  6. My pre retirement employer had a legal requirement to get employees out of the office for at least a solid week (presumably so they could investigate whether we were doing anything shady), but even with that, many of us saved up vacation to the point where it became a ridiculous future expense for the company. Eventually, they ended up making us take more each year and only letting us carry over a certain amount (or lose it).

  7. We can only carry over 5 days/yr – so I tend to take most of mine. But, I inevitably end up working remotely while on vacation, so thats another matter entirely.

  8. I actually like the use it or lose it policy. Unless you are refreshed everyday by working, you NEED that R&R time for your health. Americans already work far more than any other country on average, so not taking vacation is bad for you mentla health.

    Your employer probably appreciated the dedication, but a refreshed you is probably something they could appreciated even more.

    That being said, the 3 and 4 day weekend do wonders if you plan something relaxing and fun. I call it “vacation creep” when you take a 3 day weekend every other month, not including all the holiday weekend you already get. 🙂

    • I like the ideas of a bunch of 3 day weekends but love the idea of a whole week and coming back refreshed… coming back would be awfully hard after a full week off though.

  9. DebtKiller says:

    I’m very fortunate; my employer has a very generous flex time/vacation days/personal days program. I’ve been with my company for 12+ years now. From January to October, I get 2.5 days on the first of every month, which equates to 25 days (10 months x 2.5 days). I am also given four “personal days.” These days can be used as sick days, vacation, whatever. And the company recognizes all major holidays; New Year’s, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I’m provided with 29 days per year to use at my discretion. We are allowed to carry over 20 days per year. During my first few years of employment, I rarely took vacations and I built up a bank of 20 days that just rolls over from year to year, while getting an additional 29 days each year. In reality, if I didn’t take any vacation from January to November, I would have 49 days (20 days carried over plus the 29 earned this year). But I don’t do that. I use them. I like to take a week off every trimester. I take a week in March to go skiing. I take a week around July 4th and I usually take a week around Christmas. That burns about 15 of my 29 days. In the summer, I like to take several 3-4 day weekends; I’ll take off Friday and Monday, or Monday and Tuesday, etc. I usually do that 4-5 times each summer, so that’s burns another 4-10 days. The rest? Well, I usually come down with a cold or the flu or something and I end up calling out sick once or twice per year. And whatever days I have left over (maybe a small handful; 2-4), I just use at random times. If I wake up and on’t feel like working, I’ll use a day.

  10. We can carry over five days a year at my job. I hopefully can carry over all five. I am having surgery in September and I’m taking 7 days of PTO. Thankfully I saved up quite a bit this year. I think it’s smart to try to save more for the end of the year in case something happens and you need it.

  11. Your boss should be encouraging you to take time off. With a use it or lose it policy, it should reflect on your boss if you do not take vacation time.

    • Oh I will be taking all of my time off! It is just a matter of freaking out because I want to save it because I don’t have a ton of it.

  12. My employer has the one similar to your #3 employer. I am taking off entire December, can’t wait for December to come.

  13. I work for the government so I some decent time off, although nowhere near what teachers get. It seems like my teacher friends are constantly going on vacation. I am so jealous. I tend to take them off in chunks, because I often go on vacation when I take time off. I feel I need that time off to re-charge my batteries and get out of the city. Although my vacation next month is more of an adventure vacation. I am definitely looking forward to that one!

  14. Jeff is using some PTO soon so I can go to Denver! He is almost to the max his work allows also, because we haven’t gone on any vacations this year at all! We’re lame. I better have fun in Denver on behalf of both of us. 🙂

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