Budget your PTO

Shawna Lake
4 min readJan 30, 2023

As exciting as it is to have a new bank of PTO (Paid Time Off), think of it like a bank account and leave some time for needed breaks and unexpected events.

Use it Strategically

Having a plan for using your PTO helps keep you from overindulging. It can be tempting to take a day here and there, but not having a plan is a surefire way of burning through days off too fast. The more you can plan, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Try to plan out any long trips (anything more than two consecutive working days) at least six months in advance. This will help your manager with resource allocation and keep you from asking your team to cover work that needs to be completed while you are away. Not only will your coworkers appreciate the heads up, but it will make you look more organized and professional, which can lead to faster promotions and raises (and more PTO days).

Look at your work calendar and consider any paid holidays when planning your vacation. For example, do you get Memorial Day off? What about the Fourth of July? If you can plan a vacation around paid holidays, you can end up with a nine-day vacation (including weekends) while only using four days of PTO. This can be a great way to take long trips without wasting all your days at once.

Put Something in Savings

Just like your salary, keeping a few days of PTO in savings is essential. You never know when a friend’s wedding or a family emergency will happen. Getting pulled away for a few days is far less stressful when you have PTO days in the bank. We typically suggest putting 2–3 days of PTO in reserve for emergencies or last-minute situations.

If you’re looking to budget properly, make sure you know all the details of your paid time off. For example, do you also get sick days, or will you need to use PTO for that as well? When do your days renew- at the beginning of each year or on the anniversary of your hire date? Will your employer payout unused days, offer to roll them into next year, or implement a ‘use it or lose it’ policy? These are important questions to get clarification on when trying to find the best way to utilize your PTO.

If you’re creeping into the fourth quarter and haven’t used your saved PTO days, but need to make use of them before the year ends, go ahead and get your days off scheduled. It’s always nice to have extra time off around the holidays for prepping or visiting family, but you may also want to consider just having a few three-day weekends in December. Having a few personal days during the winter months can feel like a gift in and of itself.

Rhythm of Rest

Our bodies go through cycles just like the seasons; there are times when we feel motivated and productive and others when we require rest and reflection. Taking our physical and mental health needs into account is important when planning our days off for the upcoming year.

Consider what your body needs to manage, or avoid, burnout. This will significantly impact your health and, potentially, your career. We are more creative, better at adjusting to change, and more effective communicators when we prioritize our health and well-being. If you struggle with seasonal depression, anxiety around specific events or anniversaries, or have a compromised immune system that makes avoiding the flu impossible, plan to use your PTO to look after yourself during these times. Sometimes that means planning a long weekend in advance; other times, it requires having a few extra days saved just in case you need them.

Your work most likely has a cycle of its own. If you are familiar with the busy season of your job, decide if you want to take a few days off beforehand to face the chaos well-rested or if you want to take a well-deserved break afterward to recuperate. For example, accountants often need a break after the tax season rush, while other corporations need a rest after wrapping up their fiscal year. If you’re unfamiliar with the industry, be sure to ask someone in your department who has similar responsibilities to your position.

Regardless of where you are in your career, take time to plan out the use of your PTO days. It’s a great exercise to go through with loved ones at the beginning of the year and gives you something to look forward to as you plan out your time away from work.

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Shawna Lake

Founder of Deep End Talent Strategies-keeping job seekers and employers connected to what the other side needs and wants in today’s job market.