Why You Should Never Have Unused Vacation Days

Workers in the U.S. left 169 million paid unused vacation days in 2013 according to an article on Forbes. That’s $52.4 billion in unused vacation days that workers won’t get back, or about $504 per worker. This is due to how most vacation policies don’t allow for rollover vacation days. Another interesting statistic I found –…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: May 24, 2023

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

Why You Should Never Leave Unused Vacation DaysWorkers in the U.S. left 169 million paid unused vacation days in 2013 according to an article on Forbes.

That’s $52.4 billion in unused vacation days that workers won’t get back, or about $504 per worker. This is due to how most vacation policies don’t allow for rollover vacation days.

Another interesting statistic I found – According to Skift, 42% of Americans didn’t take any paid vacation days in the year of 2014.

These are all scary statistics to think about because workers in the United States already work far more than the average person in most other countries around the globe. Coupled with the fact that workers in the U.S. also receive fewer vacation days in the first place than those in many other countries, this is something that needs to be changed.

Sadly, I was often guilty of these same things, though, back when I had my day job. I would often leave at least a few days at the end of each year just because I was afraid that by taking all of them that it would look like I hated my job or that I was taking advantage of the company’s vacation policy.

How dumb was it of me to think like that, though?! I could have taken much more vacation time and probably would have been much happier.

I know many have unused vacation days year after year as well, too. There are many problems with this, though. Below are several reasons for why workers should stop leaving unused vacation days at the end of the year.

 

You deserve the vacation time.

You were given the vacation days you have for a reason – because you deserve them!

A company has a vacation policy for a reason – so that employees can take time off occasionally because it is often what is best for both the company and the employee.

By not taking all of the vacation days you are given, you are actually throwing money away since you are technically working for free on those days.

I recommend you add up how many days you are throwing away and how much you would have been paid on those days. That’s how much money you are throwing away!

 

You most likely aren’t jeopardizing your career.

According to a report published by Oxford Economics, employees who had unused vacation days were not more likely to receive raises or bonuses, which is a reason for why many workers leave unused vacation days on the table.

According to this report, it was actually the exact opposite – those who left many days on the table were actually less likely to receive a bonus than those who took all of their paid vacation days.

 

You don’t have to go broke taking time off.

One reason many workers give for why they don’t take all of their vacation days is because they don’t think they can afford to go anywhere.

Well, whoever said that you had to go somewhere when you take a vacation day?! There is no weird vacation policy rule that says you must leave your city in order to take your vacation days.

Instead of spending a ton of money, you could take a staycation instead. Enjoy the city you live in or even just stay at home and just relax. There is nothing wrong with that.

Or, you could churn credit cards so that you can go on very cheap or even free vacations.

Related article: How I’ve Earned Over $2,500 In Credit Card Rewards in 2015

 

You’ll perform better at work.

Those who take their vacation days are often more motivated, refreshed, more creative, and so on after a vacation.

Your brain needs a break every now and then and some time off can help you do that.

Related article: How To Stay Motivated And Become Successful

 

You’re hurting your health by leaving unused vacation days.

By working all the time and taking no vacation days, you are hurting your health. You are more likely to be sick, have heart disease, be depressed, be unfit, and more.

Taking all of your vacation days can help improve your health, plus you can have fun, so why not start taking all of your vacation days?

Have you ever left unused vacation days on the table? Why or why not? What’s your company’s vacation policy?

 


Filed under:

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

Like this article?

Join the Conversation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Shelly

    Where I work, (Canada Post) if we don’t take our vacation days, they are paid out to us at the end of the fiscal year. Taxes are taken out of this as well when it is paid out to you. We are encouraged to use up our vacation days and personal days. We used to have sick days but they changed that a few years back, probably because of abuse. I am not run off my feet on my job, but it is good to be able to take a few days off. The personal days we have now can be used for anything; doctor appointments, sick days, or a I think I’ll take this day off to relax day. I will have been at my job full time for seven years in November. When that time comes I will have four weeks vacation days and seven personal days to use during the year. I would be crazy not to take some of this time off!!

    1. Wow that’s a nice vacation package you have. Awesome!

      1. Shelly

        I know right!! It seems even better when I write it down on paper . LOL. If you ever hear me complain about my job, I’m just being sarcastic. I live in a VERY rural area in Newfoundland and the post office I work at is in the basement of my house, so I have zero commute time. My hours were cut back last fall to just 21 hours a week. When I finish work for the day, that’s it until the next day. And, I’m not opened on weekends. I have been reading your blog for awhile now and I like the info you have on starting a blog. I really have no excuse not to start one. Right!!!

  2. If you can’t get paid for your unused vacation days, it’s still to not take them. It’s nice to be forced into breaks by my teaching schedule. Though, another big issue is people taking a vacation day and not actually taking a break from work. It really speaks to our mentality as a country, I think.

  3. Young Millennial

    I completely agree that you should take all of your vacation time to recharge. The only way I can see this hurting you is if you are in a consulting/professional field where taking time off will affect your billable or availability ratio which may be used as a factor in your promotion. Even holidays count towards some of my friends’ billabilities and availabilities for the year. Weird, huh?

  4. Amy @ DebtGal

    I never left unused vacation days when I worked f/t – unless they rolled over, or were paid out. I think of benefits, like vacation, as part of a compensation package that employees are entitled to. I wouldn’t not use other benefits, like health insurance or sick days, so why not use the full set of benefits? And you’re so right that breaks are important for mental and physical health!

  5. It’s really hard when you have PTO instead of vacation. Our PTO days weren’t just vacation; they were sick days and our kid’s sick days too. We would save some in case anyone got sick, but then end up having extra days in December that we couldn’t use. It sucked!

    1. Yes, PTO has its benefits and drawbacks versus a separation of paid vacation days and sick days (and sometimes personal days or floating holidays). PTO is great if you hardly need to take a sick day (since you typically receive more days off in total), but like you said you need to save a few for personal and family reasons.

      Holly, can you share if your company allows you to get paid for or roll-over extra PTO days at the end of the year? Every employer is different so I always like to ask the question to better understand the common practices and differences between jobs. Losing a paid day off with no option to take it in the new year would be very unfortunate, so I hope that is not the case for you.

  6. Kate @ Cashville Skyline

    I am totally guilty of this, Michelle. At my old job, I only took a full week off once in seven years. I know, right? I was constantly burned out and I know I wasn’t doing my best work. Fortunately, my new job encourages us to take our 20 paid days off (plus holidays!)

    1. One week in seven years is crazy!

  7. Beks

    I’ve recently discovered that I’ve been at my job long enough to collect PTO without having to do much. it accrues so quickly, I don’t know what to do with it. Staycations sound like a great idea, though.

  8. Wow that is great that they paid you!

  9. I recently returned to work from an extended maternity leave. One of the best decisions that I’ve ever made was to take some extra time with my kids. I would never have that opportunity again, as they get a little older every day. When I did return, I was recharged and emotionally prepared to spend days without my little ones. I lost some pay, but it didn’t seem to affect my career in any significant way. Although, it doesn’t really matter now that I’m on the track to financial semi-independence. I think that everyone would benefit not just from using vacation days, but they should be able to take a short sabbatical from work every few years.

  10. I agree. If your company gives you the time off but then frowns on you using it, I would suggest that you consider going somewhere else to work. A company should value you as a person, not just as an employee, and if they don’t realize the benefits that you get from using your time off, then I would give serious consideration to looking for a company that does.

  11. The trap I have fallen into when taking vacation is that the vacation is always go,go, go and that leaves me feeling more tired and exhausted than I was prior. Needing to take a vacation from your vacation is never a good thing. I’ve vowed to use my vacation days for relaxing endeavors going forward.

    1. Yes, I know exactly what you mean.

  12. Jordan

    Great points here! Vacation days are there for you – you don’t need to waste them. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I usually save a few vacation days just in case I have an emergency, or I’ll save my personal days if I don’t need to use them. But when December comes around I make sure to use them around Christmas or New Year’s so that I have zero left. We’re also able to carry 3 days over to the next year, so I did that one year when I was planning a vacation in March.

    I’ve overheard people in my office saying how they have a week left of vacation that they aren’t going to use…I’ll gladly take it off their hands then!

  14. I make sure I use up all my vacation days each year but often, the two weeks I get is not enough. I was given one extra day added on to what I have so I try to make the most of what I have. At my job we also get almost every holiday off and our birthday so it’s a great time for me to relax and recharge, or most likely freelance more 🙂

  15. Ali @ Anything You Want

    Until this year, I’ve only had 2 weeks of vacation each year and you can bet I take every last bit of that (plus sometimes some unpaid time too!). I always feel like I come back from vacation and am more productive than when I left, so really I think it is a good investment. The biggest challenge is a work environment where vacation time is not fully used, and you feel like a slacker for taking your vacation.

  16. Hannah

    My company actually just changed the vacation policy such that we vacation (accrued in the future) won’t get paid out. Basically use it or lose it. I think that’s incredibly smart since your company has a lot to gain from you being well rested and nothing to gain from you walking away with six weeks extra pay at your current rate.

  17. I am a serious vacation day hoarder (I hoard vacation days like I hoard money), but you best believe I get my vacation on and do not plan on letting any go unused. I like to have them on the books and know that I have them available. It helps get me through the days. Our vacation days don’t disappear though. We don’t lose them at the end of the year. AT very worst, they say Uh you have X amount of days on the books and you need to start taking them ASAP.

    1. Nice! How many days do you have right now? 🙂

      1. I have something crazy like 37 days and we accrue hours monthly.

  18. I’ve been lucky. The vacation days at every full time job has rolled over to the next year. I’ve never been big on taking weeks off but I take 2-3 day trips from time to time. It gives me a chance to use some of the time that I accrued as well as hold on to some of it just in case. After I quit my previous job I received a check for my unused vacation time. That check was nearly $700.

  19. Yes, it can be much more difficult when you work for yourself but it’s definitely worth it!

  20. I can’t imagine throwing away vacation time (and money) by allowing them to disappear unused at the end of the year.

    In Australia we get four weeks annual leave. Most companies like you to take the leave in the year it’s accrued as it’s a liability on their books. Some companies, like the one I used to work for, were very flexible about leave. If you were planning a big trip they’d let you accrue as many weeks as you needed but they were also willing to pay out a week’s leave if you needed the cash.

    I always took my allocation of leave. As a single parent covering school holidays several times a year… there were never enough annual leave days available!

    1. I don’t know why I used to throw my vacation days away. Huge mistake!

  21. That’s a great vacation policy!

  22. I’ve never had a traditional job where there are “vacation days” but I’ve done a lot of research on successful people and one of the top traits is that they respect and prioritize their time off. I try to build that kind of down time into my life too.

    1. Yes, time off is so important!

  23. At every company I have worked for I always use up my vacation days and even take some extra ones by accident. It helps when one feels financially secure and they have an emergency fund funded that if they get laid off from ‘taking their vacation’ that they can survive for 6-12 months without a problem. Its absolutely liberating.

  24. I have some grad school friends from the US and the minimalist vacation culture they have told me about, coupled with a bizarre guilt culture for using vacation days, is stressful just to learn about!

    The US seems to be an endless landscape of opportunity to be creative and innovative…but also a place where 80 hour work weeks somehow cling to life.

    Your blog, all blogs and e-businesses, are awesome evidence of maybe a rebirth of entrepreneurialism at the individual level in the US? I understand in the US now corporations own quite a lot so this a fun and exciting change, if my perception of the shift in the US is somewhat accurate. 🙂

    In Thailand we don’t yet have the innovative and socially disruptive culture you have in San Francisco and New York, for example, but seems much easier to be a small business entrepreneur here so that among other things many (although not all) can take vacations without feeling uncomfortable about it.

    1. The guilt for taking a vacation day here is crazy!

  25. Jess

    I always used all of my vacation days and it never affected my career opportunities. Maybe I was lucky to work for an organization that understood the value of down time. I look at vacation as part of your compensation package – don’t leave anything on the table!

  26. Brittney @ Life On A Discount

    I am guilty of leaving 10 unused vacation days a year, however, I believe it’s for a few good reasons. First, I am the Executive Director of my organization, so it really can be a “burden to take vacation days throughout the year because of all the preparation and tasks that have to be arranged to be taken care of while I am gone. However, I always work at an educational nonprofit where we close for 6 weeks throughout the year. So, they are like vacation freebie days. I usually work off and on during them, but not full days. I get 15 days a year and I usually use 5. I can then “cash out” up to 10 days for $100 a day ($1,000). I usually do this because it’s nice to get a little cash boost at the end of the year and the other 6 weeks is more than enough time to rest and relax.

    My situation is probably unique, so if it weren’t the case, I would definitely advocate for taking more vacation days!

  27. I also strongly advocate for taking every vacation day since Time Off = Money. Simple equation, right?

    If for some reason you realize that you’ll need to roll-over a few days into the new year, now is the time to review your rollover policy at work. Make sure that you’ll never lose a paid day off since there is no U.S. national requirement about rolling over or getting paid for untaken vacation days.

    Another way to look at is… would you tell your boss that you don’t want a $100 bonus? Is it really too much effort for you to cash that check? A vacation day is worth that and so much more, so make no excuses and “cash-in” every vacation day. Each is a valuable opportunity for quality time with family, for a memorable travel experience, or to participate in enriching activities. It’s up to you!

    -Scott, VacationCounts – How to Take More Vacation Time Off

  28. Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore

    I used all of my vacation days when I had my full-time job. Admittedly though, the last year of my employment there I used my vacation days to work on my blogging business instead, so I still didn’t get much of a break.

    1. I often did the same when I had my day job! It was still a nice break from the day job though.

  29. Amy Nickson

    I have seen many of my friends are skittish when it comes to asking for time off. Even have come across somewhere, on average, each US worker fails to use about 5 paid vacation days a year. I wish it could be included in my leave bucket… lol

  30. pigbitinmad

    Actually, going on vacation did allow my employer to see that they could do without me so yes, I did lose my job because of it. This from someone who always took vacations. But that was in the 1990s when we did not have to endure this Fascista corporate takeover of our country.

    And now that the vacation is over and I am still unemployed 5 years later. I don’t really believe it was worth it. I plan on working two or three part-time jobs til I drop dead and do not plan to take a vacation ever again (mainly because my schedule will never allow it and I will always be too afraid to spend the money…5 years unemployed and I will be living under a bridge soon. The $2,000 a vacation might cost will allow me to keep a cardboard box over my head just that much longer.

  31. Eileen Benson

    I’m glad you mentioned that using our vacation days means we’ll perform better at work. I haven’t used any vacation days in a long time. Your article made me excited to find a mountain cabin to book for a vacation soon!