Have you ever perused those year-end lists of hot destinations, then wondered how you could afford any of those places? Here are three ways to see the world and get the last laugh on the budget blues, courtesy of Sean McQuay, a credit card analyst with nerdwallet.com.

1. Think about a budget as enabling rather than constricting. That way, the goal becomes inspiring instead of punitive. Mind game? Maybe. But whether your ideal is Tokyo or Tonopah, skipping a famous-maker cuppa becomes not a sacrifice but a strategy that gets you closer to where you want to be.

2. Make the goals realistic. When McQuay and his wife began their financial planning, they budgeted nothing for dinners out and entertainment. It was, in his words, a "disaster." Again, deprivation isn't the key; the destination dream is. So be gentle with yourself lest you burn out.

3. Look at big-picture spending. By percentage, where is your money going? If you see that you're spending, say, about 25 percent of your monthly income on eating out, you may be able to redirect that money into a vacation fund by making a meal that warms your El Niño-chilled bones and can also be reborn as a brown-bag lunch or two.

Los Angeles Times