Summer is just around the corner. Are your finances ready for what’s coming?
“In the dead of winter, it’s easy to hunker down and watch Netflix with a hardy homemade stew,” says Kendal Perez, a consumer expert with CouponSherpa.com. “In the summer, however, we want to be outside and the desire to live life to its fullest seems more acute.”
As a result of this desire to be out and about, many of us are surprised by how easy it is for our spending to get out of hand during the summer months. It’s not just our desire for a patio dinner at the local restaurant, visiting outdoor fairs and attending musical festivals that can drag on the budget, either. Perez says that there are plenty of other drains on our summer finances.
Summertime activities and events
One of the biggest issues that parents face during the summer months is the fact that their kids are home all day. With school out, many parents find themselves scrambling for activities, says Perez. “Movies, summer camp, visits to theme parks, trips to the ice cream shop. All of these costs add up and are justified by a desire to keep kids from driving parents crazy.”
Summer is also the ideal time for vacations. We don’t want our kids to miss school, so it’s easier to plan vacations during summer. Of course, traveling during this peak time also means that many hotels, airlines, and car rental companies charge higher rates. “According to a study by American Express, the average cost of a vacation in 2014 for a family of four was $4,500,” says Perez. “Even holiday season spending doesn’t come close to that number!”
It’s not just your immediate family events you need to worry about. Summer marks the high season for weddings, graduations and baby showers. Graduation season usually runs from May through June. Starting in June and running through August, you can expect to attend the weddings of friends and family members (or even pay for your wedding or your child’s wedding). Baby showers are also common during the summer months as women approach due dates in September and October.
Many of these events require that you spend money on gifts and travel. Even if you don’t fly out to see a graduation or wedding, and even if you skip a baby shower, there is a good chance that you will still feel obligated to send a gift card along with your congratulations.
Reduce what you spend during the summer
All of this extra spending conspires to break your budget and encourage debt spending. To keep your budget on track, Perez offers the following tips for cutting your costs:
- Research free or cheap activities: “Most communities offer free or cheap things for kids and families during the summer months,” says Perez. “Whether it’s educational opportunities, holiday parades, summer concert series or town festivals, families should research local events and make their plans accordingly.”
- Take advantage of kids’ summer programs: Perez points to programs like Regal’s Summer Movie Express and Cinemark’s Summer Movie Clubhouse that provide children with cheap entertainment. “You can also register your kids for Kids Bowl Free and find out which bowling alleys in your area participate in the program,” she says.
- Use coupons and other savings strategies: “Instead of a dinner out, meet up during happy hour for half-priced drinks and appetizers,” suggests Perez. You can also use coupon apps and daily deal sites to help you find discounts. Credit card loyalty programs can help you make the most of your expenses, as well as provide you with valuable partner discounts on travel.
- Shop holiday weekends for bargains: “Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Back-to-School and Labor Day promotions fall within the summer timeframe, and that means bargains on everything from warm-weather apparel to laptops to appliances,” says Perez. “Knowing what to buy when is key to optimizing your savings.” With a little research, you can balance some of your spending with savings in other areas.
- Watch your vacation budget: “Stock up on snacks, breakfast foods and water from a local grocery store to avoid overspending on dining,” suggests Perez. “Research what the locals do for free and discover fun, cheap community events at your destination.”
Another strategy is to plan ahead. Create a summer fund as a savings goal. Every month, set aside money in a high-yield savings account or another liquid account. Get in the habit of doing this year-round so that you have a backup plan for summer spending, whether it’s buying gifts or paying for summer camp.
Incorporating your credit cards into your regular budget can also be a big help. If you can earn rewards throughout the year for groceries, gas and other regular spending, and pay off the balance each month, you can receive free travel and cash back to help you fund your summer activities.
There’s a lot going on during the summer, and most of us don’t want to feel as though we’re missing out. Take the time to plan ahead and look for ways to save, and there’s a good chance you can reduce your costs — or even eliminate most of them, says Perez. “You might find the best family moments are the ones that don’t cost anything!”