Bottom Line: Summertime is almost here. Temperatures are rising, and so is the cost of living. So whether you’re planning to hit the road for your summer vacation or take advantage of recreational opportunities closer to home, it pays to plan carefully. A little research can help you get the most out of this summer, without breaking the bank.
As leaves bloom and the thermometer rises, so does the stress about summer vacations and activities. Many families look to the summer months for a chance to get away for a much-deserved vacation, or even lay low for a rejuvenating staycation. For those with kids, summertime can also present a challenge in keeping them entertained and focused while keeping your spending in check. Regardless of your hopes or plans this year, the best way to begin is with a budget. Making a realistic budget isn’t exciting, but it is the foundation for keeping your overall finances under control.
The cardinal rule? Don’t take on debt. Overspending on your summer fun by paying for it with credit cards creates long term problems. If you’re currently overwhelmed with debt, prioritize getting out of debt over spending money on summer fun, and focus on the lowest cost ways to enjoy yourself.
If you’re not burdened by outsized debt, then a great way to avoid taking on debt is to build up a dedicated vacation savings account. It’s not too late to begin saving now for this summer’s vacation – a few dollars a week can make a big difference in your plans. You can even enjoy the saving part. Your anticipation of a vacation or summer splurge will grow along with your account.
Once you have tamed your debt and begun saving, the next step is to make sure you price out the total costs for your vacation or other recreation choices. Be realistic and plan for the unexpected. Even families with a vacation savings account will find that emergencies or “in-the-moment” decision-making can cause summer costs to spiral out of control.
In addition to understanding your financial limits, you need to be creative to keep costs down. Here are 11 tips to maximize your summer savings:
- Shop Effectively: Go online to find the best rates for plane tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, and packaged deals. Use the Military.com Military Travel Discount Center for special discounts available to military servicemembers.
- Staycation: Look at interesting, nearby vacation options. You can cut out the cost of airfare by exploring the fun things to do near your home. There is usually a lake, beach, mountain, or tourist attraction in your area that you’ve never visited before.
- Local Attractions: Summertime is peak season for arts, music, and food festivals. Lots of these activities are free to attend. County and State Fairs are also inexpensive summer entertainment options. Check with your base for discounts on movies, theater, amusement parks, and other local attractions.
- Weekday Travel: You can save money by traveling or vacationing during the middle of the week. If you have flexible travel days, you’ll find better deals on airfare and hotels.
- Freebies: Remember that there are many enjoyable things you can do that don’t cost any money at all. Go for a hike, use the gym and recreational facilities on base, relax at the beach, or go for a picnic. Spending time with those you love without spending extra money can sometimes bring bigger rewards than an expensive splurge.
- Rewards Program: If you build up points in a frequent flyer or travel rewards program, you can slash your vacation costs. Review your accounts or combine multiple ones to maximize your rewards. Enrollment is free so build up points throughout this year that you can use next year.
- MWR: Perhaps your greatest resource as a military servicemember is your service branch’s Office of Morale, Welfare, and Recreation. Whether it is swimming, golf, camping or tennis, be sure you know what recreation and vacation opportunities are available in your area.
- Military Lodging: You may be able to save money by staying on base or at one of the Armed Forces Recreation Center Resorts. See if you are eligible to take advantage of facilities located throughout the world, such as hotels, resorts, temporary housing facilities, and guesthouses.
- Pack Lightly: If you’re flying, keep your checked luggage to a minimum. Airline baggage fees can range from $25-40 per bag, each way. This adds up fast if you’re traveling with a family. Stick to carry-on bags when possible or airlines without checked baggage fees.
- Online Bill-pay: Protect your credit rating and avoid costly late fees and interest rate hikes by setting up automatic bill payment to pay your bills during your vacation.
- Emergency fund: Even the most carefully planned summer budget can fall apart, so it’s smart to have money set aside in a rainy-day fund. When you’re putting money aside to pay for your summer fun, be sure you’re also putting money aside to cover unexpected costs.