Ten easy ways to get your finances fit for summer

Summer is all about taking it easy and enjoying the warmer weather, but it's also a great opportunity to review your current budget and get in better financial shape.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
People take a boot camp class at a gym on the Under Armour campus in Baltimore, Maryland (January 13, 2015).

Summer is just around the corner, and the warm weather and extra free time can put a big ding in your finances. Stay proactive about potential summertime overspending by implementing these smart strategies that'll have you headed into the season financially fit.

1. Review Your Current Budget

It's always a good idea to take stock of your current expenses to determine where you can save. This means reviewing your recurring expenses by taking a hard look at your debit and credit card activity. If you have memberships or subscriptions that you barely use and can live without it, ditch 'em. The more dead weight you can unload, the more extra "free" money you'll have to start your summer fund.

2. Establish a Summer-Activity Budget

I'm very much a planner, and as a result I generally know what my summer plans are well ahead of time. The great thing about planning ahead is that you can get a good picture of your upcoming expenses and start saving accordingly. It's easy to establish a summer activity budget that maps out all the fun things you plan to do along with their associated costs. And if your plans change, you can tweak it accordingly.

3. Compare Transportation and Lodging for Travel

One of the biggest mistakes I notice from self-proclaimed savvy spenders and savers is that they sometimes hop on a deal too quickly. Sure, they're using discount sites to score savings on lodging and transportation, but is it really the best deal available? I always recommend comparing prices between multiple sites, and don't just limit yourself to your go-to savings depots. In fact, I've gotten better deals going directly to the hotels or airlines' websites at times.

And here's another tip: Pick up the phone! Very few of us dial our vacation service providers to see what promotions they may be offering, and it could pay off big. It's worth spending the 10 to 20 minutes scouting the best buys. A few extra dollars saved are a few extra dollars that you can use for a nicer meal or fun activity while you're on vacay.

4. Explore Low-Cost Kids' Activities

Child care — especially of the all-day variety during the summer months — can zap your budget quickly. But there are several ways you can minimize those costs. Patty Cathey, an investment advisor in Denver, Colo., offers a few ideas on child care alternatives.

"Look into summer camps through your city recreation department, community center, or YMCA. Many churches or religious groups also offer affordable camps. As far as amusement parks, the zoo, or museums go, hold out for promotional offers, which are frequent in the summer. LivingSocial and Groupon often is a good resource for lower admission. And many communities offer free or cheap things for kids and families to do in the summer. The local library has educational activities, and there are free or cheap outdoor summer concerts, parades, and town festivals to take advantage of as well."

And let's not forget one of my favorite summertime promotions — free bowling for kids. Registered kids receive two free games of bowling per day at participating locations.

5. Cut Your Energy Expenses

I'll be the first one to admit the my air conditioner goes on if it's above 60 degrees outside at bedtime. But, I do try to cut energy costs wherever I can. For one, I grill outside more often in the summer, which reduces the amount of dishes I'm using on a daily basis, thus extending the time between my dishwasher cycles. Lights are turned off in favor of natural sunlight, and curtains and blinds are closed to keep too much sun from coming in if it's particularly hot outside. I water plants from a watering can instead of letting the hose run nonstop, and drying clothes outside is a pocket-wise way to avoid using the dryer during the summer.

Cathey has a few more tips.

"You could save close to $200 over the course of the year by installing a programmable thermostat and setting the temperature back 10 to 15 degrees for the hours you're at work," she says.

6. Take Advantage of Seasonal Sales

There are lots of sales during the summer season that can help you score big savings if you strike while the iron is hot. Groceries can be especially taxing during the summer — all those BBQ meats and fresh fruits and veggies aren't cheap — but you'll get the most for your money by comparing circulars, locating the best deals in your area, and stacking your coupons and apps, like Cartwheel, Ibotta, and Checkout 51.

Savings expert Jill Cataldo recommends Flipp, a free app that gathers all the store circulars in your area in one easy-to-use platform.

"Use Flipp to plan your weekly grocery trips, and you'll enjoy its coupon-matching feature, which automatically points out additional discounts available on what you're buying at the supermarket," she says. "When you can seamlessly save 20% to 70% on items you're shopping for every week, that adds up to big savings throughout the year."

7. Harness the Power of Old and Discounted Gift Cards

I love going through my wallet at the beginning of the summer to see what gift cards I have leftover, so that I can use them to save on dining or shopping while on vacation. Another great way to use gift cards is to buy them at discount — the idea of which is to spend less for the actual amount on the card even though it retains its full value. Raise's marketplace allows people to save money and afford all the things to do during summer in two ways:

  • People that have old or unwanted gift cards can sell them and get cash back, which is a great way get extra money towards summer fun.
  • Outlet lovers can buy gift cards at a discount and use the money they would have spent on other things such as going on vacation, having BBQs, and more.

With 4,000 different retailers' gift cards for sale, it's easy to trade on this great source of value.

8. Add a Side Hustle to Your Schedule

If you have summer plans that exceed your budget, all may not be lost. Perhaps it's time to start thinking about picking up a side hustle, like renting out a room in your home on Airbnb, dog sitting for locals through DogVacay, or driving for a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. The social and sharing economy is thriving, and there's a place for you in it — guaranteed. I always advocate for the side hustle when you're strapped for cash, because in most cases it's relatively easy work. In other words, if you're complaining that you don't have enough money, there are options ready and waiting for you.

9. Rely on Cold, Hard Cash More Often

It's convenient to swipe your plastic wherever you go, but studies show that using cash as your currency of choice limits the amount you'll spend. In fact, a study conducted by Dun & Bradstreet revealed that we spend 12% to 18% more when using debit or credit card opposed to dolla-dolla bills.

Hard-money lending expert Elizabeth Jenkins details an idea on how to use cash to spend less.

"Allocate your cash budgets into weekly envelopes," she says. "Have an envelope for weekly food, fun, gas, rent, etc., and make sure to close them. You'll find a feeling of guilt as you take money from an envelope to pay for something unrelated to that budget."

10. Change the Way You View Spending

Retail therapy feels good — until it doesn't. To curb spending, it's important to start viewing it as a necessity opposed to a recreational activity. Instead, focus on more important activities that increase your well being, instead of adding more clutter to it with material things.

"Spending can be addictive," Jenkins warns. "Work on spending 'time' on things rather than money. Pick up an exercise routine, start a hobby, work on your house, or any other number of time consuming projects. Transfer your energy into projects that may cost some amount money, but will help your job, home, or family in the long run."

This article is from Mikey Rox of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website. This article first appeared at Wise Bread.

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