For CreditCards.com/Published May 16, 2016
Summer means lounging by the pool, enjoying a vacation getaway and, for kids, the fun of being out of school. But then there are the bills to pay: pool memberships, vacation costs, wedding gifts and camps or day care for kids. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself racking up credit card debt to pay for all those expenses.
Ideally, you’ve saved all year to be ready for summer. If not, check out these tips on how to better position yourself for next summer and find last-minute savings now.
Joining a pool, whether it’s a country club or a private pool, can sink your budget if you’re not prepared. “Pool memberships can be quite expensive,” says Dara Duguay, executive director of Credit Builders Alliance, who lives in Washington, D.C.
If you have all year to plan, see if your favorite pool will let you spread out the cost over 12 months. If not, make your own plan by setting aside money in a special pool account.
As for this summer, if a private pool membership isn’t in your budget, consider a free or a less expensive city or county pool. “For us, the other alternative is the public pools, which are free for district residents,” Duguay says. “They are super crowded. You usually have to sit on the cement because all the chairs are broken. There definitely are trade-offs – but it’s free.”
Day care and camps
For parents of school-age kids who can’t be left alone, summer means scrambling to find reliable, safe, affordable day care or camps. Plan ahead for next year by seeing if you can get discounts by signing up and paying well in advance.
If you’re looking for good day care or camps for this summer, there are alternatives to pricy summer camps and nannies. “There’s a brand new YMCA right down the street from me,” Duguay says. “I enrolled my 7-year-old daughter for a couple of weeks at a fraction of what I would pay for a baby sitter.”
Vacation travelMany churches also offer summer kids’ programs for free or low cost during the mornings or evenings or even all day.
Still need to choose a vacation destination? If you have a travel rewards credit card and have accumulated a fair amount of points or frequent flier miles, you may want to narrow down your choices by seeing choosing a destination that maximizes your frequent flier miles.
Whether you’re paying with cash or points, consider off-season locations such as the Caribbean islands that are popular in the winter, but hurricane-prone in the summer, says Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit reporting agency Experian. To hedge your risk, check to see if you have travel insurance through a credit card that covers weather-related trip delays or cancellations.
Also check for what other kinds travel-related perks and safeguards your credit cards may offer.
If your destination is high-end, compare the price of checking a bag on the plane with the cost of buying liquid toiletries and other items at your luxury destination, Ingram says. “If it costs you $25 to check a bag versus purchasing what is going to go in that bag that would cost you four times that much at your destination, then check that bag and fill it with stuff you buy at home.”
Holiday rental homes
When booking a vacation rental home, you may be able to get a discount by booking next year’s stay as you leave this year. Even if you don’t get a discount, paying part of the rental fee early spreads out the cost.
But if you haven’t booked this year’s beach house yet, you can save money by paying attention to school schedules, says Leah Ingram, author of “Suddenly Frugal.” For example, if your kids get out of school at the end of May, book a rental in an area where school remains in session until mid-June, Ingram says. If your children don’t start back to school until after Labor Day, consider traveling in late August to a state where the school year begins in August.
You may even be able to redeem credit card rewards for vacation home rentals through services such as Airbnb, though the industry has been slow to offer easy rewards programs.
Vacation meals and souvenirs
Many families want to take a vacation from cooking too, Ingram acknowledges. But if you book accommodations with a kitchen, you can save money by eating breakfast at home before heading out for the day and packing a picnic lunch, she says.
When looking for souvenirs, skip the stores on the boardwalk or any place that spells shop “shoppe.” Instead, check out the local Walgreens or other national chain, Ingram says. “They’re likely to have the same touristy tchotchkes at a lower price,” she says.
If your vacation destination is money-saving home sweet home, check Groupon and similar sites for discounts on amusement parks and other local attractions, Griffin says. Don’t overlook free concerts and other events in your area.
Thinking about getting a new outfit to that summer wedding you were invited to? Think twice – everyone will be looking at the bride anyway. If you must have a new outfit and can’t bear to wear the same thing to more than one major event, check out Rent The Runway to rent a dress and/or Poshmark to buy or resell high-end clothing, Ingram says.
Cashing in credit card rewards for wedding gifts may also save you money.
Summer happens. Being prepared for expenses means you can pay those extra bills easily as opposed to wasting your pool time worrying or worse, getting a second job to cover extra bills.
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