Sunday, June 22, 2008

Beating The High Cost of Summer

The best thing about summer is the feel of it, and that's free. It costs nothing to sit outside, soak up some sun, let the kids run wild and enjoy the scent of the flowers, the sounds of the ice cream truck, and everything else you associate with the season.

But the rest of it will cost you plenty. The price of everything from car trips to kid camps and baseball tickets to flip flops has gone up, to the point where it may feel like you can't afford to enjoy summer.

On the other hand, you can't afford not to enjoy it. The relaxation response will help you through the tough times ahead. Happily, there are ways to get the best of the season without digging a deeper debt hole. Here are some summer savings tips:

-- Save on travel. Don't settle for a staycation; spending money at restaurants and museums while you stay home may be fun but it doesn't have the same healing properties as a change of scenery. Instead, choose a locale that is closer to home than you might traditionally travel, or look for a deal on a Caribbean cruise or resort that considers summer its off season and cuts prices accordingly. If you're headed for the beach or mountains, skip the hotels and motels and rent a house where you can save money nightly and fix your own meals and snacks in the kitchen. This year, many vacation-home owners are even willing to cut special deals for long weekends or short weeks, so you could save more by going for four or five days instead of seven. Rent directly from owners via sites such as,, and

-- Camp. Here's another low-cost family vacation idea. You can take everyone to family camp, which is sort of like a cross between a sleep-away camp and family resort. Usually the lodgings are rustic and the meals camp style, but there are lots of activities. Find a listing of some 50 family camps at

-- Save on local fun. Most amusement parks are cutting prices and offering special summer deals, hoping to snag families who can't afford multi-day travel. Check for tips on where the discounts are. Shop for discount passes online, through your hotel, and through membership organizations like the American Automobile Association. Go on a weekday, not the weekend.

-- Save on kid fun. Send them to sleep-away camp for a shorter period of time, and remember that the cost is tax deductible if you use it as child care so you can go to work. If you're stretched, ask the camp director for a scholarship, or fee discount. Take the kids to the library at least once a week, where they can choose summer reading and rent videos for next to nothing, or nothing at all, depending on your library. Wallow in traditional, inexpensive summer entertainment: a day of fishing or berry-picking, a picnic or a day hike cost little. Make your own Popsicles .

-- Save on baseball. An afternoon at a major league ballpark typically runs more than $200 for a family of four, according to That includes hats and programs and costly ballpark food and drinks. You can still take the family to the game, but sit in the cheap seats and skip the hats and team yearbooks. Bring your own peanuts. And learn to love the minors. Most minor league teams offer great baseball with extras like post-game fireworks and between-innings entertainment, at rock-bottom prices. Find a team near you at

-- Save on energy, too. Even if you have central air-conditioning, install a window or attic fan and see how much it can cut your cooling bills. Turn your water heater down when you go out of town for a week. Don't use your dishwasher's dry cycle; it takes little time for dishes to air dry in the summer. Take the luggage rack off your car if you're not using it, inflate your tires properly and don't overload the trunk. Every little bit helps, and you might squeeze out enough extra cash for one more baseball game or overnight camp-out before summer sadly draws to an end.

Happy Summer, Folks!


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