Americans expect to spend $100 billion on vacations this summer, according to a recent survey from American Express. That's a 20% increase from last year, with the average spending per person coming in at $1,246. For a family of four, that means a summer trip will cost just under $5,000 this year.
Once you arrive at your destination, frugality may not be of interest, so the best way to save is to be proactive when planning your trip. Two-thirds of vacation spending goes toward transportation and accommodation, so reducing those costs can have a huge impact on your total budget. Don't be afraid to cash in on frequent flyer miles, or to share a vacation rental with extended family or friends. Keep meal costs in check by going out for breakfast or lunch rather than dinner. And always keep a stash of snacks in your fanny pack, especially if you're traveling with children.
Gas prices are on the rise, recently hitting an average of $3.65 per gallon, according to AAA. That's an increase of 18 cents per gallon compared to this time last year and the highest summer gas prices since 2008. Despite increasing costs at the pump, Americans still love road trips. A recent survey from Jiffy Lube found that four out of five claim it's their preferred type of vacation.
If you're planning to hit the open road this summer, perhaps to visit the nearest national park, consider filling up your gas tank on Wednesday or Thursday morning. Gas stations often increase prices in anticipation of weekend travel, so the worst thing you can do is wait until Friday after work. Use an app like GasBuddy to make sure you're getting the absolute lowest price along your commute.
The cost of ground beef recently hit a record high of $3.86 per pound, 16% more than it was one year ago, and that's a trend that's likely to continue. Not all food prices are increasing at the same rate, however. Baked goods are holding steady, with prices virtually unchanged from this time last year. Which means even if you're paying more for the meat you're planning to grill, you won't have to pay more for the hamburger buns.
To avoid a budget busting backyard barbecue, consider making smaller hamburger patties or foregoing ground beef all together. Chicken and pork haven't seen quite the same spike in prices, but that may change in the near future. Your best bet may be a grilled portobello mushroom as a burger alternative. Fruit and vegetable prices are only up about 3.2% from last year, so your wallet and your waistline will thank you. Whatever main course you choose, make sure to go heavy on the side dishes like pasta salad and watermelon to stretch your budget even further.
Cooling Your Home
The pressure of summer heatand the need to cool off from that heatpushes electricity bills higher this time of year. Those that prefer to keep their home at a comfortable 68 degrees can expect to pay 60% more than if they locked the thermostat at 78. Lowering the temperature just one degree below 78 increases your bill by 6%. That can quickly add up over the summer months, but saving money doesn't have to mean sweating it out.
Many utility companies will pay you to implement energy conserving techniques. Some will even install a free smart thermostat so you can control the temperature remotely. That way you can save money and energy while you're at work, but turn the temperature down so your home has time to cool off before you walk in the door. Investing in an energy efficient air-conditioning unit can go a long way as well, as can simply keeping your filters clean. And don't discount the power of cold water. It will lower your body temperature whether you choose to drink it or pour it over your head.
Throwing a wedding may be expensive, but it's not cheap to be invited either. In 2014 Americans will spend an average of $592 on each wedding they attend, which is up a staggering 75% from just two years ago. Members of the bridal party spend even more, with estimates soaring well over $1,000. Since weddings are so momentous, it's easy for guests to get caught up in the spending frenzy, but keeping expenses in check is essential.
Set your own budget for attending weddings, based on what you can afford, not the number of invitations you receive. Make sure you prioritize events so you don't end up overspending or racking up credit card debt. Being able to attend the wedding may require skipping the bridal shower or bachelor party. If you have to travel for a wedding, coordinate with friends to share a vacation rental. It's a great way to save money while also catching up with old friends. Not to mention it can reduce food and alcohol spending by providing a great place for people to gather when wedding events aren't taking place. You might also want to consider using a service like Rent the Runway to avoid spending a lot on an outfit you know you will only wear once or twice.
Taking care of your yard can be expensive, not to mention time consuming. The average annual spending on lawn care is $245, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawns can eat up as much as $600 and 73 hours a year in lawn maintenance, including mowing, watering and weeding.
A recent survey from TheStreet found that 22% of summer home improvement projects involve landscaping or garden improvements. If you're planning an outdoor project this summer, make sure you plan for more than just the short-term cost. Estimate your current spending on lawn care as well as how the project will impact that amount. If you plan it well, updating your landscaping could actually save you money and time in the long run.
Entertaining the Kids
Keeping the kids entertained during the summer is big business, to the tune of $16.6 billion each year, according to a recent survey from American Express.
Americans are spending an average of $601 per child on summer activities. Day trips are the most common activity, though sports teams, educational activities, pool memberships and camps are also popular among parents and children.
Looking for free activities is an easy solution to overspending on summer entertainment for children. Many museums offer free or discounted children's activities, as do libraries and parks. If you send your children to day camp while you're working full time during the summer, make sure to keep track of how much you spend. Summer day camp can qualify for the child and dependent care tax credit, which can have a big impact on your total tax bill.
--Written by Lauren Lyons Cole for MainStreet