Don't let your summer plans break the bank!
Summer can be a very expensive time as many big ticket items occur in this season such as costly vacations, additional child care costs, and home maintenance and improvement projects. However, with some planning and forethought, summer can actually be a time to save money.
We'd all love to head to Europe or take the kids to Disney World for our summer trip, but before setting lofty expectations with the family, you need to re-visit your budget to see if you have stayed on track and can actually afford this vacation. If you've had several unexpected bills since the start of the year, or just have not been that diligent about sticking to the budget, cutting back on vacation expenses can be one way of "righting the ship." You may not be able to take your "fantasy vacation," but remember that there are many affordable options right outside your door that won't break the budget. If you need to reduce vacation expenses, avoid lodging and restaurant costs by planning a "staycation" - stay at home and visit all of the museums, parks, and attractions in or near your town. Or even plan a house-swap with friends in another city!
If you're dying to get away from home, plan an old-fashioned road trip, complete with tent camping, state and national park visits, and hot dogs around the fire - these trips will create wonderful memories for kids, as much as if you went to Disney Land. If you don't have the camping equipment, check with local outdoor stores (or college recreation centers) for sturdy rental equipment. A family could easily spend a week away from home for less than $1,000. Get the whole family's buy-in by checking out books from the library and gathering around the map together to plan your route.
Cobbling together child care in the form of summer camps and other activities can be not only expensive but a logistical nightmare, especially for large families with children of varying ages and interests. In order to reduce costs, parents should remember that they can use their Flexible Spending Account (FSA) through their employer to fund summer camps with pre-tax dollars. Remember that parents must be working, looking for work or in school during the hours their children are in camp in order to utilize FSA dollars. Also, day camps are eligible for the dependent care credit, however sleep-away camps are generally not eligible. Parents should check with their tax adviser to better understand which of their summer childcare expenses might be treated favorably under the tax code.
If you need to make repairs to your home this summer, you can save money by better understanding which kinds of repairs and materials are treated favorably by the tax code. Tax credits related to energy efficient products, including new doors, new windows, and adding insulation can help reduce the final cost to the homeowner. Homeowners should check with their tax adviser to understand how they might qualify for tax credits associated with these kinds of home improvements. In addition, with tax and other government and utility credits, solar energy is becoming a more viable option for many homeowners - summer is a great time to make this move as contractors are better able to access the roof, especially if it is covered in snow and ice for a good part of the year.
Finally, on a day-to-day basis, a family can save on their grocery bill by planting a few vegetable or fruit plants around the house. Lettuce, tomatoes, and berries are all easy to grow in the ground or in containers (and a great way to get your kids to eat more produce)! I find my children love the experience of planting, growing and picking their own vegetables.
Have a wonderful summer!