The time between when the winter's holiday splurging is finally paid off and your summer spending rushes in to fill the void is roughly 2.6 milliseconds. Ah, but what a joyous 2.6 milliseconds it is! With its yard maintenance bills, air-conditioning costs and the cajoling of children home from school, summer can ravage your wallet all over again. Fortunately, multiple summer bills mean there are multiple opportunities to save money. (To learn how to save money during the winter, read Tips for Avoiding a Holiday Overspending Hangover)
Many expenses around the house increase when the weather warms up. Lawn care costs get pricey come summertime. Watering the lawn more frequently to keep up with the heat raises your water bill, and mowing the grass more often eats into your evening and weekend free time (or adds to what you pay your lawn service, if you use one).
To cut down on watering bills, water early in the morning or late in the evening rather than in the afternoon. The water you spray on your lawn evaporates much more quickly midday; you'll need more water to get the job done.
Also, weigh the pros and cons of doing your own lawn maintenance and landscaping versus hiring someone to do it for you. Depending on how much free time and extra cash you have, it may be more beneficial to hire professionals. For example, if you bill by the hour and will actually do other work during the hour saved on lawn mowing, you may come out ahead by hiring someone. Consider hiring a neighborhood teen. The work might not be perfect, but you'll save money and make an entrepreneurial teenager happy. (For related reading, see Summer: Time for Teaching Your Kids About Money and How an Allowance Helps Kids Get Money-Smart.)
If you live in a dry climate, consider replacing your grass with a drought-tolerant landscape. Drought-tolerant landscapes conserve water and are lower maintenance than traditional lawns. This type of landscaping can quickly pay for itself, and it's environmentally friendly, too. The town of Pasadena, Calif., has created a Water-Smart Landscaping Guide for residents who want to create water-efficient landscaping, but you don't have to be a Cary resident to use this resource. The New York Botanical Garden also has an excellent list of Drought-Tolerant Plants.
Another way to use your yard space to your advantage is by gardening. Growing your own food can really cut down on grocery bills. Seeds only cost $2 to $3 per packet, and seedlings cost about the same or not much more per plant. Considering how many pounds of tomatoes you can get from a single plant versus how many pounds of tomatoes you can buy at the store for $3, both seeds and seedlings are a great deal.
If gardening isn't your forte, make friends with green-thumbed neighbors who will give or sell you their excess produce. Farmers markets are also a great resource, since they generally are low cost and carry some of the freshest produce available. (For a fun take on the benefits of frugality, read Save Money the Scottish Way.)
Summer often brings outdoor barbecues and parties. If you like to entertain or spend time outdoors, chances are you'll want to purchase some patio furniture. Buy your patio furniture late in the season or near major entertaining holidays like Memorial Day and July 4th to get a price break. For long-term value, buy durable, low-maintenance items in classic styles. Durability is especially important because patio furniture is subjected to the elements and tends to fade, crack and break. If you're thinking of investing in a whole deck's worth of new furniture, you'll want to read Why Deferred-Interest Promotions Are a Trap.
For outdoor parties, forget about having food catered or delivered. If you already own a grill, barbecuing is a great way to cut costs. If not, cook the food in your kitchen. To further save money, buy items in bulk at a wholesale store or consider hosting a potluck. You could also use your home-grown produce to make a dish or two. (To learn how to save money at the grocery store, read 5 Money-Saving Shopping Tips.)
If you plan to entertain frequently, buy inexpensive but reusable plastic cups, plates and flatware rather than the disposable kind. Try dollar stores, big box stores and online auctions to save money on these items.
The next section will show you how to save money on your energy bills and on entertainment costs for the kids.
High monthly bills add insult to injury. Use the following tips to start saving money each month.
This summer may be a brief exception, but gas prices tend to go up in summer because of increased demand. Even at lower prices, summer driving can up your fuel costs and leave you not that much ahead, even when prices are down.
Combining errands saves both gas money and time. Also, find the cheapest gas along your normal driving route. Try to choose regular gasoline, not premium, unless your car's manual specifies a higher octane fuel. Driving defensively, following speed limits, and avoiding aggressive stops and starts also saves fuel.
In addition, look for opportunities to walk, bike, take public transit, or carpool. Finally, avoid driving in rush hour as much as possible. All that time spent idling in traffic wastes a lot of gas. Perhaps your employer will let you adjust your schedule so you can avoid traffic. Maybe you can even talk your company into letting you telecommute occasionally. (For some background on how we got here, read Why You Can't Influence Gas Prices.)
In terms of reducing other energy costs, adjust your home's air conditioning throughout the day to meet your needs. Consider limiting your AC use to the time of day when you need it most. Some people like to be cooler while they sleep; others may need the air more during the day while doing household chores like cooking and cleaning. When you're doing something that involves sitting still, like watching TV, turn the thermostat up and turn on a fan in the room you're in. If you have zoned air conditioning or window units, shut off the AC in rooms you're not in, such as bedrooms during the day. When you leave the house, turn the AC off.
When you have the AC on, close doors to areas like closets and bathrooms that don't have vents and don't need to be cooled. Make sure the air filters in your air-conditioning unit are clean – dirty ones will make your system work harder than it needs to, costing you money. Finally, keeping the blinds closed in rooms you aren't in prevents the sun from warming the rooms as much.
Childcare and Entertainment Costs
Kids out of school will often look for entertainment in the form of movies, amusement parks and other pricey excursions. To save money at the movies, get a subscription to a movie rental service or go to matinées and refuse the temptation of movie theater snacks. As for amusement parks, hold out for promotional offers, which are frequent in the summer. You may also save money by purchasing tickets in advance online or by buying a multi-day or season pass. As in movie theaters, try to avoid all the expensive food once you're in the gates.
Entertainment outings aren't the only way that having the kids home from school can make life more expensive. Taking your kids on an errand can quickly increase the cost of a simple shopping trip. Hiring a sitter and running as many errands as possible at once may actually be less expensive than taking your kids to stores laden with kid-friendly advertising and easy-to-reach candy.
Also consider taking turns dropping your child off to play with a friend while you go out. Of course, for two-parent families, saving errands for evenings and weekends when one parent can stay home is probably the simplest course of action. (To learn more about how to save money this summer, read Budget-Friendly Summer Fun.)
Without school to occupy the daytime hours, working parents may find their childcare costs increasing. If another family or two in your neighborhood is in the same situation, consider putting all the kids at one parent's house, hiring just one sitter, and dividing the cost. If you prefer to send your kids off to an activity like daycare or day camp, try to arrange a carpool.
The Bottom Line
Without careful attention summer bills can easily skyrocket. It's important to be prepared for extra yard maintenance costs and energy bills, and avoid impulse buys and spur-of-the-moment trips to the amusement park. If you follow the simple advice in this article, you'll find it's surprisingly easy to keep your summer spending in check.