Seeking Out Summertime Bargains

ust because you’re relaxed during the summer doesn’t mean you still don’t want to score some bargains – and unlike other times of the year, you might actually have the time to get the price you want. Here’s tips on how to enjoy the season without breaking the bank.

Travel

Ah, summer vacation. One of the most cherished rituals of summertime can also be one of the most expensive. If you haven’t yet planned your summer vacation, then yes, you are a hopeless procrastinator. But don’t feel too guilty, because odds are you aren’t alone. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to Outsmart The Man.

  • Keep an open mind when choosing destinations and arrival and departure dates. Let the season and the sales decide. Choose destinations that are off-season or in shoulder season, such as the Caribbean or Mexico in June and early July.
  • Remember, the Internet is your friend! Travel sites such as BreezeNet.com, Sidestep.com and Travelocity.com give side-by-side cost comparisons for everything from rental cars and airfares to hotel rates and cruise tickets. Hard-core bargain hunters can use the comparison information to place slightly lower bids at Priceline.com.
  • Use small strategies to add up to big savings. Choose hotels that offer breakfast. Use hotel room microwaves and refrigerators to feed the family easy lunches and inexpensive snacks. Get maps online rather than buying them. Stay with friends or family when you can stand them. Consider camping. Use the Internet or the local newspaper to find free and cheap events that are in town the same time your family is.
  • Rather than buying books to take on vacation, check them out for free at the library. Or swap books you’ve already read for ones you want to read by using Web sites like bookmooch.com or bookins.com.

Food

Who’s tired of paying big money for shrunken, tasteless fruits and veggies at the grocery store? Me! Me! Summer is a fantastic time to grow it yourself – tomatoes, peppers and herbs are easy and cheap to grow in the backyard or in pots on the deck. Summer is also the time to visit farmers’ markets. The agricultural delights found there can be expensive, but we have ways to save money.

  • Put networking skills to good use. Come prepared to talk food, which is one sure way to a farmer’s heart. It’s all about the relationships, people.
  • Come to market with an open mind and palate. Buy items that are in the peak of their season or outside mainstream consumption (think heirloom tomatoes or ethnic specialties), in order to take advantage of the laws of supply and demand. Buy in bulk when there is a surplus of certain items –vendors will often have tips on how to prepare or store their produce – or shop co-op with friends or family.
  • Show up roughly 30 minutes prior to the close of the market. You may be able to get good deals on the food that didn’t sell, but don’t go overboard with the haggling. If a farmer gives a good deal, do him or her a favor and purchase a sizeable amount of food.

Gas

Here’s some news that’s not news: Gas prices are on the rise. You can’t fight city hall, but you can save money on gas this summer, when prices are likely to be at their highest.

  • OK, you’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again. Don’t drive so much! Set up carpools to get the kids to and from camp. Take the bus or train to work. Plan outings carefully and combine trips to cut down on driving time.
  • Keep the car maintained. Oil changes, air filters and tire pressures all have an effect on gas mileage.
  • Avoid idling. Drive at a consistent speed. Avoid accelerating fast or braking suddenly (attention, tailgaters!), and use cruise control when you can.
  • Clean out the car. Toting unneeded, heavy objects uses more fuel. Ditto for bicycle and ski racks.
  • Take off slowly from a full stop. This is one adjustment that will have dramatic effects on gas mileage.
  • Park in the shade. Gasoline actually evaporates right out of the tank, and it does so faster when the car is parked directly in the sun.

Entertainment

“Mom, I’m bored.” Those dreaded words of July and August keep mothers everywhere on their toes. The good news is that there are lots of free or nearly free activities going on in summer that will keep everyone happy. And quiet.

  • There is a veritable smorgasbord of camps going on near your town at this very moment. Art camps, drama camps, sports camps, science camps – if a child has an interest, there’s a camp to nurture it. Alas, camps are rarely free, but some are inexpensive, especially those offered by religious groups. For those bent on getting the camp experience for free, team up with like-minded friends or neighbors and offer a camp of your own. Each parent takes a turn hosting all the kids for the day, complete with camp crafts and activities, which equates to everybody getting a few hours sans kiddos during a week. If all else fails, don’t forget Camp Grandma.
  • Outdoor activities like bike riding, going to the pool or beach, playing hopscotch or cards, blueberry picking, picnics in the park, stargazing and barbecues with friends are free or nearly free and will be the simple pleasures that kids will always remember. Visit sites like http://familyfun.go.com/ for ideas to keep the kids knee-deep in fun all summer.
  • When adult time is in short supply, try Parents’ Nights Out or Mothers’ Mornings Out at the YMCA or local churches or synagogues. Set up a babysitting co-op with friends or neighbors.
  • Bookstores and libraries are excellent resources for summertime reading activities like story time or special events featuring book characters. Many bookstores offer their events on Saturdays or in the evenings for working parents.

Easing through the summer doesn’t have to be expensive. With a little knowledge and creativity, you can have a great time — and keep the change.