Take a Vacation from Debt

With the right planning, your summertime can be as carefree as a child’s

Flashback to grade school when on the first day each year you were met with the dreaded question, “What did you do on your summer vacation?” Back then I labored to find a way to fill my paper because summer meant doing nothing but daydreaming and lounging around. My activities of the summer could barely fill a sentence, let alone an essay. Fast forward to today and my essay would include sports camps for three teenagers, a week at the shore, theme parks, movies, etc. Those carefree days of my childhood that were so rejuvenating has turned into a flourish of activity that could potentially leave a mountain of debt in its wake – definitely not rejuvenating! Like anything else that involves your hard earned money, planning is the essential ingredient in enjoying a stress free season. And with people still wincing from the turbulent economic climate of the past few years, the popular “staycation” of last year can turn back into the vacation this year if you are smart about where to cut corners.

Take Me on a Ride

Theme parks are a popular family outing in our country. However, one day trip can cost you some serious cash. There are many ways to enjoy a day at your favorite park without having to forgo groceries for a month. During the summer months, discount coupons for admission are available if you’re willing to do a little research. Whether they are located on a can of soda or at the counter of local fast food restaurants, there is a coupon out there. Ordering tickets on-line in advance also offers savings. My family often takes advantage of non peak periods. May and September are traditionally less expensive and less crowded. If the theme park is in combination with another venue, like a water park, save money by only picking one. If you have young children, they are often too exhausted to enjoy both parks fully, so you really don’t save any money by purchasing the combination. Finally, if you don’t live too far away, twilight rates are another great way to save, and you have the added benefit of enjoying the park at a much more comfortable temperature. A search on the park’s website should provide complete information on calendars, rates, twilight hours and distribution sites for coupons.

Take Me to the Beach

There is no better way to relax in the summer then a long leisurely week at the beach. Anyone who’s enjoyed this luxury can tell you exactly how quickly costs can accrue. Hotel fees are at a premium during the summer months, and that’s before you include the cost of dining out. Renting a house or a condo can negate the eating out price, but unless you bring the majority of your food items from home, supermarket rates in a resort town can be quite pricey. As with the theme parks, renting off peak can provide a nice savings in rental costs and depending on your part of the country, off peak months are often quite warm. Renting a place from a friend or relative with a vacation home can be another way to save money. See if you can negotiate the price further by bartering your skills. If your friends needs help finishing their basement or you’re a computer whiz and can help set up a web site for their business, use this as a way to lower the price more. Another suggestion is to rent with a friend or family member. If you’re not sure whether a week together would be a too taxing on the relationship, arrange to swap keys halfway through the week and enjoy a mini vacation for half the price.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Nothing says summertime like a trip to the ballpark. However, nothing says “yikes” like adding up the cost of a day at the ballpark for a family of four. For good seats, the tickets alone could cost over $300. (And once you buy me some peanuts and crackerjack, you won’t care if you never come back!) America’s pastime has morphed into an extravagant luxury for the average family. If you have small children, your local minor league team is not only more cost effective, but a lot more fun for the kids. If you happen to know someone with season tickets, again, don’t be afraid to barter your skills in exchange for their seats.

Take Flight

No doubt about it, there is an art to purchasing airline tickets. In terms of getting the best rate, it is hard to figure out what is truth and what is myth. We all heard the experts say, buy Tuesdays after midnight, weekend departures are more expensive, or wait until the last minute to buy tickets. Do these tricks work? Well, the answer to that question is maybe and maybe not. I haven’t been able to crack the code and I’m a darn good code cracker. Remember, the airlines want to sell tickets at the highest price possible and you want to buy them at the lowest. Because of this, the rules seem to constantly change. What I would advice is to use technology. Check the airline’s website, as well as the websites for discount travel (Expedia, Kayak, Priceline, etc.) Also, check the travel websites of any discount clubs you may belong to, such as Costco, Sam’s Club or B.J.’s. Finally, check often. The last time I booked airline tickets I checked every day for two weeks. I watched the fares for the same flight go up and down like the line on an echocardiogram monitor. When it finally dipped to a number I was happy with, I bought. The best strategy for vacation travel would be to start looking a couple months out, check a number of sites, and check often. An exception to this strategy would be when it comes to holiday travel, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Seats during heavily traveled times are going to sell out fast, so don’t wait too long. Remember, the air carriers are not going to make it easy, but if you invest the time, you’ll get a good price.

So what did you do on your summer vacation? Hopefully, more than you thought you could and for a lot less money. Why punish yourself with another “staycation” when a real vacation is in reach? All you need is a little temperance, foresight, and planning.

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