By Andrew Housser
Sometimes in the summertime, money seems to flow from pockets like cool air from an air conditioner. Need to chill on the budget? Here are 10 ways to be frugal in the heat of the summer.
1. Plan your meals for the week ahead of time. In the summertime, fun, casual foods like salads, burgers and grilled pizza feel natural. Save on meals by taking an inventory of your pantry and freezer, planning a week's worth of meals, and buying groceries to fill in as needed. Shopping with a list is a proven way to reduce your grocery bills.
2. Join the super couponing craze. True, sometimes it feels hard enough to just make it to the grocery store, let alone putting extra effort into shopping. But many people are getting in on the rewards (and often, fun) of matching coupons and sales to save big money. Read up on the method online, and then check newspapers, manufacturers' websites, Facebook and mobile apps for coupons to slash your food budget.
3. Turn the air conditioning down a notch or two. If you can stand just a little more heat, turn down the A/C to hang onto some cool cash. For a 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot home, raising the air conditioner thermostat by three degrees (for example, from 72 degrees to 75 degrees) would save $40 to $60 in just one summer.
4. Seek out free entertainment. Most towns and cities offer a myriad of free entertainment in the summer. Scour the newspaper or search online for lists of free movies, concerts, swimming pools and other fun activities that won't cost a dime. Pack a picnic for a more-than-affordable outing for you or your family. Take road trips to free fun in nearby communities for mini-adventures.
5. Bring back the simple pleasures of childhood. Remember how much fun you had as a child, eating popsicles or climbing a tree? Relax this summer by finding a quiet spot to sit and chat with friends, read a book, play a game or pursue a hobby. Or go for a swim or hike to enjoy the great outdoors.
6. Switch off your gas mower. If you are in the market for a new lawn mower, put down the gas can. Evaluate whether you could handle your lawn with a push (or reel) mower. These machines are inexpensive, have no fuel costs and provide some exercise, too. If you need more power, look into rechargeable mowers that will eliminate refueling costs (and mess).
7. Have a yard sale. Clean out the closets, garage and spare room and turn your excess goods into cash. Pick a Saturday, list the sale online and put out signs. Get plenty of change from the bank and get ready to sell. Garage sales can net hundreds of dollars for their hosts. Join with neighbors to draw more customers. Then, use the money you make to pay off debt.
8. Borrow tools instead of buying. If you have home-improvement or landscaping projects on the agenda this summer, think twice before splurging on tools. Reach out to neighbors or relatives to borrow a tool you need before you buy. Alternatively, consider renting a tool from a hardware or home-improvement store, or finding a used option.
9. Evaluate DIY versus paying a pro. For many projects around the house, if you have any spare time, you can save by doing the work yourself. For instance, painting one room might cost about $50 for paint and supplies – yet paying a professional to paint it for you could cost a few hundred dollars. Or, consider buying a new lawn mower for $300 and using it for many years – for the same cost as paying someone to mow your lawn for about two months. Of course, take care to call on experts when a situation requires special skills or is too dangerous to tackle alone.
10. Plant a garden with things you love to eat. For the cost of a packet of seeds (or, this time of year, a seedling), some water, and a little care, you can put fresh, healthy, delicious food on your table. One tomato plant might cost about $5, but it could produce 10 pounds of tomatoes or more. That equates to about 50 cents per pound – a deal that is hard to beat at any grocery store, with the added benefit of fresh-off-the-vine taste. If you have children, planting and tending a garden also teaches them valuable lessons about where food comes from and the value of a dollar.