Summertime is fun time — so it’s wise to set up a good plan to avoid a financial sunburn. Head into the season with a solid summer budget and you’ll make it to fall without any painful side effects.

The summer months do present special budget challenges. We make big plans, and last-minute fun opportunities pop up, too. No one likes to be invited to the amusement park or to go see their favorite band only to discover their wallet or bank account is empty. Staying prepared with a summer budget is a good way to keep the summer vibe going.

What do people spend the most on in summer?

You probably have a general idea of what you spend over a summer. But we tend to forget or ignore many expenses. Let’s look at some of the typical seasonal expenses and see how to approach them economically.

 Vacations

Sure, the big summer vacation is at the top of the list. If you’ve planned, budgeted, and saved everything you need, well done. For many folks, though, paying for vacations can be an afterthought — and the shock comes when the credit card bill arrives. Here are a few ideas to cut costs:

  • Drive rather than fly. Though gas prices are up, it still could be cheaper to drive, especially with two or more people. And there’s the train or bus. They’ll get you there, and often for less than flying.
  • Skip the big tourist destination. If you’re looking at an oceanside visit, for example, think about choosing one of the smaller coastal towns instead of a big city. Rates, meals, and many other expenses might be lower.
  • Keep it close to home. Spend time exploring in your local area. The money you save could pay for more meals and entertainment. Take a series of day trips to nearby towns that offer something new or overnighters to intriguing spots — like that amusement park that’s a few hours away.

Food and meals

When we travel, even short distances, we tend to eat out more often – and eat more fast food, too. Here are a few tips about eating on-the-go:

  • Make healthy to-go meals and bring along healthy and tasty snacks and drinks. Fast food costs more and offers fewer choices than what you may have if you plan ahead. And that goes double or triple for food at amusement parks and other venues. The extra money you save could cover other things, like souvenirs and adventures.
  • If your workday includes eating out or visiting the employee cafeteria, pack a lunch instead. Then allocate the savings to your extra summer expenses.
  • And, as always, look for ways to earn rebates while shopping. Now’s the time to buy in bulk or look for other deals that will bring some rebate money. The more money you can save, the more fun you can have.

Childcare and summer camps

When summer hits, kids aren’t in school as much, if at all. Of course, you still have to work, which might mean paying for daycare or a camp. One cheaper solution could be finding private babysitter. Do you know a relative, friend, or neighbor with an older child who’s not in school? They might enjoy earning a few bucks during summer. Don’t forget retired family members who might jump in. If possible, see if your company lets you work from home. Even one day a week will cut childcare costs.

Weddings, reunions, special events

Summer is full of family events, and they can be expensive to attend.

  • If you have to be in a wedding, see if you can rent the outfit you’ll need rather than buying it. Many bridal stores and online services will rent dresses and tuxedos for a day. Also, some thrift or consignment stores specialize in wedding apparel.
  • Destination weddings. Unless it is a close family member or friend, be thoughtful when considering whether you’ll go. If attending will cause you financial stress, there is no shame in staying home, saving money, and sending a nice gift to the couple instead.

Amusement parks, water parks, and other big attractions

Scour the internet and local papers for two-for-one coupons or other deals. Some resort parks offer reduced rates for certain times or dates, like mid-week. Call them for unadvertised specials. Check with your employer and organizations you belong to and see if they have connections or offer discount coupons.

How do you budget for the summer?

If you are an experienced budget-keeper, you’ll know what you’ve spent in previous hot seasons and what you spent it on. If you are just starting to track expenses, it’s better late than never. Expenses will typically vary from previous years, so it’s hard to be precise in estimates. For now, your summer budget is breaking new ground, but that’s all right.

If you don’t already have a budget, start by creating one. Set your summer goals as early as possible so you can plan your finances. Check credit card and bank statements for last summer’s deposits, withdrawals, and charges, and use the averages to set your budget. That’ll give you something to start with.

Tracking your cash flow from here onward is easy. There are many financial products, like Mint’s budget app, to help you track expenses on the go and keep your budget updated. Or keep a written expense log if you like the pen-and-paper method.

One easy budgeting technique is the 50/30/20 method. Allocate 50% of your income to your must-pay needs, 30% to your wants, and 20% to savings.

Figuring income is easy: add anything you earn. Must-pay expenses are rent or mortgage, utility bills, food, and payments on credit cards and loans. The 20% left over goes into savings. Plan for intermittent expenses, like yearly dues or fees, by setting aside a small amount for them each month. Unexpected expenses are the downfall of many budgets, but trouble could be avoided by creating an emergency fund. Add to it every month or paycheck.

In summer, you’ll probably use your credit cards more often. So, take a close look at any you have. Know the available balances and what the APR is on all your cards. Look at what rewards you have at hand. If you have the option, charge things on the lowest APR card first. Try not to max out a single card, that could hurt your credit score — split some costs between cards, if you can.

How do I stay on my summer budget?

There are several things you might do to ease summer expenses:

  • Cook meals at home instead of going out. If you have a grill, use it. If you don’t have one, small charcoal grills are very inexpensive. Grilling is fun and gives you a nice change from oven or stove-top cooking. And it moves all that cooking heat outside, so your air conditioner doesn’t run as much — that saves money, too.
  • Speaking of air conditioning, make sure to regularly change your system’s air filters. Low-cost filters only last 30 days, while more expensive pleated-paper filters last up to 90 days. Make a note in your smartphone of the filter sizes and the dates that you change them. On top of that running record, you can set reminders on your calendars (both digital and on paper) for the next filter change. A blocked filter is the No.1 cause of poor A/C system performance, and poor performance means money lost.
  • Turn up your thermostat a degree or two. You’ll be fine. Raising the inside temp by just 1 degree could save you 1% to 3% on your cooling costs, depending on your area.
  • If you have windows facing the sun, install reflective curtains or shades. If you already have nice curtains, reflective liners can be installed behind them to block out the infrared heat. The double benefit: It saves energy costs in winter, too.
  • Turn up your thermostat even more, and then go hang out in someone else’s A/C. Book stores, libraries, coffee shops, and movie theaters are nice cool spots to kick back.
  • Explore discount websites, like Groupon and LivingSocial, for money-saving deals and coupons for entertainment and dining.
  • Instead of hotels or resorts, try Airbnb for lower cost lodging. Or combine your trip with some camping, if that’s your dish.
  • Replace “fee” with “free.” Big-name concert tickets can cost $100 or more — plus food and drinks — so even one show can be a big money drain. But every summer is chock full of free events: fireworks, concerts, art festivals, outdoor plays. Go see a free show and buy yourself an ice cream or frozen drink as a reward.
  • Still need a few more dollars? Find a side hustle. Many companies need part-time workers in summer. Put in a few hours a week toward your summer fun. Pro tip: Get a job with an events company and watch concerts and plays while you work. Sometimes, event employees get discounts or free tickets to other shows as well. Consider working for a hotel chain, which often qualifies you for low-cost or no-cost stays at other locations.

Budget for fun and survive the summer

Hopefully, this article has given you lots of good ideas on how to budget for summer’s extra expenses. With some planning, and maybe a few changes in your routine, your summer budget could keep you on track for both fun and savings.

Check out Best Egg Financial Health for even more tips, calculators, and credit score information to help you stay on track.