Summer's upon us, and after last year's "staycation" trend there's some pent-up demand to go out, get away and have fun. At the same time, we still want to save money. From dining out to buying airline and concert tickets, here are some great saving strategies ... and in some cases free deals!
Americans spent more than $200 billion eating out last summer, according to the U.S. Census. Some tips for lowering your dining bill include:
- Buy discounted gift certificates at restaurant.com for restaurants in your town or your destination.
- Search for free restaurant coupons at valpak.com. The site has tons of buy-one, get-one offers.
- At Happy-Hour.com find drink and meal specials at local restaurants
- Look for Target free arts and culture events. The retailer offers free or discounted entry to museums, concerts and galleries across the country. This year there are more than 2,000 free events.
- Free summer movie days at Regal Theatres. The chain runs a "Free Family Film Festival," with a nine-week schedule of free movies with select days and times.
- If you're a member of a discount club like Costco or any other industry organization, like AAA, members may get discounts when they buy movie tickets in bulk. At Costco, you can buy two movie tickets for $15 and use them at participating theaters.
- The U.S. National Park Service is offering free admission on August 14-15 at more than 100 parks that normally charge a fee.
The average family of four will spend $4,000 on a vacation this summer, according to American Express. Eighty percent of those surveyed said they plan to lower their travel costs. Here's some help.
- Swap homes. Join a home exchange club like homexchange.com. There's also a housing swap section on Craigslist. Make sure to do proper background checks!
- Book plane tickets on either Tuesday or Wednesday when prices are cheapest, according to travel experts.
- Reserve hotel rooms on Sundays, when the weekend rush is over and hotel managers have time to talk on the phone and discuss available discounts.
- Take your family on a "volunteer vacation." Lodging costs are sometimes paid for (or at least offered at a big group discount rate). Earthwatch Institute and Wilderness Volunteers are two popular volunteer vacation groups.
- Travel with another family or a group of friends to try to get group rates. A group search on Priceline can help you find deals based on the type of group you are - bachelorette partiers, family reunion, school group, etc.
- According to a 2010 survey by travel site Hotwire.com, Atlanta, Orlando and Phoenix are the 3 cities that offer visitors the most bang for their buck this year. The calculation includes cost of getting there, accommodations and affordable entertainment.
- Jetsetter.com offers steep discounts on hotels, resorts and bed-and-breakfasts. I recently saved 70% on a reservation at a bed-and-breakfast in Maine.
- Hit up your local dollar store to get all your beach games and toys for much less. I found a pair of water goggles for a $1 last month at the local dollar store; when I got to the beach, a shop was offering the same goggles for $8.
- Similarly: Stock up on food, drinks, beach towels and chairs before you get to the beach. Otherwise, you're likely to pay a premium for things you can easily get for much, much less back home.
- Shop for bathing suits online on Sundays. The average discount on swim wear is greatest on Sundays, according to ShopitToMe.com.
Americans spent more than $1 billion a day on gas last summer from June to August, according to the U.S. Census.
- Fill up during the week. AAA suggests buying gas at independent stations and midweek, when it's cheaper.
- Ask your hotel if it's offering gas rebates or prepaid gasoline cards.
- Find the best gas prices online. GasBuddy will pull up a list of stations, ranked by price.
- Visit AAA at fuelcostcalculator.com to see how much gas you'll use up for a trip, and budget ahead of time.