Beat the Back to School Spending Blues

Back to school can be time consuming and expensive. There’s filling out endless online and paper forms, buying school supplies, and shopping for clothes while guessing how much the kids will grow by spring.

National Retail Federation data found that electronics and clothing make up nearly two-thirds of a family’s back to school spending. The biggest break is found in school supplies, where consumers can expect to shell out $122 for basics like pencils, pens, markers and notebooks.

The easiest way to fund school on a budget, is to slowly stockpile throughout the year (hello Target dollar bins). If it’s too late for this year, here are a few ways you can still save.

Pace yourself: According to RetailMeNot.com, 62% of shoppers who do their back to school shopping before August spend about $100 more than those who wait until later. Do your research and find opportunities to put off buying everything at once, especially those high-ticket items like electronics and clothing. Consumer Reports suggests waiting until September or October to replace laptops or tablets, and that waiting until the fall is when these items are often on sale – which could save you big money.

Look for deals: It’s never been easier to find good deals and comparison shop. Check out the Groupon back to school discount tab or sites like RetailMeNot.com for coupons. Other websites like BensBargains.com, or apps like ShopSavvy and CamelCamelCamel can keep you updated on the latest deals on particular items, helping you track when an item is at its lowest price – whether on Amazon or at your local retail store.

Look for delivery options: Your child’s school may partner with an organization that sells school supplies at a flat price. Teachers provide the list, the company packages the supplies, and the best part? Your child’s box is waiting for them in their classroom on the first day of school. Talk about a time saver! Some stores like Target offer School List Assist, where parents can enter their zip code find their school and class supply list, order items and either have them delivered to their door, curbside at a nearby Target location, or for pick-up in the store.

Back to school doesn’t have to break the bank – just remember to try to plan ahead and look for deals (even if it means waiting for some things until September).

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for financialfeed.com

 

More Ways to Save at Theme Parks Before Summer Ends

In the spring, we gave you 5 ways you can save at theme parks.  July and August is peak season for millions of visitors to enjoy the fun and fantasy of their favorite adventure theme parks, which means getting a deal in the summer can be challenging. A family of four can easily spend more than $1,000 just on the theme park tickets alone. And that’s not including parking passes, food, or souvenirs.

Let’s face it, once you step through the gates – it’s easy to get caught up in the experience and forget all about sticking to your budget plan. That doesn’t mean all is lost. Here are a few more ways you can save on some end of summer theme park fun:

Book tickets early online. Believe it or not, you can score discounts buying tickets in advance on the theme park’s official website or through authorized sellers like AAA or Costco. So do your research! One more tip: Never buy tickets on Craigslist or eBay. You don’t want to run the risk of falling victim to a scam and be turned away at the gate.

Bring a refillable water bottle. Staying hydrated is important, especially in the summer. Theme parks will give you a cup of water for free at any food service counter so you can refill for free. It’s a lot cheaper than quenching your thirst for about $5 per bottled water. That adds up!

Get the park app. You will get useful information on everything going on in the park from interactive maps and real-time ride wait times, to how to find the closest bathroom or which rides are closed. Knowing the lay of the land will help you get in the most fun for your dollar.

Follow the theme park on social media. Follow your theme parks on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter. You’ll not only get the latest insider scoop on attractions but also the knowledge of any special promotions they might be running before summer ends.

Plan your meals. No matter where you eat in the park, chances are it’s going to be overpriced. Check out the lunch menus, which can be anywhere from 15% to 20% cheaper than what you’d spend at dinner. But, keep in mind you’re there for the experience. Indulging in some good food instead of overpriced hot dogs or pizza could be worth it.

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for Financialfeed.com

5 Staycation Ideas to Save Your Summer

Let’s face it, summer looks a lot different than it did when you were a kid. You used to spend the entire school year counting down the days until the carefree fun of summer vacation. But now that you’re a responsible adult with a grown-up job, summer mostly just means your daily work commute is hotter than usual.

OK, maybe the situation isn’t quite that bleak. But if you’re not careful, summer will come and go before you get a chance to enjoy it. Even if you can’t take a week off or spend a lot on vacation this year, it only takes a little creativity and last-minute planning to map out a staycation worth remembering. If you need a little spark of relaxation inspiration, these five suggestions may be just what you’re looking for:

Book a night at a fancy hotel in town. Yes, luxury has a price tag, but hey—it’s just for one night. Sometimes it’s worth the extra money to pamper yourself. And since you’re staying close to home, think about all the money you’re saving on gas and travel expenses! Want to make the most of your five-star staycation? Check in as early as possible and take advantage of every complementary service the hotel offers.

Take a tasting tour of your city. It’s easy to settle into a routine of dining at your favorite restaurants, so why not break out of that rut and spend an entire day expanding your palette? The beauty of this culinary adventure lies in its flexibility. You can plan your itinerary or play it loose and go wherever your taste buds take you. Start with an early breakfast and end with a late-night snack.

Spend all day in bed. How many times have you started the morning by cursing your alarm clock and wishing you could stay under the covers all day long? Here’s your chance to make those lazy dreams a reality. Stack your favorite books and magazines on the nightstand, queue up your Netflix watchlist, and keep your go-to takeout restaurants on speed dial. You’re about to take your day off to the next level.

Rent a convertible and take the scenic route. Sometimes you want to answer the call of the open road, but it’s hard to make travel exciting in the same car you drive to work every day. So, add a little fun to your staycation plans by renting a sports car (preferably a convertible) and cruising around for the day. If you have a specific destination in mind, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s even better. The magic is in the journey. Not sure where to find scenic routes near you? Download the Round app for expert recommendations.

Unplug and get off the grid. We saved this one for last because, depending on who you are, this suggestion can be exhilarating or terrifying. Since we’re talking about shutting off your mobile phone and unplugging from social media, we understand you may need to start slowly. Use a resource like AllTrails.com to find the nearest hiking or walking trails, and spend the day exploring the great outdoors. The fresh air, exercise, and lack of email will do wonders for your body and your mind.

Whether you pick one of these ideas, find a way to do them all, or come up with a fresh staycation of your own, the most important part is permitting yourself to have fun. Even if they’re only for 24 hours at a time, vacations (or staycations) offer benefits that can make every area of your life more enjoyable.

How to Save $1,000 by the Holidays

 

Yes, it’s still hot outside and school hasn’t even started yet, but the holiday season is coming. Thanksgiving is roughly four months away, which means if you want to pay cash for those Black Friday bargains instead of charging up your credit card balance, you need a game plan.

The average American spends $1,000 on Christmas gifts. That means if you haven’t started saving yet, you will need to put away $250 per month to make that goal. It might sound like a lot, but there are some tricks that can help you gift yourself a debt-free holiday while making your family’s dreams come true.

Adjust your spending. Sure, this one is obvious, but without a plan it’s not going to happen. Don’t just tell yourself you’ll spend less. Find places where you can trim a little and stick to it. Buy whole foods instead of pre-cut veggies or processed foods. That could save you $50 or more per month from your grocery bill. Also, take your friends and co-workers up on their offers of free zucchini and cucumbers from their gardens. You could also trim $25 from your entertainment budget and $25 from clothes. Put $25 worth of items you don’t need back on the shelf during one Target run, and you’ve just saved $125 for the month.

Increase your income. Summer is ripe with ways to make a few extra bucks. Have a garage sale. Start a pet-sitting or houseplant/garden watering service for family and friends on summer vacation. Finally, open that Etsy storefront you’ve always talked about.

Start your holiday shopping now. If you take advantage of bargains throughout the year, you won’t be pressured into spending $1,000 all in one month. Buying a gift on sale now is even more helpful to your budget than saving money to buy something full price in December.

Article Source: Heather Anderson for Financialfeed.com

4 Ways to Save Money on Meals While Hosting Out of Town Family

When you live on the other side of the country from your extended family, it’s a special treat when they come to spend a few weeks with you. Not only do you get to spend quality time together, but you get to show them your neck of the woods and play the role of tour guide too. Hosting and introducing the family to your state or region may be fun, but it can also be really expensive — especially if you’re used to living frugally.

If you have out-of-town family visiting this summer, here are some practical ways to address the financial strain it might create without letting it stress you out or take away from enjoying the time you have with your guests.

1. Start anticipating and stocking up on foods they enjoy.

Everyone has their own favorite go-to products, brands, and eating habits. While your guests may politely eat your organic, all-natural peanut butter, they may be secretly wishing they’d brought their own stash of JIF. It can get expensive to purchase items you don’t normally use just to have them in stock for your guests, but it’s also a part of being a good host who tries to make visitors feel as at home as possible.

To prepare, ask them to get you a list of their favorite snacks and staples and start looking for sales, and digital and print coupons. Purchasing these items on sale will put less stress on your grocery budget while still accommodating your family members’ taste buds.

2. Eat at home as much as possible.

It can be tempting to get carried away by taking everybody to all your favorite restaurants around town. After all, it’s a special occasion! Unfortunately, this can also derail your usual eating out budget much faster than a slightly higher grocery bill, even if you split the tab. The first tip is to make meals at home several nights a week and keep eating out for on-the-go weekend tourist activities. Even if you don’t enjoy cooking or think you’re good at it, choose the few things you do well and your efforts will shine. Grilled burgers with unique toppings or homemade pizzas are a few fun, cost-efficient options.

When you do eat out, focus on restaurants that double as entertainment or ambiance – something memorable, not just your everyday chain restaurant. Since these types of places tend to be more expensive, keep your eyes on Groupon, other deal apps, and local coupons that can save you money. If you haven’t already, set your favorite site’s preferences to receive email alerts for restaurant deals.

3. Use your dinnerware.

It’s easier to grab a pack of paper or plastic dinnerware when you’re feeding a few more mouths, but the costs add up fast too. If there’s ever a time to use your own dishes, it’s when you have guests. After all, guests are usually eager to pitch in and help clean up the dishes or at least load the dishwasher.

4. Stick to your routine.

Your guests don’t expect you to prepare a four-course meal for them every day they are visiting. They probably don’t eat like that at home, and neither do you. For instance, if you tend to eat light breakfasts, offer your guests options, but don’t feel like you need to prepare a breakfast buffet every day. Instead of assuming they expect large breakfasts or dessert every night, take the pressure (and expense) off by sticking close to your usual meal routine.

Entertaining out-of-town family is a blast, but it doesn’t have to blow your grocery budget or go against your frugal kitchen habits. Expect to spend a little more while your guests are in town, but prepare ahead of time, look for deals, and stick to your routine in ways that are both manageable and courteous. Happy hosting!

Article Source: Jessica Sommerfield for Moneyning.com

Can’t Do a Vacation This Year? 11 Ideas for a Great Staycation

It’s that time of year again. The kids are out of school and you really want to spend time with them and make wonderful memories, but a vacation is out of the question. You can’t get away and, even if you could – it’s way out of your budget.

For a beautiful time creating memories with your loved ones, you need only two days and some imagination. Try these staycation ideas for a grand time (without spending a grand).

1. Hit the road in your own city, armed with cameras and snacks.

If you’d be willing to visit a strange town, pretend yours is just that. If you live in or close to a metropolis, it’s easy — there are always places you don’t often see that should be fun to explore. If you live in a rural area, hit Google Maps and then the road. Fill your time with laughs, snapping goofy pictures everywhere you go.

2. Go on a scavenger hunt.

Make a list for the family and get on the road with clues to help you find everything on it. The more obscure you get, the longer the hunt will take – great for bigger kids, but not so fun for the little ones, so plan accordingly.

3. Go to a motel in a neighboring city.

If your timing is flexible, bid on rooms via Priceline, or try calling and negotiating lower rates with the manager before accepting whatever they offer. After all, the goal is to save while you stay, right?

4. Make it a movie marathon day.

Choose flicks that the whole family can watch together and enjoy. Start after breakfast and have a little family exercise break in between. Oh, and make it a PJ day to really relax and enjoy!

5. Drive to anywhere.

Don’t use a map. Don’t have a destination. Just plan to drive in a direction for X hours, then stop and explore and stay where you are. If you can spend the night, BONUS! If not, that’s okay. Have fun exploring your new locale, taking pictures and snagging souvenirs.

6. Go to a waterpark.

It’s likely that your city or one nearby, has a waterpark. What better excuse to jump in the water than saving money? If you can’t stay on vacation for a week or so, a day at a waterpark may be the next best thing.

7. If you can’t park it, raft it.

River rafting is another amazing excursion, and one that’s often cheaper than waterparks. Check for restrictions on ages if you have little ones, but many river dock rental places have options for the younger clientele too.

8. Go camping.

Even if you can’t head to a nearby mountain range (bonus points if you can!), you can still hang with the neighbors and have a neighborhood camp out at home in the backyard. Or go it alone with just you and your loved ones. Either way, pack up the tent and make a rule to not go inside for anything.

9. Host your own neighborhood field day.

Make it complete with hilarious games and amazing prizes — and don’t forget the pictures! Top off the afternoon with a cook out and ice cream sundaes.

10. Call for a Blackout Day (or weekend).

Turn off all electronic devices for at least 24 hours. Spend the entire day focusing on the fun you’re having with your favorite people.

11. Call in a cleaning service.

Why do we love going on vacation? We love feeling pampered. But if you can’t go and be pampered, bring the pampering home to you. Check Care.com or Craigslist for a cleaning service that’s reasonable. Let them worry about the dusting, sweeping, mopping and bed making for a week.

Article Source: Vincent King for moneyning.com