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How to have a fun summer when your finances fall short

During the summer season, many people look forward to enjoying vacation time. However, inflation, layoffs, and possibility of a recession may prompt people to consider the consequences of their leisure plans

With layoffs, bank closures and inflation, financial tensions remain high for many Americans heading into the summer. In a fall 2022 survey conducted by The Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association, 83% of adults said inflation was a source of stress, and 56% said they and/or their family had to make different choices in the last month because they didn’t have enough money.

Making tough money choices is stressful, and sacrificing "wants" to afford the "needs" can be disappointing. But, if you’re questioning the financial impact of your summer plans or they have suddenly become out of reach, there are still ways to have fun, save money and put yourself in a better place for next year.

Pivot To A Positive Mindset

In the face of canceled summer plans, Rob Bertman, a family budgeting expert and certified financial planner in Missouri, suggests flipping your mindset from disappointment to opportunity. Use the moment to talk about money decisions with your partner or kids.

"I think it’s always good for kids to see that their parents are trying to learn and get better," he says.

With children, Bertman says to avoid language like "we can’t afford it" or "it’s too expensive" because that can lead to a scarcity mindset. Instead, he suggests reframing the difficult choice as one that benefits the family in the long run.

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The key to this attitude shift is not losing sight of your priorities. What you’re looking for, ultimately, is to make memories with people you love. While vacations seem primed for those frame-worthy moments, sometimes the things that matter most happen in your own backyard.

Reduce The Cost Of Activities

Summer is prime time for free events, but you’ll have to put in a little work to find cheap events in your area. Even still, having things to look forward to on your calendar can be a big emotional lift.

A membership to a zoo, park, aquarium or museum could pay off in multiple visits all summer long. In addition, it’s a great way to get out of the house and enjoy the weather — or escape the heat, depending on where you live.

If a membership is too pricey, you might have a workaround in your wallet. For example, Bank of America credit card holders are eligible for the Museums on Us program, which provides free general admission to over 225 cultural centers across the country on the first full weekend of each month.

AAA members can get discounted tickets to concerts, movies, sporting events and amusement parks. And don’t forget your local library. Some offer free "experience passes" to gardens, museums, zoos and parks.

Once you pick an activity, cut costs by bringing your own food. You’ll save money on that last-minute drive-through meal or overpriced snack. When dining out, look for places where you can BYOB because alcoholic drinks can sometimes double the bill.

If you still want to travel, consider someplace close or split the cost with family or friends. "The easiest thing to do is treat your city or town like you’re a tourist," Bertman says. Drop a pin or draw a circle around your town and find drivable destinations to explore, he suggests.

A vacation rental that was $3,000 might suddenly become affordable if you’re paying only $1,500. Grandparents might be happy to join in to make family memories — and you might even get a date night out of it.

Set Yourself Up For Next Summer

— AUTOMATE SUMMER SAVINGS. If having a full summer schedule is nonnegotiable, it might be time to prioritize this in your budget. Automatically transferring a fixed amount of money into a separate savings account each paycheck can help you build funds so you’ll have them set aside by next summer. Months with fewer holidays and birthdays are also prime for boosting additional savings, according to Bertman.

— BE FLEXIBLE. Life is unpredictable. Protect your plans by booking hotels with free cancellation policies or flights with refundable tickets to avoid fees or lost deposits. Travel insurance is another option, and some plans cover your reservations and medical expenses.

— CHECK IN ON SPENDING WEEKLY. Bertman recommends conducting five-minute weekly spending reviews to see where your money is going. It will eventually become a habit — but set judgment and guilt aside. "Once families kind of get in the rhythm of doing that," he says, "they figure out how to really cut out their spending without sacrificing their lifestyle."

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