6 Ways to Keep Summer Fun from Killing Your Budget

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Summer is where budgets go to die.

As soon as it gets warm out, social spending goes through the roof. Suddenly everyone wants to go out -- to restaurants, to amusement parks, to parties. You're paying more for gas so you can drive to these various events, and paying to park at beaches and baseball games. If you've got kids, they're out of school and expecting to be entertained.

Basically, fun costs.

summer savings"I would set my budget, and then I'd say, 'Why can I never keep on-budget in the summer?'" says Jacob Wade of iHeartBudgets. "I saw that food, gas and entertainment were the three things killing my budget."

So you're left with an impossible choice: Do you abandon your efforts to keep spending in check, and go all-in on summer fun? Or do you steadfastly remain frugal, even if it means turning down invitations to hit the beach or go out for dinner?

Well, as far as we're concerned, that isn't a choice you should have to make. We think you should be able to stay more or less on-budget without having to turn into a hermit for the summer. So we turned to some frugal living experts to find out how you can enjoy the season without going broke.

Summer Savings: How to Have Fun Without Busting Your Budget
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6 Ways to Keep Summer Fun from Killing Your Budget
Everyone likes to go out to bars and restaurants when the weather's nice, especially ones with outdoor seating. It's an expensive proposition, but one that can be a little cheaper if you time your visit right.

"Really hit up those happy hours -- some start as early as 4 p.m.," suggests Julia Scott of Bargain Babe.

Another popular destination during the summer is the movie theater. That's especially true this year, when we've been blessed with an abundant crop of summer blockbusters. But movie ticket prices have been on the rise, especially for 3-D films. Our suggestion: Go a little earlier in the day and catch a matinee.
You know what's even cheaper than a matinee movie screening? A $1 movie screening.

"Regal cinemas used to have free movies -- now they're $1 -- one day during the week," says Leah Ingram of Suddenly Frugal. Regal's summer movie seriesconsists of kids' movies that came out in the last few years. This year, showings take place at 10 a.m Wednesdays, and include such recent hits as "Coraline" and "Ice Age: Continental Drift."

For other dirt-cheap-or-free entertainment option for kids, Ingram notes that some bowling alleys offer free bowling for kids, and Scott points to Bank of America's free museum admission deals for cardholders.
Enjoying the ocean is also free. But parking near it can be pricey.   

"Where I live, there's several different beaches, but the passes to park for the day are $10 on weekdays and $20 on the weekend," says Scott. Once again, the solution is to time-shift: Scott says she aims to get there after 4 p.m., when most beaches have stopped charging to park. (This approach also means thinner crowds and less chance of a sunburn.)

If you aren't willing to wait until 4 p.m. to hit the beach, Scott suggests skipping the parking lot and finding a spot on the street a few blocks away. If you've got a bunch of beach chairs to carry, one person can be dropped off with the stuff while the other goes to find parking.
Ingram points out an unfortunate truth of summer socializing: Going out to dinner tends to be the default activity when a group of friends get together, but it's also among the most expensive social options.

One solution is to scale things down. Ingram suggests just going out for appetizers or small plates, and then having a smaller meal at home later on. Wade says he's always been able to minimize the cost of dinners out with this wife by rethinking what "going out to dinner" actually has to involve. "We get an appetizer we both enjoy, we split an entrée, and we just get water," he says. "We can get in and out of a decent restaurant for $30."
Of course, the best way to avoid blowing money at restaurants is to stick with house parties. Wade, for instance, suggests organizing potluck dinners so you only have to bring one thing (whether that one thing is potato salad or a six-pack of beer). But even that can get pricey.

"It's expensive to bring a six-pack to every party," says Julia Scott, who says that she likes to make mint lemonade as an inexpensive and original alternative. "Lemons are cheap this time of year," she points out.

The problem is compounded if you have a kid who's getting invited to numerous summer birthday parties. All those presents can add up, so it might be time for some tough love.

"Depending on the age of your kid and how tight money is, you may have to have a frank conversation with your child," says Ingram. "Say, 'We've got 10 birthday invitations ... If we can only go to five, who are the five you like the best?'"
When Wade realized that his spending was going up in the summer months, he decided it made no sense to simply have one standard budget for every month of the year. Now, he says, he sets a new budget at the beginning of every month.

"I look at what's coming up next month... and add in [money] for different events," he says. "Maybe you will spend more, but you'll know it's coming. For summer, I up our food budget by $150, so we can have guilt-free spending."

Some of that extra spending may be offset by other seasonal adjustments in the opposite direction, but you're still probably going to wind up putting less away in savings. It makes sense to account for that, so you don't drive yourself crazy trying to stick to an unreasonable budget.

"I know I'm going to spend it anyway," he says. "I might as well stop lying to myself."

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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