The Worth of July: How to Keep Your Budget from Exploding

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We all know that the end-of-the-year holiday season can be a financial killer, what with costly Christmas or Hanukkah presents to buy, or perhaps a Festivus pole to replace. But winter holidays aren't the only ones that give our wallets a workout.

According to an annual survey by Visa (V), many Americans plan to spend quite a bit to celebrate the Fourth of July. On average, households will lay out $300, a 58 percent increase above last year.

What's all that money being spent on? Well, burgers and hot dogs to be sure, but nearly 10 percent of the total will go for fireworks. Southerners and Midwesterners spend the most on pyrotechnics -- about twice as much as those in the Northeast and West. (The coastal states tend to have greater restrictions on fireworks and more limited access to them.)

Still, households in the Northeast are forecast to spend the most overall, an average $454. Just 12 percent of consumers surveyed plan to spend nothing on the holiday, down considerably from 21 percent last year.

Don't Let Your Savings Go Up in Smoke

Here's the problem, though: Many people can't really afford to spend so much on the holiday.

According to the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the percentage of American workers who have saved for retirement remains at record lows, and among those workers with household incomes of less than $35,000, it has fallen -- to 24 percent this year from 49 percent in 2009.

Rein It In but Still Have Fun

Fortunately, all is not lost. You can still have a very enjoyable holiday without breaking the bank or going into debt. Here are some tips -- many of which apply to spending for other holidays, too.
  • Set a limit. Before you start spending, give yourself a spending cap, and keep track of your holiday-related expenses. Fail to do that, and you can easily put a big dent in your finances. Sure, two fancy fruit tarts from the local bakery would dress up your dessert table, but they can cost $50 or more, when your loved ones might enjoy some simple home-baked brownies just as much.
  • Seek out sales. Just about everything that you'll need for your celebration will be on sale at some point. Try to take advantage of as many discounts as you can, and use coupons whenever possible, too.
  • Don't procrastinate. If you leave your shopping to the last minute, you'll likely end up paying more.
  • Be smart with credit. Avoid spending on credit cards if you won't be able to pay it all off. You might pay for all related expenses in cash in order to avoid the temptation to charge, as it's easy to charge more than you should. If you can handle the plastic, though, it does have solid advantages.
  • Consider changing some traditions. If you're the one to host your loved ones every Fourth of July and the cost is a burden to you, you might see whether one of your regular guests would like to host the celebration this year. For all you know, someone might be hoping for his or her chance to do so. Alternatively, you might keep the festivities at your home, but make it a potluck instead of supplying all the food yourself.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice comes from Visa's head of U.S. financial education, Nat Sillin, who says, "the Fourth of July is a great day for celebration, but don't let your budget explode like a firework. It's important to plan your spending and then stick to that plan."

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Visa.

The Worth of July: How to Keep Your Budget from Exploding
It's basic physics: light colored roofs reflect light -- and heat -- while darker ones absorb it. For all the simplicity of the idea, the potential savings impact is huge: Homes with light colored paint or shingles can cost up to 20 percent less to cool. Plus, all that solar energy causes dark-colored shingles to wear out more quickly, shortening the life of the roof. (For more detail, check out our Savings Experiment video below.) So if you're due for a roof replacement anytime soon, consider cooling off your roof with lighter shingles, or aluminum panels painted white.

As a side note, if your roof is flat, you might consider installing a green roof. Not only do they provide a great place to plant veggies, but green roofs can help conserve water while lowering your heating and cooling costs even further!

This seems pretty obvious, but if you're in the middle of a heat wave, try not to cook indoors. If you have the option, grill outside; alternatively, try a picnic-style dinner of sandwiches, salads, gazpacho, and other chilled foods.

While you're at it, you might want to cut down on other sources of indoor heat, like incandescent lights, hair dryers, clothes washers and dryers, and dishwashers. Try running washers and dryers at non-peak hours, think about installing CFL bulbs, make sure to turn off your lights, and keep appliances properly cleaned and serviced so they run at maximum efficiency.

Most of the cooling that you feel on a daily basis comes from liquid evaporating off your skin. With that in mind, you'll find that you'll stay much cooler if you keep lots of air moving around. Strategically placed fans keep cool air moving. Experiment with cross-ventilation: on the shady side of your house, position your fans to blow air in. Meanwhile, on the sunny side, position fans to blow air out.
You don't have to rely on perspiration -- or even on fans -- to keep your body cool. You can help things along with a cold, water-soaked washcloth or with a misting spray bottle filled with water. If you really need to cool down, take a short shower, followed by a long, relaxing nap in front of a fan.
If it gets really hot and you really want to save on cooling, you'll need to get creative. Try going to the park -- or anywhere with trees -- cooling your heels in the local library, or strolling around the mall. Drink a lot of water. Avoid coffee, alcohol and soft drinks, as they can dehydrate you. Personally, I've found that showering with Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Magic Soap makes me feel a few degrees cooler (although, admittedly, the effect is diminished once temperatures go over 90 degrees). Or you could get really creative: BrokeMillennial advises snuggling up with bottles of frozen water to help keep you cool at night!
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