10 easy ways to get your finances fit for summer

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Summer is just around the corner, and the warm weather and extra free time can put a big ding in your finances. Stay proactive about potential summertime overspending by implementing these smart strategies that'll have you headed into the season financially fit.

1. Review Your Current Budget

It's always a good idea to take stock of your current expenses to determine where you can save. This means reviewing your recurring expenses by taking a hard look at your debit and credit card activity. If you have memberships or subscriptions that you barely use and can live without it, ditch 'em. The more dead weight you can unload, the more extra "free" money you'll have to start your summer fund.

2. Establish a Summer-Activity Budget

I'm very much a planner, and as a result I generally know what my summer plans are well ahead of time. The great thing about planning ahead is that you can get a good picture of your upcoming expenses and start saving accordingly. It's easy to establish a summer activity budget that maps out all the fun things you plan to do along with their associated costs. And if your plans change, you can tweak it accordingly.

3. Compare Transportation and Lodging for Travel

One of the biggest mistakes I notice from self-proclaimed savvy spenders and savers is that they sometimes hop on a deal too quickly. Sure, they're using discount sites to score savings on lodging and transportation, but is it really the best deal available? I always recommend comparing prices between multiple sites, and don't just limit yourself to your go-to savings depots. In fact, I've gotten better deals going directly to the hotels or airlines' websites at times.

And here's another tip: Pick up the phone! Very few of us dial our vacation service providers to see what promotions they may be offering, and it could pay off big. It's worth spending the 10 to 20 minutes scouting the best buys. A few extra dollars saved are a few extra dollars that you can use for a nicer meal or fun activity while you're on vacay.

4. Explore Low-Cost Kids' Activities

Child care — especially of the all-day variety during the summer months — can zap your budget quickly. But there are several ways you can minimize those costs. Patty Cathey, an investment advisor in Denver, Colo., offers a few ideas on child care alternatives.

"Look into summer camps through your city recreation department, community center, or YMCA. Many churches or religious groups also offer affordable camps. As far as amusement parks, the zoo, or museums go, hold out for promotional offers, which are frequent in the summer. LivingSocial and Groupon often is a good resource for lower admission. And many communities offer free or cheap things for kids and families to do in the summer. The local library has educational activities, and there are free or cheap outdoor summer concerts, parades, and town festivals to take advantage of as well."

And let's not forget one of my favorite summertime promotions — free bowling for kids. Registered kids receive two free games of bowling per day at participating locations.

5. Cut Your Energy Expenses

I'll be the first one to admit the my air conditioner goes on if it's above 60 degrees outside at bedtime. But, I do try to cut energy costs wherever I can. For one, I grill outside more often in the summer, which reduces the amount of dishes I'm using on a daily basis, thus extending the time between my dishwasher cycles. Lights are turned off in favor of natural sunlight, and curtains and blinds are closed to keep too much sun from coming in if it's particularly hot outside. I water plants from a watering can instead of letting the hose run nonstop, and drying clothes outside is a pocket-wise way to avoid using the dryer during the summer.

Cathey has a few more tips.

"You could save close to $200 over the course of the year by installing a programmable thermostat and setting the temperature back 10 to 15 degrees for the hours you're at work," she says.

6. Take Advantage of Seasonal Sales

There are lots of sales during the summer season that can help you score big savings if you strike while the iron is hot. Groceries can be especially taxing during the summer — all those BBQ meats and fresh fruits and veggies aren't cheap — but you'll get the most for your money by comparing circulars, locating the best deals in your area, and stacking your coupons and apps, like Cartwheel, Ibotta, and Checkout 51.

Savings expert Jill Cataldo recommends Flipp, a free app that gathers all the store circulars in your area in one easy-to-use platform.

"Use Flipp to plan your weekly grocery trips, and you'll enjoy its coupon-matching feature, which automatically points out additional discounts available on what you're buying at the supermarket," she says. "When you can seamlessly save 20% to 70% on items you're shopping for every week, that adds up to big savings throughout the year."

7. Harness the Power of Old and Discounted Gift Cards

I love going through my wallet at the beginning of the summer to see what gift cards I have leftover, so that I can use them to save on dining or shopping while on vacation. Another great way to use gift cards is to buy them at discount — the idea of which is to spend less for the actual amount on the card even though it retains its full value. Raise's marketplace allows people to save money and afford all the things to do during summer in two ways:

People that have old or unwanted gift cards can sell them and get cash back, which is a great way get extra money towards summer fun.

Outlet lovers can buy gift cards at a discount and use the money they would have spent on other things such as going on vacation, having BBQs, and more.

With 4,000 different retailers' gift cards for sale, it's easy to trade on this great source of value.

8. Add a Side Hustle to Your Schedule

If you have summer plans that exceed your budget, all may not be lost. Perhaps it's time to start thinking about picking up a side hustle, like renting out a room in your home on Airbnb, dog sitting for locals through DogVacay, or driving for a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. The social and sharing economy is thriving, and there's a place for you in it — guaranteed. I always advocate for the side hustle when you're strapped for cash, because in most cases it's relatively easy work. In other words, if you're complaining that you don't have enough money, there are options ready and waiting for you. (See also: 5 Unexpected Side Benefits of Your Side Hustle)

9. Rely on Cold, Hard Cash More Often

It's convenient to swipe your plastic wherever you go, but studies show that using cash as your currency of choice limits the amount you'll spend. In fact, a study conducted by Dun & Bradstreet revealed that we spend 12% to 18% more when using debit or credit card opposed to dolla-dolla bills.

Hard-money lending expert Elizabeth Jenkins details an idea on how to use cash to spend less.

"Allocate your cash budgets into weekly envelopes," she says. "Have an envelope for weekly food, fun, gas, rent, etc., and make sure to close them. You'll find a feeling of guilt as you take money from an envelope to pay for something unrelated to that budget." (See also: A Comprehensive Guide to the Envelope System)

10. Change the Way You View Spending

Retail therapy feels good — until it doesn't. To curb spending, it's important to start viewing it as a necessity opposed to a recreational activity. Instead, focus on more important activities that increase your well being, instead of adding more clutter to it with material things.

"Spending can be addictive," Jenkins warns. "Work on spending 'time' on things rather than money. Pick up an exercise routine, start a hobby, work on your house, or any other number of time consuming projects. Transfer your energy into projects that may cost some amount money, but will help your job, home, or family in the long run."

Related: The worst cities for saving money

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The Worst Cities for Saving Money
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10 easy ways to get your finances fit for summer

15. Sacramento, Calif.

  • Population: 485,199
  • Median income: $50,013
  • Unemployment rate: 5.5%
  • Median home listing price: $530,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,395
  • Average gas price: $2.223
  • Average cost of groceries: $42.94
  • Sales tax: 8.5%

The capital of California is more affordable than most of the states' major cities. But that doesn’t make it an ideal place for savers. Home prices still are high, and the median income in Sacramento is lower than the national median income of $53,482, leaving residents without a lot of wiggle room in their budgets to set aside money in savings.

Photo credit: Andrew Zarivny/Shutterstock.com

14. Bakersfield, Calif.

  • Population: 368,759
  • Median income: $56,842
  • Unemployment rate: 10.2%
  • Median home listing price: $245,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,395
  • Average gas price: $2.35
  • Average cost of groceries: $35.68
  • Sales tax: 7.5%

The unemployment rate in Bakersfield is the second highest among the worst cities for savers. However, the median income of those who are employed is higher than many of the other cities on this list. Housing costs also are more affordable, which is why Bakersfield ranks lower than most of the other California cities that are the worst places for savers.

Photo credit: Gary C. Tognoni/Shutterstock.com

13. San Jose, Calif.

  • Population: 1,015,785
  • Median income: $83,787
  • Unemployment rate: 3.8%
  • Median home listing price: $725,000
  • Median monthly rent: $3,300
  • Average gas price: $2.38
  • Average cost of groceries: $40.95
  • Sales tax: 8.75%

The median home listing price in San Jose is the second highest among the worst cities to save. It’s also one of America’s most expensive rental markets, according to CNN. But a high median income — as a result of its booming tech industry — helps offset the high housing costs somewhat and doesn’t make it quite as hard to save as other places on this list.

Photo credit: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/Shutterstock.com

12. Long Beach, Calif.

  • Population: 473,577
  • Median income: $52,944
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $479,950
  • Median monthly rent: $2,197
  • Average gas price: $2.567
  • Average cost of groceries: $36.58
  • Sales tax: 9%

This city on the Pacific Coast is a slightly better city for savers than neighboring Los Angeles. But the median income in Long Beach isn’t high enough to offset high housing costs, leaving residents with little left over to save.

Photo credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

11. Stockton, Calif.

  • Population: 302,389
  • Median income: $45,347
  • Unemployment rate: 8.8%
  • Median home listing price: $ 239,450
  • Median monthly rent: $1,300
  • Average gas price: $2.21
  • Average cost of groceries: $45.33
  • Sales tax: 9%

Stockton has two big strikes against it for savers: a median income that’s well below the national median income and a high unemployment rate. The city itself filed for bankruptcy in 2012 because fiscal mismanagement left it unable to pay its workers and fund the pensions of former city employees, according to Reuters. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2015.

Photo credit: Terrance Emerson/Shutterstock.com

10. San Diego

  • Population: 1,381,069
  • Median income: $65,753
  • Unemployment rate: 4.7%
  • Median home listing price: $589,900
  • Median monthly rent: $2,850
  • Average gas price: $2.488
  • Average cost of groceries: $37.79
  • Sales tax: 8%

National Geographic Traveler magazine selected San Diego as one of the best destinations in the world. It’s certainly a nice place to visit, but it can be a tough place to live if you’re trying to save money. Although the median income in San Diego tops the national median, high housing costs can make it difficult to have money left over to save.

Photo credit: Dancestrokes/Shutterstock.com

9. Fresno, Calif.

  • Population: 515,986
  • Median income: $41,455
  • Unemployment rate: 10.3%
  • Median home listing price: $219,900
  • Median monthly rent: $1,250
  • Average gas price: $2.314
  • Average cost of groceries: $33.95
  • Sales tax: 8.23%

The largest city in California’s Central Valley has the lowest house list price and lowest median rent in GOBankingRates' ranking of worst cities for savers. In fact, housing costs are lower here than half of the best cities for savers. The unemployment rate, however, is the highest of all cities on this list. The lower housing costs aren't enough to offset other expenses, so it's still hard to save money in this city.

Photo credit: Tupungato/Shutterstock.com

8. Miami

8. Miami

  • Population: 430,332
  • Median income: $30,858
  • Unemployment rate: 5%
  • Median home listing price: $459,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,500
  • Average gas price: $1.874
  • Average cost of groceries: $39.06
  • Sales tax: 7%

Miami has the lowest median income on this list of worst cities for saving money, which means it’s harder for the city’s residents to afford the high cost of living there. On the plus side, though, Florida has no state income tax. And the 7 percent sales tax rate in Miami is the lowest among the worst cities for savers.

Photo credit: PHOTOSVIT/Shutterstock.com

7. Santa Ana, Calif.

  • Population: 334,909
  • Median income: $52,519
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $430,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,598
  • Average gas price: $2.545
  • Average cost of groceries: $40.42
  • Sales tax: 8%

Forbes named Santa Ana one of the coolest cities in America in 2014 based on a ranking of entertainment and recreational amenities, diverse population and foodie culture. But that cool factor comes with a high cost. The median home list price and monthly rent — as well as average grocery and gas costs — are high, and the median income in Santa Ana is slightly below the national median, all of which can make it a tough place to save money.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

6. New York, N.Y.

  • Population: 8,491,079
  • Median income: $52,737
  • Unemployment rate: 4.4%
  • Median home listing price: $699,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,700
  • Average gas price: $1.984
  • Average cost of groceries: $46.17
  • Sales tax: 8.88%

Frank Sinatra was right when he sang the following line about living in New York: “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.” If you can manage to save money while living in this city with its exorbitantly high cost of living, then, yes, you can probably find a way to save in most other cities. Not only is it hard to save in New York because housing costs and daily expenses are high, but the median income is below the national median.

Photo credit: Atanas Bezov/Shutterstock.com

5. Anaheim, Calif.

  • Population: 346,997
  • Median income: $59,707
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $535,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,500
  • Average gas price: $2.545
  • Average cost of groceries: $47.72
  • Sales tax: 8%

Anaheim is home to Disneyland Resort, which is great for visiting, but the city might not be the best place to call home if you want to save money. This city near Los Angeles rivals its bigger neighbor when it comes to a high cost of living. But a higher median income and lower housing costs keep Anaheim from being ranked as high as LA on this list of worst places to live if you’re trying to save money.

Photo credit: Juan Camilo Bernal/Shutterstock.com

4. Irvine, Calif.

  • Population: 248,531
  • Median income: $91,999
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $847,922
  • Median monthly rent: $3,400
  • Average gas price: $2.545
  • Average cost of groceries: $44.67
  • Sales tax: 8%

Irvine is an affluent city in Southern California that has the highest median income of the 15 worst places for saving money. The city has been included in several "best places to live" lists in recent years because of its strong economy, well-regarded schools, and, as a planned community, thousands of acres of green space. But high home listing prices, rent, and daily expenses such as gas and groceries can take a big bite out of the big salaries in Irvine, leaving little money to save.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

3. Oakland, Calif.

  • Population: 413,775
  • Median income: $52,962
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Median home listing price: $480,000
  • Median monthly rent: $4,650
  • Average gas price: $2.373
  • Average cost of groceries: $53.43
  • Sales tax: 9.5%

For years, Oakland has been considered the cheaper alternative to San Francisco. However, it’s by no means a cheap place to live relative to other cities in the U.S. In fact, rent prices in Oakland increased more in 2015 than any other major city — including San Francisco — according to the 2015 Zumper National Rent Report. Considering the median income here is lower than the national median, residents have little left over to stash into savings after covering high housing costs and daily expenses.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

2. Los Angeles

  • Population: 3,928,864
  • Median income: $49,682
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $650,000
  • Median monthly rent: $3,950
  • Average gas price: $2.567
  • Average cost of groceries: $39.01
  • Sales tax: 9%

For the second year in a row, California’s largest city lands in the second spot on GOBankingRates' list of worst places to live for saving money. LA is considered the worst major city for housing affordability, according to a report by Southern California Public Radio. Although places such as San Francisco have higher rents and home listing prices, median income in Los Angeles is lower, making it harder to cover the high cost of living and leaving little room in household budgets to save.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Sean Pavone

1. San Francisco

  • Population: 852,469
  • Median income: $78,378
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Median home listing price: $998,000
  • Median monthly rent: $4,650
  • Average gas price: $2.516
  • Average cost of groceries: $58.76
  • Sales tax: 8.75%

San Francisco retains its No.1 spot on this list of worst places to live if you’re trying to save money. Known for being one of the most expensive areas in the U.S., the City by the Bay has the highest median home listing price, highest median rent and highest average cost of groceries on this list. With such high housing costs and daily expenses, a median income of $78,378 doesn’t go far in San Francisco.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Lenin RzSz

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What are some ways you're getting your finances fit for summer? I'd love to hear your tips and suggestions in the comments below.

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