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Keeping Your Family Entertained This Summer Without Breaking the Bank

May 12, 2015
Managing Money, Personal Finance
Keeping Your Family Entertained This Summer Without Breaking the Bank
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Summertime, and the livin’ is easy — but paying for it can be hard. These next few months can take a real toll on the family bank account.

Whether it’s a trip abroad or costly day camps for kids, arranging activities that you really can’t afford can do a world of damage to your wallet and leave you mired in credit card debt.

“We’d all love to head to Europe or take the kids to Disney World,” says Carrie Houchins-Witt, a financial advisor in Coralville, Iowa. “But before setting lofty expectations, you need to revisit your budget to see if you have stayed on track.”

Here are some more tips on how to stay busy without going overboard.

Use your flexible spending account to pay for day camps

If you’ve already set up a dependent care flexible spending account (FSA), you can use that money to pay for child care. Up to $5,000 of your pretax income can go into a dependent care FSA each year, and parents can use that cash to cover day camps, Houchins-Witt points out. Overnight camps don’t qualify.

There are a few other eligibility requirements to be aware of, she says. Children must be younger than 13, and you and your spouse need to be working or actively seeking employment while kids are at camp.

Plan a stay-at-home vacation

Although the strong dollar may tempt you into traveling abroad, doing so can still cost an arm and a leg, especially if you have children. Instead, consider planning a stay-at-home vacation, or staycation.

Explore museums and other famous landmarks around your hometown, and keep an eye out for discounts for children and senior citizens. Although cooking meals at home instead of going out can further cut costs, try not to work too hard during your time off.

“Treat a staycation like any other vacation,” says Julie Hall, a spokeswoman for AAA, the motorist advocacy group. “Set a budget and a daily itinerary. Unplug from work. Don’t run errands or spend time on household chores.”

Go on a road trip

Consider dusting off your Rand McNally road atlas — or hitting up Google Maps — to organize a road trip. This can be ideal for families who long for a change of scenery but would rather not dip into savings to finance a far-flung getaway.

“Get the whole family’s buy-in by checking out books from the library and gathering around the map together to plan your route,” says Houchins-Witt, who will be taking her 7- and 8-year-old sons to Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park this summer.

To get a sense of how much you’ll spend on gas, Hall recommends AAA’s fuel cost calculator. Factor that estimate into your budget to figure out how much money you can spend on other activities while traveling.

Book wisely

If you’ve managed to set aside some money for a trip but are still struggling to stay within your budget, consider bundling your various reservations, says Ingrid Belobradic, an Expedia travel expert.

“Book your flight and hotel, flight and rental car, rental car and hotel, whatever the combination, together to save major bucks,” says Belobradic. Travelers, she says, can save hundreds of dollars by opting for package deals. Doing so allows “those savings to go toward activities for your trip.”

Timing also plays an important role. Increase your chances of a seating upgrade by traveling during off-peak flight times, Belobradic says. Expedia research shows that people can save the most money on airfare by booking Thursday departures and Monday return flights.

The takeaway

There’s plenty of fun to be had in your hometown or on the open road. These more affordable kinds of summer adventures can allow you to build family memories without emptying your wallet.

Of course, if you’ve worked hard to save up for a trip abroad, you needn’t abandon your plans. But don’t forget to be a smart shopper. Booking your flights on certain days or taking advantage of package deals can help get you to your summer destination while keeping your financial outlook sunny, too.

Tony Armstrong is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow him on Twitter @tonystrongarm and on Google+.

Image via iStock.