Summer. It’s the season most of us spend the rest of the year waiting for. We look forward to vacations, time off and traveling with family and friends, picturing ourselves relaxing and celebrating the good things in life.

But we spend far less time thinking about how we’ll pay for it.

Without a little forethought and planning, a few weeks of fun can turn into months of credit card bills. With that in mind, here are a few tips to keep your summer spending under control so you can make memories without creating a financial burden that could last the rest of the year.

1. Create a Budget

This is the most important step to follow, and often the hardest. While difficult, a budget is crucial to keep yourself from worrying about how much you are spending when you should be focused on enjoying yourself.

At the very least, you should have a limit on what you can spend. Allocating a specific dollar amount of funds for lodging, transportation and activities will help you come up with a destination and itinerary that you can enjoy without worrying about the expense. Plane tickets to Florida may be pricier than you had planned for, but more time spent at the beach than at an amusement park could make up the difference.

You can also try creating daily spending allowances.  Decide how much you can shell out each day for food, souvenirs or entertainment and stick to it. You could always take this to the next level by putting each day’s allowance in a separate envelope and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

2. Search and Save

There are several trustworthy travel websites that can help you find low airfares and hotel rates. Amplify their results by planning to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. These are the days when the fewest travelers fly, and airlines tend to reduce rates to fill those seats.

Sign up for e-mail alerts from airlines and travel sites. If you’re open to buying your tickets 6 months or more in advance you can often save a good amount of cash. Some travel sites will also allow you to choose a flight and preferred dates of travel and allow you to request alerts if the price drops. (source)

3. Spend Less on Food

While part of the allure of a vacation is having others do all of the cooking, it’s also where a large chunk of the expense comes from. Look for hotels or condos offering rooms with a kitchenette and hit the local grocery store. You may find your famous grilled cheese sandwich tastes better in a more exotic setting, even if you had to cook it yourself.

When you do eat out, avoid the tourist hotspots and instead ask the hotel staff, or other guests, where to find good food at reasonable prices. Sometimes the best meals come from restaurants with the least conspicuous storefronts. (source)

4. Break the Chain

Chain hotels are easy to find and easy to book, but are often overpriced because of their large overhead. With a little online research, chances are good you can find a mom and pop alternative for a lot less money in any destination you want to visit.

It is also becoming easier and more popular to rent a furnished apartment or home. You won’t have housekeeping services, but you will have your own kitchen and a more private experience than you’ll find in any hotel. However, some of these rentals require hefty deposits at the time of booking, so if possible, try to find a rental where the deposit requirement is minimal or nonexistent, especially if booking way in advance. (source)

5. Take Advantage of Freebies

Whether you’re going to a city you’ve never seen before or are doing a “staycation,” chances are there are a lot of cultural activities you can take in for free. Museums, zoos and other attractions usually offer at least one free day per month. Do a little online research before your plans are finalized and schedule your visit to include times when you can see these places without paying admission. (source)<?p>

However you look at it, a worry-free vacation will require some planning and budgeting ahead of time. Just remember that the more time you spend preparing a financial game plan for the summer, the more time you will be able to relax, without worrying about how much that poolside cocktail costs.

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