How to enjoy your summer on a budget

Short of cash? Here are our 4 tips so you can still enjoy your time off

CALGARY, AB, Jul 11, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Summer sunshine might be free, but we sure can rack up a ton of bills trying to cram every ounce of enjoyment into the nine weeks between Canada Day and Labour Day.

It seems that anyone who can heads to the cottage or squeezes the kids into the car for a flash tour of the continent. Even if we stay home, walks to the ice cream shop can dig a hole in our pockets big enough for our wallets to fall through. Worse of all are those disappointing tourist traps we fall into on the side of the highway, where the cost/fun ratio doesn’t add up to our expectations.

So how do you enjoy summer on a budget?

1. Set your priorities. A healthy family is one of the strongest predictors of financial health. We all need time to bond and build memories with the significant people in our lives. That means creating a vacation even if all we can afford is a couple of days on our deck with the phone turned off, reading library books, barbecuing hamburgers, and sipping home-made ice coffees and popsicles.

2. Get away from the workplace grind. Time off work relieves stresses that can trigger both physical (headaches, heart trouble, cancer and weakened immune systems) and mental illness (including depression and burnout).

Resting improves our mental functioning, widens our perspective and helps us see new solutions. That translates into promotion and generating ideas if you work for someone else or a better business strategy if you’re self-employed.

3. Budget and save for a vacation. Most employers are required to set aside part of your paycheque as vacation pay. While that covers bills during your time off, you’ll want to save additional cash weekly to pay for any out-of-town trips or special events. If you save $20 a week over 50 weeks you’ll have an additional $1000 tucked away to pay for travel, lodging and food.

3. Stick to your budget. Before you leave home, choose the attractions you want to see and where you want to stay. Drive past roadside tourist traps that didn’t make it onto your itinerary. If possible, pre-book your hotels and buy your plane tickets well in advance.

If you have just started a job, are going back to school, or recovering from a financial set-back, you probably can’t book off two weeks to play in the sun so your vacation budget may be closer to $100 than $1000. In that case, you need to be creative!

4. Create an at-home cottage. If you are budget- or time-challenged, transform your house into a vacation wonderland. Fill the fridge with homemade treats.

Stock your at-home cottage with cool treats. There’s no need to spend $20 for one family trip to the local ice cream shop or even more for a fancy coffee and overpriced pastry when you can head to the grocery store to pick up a bag full of ingredients to fill the fridge and freezer with iced coffee and teas drinks, beach food, and cool treats.

Skip the paperback aisle at your bookstore. Instead, borrow the library’s best sellers to read on the back deck.

Put on your beach clothes, shut the front curtains, turn off the phone and computer and don’t answer the door.

You don’t have to stay in the cottage all the time. No vacation is complete without hitting a tourist spot or two. Many city parks have picnic tables, swimming pools and even beaches. You’ll also find hiking trails, fishing areas, and farmer’s markets, music festivals, museums, heritage day events, library programs and free movies to make your summer sizzle.

Even if you are short of cash and have no paid vacation time this year, you can get off the beaten track. Summer’s too short to waste! Go ahead, make those memories. They’ll make you richer in the long run.

Jane Harris-Zsovan offers her readers practical money advice for the real world.

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