Travel smarter and save bigger this summer vacation

Spring flowers are in full bloom, which can only indicate one thing: summer is nearly upon us. For many, that means it’s time for a well-deserved vacation with family and friends. In a year-end 2016 survey conducted by the Ohio Credit Union League, an overwhelming majority of respondents, 71 percent, are planning to get some rest and relaxation with a vacation this summer.

Whether heading somewhere new or traveling back to a family favorite, most Ohioans plan their vacations in advance, but at varying times – 34 percent plan six months to a year in advance, 31 percent plan three to six months in advance, and 15 percent plan one to three months in advance. And, while ample time to organize is important, budgets definitely play a role in those plans as well, with 70 percent of Ohioans surveyed noting the cost of the trip as a major influence on where they go for vacation. Other factors included travel distance, scheduling, and amenities or activities at the destination.

We all want and need downtime, but a large financial burden will long outlive the benefits of a vacation. In 2016, households likely to take a vacation spent $1,798 on average, up roughly 11 percent from 2015, according to Condé Nast Travel. In addition, a survey conducted by ValuePenguin noted that the typical vacationing family spends 44 percent of their travel funds on transportation.

Since many vacation decisions are driven by cost, here are a few tips to spend wisely when you take those hard-earned vacation days.

  • Scheduling matters: When planning low-cost trips, timing is everything. To save money booking accommodations, try traveling during an off-season or even a few weeks before peak-season starts. If you’re booking airfare, do so at least a month in advance, if not earlier. Airlines price their flights differently depending on the day of the week, so use an airfare tracker site or app, like Hopper, to keep up with changes.
  • Travel smart: Many vacation destinations take advantage of the naiveté of travelers, so tourist hot spots may be higher priced than smaller, locally-owned places. Do your research before deciding where to say, what to eat, and what activities you should embark on and you’ll likely save during your trip.
  • Use rewards: Even though you may not consistently travel, airlines, booking services, or even your credit union’s credit cards may offer rewards points that can be redeemed for airfare or other vacation expenses.
  • Set aside a little at a time — If traveling is important to you, make room for vacation savings in your annual or monthly budget. Use your local credit union to open a savings account specifically for vacations; credit unions are also a great resource to consult if you’re looking for ways to save and budget for vacation.

    To learn about credit unions in your community and how they can help you afford life, visit www.aSmarterChoice.org.

It’s Not Too Late to Plan a Summer Family Vacation

The school year is winding down and temperatures are warming up. That can only mean one thing: summer vacation.

But as you glance between browser tabs — from the beach picture you bookmarked on that travel site to your bank balance — a summer getaway suddenly begins to feel worlds away.

Your dreams of sunshine don’t have to be dashed, though. If you’re willing to be flexible, it’s not too late to plan a summer getaway that’s within your family’s budget.

» MORE: How much can I spend each month?

Base your destination on your budget

Sure, you probably won’t be able to save up enough between now and August to book a two-week stay at a five-star hotel for your family of four, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on a trip altogether.

You’ll just have to make some adjustments. For instance, stay closer to home instead of leaving the state. Or, if you have your heart set on traveling abroad, consider a destination where your money will be more valuable.

It’s important to keep exchange rates in mind when traveling internationally, according to Andrew Marshall, an independent financial planner and principal of Andrew Marshall Financial in California.

“That’s the way I do it,” he says. “I look and see where my dollars will go the furthest, and then from the top countries, I would narrow it down to places I really want to go to.”

It’s better to research the rate before you book instead of vice versa. Websites and apps such as XE Currency provide exchange rates so you know how much your money will be worth overseas. And see if your bank offers currency exchange so you can avoid potentially high fees at airport kiosks.

Make short-term sacrifices

Regardless of where you go, you’ll need the means to get there. But even if your vacation savings aren’t fully funded right now, you can build them up quickly. You already know what your goal is; now you just have to put in the work to make it happen.

“If you’d like to set aside a little more for your vacation, consider your spending in other areas of the budget and see if there are places to cut back slightly over the next three months,” Theresa C. Wan, certified financial planner, chartered financial analyst, and the principal of Treesa Financial Planning LLC in New Jersey, says in an email. “For example, eating out once a week instead of twice a week, buying $1 coffees instead of $4 lattes.”

For family vacations, Wan says last-minute sacrifices can function as an educational tool to help children learn how to delay gratification. They might give up ice cream tonight if it means going to Disneyland in a few months.

» MORE: How to budget for needs and wants

Splurge on priorities, save on the rest

Finally, keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way to take a trip. Splurge on what you care about most and cut back on everything else. If you can’t afford room service every night, that’s OK. The little deli down the street from your hotel will suffice.

Another way to save is to rent a home, as opposed to booking several hotel rooms. “Especially with group travel, having a kitchen and dining area can make a big difference to your trip’s budget,” says Laurel Greatrix, a spokesperson for TripAdvisor Rentals, in an email.

And remember that sometimes cheap travel comes to those who wait. This can apply to hotels as well as airfare. Wan recommends checking travel sites often for last-minute deals. She recalls one client who jumped on a deal to Vietnam for the following week. She says the family of four had a great time at an “unbeatable price.”

Need an extra push to get to your beachside goal? Check out our tips for how to save money to put away some extra dollars between now and then.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

The article It’s Not Too Late to Plan a Summer Family Vacation originally appeared on NerdWallet.

11 Ways to Save Money on Entertainment

Tickets to concerts, plays, movies: you could live without them, but saving money shouldn’t mean sucking the fun out of life.

Here’s how to curb your entertainment spending without giving up your favorite pastimes.

1. Trim your services

Explore different pricing options for the services you already have. Take steps to lower your internet and cable bills, such as negotiating, downgrading your plans or bundling the two.

2. Seek an alternative to cable

If trimming won’t save you enough, cut the cord completely. Based on the average cable bill cost, this could put upward of $100 back in your pocket each month.

Axing cable doesn’t mean you’ll be starved for content. If you can survive without watching networks like CNN and AMC live, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video feature movies, TV and original series libraries. If you must have extra channels, consider replacing your traditional cable package with a service like Sling TV, which offers live TV for a fraction of the cost of cable.

Looking to save even more? If you subscribe to multiple streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, drop the one you use less often.

3. Share memberships

Split the cost of a paid membership with a friend or relative. For example, Amazon Prime memberships cost $99 per year, but members can share benefits with another adult for no extra charge by creating an Amazon Household. This gives both parties access to free movie and TV streaming, Prime shipping and Kindle books for about $50 each. Or you can cut your Costco membership fee in half by sharing with a spouse or roommate. Members receive a free household card that they can share with another person over 18 years old who lives at the same address.

4. Shop wholesale clubs

Wholesale clubs, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, have an abundance of affordable entertainment. They sell discounted movie and theme park tickets, restaurant gift cards and more in bulk, which is helpful, especially if you’re shopping for multiple people. You’ll also find inexpensive electronics, books, movies and games.

5. Get a library card

With a public library card in hand, the entertainment world is your oyster: You don’t have to buy, or even rent, to get your fix. Use your library card to surf the web or check out movies, books, audiobooks, games and music for free.

6. Attend free events

Take advantage of street fairs, concerts in the park or other free happenings in your community. Some venues that normally charge admission — such as museums, zoos and aquariums — host free-entry days once per month. Next time you plan a dinner out or hit the bars, look for joints that feature live music or comedy shows. Check your local newspaper, coffee shop or university for a list of upcoming events.

7. Volunteer

If the sporting event or concert isn’t free, you still might be able to attend at no cost by volunteering at the venue. Just be aware that you might not fully enjoy the event if you’re busy checking tickets or collecting trash.

8. Ask about discounts

Identification is all some people need to save money. Seniors, students and members of the military — or their families — often qualify for discounts at retailers, movie theaters, theme parks, national parks and restaurants. Kids often receive discounted admissions well.

If who you are doesn’t cut it, your membership status might. For example, AAA and AARP memberships come with savings benefits. Ask if you’re eligible for special rates when making entertainment purchases.

9. Buy used

Save serious money by buying televisions, tablets, computers, movies and video games secondhand. Shop thrift stores and used book stores, and check retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart for refurbished tech.

10. Use credit card perks

Under the right circumstances, plastic is more budget-friendly than cash. Your credit card might offer points or cash back on tickets to the theater or sporting events, electronics purchases and other entertainment-related transactions. Certain cards give exclusive discounts on or early access to event tickets through partnerships and promotions.

11. Cut back

An obvious way to save on entertainment without giving up your “wants” entirely is to adjust your budget and set a lower spending limit for entertainment expenses. For instance, rent a movie every other week instead of weekly, or refrain from buying the latest gaming console if your old one still works.

Lauren Schwahn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: lschwahn@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.

The article 11 Ways to Save Money on Entertainment originally appeared on NerdWallet.