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Summer can trigger overspending. Try these tips to stay on budget.

Summer's extended vacation mindset can take a toll on your finances.
Image: Paying the check at the restaurant
Do some financial prep right now to create a little extra wiggle room for all of those fun-but-pricey activities. LeoPatrizi / Getty Images

It is only 11:00 am as I’m writing this, but I want to go out. Not just “outside” (although that would be nice, too), but out out. Like to a restaurant patio, or a bustling outdoor bar, or a sun-soaked beach, or a quaint downtown shopping center.

That’s what warm weather does to me. A little bit of sun and a 70-degree day does wonders for me, emotionally speaking — financially, however, it tends to be my downfall. When it’s cold outside, I’m likely to burrow under warm blankets and not leave my apartment or spend money on really anything for days on end — which, luckily, is my wallet’s favorite thing for me to do.

During the summer, however, I start dropping cash like nobody’s business. $60 for a day pass to the beach? Great! $15 champagne-based cocktails? What a steal! An impromptu weekend at a quaint (read: expensive-as-all-get-out) New England beach town? Just call me the Monopoly Man! I’m game to spend on pretty much anything as long as it is warm and fun. Except for the fact that I can’t — and definitely shouldn’t pretend like I can — afford to be spending like this.

After a long, cold winter, it is hard to remember that your thoughtful, handcrafted, artisanal budget is still very much applicable even when the weather is nice. You still have to adhere to your financial plan in the summer months, when it feels way harder to do so. But luckily, there are a few things you can do to prep your financial life for summer in order to allow for a little extra wiggle room for all of those fun-but-pricey activities. Here are the five best things you can do for yourself, financially, before the 4th of July rolls around.

1. Assess your financial situation

This is a good thing to do often (monthly, at the very least), but it is always worth mentioning. Take stock of your financial life; check your credit score, update your budget, write out your debts and expenses and income in a way that makes sense to you. (Power to you if you’re a Microsoft Excel Queen — but writing all of your important numbers out on a scrap of notebook paper is great, too, if that works for you.) When's the last time you checked your credit report? If you haven’t given yourself a thorough financial checkup in a while, make sure you do before we get deep into summer.

Personal finance blogger and expert Desirae Odjick says checking in with your finances should be a regular practice. “When all is well, checking your credit score should be fairly boring, but if there is a big move in either direction, good or bad, it's a sign that you need to look more closely at your credit report to figure out why your score drastically improved or declined,” she told me. “It's much better to catch these things early and handle them than to wait until you need a car loan and get denied because of a mistake on your credit report!”

Knowing where you stand is key in figuring out how to enjoy your summer in a way that is practical and affordable for you.

2. Knock out any small debts you can to increase your net worth

Another important number to check up on this summer is your net worth. “It's an important metric to know, because it really gives you a holistic view of your financial life, instead of just focusing on your debt or your savings,” says Odjick. “Over time, the goal is to see your net worth go up, which could mean paying down your debt, saving more money, or having your investments go up in value. Being able to capture all that progress in a single number makes it much easier to see how you're doing overall, instead of getting bogged down in the details.”

If you want to see your net worth increase this summer (or maybe just get up to a solid zero), work on paying down debt. I’m not going to try and tell you to pay off your mortgage or your ridiculous student loan debt before the 4th — but if you have a smaller debt, like a few hundred on your credit card from an emergency a few months ago, pay it off now so you aren’t carrying unnecessary credit card debt with you through the summer. For example, I had just under $1,000 left on a bill for my dog’s emergency surgery last fall. I have until October 2018 to pay it off interest-free, so I’ve been taking my time with it and favoring other things in my financial life, thinking “Eh, as long as it is paid off before October, we’re good!”

But last month, I decided to just be done with it — I didn’t want to go into summer carrying that debt anymore, and all I had to do was prioritize the debt over my “fun” expenses for the last couple of months so I could knock that debt out for good. Now, I’m entering into summer credit card debt-free, so I feel like I have more freedom to spend on things I want to without feeling guilty that I’m not putting money towards my debt — and my net worth is thanking me for it, too.

3. Actually plan and budget per activity

Impromptu anything is basically your budget’s worst enemy. And I’m not saying that you should live a life entirely void of spontaneity, but things that are at least very loosely planned-for tend the be the ones that prevent you from going overboard. Having guidelines keeps us from meandering from “$400 is an appropriate amount to spend on this weekend trip!” to “Uh oh, just charged a cool thousand on my credit card! But whatever, I’m on vacation!”

My boyfriend and I remedy our spontaneous spending urges by having a plan of action ready for certain activities. On our refrigerator, we have a running list of fun things we’d like to do this summer. It includes things like restaurants and ice cream shops we’d like to try, trails to walk and hike, local towns we’d like to take day trips or overnight trips to, concerts and events we’d like to attend, etc. Next to each item on the list, we wrote a number — an estimate of how much the particular activity will cost. Since we have such a shapeshifting budget that ebbs and flows depending on my freelance work and other household/surprise expenses, this allows us to still spontaneously decide which activity we’d like to do when we have a free afternoon or weekend together, but make sure it fits in with the current state of our budget.

4. Plan, budget, and save for the non-fun summer expenses as well

At the very least, this helps make extra room for the things you want to spend on. Summer comes along with a few less-than-desirable expenses (like the cost of blasting your A/C unit nonstop, or the five-dozen weddings you have to attend and purchase gifts for). Over the next few weeks, see where you can mindfully cut back on spending and put little chunks of money into a fund specifically for your “Ughhh” extras this summer, so when the time comes to actually shell out for them, you can dip into your “Ughhh” fund to pay for them instead of your fun-fund.

5. Tune up everything you let go during the cold season

If you’re anything like me (and I hope I’m not alone), your car hasn’t been washed in months. The windows in your home are dirty because you were too cold to open them up to thoroughly wash them. You fell into a pattern of digging your car out of the snow, then throwing your shovel in the front hall closet with total abandon, not worrying about what kind of dirt and debris was getting flung onto your nice floors.

I’m simply less motivated to thoroughly clean and care for everything in the winter. (I actually know I’m not alone here — the concept of spring cleaning exists for a reason. People finally come out of cleaning-and-maintenance hibernation when the weather warms up!) Giving a little extra attention to all of your stuff will allow you to enter into summer without worrying about that oil change and tire rotation your car desperately needs, or the power wash your house deserves. Additionally, all of this necessary maintenance come with an attached expense, so knocking that out before summer frees up your extra income for all of the things you actually want to enjoy.


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