Sunny summer months make it easy to cut loose. Unfortunately, it can also mean cutting loose financially.
Most people derail their finances because they don’t have a set budget for holiday weekends, graduation parties, vacations, barbecues and family gatherings, summer camp, activities with the kids and back-to-school shopping.
It’s common to use credit more recklessly than other times of the year, thinking you’ll figure it out later instead of paying for it outright.
“This leads to playing catch-up when summer is over and their regular income is not enough to cover the monthly bills plus the overspending from the summer,” said Whitney Ditlow, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual in Miami.
First, be honest about how much summer might cost.
In the Invest in You Spending Survey from CNBC + Acorns in partnership with SurveyMonkey, slightly more than a third of Americans (34%) said they’ll spend between $1,000 and $4,999 on summer vacations this year, while 26% of people said they’d shell out less than $1,000. The national survey of 2,800 Americans was conducted June 17–20.
Either way, those are amounts to be reckoned with, especially when you consider that 40% of adults say they couldn’t meet a $400 emergency expense.
Planning and budgeting are the best ways to combat summer spending. All households benefit from financial routine and discipline. It’s no different from diet and exercise, Ditlow says. Here’s a look at five steps to take today.
1. Set a travel budget
Budget for summer expenses as early in the year as possible so you can earn rewards to help offset some trip costs.
Calculate how much you’ll spend on travel. Divide that amount by six (since travel is heaviest in the summer), and place that amount in your savings account every month, starting in January.
“The money in your savings account will earn interest throughout the year, giving your account a boost in anticipation of summer spending,” Ditlow said.
After a trip, you’ll be able to pay the credit card bills in full as soon as they arrive.
2. Play the waiting game
Try the simple 30-day rule to rein in spending. “Whenever you want to make a large purchase, wait 30 days to make sure it is a need rather than a want,” Ditlow said.
This method can also help you budget for the item if you do end up buying it after the waiting period if you use that time to stash the money.
If 30 days seems too long, wait one day for each $100 in purchase price. “If something costs $300, wait at least three days before you pull the trigger,” Ditlow said.
3. Be credit-cautious
Avoid using credit cards for the majority of your purchases and make sure you pay more than the minimum balance each time. The smaller the balance, the less you throw away in interest each month.
Using cash makes it harder to overspend. “When you hand over physical money, it makes transactions a lot more personal, as opposed to swiping a piece of plastic,” Ditlow said.
4. Track expenses
If you don’t know much you spend, tracking lets you see problems taking shape instead of realizing you have overspent later.
“The things that usually throw your budget off are those variables such as food, shopping, personal care and travel,” Ditlow said.
She recommends using a spending app to separate fixed costs and variable expenses.
Set checkpoints halfway through the month, so you can plan better and curtail spending. Once you have a better gauge of what you should be saving, set a system to start doing it.
5. Plan for rewards
If you want to sign up for a travel rewards credit card, you really need advance planning — at least five months before your trip, according to NerdWallet. This gives you the time to apply for and receive the card, earn the bonus and book the flight.
But use the card carefully and try to stick to your spending guidelines. About a third of Americans said in a NerdWallet survey that overspending was a definite behavior they used to earn points or miles for a trip.
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