The average American family plans to spend about $1,650 on summer vacation, according to a study by Visa. That's more than chump-change, particularly in these hard economic times.
Here are some simple ways to pump up your piggy bank so that your vacation is paid for before you ever leave home.
Make mine a water
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of us spend nearly 45% of our food budget on meals prepared outside the home. Cooking more meals at home can save you about 80% compared to restaurant meals, but -- even if you still want to eat out -- just by ordering tap water instead of overpriced beverages with your restaurant meals the average family of four can save about $800 a year ... nearly half of your vacation budget. I'll drink to that.
And speaking of water
Heating domestic hot water -- the water you use to bathe, wash dishes, etc. -- accounts for about 15% of total home heating costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It's easy to cut that expense in half and save hundreds of dollars a year by turning down your hot water heater to 110 degrees and/or turning it off completely overnight, installing inexpensive low-flow shower heads and putting an insulating blanket around your hot water heater, and washing clothes in cold water only. When you're lying on the beach on vacation, surrounded by warm ocean waters and breezes, you'll be glad you did.
Call your insurance agent
It pays to call your insurance agent once a year and ask him or her to help you lower your premiums. Often times there are special discounts you may now be eligible to receive (e.g. a "good drivers discount") or your coverage can be updated and adjusted to possibly lower premiums (e.g. reducing or even eliminating collision coverage on an aged vehicle). And "bundling" your policies -- for example placing your auto and home policies with the same company -- can many times save you 10% or more off the total premium.
Find some money
Check the websites www.unclaimed.org and www.MissingMoney.com for unclaimed funds and other property that might be due you. These sites allow you to search for unclaimed property (free of charge) and are sponsored by the nonprofit organization The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). This could include monies due you or your family members from sources like forgotten bank accounts and inheritances, to utility bill refunds, security deposits, etc. NAUPA says that about one out of every eight Americans is entitled to unclaimed assets, with claims averaging about $1,000.
Start paying $5 a gallon for gas right now
When gas prices go up significantly, studies by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we change our driving habits and drive less by consolidating trips, sharing rides and taking public transportation. With gas prices predicted to go to $5 as early as 2012, start now by "paying yourself" the difference between what you pay at the pump and $5 a gallon -- it will help you grow your vacation savings account and encourage you to drive more thoughtfully before gas prices force you to do so.
Pack a Big Bag Lunch once a week
Of course, carrying your lunch to work will save you big bucks compared to dining out or fast food -- maybe even $1,000 per year or more -- but brown bagging it can be a hassle. If you're too lazy to pack your lunch every day, try carrying an entire bag of groceries to the office every Monday and make your lunches on the spot. This makes dining en office the most convenient choice, so you'll do it more often and save a bag full of cash for vacation.
Ask for discounts
Don't be shy -- or a jerk -- but try politely asking for a better price on major purchases like electronics, furniture, appliances, and consumer services. A study by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that more than 90% of those who got up the nerve to ask for a discount on such purchases reported at least occasional success, with the average savings per haggling transaction being almost fifty bucks. And when you book your hotel and make other vacation plans, don't forget to ask for a discount then, too.
Go on a Fiscal Fast
Here's something that can be as fun as it is challenging: Go for a week without spending any money. Make it a competition and involve the whole family. Use up the food in your cupboards and freezer. Try carpooling to work or telecommuting. Play board games with the kids rather than spring for movie tickets. A 2010 Gallup poll showed that the average American adult spends $63 per day in stores, restaurants, gas stations and online, much of it on discretionary, nonessential purchases.
Pay with cash
Put away your charge cards and force yourself to pay for purchases with cold, hard cash. Numerous studies have shown that you're likely to spend less when you forgo the convenience -- and the temptation to splurge -- associated with using credit cards. One study by BankRate.com showed that customers who used credit cards at fast food restaurants spent nearly 50% more than customers who paid with cash. Talk about a spending habit that's hard on both your wallet and your waistline.
Reorganize your clothes closet
Professional home organizers claim that most people wear only 20% of their clothing more than 80% of the time, but that doesn't stop us from buying even more -- a family of four spends almost $3,000 on clothing every year. Instead of going shopping, reorganize your clothes closet and start wearing that 80% you've probably forgotten you own. And here are some tips to make your clothing last longer and save even more. Who knows, you may even find a bikini in the back of your closet to take with you on vacation this summer.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.