NEW YORK (MainStreet)During the summer, our minds down-shift into getaway gear and with the shorts and flip-flops attitude can come the potential for impulsive purchases and thoughtless spending that can bust your budget. Your seize-the-moment, short-term gain can lead to subsequent long-term money pain. Here are six potential summer debt traps and how to avoid them:
Chill Out Efficiently
Michael Bluejay is a bit of a wonk when it comes to electricity savings ideas. Make that major wonk. In fact, he calls himself "Mr. Electricity."
"In the typical home, air conditioning uses more electricity than anything else," Bluejay writes on his blog, aptly titled "Saving Electricity." "This is where the savings are, folks, not in worrying that you left your cell phone charger plugged in too long." Bluejay says you can save a chunk of cold cash in the summer by supplementing your air conditioning with fans everywhere -- including ceiling fans. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that by circulating the air with fans you can set your thermostat four degrees cooler without a loss of comfort.
"Put the wind-chill factor to work for you," Bluejay says. "Ceiling fans are cheaper than you might expect: they start out around $40 at your local home improvement store, and usually cost less than a penny an hour to run." He also says to make sure your fan is blowing down, not up, so that it removes the hot air that surrounds you. If your fan is blowing up, it won't do any good. In fact, he says it's worse than no fan at all, because it moves the warm air to the ceiling then right back down to you.
Don't Get Soaked
"When you're watering the lawn, remember to turn on the sprinklers less frequently, but for longer periods of time," says Al Krulick, a writer for the debt help website Debt.org. "Don't even think of watering in the heat of the day because it will only evaporate more quickly. Early morning or evening is really the best time."
Using an ample supply of mulch around your plants also minimizes evaporation, while keeping plant roots cool and reducing weed growth.
Re-think Summer Camp
"Sending the kids to camp is fun for them and gives you some free time, but you may be surprised to discover summer camp has become an expensive proposition," says Krulick. "A modern, full-time, sleep-away camp with all the amenities and activities can cost between $400 and $1,300 a week. There are alternatives. Many cities and municipalities fund summer activities through their recreation departments. Churches and other institutions like the YMCA also run affordable programs. You might even qualify for a grant at one of those."
Driving Yourself Crazy
Krulick also says summer is a good time to park the car.
"When the kids are home for the summer, you might find yourself playing the chauffeur more often than you'd like," he said. "But gas prices are rising. Maybe it's time to carpool to the pool and spread the costs around with your neighbors."
And keeping tires at their proper inflation can improve your gas mileage by more than 3%, according to the Department of Energy. To find the manufacturer's recommended pressure, check the label usually found on the driver's side door jamb, or inside the glove compartment. Don't use the maximum pressure shown on the tire's sidewall.
Save Money While on Vacation
Before you load up the dog, the kids and the blow-up floats for the beach, take a moment to put your home in "vacation mode." The U.S. DOE says it's a good idea to crank down the thermostat on your water heater while you're away. You'll save a whopping 14 to 25% on your utility bill. Same goes for the central air. You know, the house doesn't mind if it's a bit toasty inside while you are gone. And remember to draw the shades, close the curtains and turn off the lights.
Saving on Souvenirs
Rather than buying your family souvenirs from the conveniently located tourist traps on the main drag, do a little shopping at a neighborhood discount store when you go to re-stock your supply of chips and dip. Families.com notes that grocery and discount stores usually have an ample supply of locally-themed t-shirts, coffee mugs and other souvenir items at a much better price than you'll find at the gift shops on the beach or at the amusement park.