Summertime is spendy-time at our house.
Summertime is spendy-time at our house. Yes, we have many glorious "free" days swimming at the pool or in the lake by grandma's house. But when we hit the road for North Carolina, Vermont, Chicago and New Orleans for our family vacations this summer, I begin to hear the whir of a vacuum, gearing up to suck money out of my wallet.
Sure, it's easy to save when you're booking a trip - Hotwire and Priceline, booking a room with a kitchen and a free breakfast buffet - but it's not so easy once the car is packed and you pull out onto the open road. Plus, who wants to feel like the stingy Grinch when you're supposed to be on vacation?
So here are a few ways to cut costs on your trips this summer without trampling the fun:
Pack snacks and groceries. Every mom worth her salt has a backpack or cooler filled with trip snacks. It's much cheaper than buying at gas stations, and it's both easier and cheaper to buy some groceries on sale at home to stock up the kitchen in your vacation rental. Give yourself 10 extra points if you buy the snacks on sale and use a coupon.
Shop for discount tickets online before you go. We're stopping at Dinosaur World on the way to New Orleans, and I scored a coupon for $1 off each admission. Sure, that's only $4, but little bits here and there really add up. Always look online for coupons and discounts for the places you plan to visit. Sometimes, you get a discount just for buying in advance. Couponsforfun.com and even Facebook and Twitter can yield discounts. Take advantage of free days and times for museums and attractions, too.
Daily deal it. I can't stress this enough. You can search daily deal sites for deep discounts on restaurants and tourist attractions in other cities. Think LivingSocial, Groupon, even valpak.com, where you can download and print coupons for other cities. We just scored $3 off each admission to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. (another stop on our trip), and that's another $12 saved!
Gas it. Even if you're far from home and the comfort of your Giant Eagle gas discount, you can shave some money off every fill-up. If you have a smart phone, you can use apps such as Gas Buddy and AAA TripTik to find the cheapest gas prices near wherever you are.
Souvenir shock. I admit I love a good kitschy souvenir way more than the next guy, but momentos don't have to be budget-busters. Some of my favorite souvenirs didn't cost a lot. Save ticket stubs, quirky postcards and snapshots, and make a scrapbook or frame your favorite bits and hang them up at home. We like to decorate our house with one unique fantastic thing from our destinations. We have a hand-carved tiki from Hawaii by the fireplace and, thanks to a recent trip to Phoenix, a bowl of cactus seeds sprouting (scored for $4) in the kid's room. It's a very real - and prickly - reminder of their adventure in the desert.
-Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek who writes about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch, bankrate.com and middlepathfinance.com.