Idiot-Proof Your Summer Spending

Wed, May 25, 2011

budget, goals, spending

My son gets out of school this week, and it occurred to me that summer really is here (despite the best efforts of Harold Camping, and my brain’s insistence that it should still be February). In my former life, summer meant shopping for new clothes and flip flops, taking weekend trips with friends, and going to a million weddings, baby showers, bridal showers, and bachelorette parties. When I was married, we were always flat broke in the summer - partly because of all the stuff we did, but mostly because I didn’t get a student loan refund in the summer. Pathetic, I know. Last night I started freaking out a little as I considered how much all my summer activities were going to cost.

And then I realized, maybe for the first time in my life, that summer doesn’t have to mean spending a ton of money.

Don’t get me wrong - I’m not turning into this super frugal chick who’s going to weave a picnic basket from old t-shirts or build my own backyard water park for twenty bucks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I just don’t have the time or energy. Instead, I decided I would try to map out my plans for June, July, and August to find a way to budget all the extra expenses rather than blindly swiping my debit card every five minutes.

I have three cousins graduating this week, two from high school and one from middle school. Normally all three of them would get a card with $20, but this year my sister and I decided to go in together and give each of them $25 (don’t hate - we have a lot of cousins to buy for). So instead of spending $60, I spent $37.50. Not a huge savings but enough to make a difference.

Luckily I don’t have many weddings or baby showers this summer - I think all my friends are married with kids now, so that’s starting to slow down. But I did come up with a brilliant plan to save money on clothes for the weddings - instead of buying a bunch of dresses, I bought one cute black sundress. I can pair it with different shrugs/wraps, shoes, and belts to keep from looking like the girl who wears the same thing to multiple weddings. Or (gasp!) I can wear some dresses I already own. I’m usually not a big fan of repeating outfits, but I’ve learned that no one else notices or cares. You have no idea how much it physically harmed me to type the previous sentence. I nearly died.

Even though I can’t afford a vacation this year, there are two small trips I take with my son every year without fail. First, we’ll visit a nearby amusement park at some point in June. Thanks to coupons from my work, I can get by with spending less than $150 on gas, food, admission, and extras. I consider that an amazing deal for an entire day of rollercoasters and funnel cake! The second trip will be 4th of July weekend. I don’t know where we’ll go for sure, but we usually go to a museum (my kid’s a nerd) before watching fireworks. That trip doesn’t have to cost much as long as I plan ahead, which is something I haven’t typically done.

Finally, there are two major events in August: my son’s 13th birthday and the return to school. July is a 3-paycheck month, so I’ll use that extra money to pay for my son’s birthday cake, party, and gifts. My ex is responsible for buying school supplies and giving me money for clothes, so I’ll pick up random sale clothing throughout the summer to put away since I know I’ll be lucky to get the school supplies. (See former posts about the ex’s financial irresponsibility if you don’t understand the inference.)

None of the things I’ve mentioned are a surprise. They are just events I failed to plan for in the past, which cost me more money.

I know there will be some unexpected expenses throughout the course of the summer - I can’t be prepared for every last minute cookout or outing - but I love knowing most of my plans ahead of time. This will make it easier to say “Sorry, I can’t,” when friends invite me somewhere expensive. Planning ahead means I won’t decide to throw a random party that requires buying brand new outdoor furniture. Not that I’ve ever done that before or anything! It also keeps me from waiting until the last minute to try to come up with the money to pay for the things I know I’ll be doing.

So that’s my plan for the summer - so easy a child could follow it. Now whether *I* can stick to it is a whole other matter! What are you doing this summer? Do you have a plan to pay for it without breaking the bank?

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