June 26, 2020 - 4:50 am
Summer is usually a time to cut loose and have fun, and while you may not be traveling as much this year, there are still ways to enjoy the season. If you’re not careful, though, fun can lead to overspending and a multitude of other money mistakes.
You certainly don’t want to pay for those mistakes the rest of the year. So, to maintain your financial well-being while still enjoying summer, avoid making these money mistakes.
1. Overspending on summer fun rather than saving
While there may not be as much to do outside this summer, there are still plenty of ways to have a good time, especially as things open up. It’s important to keep an eye on your health and your budget though.
“For whatever reason, people can’t prevent themselves from spending out of their limits during the summer,” said Michael Cirelli, a financial advisor with SAI Financial Services in Illinois. And they do so at the expense of their savings.
However, you shouldn’t stop contributing to your retirement account to fund summer fun. To avoid the temptation to overspend, Cirelli recommends having contributions to retirement accounts automatically deducted from your paycheck or bank account. Then you can only spend what’s left after funding your savings.
2. Not having a budget for summer activities
To avoid overspending in the summer, you should plan activities in advance and create a fund to cover the cost, said Frederick Towles, an accountant and personal finance coach. You can open a separate account or even put cash in an envelope — and stop spending once the money runs out.
Without a budget for summer fun, you could end up relying on credit.
“I have seen families finance their summer fun on their cards, and they are still paying for their previous summer’s fun during the current summer,” Towles said. “That’s not the summer fun we want.”
3. Missing payments
It’s easy to miss deadlines for bills — or forget to make payments entirely — due to summer changes in routine. You may have already seen this over the first few months of the pandemic.
“If you forget, expect late fees and a ding to your credit report,” said Jim Wang, creator of the money-saving blog WalletHacks.com.
To avoid the cost of fees and a drop in your credit score, set up automatic payments through your service providers or your bank, so your bills are paid while you’re on vacation. If there are bills you can’t pay automatically, and you forget to make a payment, call the billing department to explain why you missed it and ask to have the late fee waived, said consumer expert Andrea Woroch.
4. Not putting mail delivery on hold
You may have changed your vacation plans, but there are still options for getting away, like exploring the wide-open spaces of national parks. If your travel is going to extend beyond a couple of days, don’t forget to stop your mail delivery.
“When your mail stacks up, you’re leaving yourself susceptible for theft and fraud,” Woroch said. “If an identity thief gets his hands on credit card offers or bills, for instance, he or she might be able to open an account in your name.”
To lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, you can put a hold on your mail by filling out an online form at USPS.com.
5. Failing to keep an eye out for fraud
Whether you’re enjoying local attractions this summer or just having fun in the sun in your backyard, it’s easy to forget to keep tabs on your accounts for unusual fees or activity.
Don’t let your guard down. Log on to your bank and credit accounts regularly and set up alerts for when charges are made to your accounts.
You should also get a free copy of your credit report online from Annual Credit Report and review it for unauthorized activity. All three credit bureaus are offering free weekly reports through April 2021.
6. Falling prey to scams
Scammers take advantage of a variety of opportunities to get people to part with their money. Some are specific to summer, and there are several related to COVID-19, including text messages about COVID-19 cures.
One of the most common scams involves offering deeply discounted vacation rental properties or vacation packages, according to the New York State Attorney General’s office. Deals that seem too good to be true and require an upfront payment or wire transfer are red flags. In many cases, vacationers arrive at their destinations only to find that the rentals don’t exist.
7. Cooling an empty house
The air conditioner likely takes the biggest bite out of your home energy bill during the summer by accounting for nearly 50% of your energy use, Woroch said. So, if you leave the temperature setting too low while you’re away from home, your energy bill will likely soar.
Woroch recommends installing a programmable thermostat, so the temperature will automatically adjust while you’re away to keep you from wasting energy cooling an empty home. Over the course of a year, a programmable thermostat can cut about $180 from your electric bill, according to Consumer Reports.
8. Keeping the blinds open during the day
Consider closing the blinds to keep the sun’s rays from warming your home and making your air conditioner work harder — which means a higher electric bill, Woroch said. Reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by about 45% when closed and lowered, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And medium-colored draperies with plastic backings can reduce heat gain by about 33%.
9. Leaving electronics plugged in
If you keep electronics plugged in when you leave for vacation, you’ll be paying for electricity you’re not using.
“Everything from your entertainment system — think cable box, TV and speakers — to your home office to small kitchen appliances, like the toaster and coffee maker, continue to consume energy when plugged in even in the off mode,” Woroch said. “When going away for any length of time, get in the habit of unplugging such devices and appliances.”
You can also use a power strip to turn off energy vampires with the flip of a switch. Doing this can shave 5% or more off your home energy bill, Woroch said.
10. Setting the water heater too high
Leaving the water heater at its regular setting when you go away on vacation can result in wasted money too, Woroch said. She recommends switching to the lowest setting or turning it off while you’re away.
Even when you’re at home, you should turn down the temperature on your water heater during the summer. You can save up to $30 on your energy bill for every 10 degrees you lower your water heater temperature, according to the Department of Energy.
11. Buying a new air conditioner without research
If you need to replace your air conditioner during the hot summer months, don’t let the heat push you into making rash purchasing decisions. Although July is a prime time to buy AC units with regard to both selection and price, there are considerations beyond the cost, according to Brent Shelton, an online shopping expert.
It’s best to consult with a professional or do extensive research on ratings and proper installation techniques to get the most out of a big-ticket investment, he said.
12. Overpaying for child care
Paying for child care during the summer when kids are out of school can easily break your budget. On top of that, your options could be limited due to coronavirus.
You might be able to cut the cost by pooling babysitting resources, according to the nonprofit financial counseling agency, Take Charge America. For example, you could hire one babysitter to watch several children in the neighborhood and split the cost among a few families. If you do pool resources, make sure that your babysitter is following CDC recommendations for hand washing and disinfecting surfaces.
13. Spending too much on summer activities for kids
Even in a pandemic, you may find yourself spending more to keep your kids entertained. For example, you might be tempted to buy a new PlayStation game console, tablet or backyard pool.
“Families with kids are paying a pretty penny to keep their children busy in the summer,” said Annalee Leonard, founder of Mainstay Financial Group. In fact, parents spend more than $950 per child on average for summer activities, according to a report by American Express.
There are ways to minimize these costs, Leonard said. She recommends summer camps offered through your local community center or YMCA. Virtual camps are a safe, affordable and popular choice this summer.
14. Taking a vacation rather than a staycation
There’s never been a better summer to take a staycation. In addition to having limited options, taking a vacation can put a strain on your budget. Americans who plan to travel this summer expect to spend an average of $941 per person on their trips, according to the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker.
Planning a staycation is a way to cut costs and explore the town in which you live. This option eliminates two of the biggest expenses: lodging and transportation costs.
“Just remember if you are planning a staycation to really make it a vacation,” said Leonard. “Take a break from work and the chores around the house.”
15. Charging a vacation to a credit card without plans to pay it off
Whether you take a staycation or a vacation, you shouldn’t charge it to your credit card without a plan to pay it off immediately, said Jeff Jones, a certified financial planner with Longview Financial Advisors.
For example, if you charge a $3,000 beach vacation for your family of four to a credit card with a 9.90% APR and pay it off over 18 months, it would cost you an extra $240 in interest, he said. If your APR is 19.90%, it would cost you an extra $494 in interest.
16. Not being flexible with travel plans
This summer is going to require more patience than usual. Flights are slowly resuming, and you may have a socially distanced road trip in mind.
If you’re going to a tourist attraction, expect more controlled conditions and temperature checks. If you’re flying, expect to be required to wear a mask and bring your own food and drinks, as most flights have stopped or limited beverage and food services.
Stay flexible, and if you’re planning to visit another state, check their guidelines first to make sure they don’t require a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine.
17. Booking a flight without researching first
While the rock-bottom flight prices might be tempting, be cautious about booking without doing some research first. Check the airline’s refund policy and research what’s happening at your potential destination with regards to the coronavirus.
If you do decide to book, check the CDC’s recommendations for travelers to make sure that you’re prepared. Choose an airline with a good refund policy, or one that you’re likely to book with in the future if you’re issued a travel credit.
18. Overpacking when flying
If you’re flying, overpacking can be a costly mistake, especially if you’re flying on an airline that charges you to check bags, Wang said. For example, American Airlines, Delta and United all charge $25 for the first bag you check and $30 to $35 for a second bag.
You can avoid fees on most airlines by taking only carry-on bags — which means packing only the essentials, Wang said. Or, you can stick to Southwest Airlines, which lets passengers check two bags for free.
19. Saying yes to car rental upgrades
If your summer plans require renting a car, first make sure the rental company is following the CDC’s cleaning guidelines and second, don’t feel pressured to say yes to add-ons or upgrades.
“Be polite to car rental agents trying to get you to spend more money, but decline their invitations to upgrade your vehicle, pay for insurance or prepay for gas,” said Kendal Perez, a savings expert with Coupon Sherpa. “Upgrading your car will only result in additional rental fees and gas costs, while insurance coverage is likely redundant with that provided by your personal auto insurance or your credit card.”
For example, during a vacation in Hawaii a couple years ago, Perez opted to keep her original economy car rental despite the temptation and aggressive sales pitch to upgrade to a convertible Mustang.
“Between rental fees and gas mileage, I likely saved between $100 and $200,” she said.
20. Using debit cards to reserve hotel rooms
If you don’t use credit cards — or use them only sparingly — be careful about using a debit card to reserve a hotel room for your summer plans, Perez said. Some hotels charge an “incidental deposit” as a security deposit or for other possible charges to your room, such as room service.
Typically, the charge is removed shortly after you check out. However, that money is on hold, meaning you might not be able to access needed funds in the event of an emergency. Save the expense and headache by reserving rooms with a credit card instead, Perez said.
21. Using the wrong credit card overseas
As of now, foreign travel is highly restricted, according to the CDC website. That could change as the summer continues. If restrictions ease, or if your travel is essential, your credit card may not be top of mind.
While many card companies charge fees for currency conversion, some issuers offer no foreign transaction fee cards, which can save you up to 3% per charge, Wang said. Check your current cards for their foreign transaction fees or sign up for a card before heading abroad.
22. Not notifying your card company about your trip
If you travel outside of your normal geographic region, let your credit card company know in advance. If you don’t, the company’s fraud department might think your purchases are fraudulent, Wang said.
“This can be a very big headache if you’re outside of the country, don’t have much of the local currency and were expecting your credit card to complete a purchase,” he said.
23. Using public WiFi
During summer travel, or even when you’re just running errands, you might log on to unsecure networks, Taylor said. But you should know you’re putting personal information at risk when you log on to accounts using public WiFi networks, as hackers can steal your personal information.
To avoid putting your information at risk, you can use a virtual private network — aka a VPN — to send and receive information while using public WiFi. Taylor said there are free VPNs, such as TunnelBear and VPNBook, that allow you to surf the web securely.
24. Not waiting for end-of-season sales
You might want to upgrade your grill, patio furniture or warm-weather wardrobe now that summer is here. However, you probably won’t get the best prices on seasonal items until the end of summer. If you can, wait for fall which can save you 50% to 60% in some cases, Perez said.
That said, some retailers may offer deals to boost their sales as they reopen. Just be sure to compare retailer options before you shop.
25. Not taking advantage of sales tax holidays
You can save a lot of money by doing your back-to-school shopping during sales tax holidays, said Howard Dvorkin, founder of Debt.com. Seventeen states —primarily in the South — waive sales tax on items like clothing, school supplies and computer purchases on select days in the summer.
You can learn more about sales tax holidays at the Federation of Tax Administrators’ website, Taxadmin.org.
26. Buying produce that’s not in season
With the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available during the summer, it doesn’t make sense to spend more on produce that’s not in season yet. So, Taylor said you should stick to seasonal produce — such as peaches, watermelons, corn and tomatoes — to save money.
Another way to save on produce during the summer is by visiting your local farmers market if it has reopened. Or even better, take advantage of your quarantine garden and grow your own food.
27. Paying for the gym when you’re exercising outside
Gyms are starting to reopen, but you might want to enjoy the weather and open air rather than going back to an enclosed space. Instead of ditching your membership — and paying an early termination fee or initiation fee to rejoin — ask if you can freeze your membership.
“You typically have to pay a small fee, anywhere from $5 to $15 per month,” Woroch said. “But, depending on the cost of your original membership, this can be a huge savings.” There’s usually a limit on how long you can freeze a gym membership, but you should be able to do so for a few months at least.
28. Failing to take advantage of free activities
You can avoid spending a lot of money on entertainment in the summer by taking advantage of free activities. As places reopen, your public library might offer free events and activities, Woroch said. Check your city’s community calendar for events.
Many zoos and botanical gardens also offer free admission on certain days of the week, although those might be limited due to coronavirus closings. Local parks may also plan fun, free outdoor activities. Look at local organization websites for more information before you go.
29. Paying full price for entertainment
If you’re looking for something fun to do at home, there’s a good chance that you can avoid paying full price for entertainment. For example, Leonard recommends looking for discounts on admission to amusement parks, zoos and museums on daily deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial.
And don’t forget to take advantage of discounts you can get through memberships in organizations like AAA or AARP. For example, AAA members get up to 30 percent off tickets to Six Flags amusement park.
30. Not budgeting for summer weddings
Most weddings occur between May and October, making summer an especially pricey season if you’re invited to attend or participate in the celebrations, Perez said. Wedding guests — not even people in the wedding party — spend $600 or more, on average, on travel and gifts, according to the savings expert.
While many couples have changed their plans due to coronavirus, some may not. Take the time to save up and keep your wedding expenditures within your budget. Don’t commit to a destination or gift you can’t truly afford, and remember, it’s OK to say no.
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This article has been updated with additional reporting since its original publication.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 30 money mistakes you’re probably making this summer