Summer means a lot of fun for the Kay Family, we’re going to get to see mini pilots flying in from overseas as well as an airplane hopping son in the deep old south of Georgia.
Recently, I was on ABC NEWS NOW, talking about how summer is a tough time for anyone to control spending, much less stay on a budget. With the kids out of school and summer vacation around the corner, it’s a time when people fall victim to the thought, “I’ll go on vacation now and deal with the bills later.”
But there are ways to cut back on spending to stay on budget before summer hits. The three areas that require consumers to spend money on a regular basis, that do not go away with difficult economic times: groceries, gas and family essentials (such as clothing, birthday gifts, etc). You can plan for summer and still stay on budget for these “little” areas that add up to big expenses.
Q. Ellie, we often think of the holidays as a difficult time to stay on a personal finance budget, but this time of the year is really is a difficult time to stay as well. There are end of the school year gifts to buy, vacations to plan and a summer clothes to get for the kids. We have to start somewhere, and you say the first step is to start with a plan?
ELLIE: Yes, it’s amazing how kids keep growing every year and the summer clothes they wore last season are two sizes too small this year. But having a plan is a good place to start and while the basic a plan is a budget, now is the time to break down the household budget into a plan for the more manageable subsections. This time of year, stores and websites are cleverly designed to get you to spend more than you intended. So it’s important to know what you are going to get and spend before you go to the mall or online. This plan will take into consideration past spending behavior and any impulse buys that tend to kick in while you’re in spending mode. Write down what you are going to spend in the little areas and be specific. If your two preschoolers need clothing, then conduct an inventory of what each of them has—including any hand-me-downs and the vacation gear they may need for the entire season. If you’re planning a vacation and find that you will eat fewer meals at home because you’re going to be away, then don’t budget the same amount for the grocery store. Otherwise, you’re adding spending upon spending when you should be cutting in one area and adding in another.
Q. So we have a plan, the next step is to not fall for questionable “deals.” What do you mean by this?
ELLIE: This time of year, you’ll see sales on summer clothing, electronics and even summer foods—all the things that people are thinking about as the school year winds down and vacation time starts to gear up. But not all sales are created equal and you may see a lot of $90 digital cameras and $100 GPS sales but there can be a huge difference in the models. So before you pick up a steal of a deal, do a general price search on the specific model at Shopping.com or PriceGrabber.com before you get too excited. Plus, if you go into the store and they do not have it in stock, ask for a substitute that is an upgrade from the model that is on sale. You’ll be surprised at how much you can save by just asking. It’s also important to read the fine print in a sale advertisement. If there is a “limited quantity” or “no substitutions” then that could impact your spending plan. Finally, look at the whole world of “price comps” this is where a store offers to match the price of competitors in any sale advertisement that you bring into the store. While one store may not have that GPS in stock and may not offer rainchecks, another store might match the sale and have plenty in stock. We’ve taken advantage of this kind of offer quite a few times, so much so that price comping has become a habit in our family. This can also save quite a bit of money and help to keep you on track in the “little” areas that can tend to torpedo the budget.
Q. So we have a plan, we’re not falling for questionable “deals” and now you say that the next step is “don’t miss any discounts.” How can this help keep us on track and what if there aren’t any discounts—especially for things like gas and other essentials?
ELLIE: Just because a store or website doesn’t mention a discount on merchandise or shipping on its site or in the ads doesn’t mean its not offering any. There is often a number out there in cyberspace that can be retried into either the promotional code box online or even a coupon code into the register at the mall. To find out if what you are buying has an additional discount, go to RetailMeNot.com on your computer or smartphone and enter the store’s name. Or you can go to CouponCabin.com, BradsDeals.com and you may find digital coupons that you can download from the store’s websites.
The same principle applies in the grocery store or when filling up your tank with gas. Go to couponmom.com to save in the grocery store and Go to gaspricewatch.com to find the best values on gas. Don’t forget to check and see if the gas station may offer an unadvertised free car wash, cup of coffee or soda. I just found out that I could have been a lot more caffeinated, for free, at my neighborhood gas station when the attendant asked me, “are you going to get your free cup of coffee?” Once again, if you just do your research you’ll find all kinds of freebies and these “little” things, when multiplied and combined will add up to big savings if you create this awareness level.
Q. You’ve covered a lot of areas so far, but what about those birthday, Father’s Day, and “teacher gifts” that we still need to buy this time of year. Does your next step give us some ideas on what we should buy in terms of gifts?
ELLIE: Yes, in our family of seven, I remember those days when all the kids were in school and we had to buy as many as 40 “teacher gifts” to say thanks to what these educators do all year long. It really added up. Plus, there are birthdays, anniversaries, and other special days that may happen in summer months as well.
I have seen that there is a trend toward necessities rather than luxuries that has emerged since the great recession. Consequently, practical gifts including cookbooks, exercise equipment and power tools are on the top of the list for gift giving. This doesn’t mean that its OK to give your wife a microwave for your 10th anniversary, unless this is on her list, but it probably is OK to get your husband a new power drill for Father’s Day.
Do the research we recommended earlier and comparison shop, combine the lowest price with free shipping and coupon codes and you’ll find that those gifts don’t have to bust your budget. Furthermore, I think that concentrating on the “multiple use” gifts is also a practical way to go.
These are gifts such as DVDs, music, cookware, etc. Gifts that will keep on giving year round.
Q. The final step you recommend in order to stay on budget in the little things is to use cash or debit cards. There are pros and cons to using debit instead of credit, what are your thoughts on this?
ELLIE: Yes, there is a time to use a credit card instead of debit when it comes to charges that you may dispute on your credit card or when you want an extended warranty or the added protection that comes from using a credit card. However, for these little areas, we tend to track the spending better by using cash or debit and consumers are far less likely to go into debt because people simply spend less when they are using cash according to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Applied. Store clerks have long found that it is easier to persuade people who are using credit cards to spend more than they were intending. And when it comes to shopping online, you dn’t necessarily need a credit card to have more protection than using your debit card online. One other option that won’t get you into debt is to research the layaway plan at your local retailer by going to eLayaway.com
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)