Column: 9 ways to turn summertime spending into savings

Summer is one of the most expensive times of the year for many families, with additional child care required, vacations scheduled and, in many parts of the country, utility costs that rise with the temperature. But the last thing anyone needs is a bigger financial burden, especially when the average household with credit card debt owes nearly $8,000, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

So with that in mind, we cobbled together a collection of nine tips for saving money during the summer months. Hopefully, you’ll discover that saving money really can be fun.

1. Take advantage of rewards: The right credit card can subsidize a summer trip by up to $600 if you have good or excellent credit and can comfortably afford to spend at least $3,000 over the first three months of card use. Those are the prerequisites for earning one of the historically valuable initial bonuses that are currently available.

But that’s not the only way rewards can pay off. Billions of dollars in loyalty rewards go unredeemed each year, so if you have some points or miles saved up, why not cash them in? Not only will this help reduce the cost of summer expenses, especially travel, but it will also help minimize your vulnerability to rewards devaluation. Just make sure you’re getting a good value for your earnings, as not all redemption options give you the same bang for your buck.

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2. Improve your credit score: An excellent credit score is worth hundreds of dollars in additional annual rewards for the roughly two-thirds of people who fall short of that benchmark. In other words, most of us have plenty of room to improve and a lot to gain.

Fortunately, credit building (or rebuilding) isn’t a very complicated task, although it does require planning and discipline. A common strategy is opening a credit card and paying its bill on time (preferably in full) every single month as a way to establish a track record of responsibility or gradually devalue past mistakes. There are plenty of other simple steps, such as building a financial safety net, that you can take to boost your standing too, and doing so doesn’t have to cost you a dime.

3. Take an off-season vacation: Not all summer travel expenses have to be paid at a seasonal premium. Booking well in advance — think winter or even fall — is one way to lock in decent rates. Another is to rethink your destination. For example, Florida, Arizona and Texas won’t be terribly expensive at the peak of summer’s heat. And the same can also be said for many international destinations where our summer months are considered the offseason.

4. Avoid foreign fees and physical currency: More and more credit cards are scrapping foreign fees, which makes sense when you consider the fact that no one likes to see the already steep cost of an international vacation inflated by an extra 3 percent or so. But the majority of cards still charge such fees, so it’s important to confirm that yours isn’t among them before heading abroad. Currency conversion represents another reason to make sure you have the right credit card in your wallet when traveling internationally. Using no-foreign-fee credit and debit cards for international spending saves you from having to both convert and carry hard currency, for one thing. More importantly, it also saves you 6 percent relative to the cost of converting currency at a major bank or credit union and 11 percent compared to airport currency-exchange services, according to WalletHub.

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5. Say no to rental car insurance: The summer is peak car-rental season. So remember: As long as you have a credit card in your pocket, just say no to a rental company’s offer of supplemental rental insurance coverage. All credit cards offer some form of rental insurance as a standard benefit, and purchasing a policy will only negate your card-borne coverage.

6. Walk and bike more: Yes, gas is quite cheap these days, but you can still save a significant amount of money by curtailing your time behind the wheel in favor of handlebars or your own two feet. The savings won’t all come at the pump, either, as the additional exercise that you’ll be getting will indirectly reduce health care costs. Plus, there’s a strong correlation between exercise frequency and credit score, and the higher your credit score is, the more you’ll save on everything from credit cards to car insurance premiums.

7. Open the windows, turn off the A/C: You don’t want to cycle on and off too much, as your home will have a hard time cooling down. But if the forecast calls for an extended period of mild weather, consider turning off the air conditioning and opening the windows for a few days in the interest of reducing your utility bill. We could certainly use a bit of a break as far as our bills are concerned after all. People in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, for example, face an average monthly electricity bill of roughly $152.

8. Take cold showers: Not only do showers consume less water than baths, but a short, cold shower is a great way to beat the summer heat! Plus, making a routine of it will reduce water-heater use and thus produce a lower monthly bill.

9. House-hunt now, buy later: Beautiful weather brings the housing market to life for the simple reason that hunting’s more pleasant when it’s nice out. But increased demand also peaks prices in many markets. So why not do some looking now and then wait to pull the trigger when the time is right? This isn’t the tact to take if you find your dream home. But if you’re not in love with a property yet, your bank account will love you for holding off.

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Finally, perhaps the easiest way to save money over the summer is to let nature entertain you. From the lake to the beach to the heart of the city, there are plenty of naturally fun options with the potential to replace the likes of movie tickets, expensive cable subscriptions and video games. This strategy can also pay invaluable dividends in terms of shaping a young person’s value system.

So have fun and give your wallet a break! The two clearly aren’t mutually exclusive, after all.