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Summer savings: Budgeting tips for your outdoor fun

Summer savings: Budgeting tips for your outdoor fun

05.08.2023

If you have kids, you’ve probably heard Olaf’s “In Summer” anthem from “Frozen” at least a million times by now.

(Maybe more.)

Well, summer is almost here.

But you don’t want to stay stuck inside watching movies, do you? As the weather warms up, you’ll be outside having fun in the sun, living like Olaf with a drink in your hand and “getting gorgeously tanned.” Whether you plan on laying by the pool or traveling the world, though, don’t forget about your budget. Things are more expensive than ever these days, so it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on your money habits.

To make the most of your summer, follow our five splashy ways for cooling down your spending and heating up your savings:

Be free

They claim, “the truth will set you free.” While that’s open for interpretation, the truth of the matter is there are actually numerous no-cost or low-cost activities the whole family can enjoy during the summer months.

Say what? It’s true!

Many establishments across the country offer free admission or discounted tickets on select dates to help brighten people’s days — and wallets. From major zoos to botanic gardens to local farms, there’s likely a hot deal where you live.1 In 2023, the National Park Service is even waiving entrance fees at all of its sites in the U.S. on August 4 in honor of the Great American Outdoors Act, which passed in 2020.2,3

Pitch a tent

Ready for a breath of fresh air?

Travel prices are on the rise across the board, as the average cost of a vacation is nearing $1,600 per person depending on the destination.4 Despite the amount, one-third of Americans still view financial freedom as being able to afford a trip. Anonymized data from Empower Personal Dashboard™ shows that summer is an extremely popular time to escape with people willing to shell out dough in order to pack their bags.

Whether it’s in your own backyard or in a desolate area with beautiful scenery, camping may be a more economical option if you’re looking to get away. Once you purchase all the necessary gear, like a backpack and a survival kit, you can get more bang for your buck every time you explore the great outdoors. In fact, you may be able to set up shop at most standard tent campsites for less than $50 per night.5

Sing your heart out

If you want to see the big stars on stage, we have bad news. Ticket prices for prominent artists like Taylor Swift are usually well north of $200, while going to an Adele concert in Las Vegas will cost an arm and a leg at more than $600.6 Last year, some Bruce Springsteen seats sold for over $5,000 for his current revival tour.7,8

That’s not music to your ears.

However, it’s not uncommon for many communities to sponsor and host free shows throughout the summer at a local amphitheater, stadium or park. Check your neighborhood newsletter or city website to see if there are any special concerts in your area. Whether it’s supporting a small cover band or an aspiring country band, you may be able to rock out to some awesome tunes without breaking the bank.

Tee off

The green on the golf course doesn’t have to be the only green you aim for on a gorgeous summer day. If you’re like millions of Americans and love to hit the links, you might spend a pretty penny when it comes to practicing and perfecting your game. All told, over 60% of people pay anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 every year on the sport. But there are plenty of ways you can save some “green” while you play.9

For starters, knowing when to go could help you score the most savings. Generally, the later your tee time, the lower your rate. Many courses offer” twilight” fees on weeknights, giving you enough daylight to complete your round. Or you could choose nine holes over 18 to put more money back in your pocket.10

Other solutions that can help you stretch your dollar include packing your own sunscreen, water and food in your bag (if allowed) while walking instead of renting a cart isn’t only healthier but it’s much cheaper, too.

Find your happy place

It’s no secret people crave going out to eat. The average household in the U.S. drops nearly $2,500 a year on ordering takeout or dining out at their favorite restaurants. For most families, that can be tough to stomach — especially considering how much menu items have increased recently because of inflation. Most notably, going out to dinner has skyrocketed almost 8.5% from January 2022 to January 2023.11,12

According to anonymized Empower Dashboard™ user data, restaurant spend usually intensifies during June, July and August as more people are hungrier than ever to grab a bite to eat that they don’t have to cook.

When temperatures soar, sitting on a patio with a refreshing drink and a good meal can be, well, even more tempting.

You don’t always have to pass up on dining out, though. If you go during happy hour, for example, you could fill your plate with delicious food for a fraction of the cost than during normal business periods. While the portions may be smaller and the options limited in most cases, eating out a little earlier could net you 20% off alcoholic beverages and 35% off appetizers and/or entrees at some places.13

The last word

Summer is exciting, but it can also be expensive. In addition to considering the ideas listed above, swimming at your local pool, hiking nearby trails, and attending community festivals are all low-cost ways to have fun in the sun.14 Whatever you choose to do to beat the heat, just remember to focus on your finances, too. Otherwise, your money could melt away like a “happy snowman” in summer.

1 https://www.denver.org/event/denver-zoo-free-days/98282

2 National Park Service, December 2022.

3 National Park Service, “Great American Outdoors Act,” December 2022.

4 Bankrate, “The average cost of a vacation: Transportation, food, entertainment and more,” November 2022.

5 Trail and Summit, “How Much Does It Cost to Start Camping?,” December 2020.

6 Seat Geek, Adele tickets, April 2023.

7 CNBC, “Why Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen tickets will be more expensive and tougher to get,” January 2025.

8 The New York Times, “The Case of the $5,000 Springsteen Tickets,” July 2022.

9 Golf.com, “The ultimate golfers’ spending survey: Expensive splurges, costly trips and more, according to you,” October 2021.

10 Golf Digest, “15 ways to play golf on the cheap,” December 2020.

11 Restaurant Business Online, “Restaurant menu price inflation is showing little sign of slowing,” February 2023.

12 Go Banking Rates, “Saving Money 2023: 7 Ways To Cut Happy Hour Costs,” March 2023.

13 Happable,“ How much money do you really save at happy hour?,” April 2023.

14 The Penny Hoarder, “100 Free Summer Activities for Kids, Adults and Everyone In Between,” November 2022.

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