Summertime usually means a little more downtime--but instead of using it all to splash around in the pool, consider shoring up your finances, too. We asked top financial experts throughout the country for ideas on how Americans can improve their financial lives as the temperatures outside soar. Here are 20 of their best ideas:
1. Start plotting for that raise. Farnoosh Torabi, author of Psych Yourself Rich, says summer is the perfect time to stand out at the office, especially as coworkers start leaving early on Fridays or taking week-long breaks. "Come fall, you'll have built some impressive momentum and can ask for that raise with even more confidence," she says.
2. Clean out your closet and sell the leftovers. "It might be sweltering outside, but fall fashions are already hitting store shelves, so now is a great time to do a little closet cleaning," says Linda Descano, president and chief executive of Women & Co., a website aimed at women and published by Citigroup. Then, she suggests, earn money by selling unwanted items at a secondhand shop or through eBay.
3. Make money through creative methods. Torabi suggests selling used electronics online through sites such as gazelle.com, hosting a large yard sale with a neighbor, or, if you live in a destination popular among tourists, renting out your driveway to visitors through a site such as parkatmyhouse.com.
Overhaul your savings and spending habits.
4. Don't be tempted by higher-yielding accounts. Helaine Olen, author of the forthcoming personal-finance book Pound Foolish, warns, "Any adviser or broker who promises to increase your return should be jettisoned at once." That's because increasing one's yield requires taking on more risk--not something anyone should do with their short-term savings. She suggests keeping your money safe in a money-market fund or FDIC-insured bank account instead.
5. Take advantage of easy-to-use budgeting tools. To maximize your hours at the pool or beach, consider using a online budgeting tool that allows you to quickly see and manage all your accounts, from 401(k)s to mortgages to bank accounts, in one place, suggests Descano. That way, she says, you'll have an easy-to-access snapshot of your net worth.
6. Consider moving. Carmen Wong Ulrich, president of ALTA Wealth Management, a financial planning firm, says homes can turn into people's biggest expense, and biggest headache. "It may be your culprit when it comes to never feeling like you can catch up or get ahead, financially or even professionally," she says. That's why she recommends thinking about whether downsizing makes sense, and calculating how much you could save each month by doing so.
7. Refinance. Interest rates continue to march along at all-time lows, which means homeowners might be able to increase their monthly cash flow by refinancing, says Olen. If rates end up dropping again, you can always refinance again, she adds.
Go on a different kind of vacation.
8. Check amenities in advance. Chris McGinnis, Best Western's business travel expert and blogger at youmustbetrippin.com, suggests always checking to make sure what he calls the "three key amenities" are included in your hotel rate: Wi-fi, breakfast, and parking. He estimates that a family of four can save at least $50 a day that way. A new hotel booking website, room77.com, makes it easy for users to filter search results based on availability of those amenities, he adds.
9. Wait until late August. Since many children are going to back to school earlier, toward the end of August, traveling at that time can often result in incredible deals. "Rates and fares take a big dip as demand begins to wane around August 20. Most fall sales begin around then," says McGinnis.
10. Get creative with "staycation" plans. If you decide to stay home to save money, then Ornella Grosz, author of Moneylicious: A Financial Clue for Generation Y, suggests using sites such as Groupon, Living Social, and Bloomspot.com to snag the best deals in your neighborhood.
11. Rethink the kids' getaway plans, too. Ulrich says it can be easy to continue signing up each year for the same summer camps, especially when early sign-up means a discount, but she says a change of routine can save money. "Research new camps now for next year and ask around with other neighborhood parents for their take on other, possibly less-pricey camps," she says. Plus, she adds, with so many new educational camps, signing up for a school prep-like camp could result in lower tutoring costs during the school year.
12. Make use of credit card perks. Whether you're headed to a big city or beachside retreat, you might be able to rack up points on your credit card that will help pay for the trip. That includes discounts on airfare, hotels, luggage, and even camera equipment, says Descano.
Impart money wisdom to the younger--and older--generations.
13. Take advantage of family time. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling's Gail Cunningham says family time is the best time to share personal-finance lessons or to set a good example when it comes to budgeting and saving. The organization's 2012 survey found that 44 percent of respondents said they learned the most about money from their parents.
14. Use everyday experiences to share those lessons. Susan Beacham, founder of Money Savvy Generation and creator of the popular Money Savvy piggy bank, says that when her family stopped at diners on long summer car trips, she and her husband would offer to give their children the cost of the soda if they opted for water instead. "They took the money and we avoided kids hyped up on sugar," she says. Similarly, instead of buying souvenirs haphazardly, she and her husband offered their children a set amount of cash and let them decide what to buy--and she says they usually came home with some cash left over.
15. Talk about giving back. The Money Savvy piggy bank features four slots: saving, spending, investing, and giving, which emphasizes to children the options for their money. Beacham suggests talking about how they can actively donate through non-financial methods as well, such as teaching another child to read or helping a local senior get online.
16. Read about money. Your local librarian can help you find money-themed books to add to your child's summer reading list, says Beacham. Since summer generally means no homework or sports, there's more time to read and talk about those lessons, she adds.
17. Bring up finances with your own parents. Descano suggests using time with extended family to ask parents about their own future financial plans. "These conversations may not be easy to have, but it's better to have them in a relaxed setting and with an open mind than while stressed if an emergency arises," she says.
Shop with purpose, and with coupons.
18. Take advantage of summer markdowns. Patio furniture, grills, and other summer items tend to see big price drops at the end of summer, as retailers focus on fall inventory, says Grosz. If you planned to buy those items anyway, timing your purchase can result in big savings.
19. Spread out back-to-school shopping. Summer clothes tend to go on sale by mid-July, and school supply sales can start when the weather is still hot, too, says Cunningham. Families on tight budgets can spread out purchases over several months, to avoid a jumbo credit card bill in the early fall, she adds.
Don't forget to chill out.
20. Hold your investing rudder steady. While a volatile stock market can scare people from investing, Olen warns that selling after a big drop can mean locking in big losses. "The overall financial picture has been cloudy for close to five years, and it's likely to remain cloudy for a decent while longer," she says. But panicking only leads people to buy and sell at the wrong times, she adds. In other words, slow and steady is the way to go--and avoid knee-jerk reactions based on the latest financial news.
Do you plan to make any big money moves this summer?
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