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10 Easy Ways to Save Money This Summer

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It's easy to let spending get out of control during the summer months. The kids are out of school, people are on vacation, and the air conditioning is running 24/7. Not to mention, with nationwide unemployment still hovering around 9 percent and gas topping $4 per gallon, many people are feeling the pinch.

However, you can easily lessen the strain on your wallet and have some extra cash left over at the end of every month.There are plenty of simple ways you can save money this summer without sacrificing your way of life:

1. Turn Up or Turn Off the Air Conditioning
In 1960, only 12 percent of homes had air conditioning, including homes in the southern part of the nation. Today, however, almost no new home is built without it. We've become a nation that spends our summers cooped up indoors, intolerant to the outdoor heat.

According to Energy Star, almost half the energy used in your home goes toward heating and cooling. Even making small adjustments, such as turning up your air conditioning by only one degree, can make a huge difference. For each degree you reduce your air conditioning, it's estimated you'll save 3 percent on your utility bills.

You can also save money by using a programmable thermostat. When used correctly, a programmable thermostat saves the average family $180 per year.

Of course, you'll save the most money by turning your air conditioning off. Instead, open the windows, turn on a fan (which will make you feel up to four degrees cooler), and sip on something cool.

2. Get Creative With Summer Camps
When the kids are out of school, parents are often hard pressed to figure out how to fill their days without spending a fortune. And if you work full-time, summertime can be even more expensive. However, there are several ways to minimize the costs of childcare and entertainment.

First, look into summer camps. While some camps can be prohibitively expensive, a great deal are not. Many cities and municipalities run affordable summer camps through their recreation department, community center, or YMCA. Call your city government or township office to find out what types of camps are available.

Of course, the length of the camp determines its cost, so be sure to carefully consider whether half days or full days are most practical. Many churches and other religious institutions run affordable summer camps, as do zoos, museums, and aquariums. If any summer camp you're interested in is too expensive, inquire to see if grants are available.

3. Don't Water the Grass
Many people equate the gentle sound of a sprinkler with summertime fun. They can cool off a backyard, and provide hours of fun for kids on a hot afternoon. However, the downside to sprinklers is that they use a lot of water. And with more areas of the country facing droughts or mild water shortages, sprinklers are increasingly frowned upon for wasting resources.

According to CBS, Americans are the world's biggest water users, and 36 states will face water shortages in the next three years. It's estimated that 50 percent to 70 percent of U.S. residential water is used on landscaping. You will greatly reduce your home's water bill simply by not watering your grass everyday, or by implementing xeriscape landscaping ideas, which use plants that don't require a lot of water.

If you do want to water your lawn, then don't over-water. According to The Franklin Institute, most homeowners over-water their lawns. Generally, it's best to water grass every five to seven days. If you get a good, drenching rain, then this will keep your lawn hydrated for up to two weeks.

4. Carpool
With gas prices presently exceeding $4 per gallon, carpooling is becoming a more appealing option for many people -- and if gas goes up to $5 per gallon, as some experts predict, it will be a necessity. According to the Daily Green, carpooling saves an average of $650 to $1,000 per year. And those figures were tallied when gas was priced at $3.68 per gallon, so you'll save even more now.

If you're not sure how to get started carpooling, there are several sites to help you connect with others. One is eRideShare. This site is useful because not only does it help you find carpoolers wanting to share rides to work, but also to the airport, hospital, and shops. The site also helps parents connect to carpool their kids to club meetings, school, and sport practices.

5. Plan a Staycation
According to AAA's 2008 Vacation Costs Survey, the average cost for a couple on vacation, including lodging and meals, is $244 per day. Add kids in the mix, and costs go up even more. For a week-long vacation, the totals can exceed $1,700.

Planning a staycation is a great way to save money this summer. You could take your kids swimming, go for a picnic, and spend lazy afternoons in your hammock. Not only would you save a chunk of change, but it would likely be far more relaxing than spending a week flying to and navigating through an unfamiliar city. Plus, any money you do spend at restaurants or attractions would stay local.

6. Plant a Garden
Thanks to rising food prices (due, in part, to rising gas prices), home gardening is growing in popularity. Starting a home vegetable garden is not only a great way to exercise, it's also the best way to source healthy, pesticide-free food. You can easily grow organic food at home, and save significantly compared to what you'd pay at the grocery store.

According to the Wall Street Journal, for every $1 you spend on green bean seeds, you'll grow an average of $75 worth of produce. For every $1 you spend on potato seeds, you'll net an average of $5 worth of crop. Burpee Seeds estimates that $50 spent on vegetables seeds will save an average family $1,250. If you can or dry your excess vegetables, you'll save even more.

Even if you can't plant a large garden, you can still make a dent in your grocery bill with container gardening. For instance, fresh herbs are extremely expensive to buy in the store, and often, much of the herbs go to waste. Growing these herbs at home is not only easy, but it gives you access to fresh, free herbs whenever you need them.

7. Do a Home Energy Audit
If your home isn't brand new, then chances are it's leaking energy somewhere. You can save hundreds or thousands of dollars per year with a home energy audit, which is when an energy professional comes into your home and audits your energy use. They help you uncover energy leaks, and make suggestions for improving your home's energy efficiency. Home energy audits cost a few hundred dollars, but the U.S. Department of Energy (USDE)†has a helpful guide for doing a home energy audit yourself.

Many of the energy leaks you'll discover are cheap and easy to fix. Adding more insulation to your attic, insulating your hot water pipes, and sealing leaks are all easy do-it-yourself projects that are perfect to tackle during the summer months. These projects can save you hundreds off your energy bills each year.

8. Turn Down Your Hot Water
If you're like many people, you crank up your hot water heater during the cold winter months because you love stepping into a hot shower. And you probably forget to reduce the temperature settings during the summer.

According to the USDE, we spend $310 to $400 or more each year heating water for our homes. Turning down your hot water heater is an easy way to save money on this expense. And most likely, you won't even notice the difference -- until you see the savings in your electric bill.

9. Switch to a Push Mower
How much money do you spend each year buying gas for your lawn mower? If you have a large yard, then chances are you spend a lot. Switching to a push reel mower cuts this expense entirely out of the equation.

The potential cost savings, both to you and the environment, are significant. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that each year, Americans spill enough gasoline when refilling their mowers to surpass what was spilled by the Exxon Valdez. The EPA also estimates that we use 800 million gallons of gas each year, just to fuel our lawn mowers -- and this doesn't include the amount of fuel it takes just to drive back and forth to the gas station.

Another benefit to push reel mowers is that you drastically cut the greenhouse gasses you emit into the atmosphere with a lawnmower. The EPA states that lawnmowers are particularly bad for the environment because their engines are unregulated, unlike cars. An average lawnmower spews 90 pounds of CO2, and 50 pounds of other pollutants, into the atmosphere each year. Push reel mowers don't emit any.

Last, you'll get a lot more exercise with a push mower. If you mow twice a week, this could enable you to skip a trip or two to the gym.

10. Make Your Own Personal Care Items
According to the Department of Labor's latest survey on consumer expenditures, the average family annually spends $526 on "personal care" products. However, you could reduce this expense by making them yourself.

Creating your own face wash, shampoo, moisturizer, or lip balm isn't as difficult as you might think, and most of the ingredients you need are likely already sitting in your kitchen. For instance, washing your face with oatmeal, milk, and honey is a treat for your skin, and much cheaper (and safer) than many of the commercial products sitting on drugstore shelves.

Making your own shampoo or washing your hair with baking soda and vinegar is incredibly cheap. Natural recipes can make your hair look healthier and shinier than most commercial products. This is also true when it comes to skin care. Simple, healthy ingredients like lemon, honey, avocado, and mineral water make your skin glow, and they cost far less than store-bought products.

Final Thoughts
As you can see, saving money this summer doesn't have to be painful. Making a few small changes and tackling some home projects to improve energy efficiency are relatively easy to do. The end result is that you'll have some extra padding to add to your savings account or monthly budget.

An added bonus is that many of these tips will improve your health and quality of life. For instance, making your own face wash or moisturizer is a fun and empowering project. Cutting grass with a push reel mower is great exercise, and could help you lose weight. Maintaining a garden is challenging and rewarding, and you could give extra produce to neighbors who might be struggling financially. At any rate, you'll feel better saving money and adopting a do-it-yourself mindset this summer.

What other tips do you have for saving money during the summer?