Summer Saving Strategies

Help your family save dollars and cents this summer with these easy tips.

June 8, 2010— -- Summer is a time to relax, kick back and enjoy your vacation. But summer can also mean an increase in your family's spending, such as filling up your gas tank or paying the electric bill.

Mellody Hobson, "Good Morning America's" financial contributor and president of Ariel Investments, has a few tips to help you make this your cheapest summer yet.

Driving -- Money Saving Tips

Driving to your vacation spot will become even more popular this year due to the increase in airfare, Hobson said.

To help get more mileage for your dollar, Hobson suggested making sure all of the tires on the car are properly inflated and using cruise control. Cruise control will stop you from burning gas on unnecessary accelerations, as well as helping you avoid speeding and getting a ticket, Hobson said.

Hobson also suggested driving the speed limit, because lower speeds save gas.

Gas -- How to Find the Best Price

Although gas prices change from station to station, there are tools to help find the cheapest gas, Hobson said.

AAA has a free iPhone application called "AAA Triptik Mobile" that allows people to compare gas prices along the route, according to Hobson. The application can also give directions, maps and recommended hotel choices.

No iPhone? Use Triptik through AAA's Web site instead.

Air-Conditioning -- How to Save

Air conditioners account for approximately 16 percent of a household's energy bill, Hobson said. In order to cut that portion of your bill, set your air conditioner to 78 degrees when you are home and an even higher temperature when you leave.

Every degree below 78 will add approximately 5 percent to your energy bill, Hobson explained. Additionally, turn off unused lights and try not to let sunshine in, which would heat up your home and cause your air conditioner to work even harder.

Hobson also suggested replacing dirty filters in the air conditioner, even monthly if necessary, since dirt-ridden filters make air conditioners work more.

Lock in Your Winter Heating Rates Now

Approximately 60 million households use natural gas and more than 8 million use heating oil to heat their homes. If your house uses either of these then you may have an opportunity to lock in your heating rates by reaching an agreement with your utility provider on a constant rate that you pay each month, Hobson said, and it protects you from price fluctuations.

Although it's possible that customers could over-pay for the plan if gas or heating oil prices drop, Hobson said she thinks the consistency outweighs that risk.

In order to find out if your service provider offers a plan such as this, contact your state's public utility commission. But be aware of the fine print in the plan, Hobson said, in case there are hidden fees such as a termination fee.

Back to School Layaway

Back-to-school can mean big business. In 2009 the average family with a child in kindergarten to 12th grade was expected to spend approximately $550 on back to school items, equaling a national total of more than $17 billion.

One way to save money in the fall is to look into layaway plans from retailers such as Kmart and Sears, where you can choose the item and then make a periodic interest-free payment towards the item, Hobson said. Once it is paid off in a certain period of time, then you can take the item.

Hobson said this is preferable to credit cards because you won't go into debt. However, she cautioned that some layaway programs have initiation or cancellation fees, so make sure you read the fine print.

Need New Summer Clothes?

Wait a few weeks to buy summer clothes, Hobson suggested. Stores will begin clearing out their current merchandise in favor of the fall line, and you could benefit from a few sales.

Towards the end of June, Hobson said, JC Penny will have one of their biggest sale of the year with 70 percent to 80 percent off summer clothes.

In the Market for a New Car?

September is usually the best time to buy a car, Hobson said, because dealers are looking to replace last year's models with new inventory and therefore have an incentive to give you a better deal.

Even though September is still a few months away, Hobson said the extra time gives you an opportunity to determine you budget, research cars on Web sites such as and check your credit report to make sure there are no errors, which could mean paying more in interest if you decide on dealer financing.

No matter what month you decide to buy a car, purchase it at the end of the month. Dealers need to fill their monthly sales quota, Hobson said, and therefore might be willing to bargain to meet that goal. She also suggested going to a dealership on a weekday instead of a weekend, because you are more than likely to get better attention.

Web Extra Tips From Mellody Hobson

Banks and credit unions are offering saving accounts specifically for vacations and holiday shopping to help you stay within your budget. You can make periodic contributions to a separate account and then before Christmas or your vacation they deposit the money back into your checking account or cut you a check.

In addition to the layaway program for back-to-school shopping mentioned above, Hobson said to also shop on state sales tax holidays when you don't have to pay tax on school supplies and clothing. These holidays are currently in 14 states and are usually right before the school year begins. To find the exact dates, check your state's tax department Web site for details.

Heading to an amusement park this summer? Hobson said you can save a bundle if you pack your own food and save on the pricey concession stands. Additionally if your family goes to the park multiple times during the summer, it might be worth investing in an annual pass.