Save Money on Summer Fun

Forget spending lots of dough during the warm months -- summer is the season of free.

Many cities offer free concerts, theater events, movies, art shows and more throughout the summer. In New York, for example, there are tons of opportunities to see top-notch theatrical performances for free, such as "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Central Park's Shakespeare in the Park.

In Pittsburgh, Cinema in the Park features popular family-friendly movies, such as "Happy Feet" and "Superman Returns," throughout the summer at seven Pittsburgh-area parks. The cost: nothing.

For more details about what is happening in your city or town, take a look at your local paper or visit the chamber of commerce. Also, don't forget that many museums, zoos and aquariums offer discounts or even free admission on certain days during the summer, so be sure to call or check online before you plan your next visit.

Last, if you are an avid exerciser, ask if your gym allows you to take a leave of absence from your membership. Not only can you enjoy exercising outdoors, but you can save a few hundred dollars by doing so.

Save on Summer Travel

Outside your hometown, there is still plenty of summer left for vacations. According to the Travel Industry Association, Americans are expected to take a record-high 330 million trips this summer.

If you are one of the millions and you are flying, the best way to save is to be flexible. Leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday and consider flying late at night or early in the morning to find the cheapest fares.

Also, remember that if you're flying into a major city, going to a small, alternative airport can save you a bundle. For example, a flight from Dallas to Memphis is around $370, but it costs just $98 to land 130 miles west in Little Rock. By driving the remaining distance to Memphis and factoring in gas mileage, you save more than $250.

Families hitting the road, take note: From Maine to California, hotels are issuing rebates on gasoline up to $100 to help ease the pain at the pump. Even historic Gettysburg is jumping into the action. One Gettysburg hotel is giving out a $50 gas rebate if you stay two nights. If you have not already reserved a room, ask the reservations representative if the hotel has any rebates or if they will give you one.

When it comes to summer driving, staying simple saves: Slow down, keep your tires filled, your car tuned and empty your trunk. These easy steps, combined, equate to a rebate of almost 30 cents per gallon of gas.

Also, choose your gas wisely. Typically, the most expensive gasoline is where people need it most, like at highway rest stops. A good rule of thumb is to choose the station farthest from the exit ramp. Often, gas is significantly cheaper just half a mile from a major, brand name station.

Finally, if you're renting a car for your vacation, do not have the rental company fill your tank. Give yourself extra time when returning your car to fill up the tank at a nearby gas station because an extra 15 minutes could be the difference between $3 gasoline and $5 gasoline.

Keep Costs Down at Home

If you're staying at home for the rest of the summer, you can save by turning off the air conditioner when you're not at home. This can result in a savings of about 25 cents every hour, which can quickly add up to $40 or $50 a month.

You can also unplug and turn off as many appliances as you can during the day and try to limit the use of your washing machine, dishwasher and clothes dryer to either early in the morning or late at night. These machines generate a lot of heat and are major drains on the energy bill.

Finally, do the obvious -- keep your lights off and your shades pulled during the day to shave some cents off your electric bill.

Summer is also the best time to save on food costs. On average, produce is less expensive at local farmers' markets compared with supermarkets because farmers are able to sell their product directly to the customer instead of having to pay distribution and packaging costs.

In addition, prices at markets are negotiable. Bargaining for a bag of apples at your supermarket is out of the question, but at a market it is the norm. If the seller is unwilling to budge on price, ask the seller to throw in more fruit or vegetables -- anything to sweeten the deal.

Farmers markets are now commonplace, even in the most densely populated urban areas, so shopping locally is now easier than ever. Also, consider buying extra produce, such as seasonal blueberries and raspberries, and freezing them for use in winter, as it is always more expensive to buy imported fruit in the colder months.