Should I Use a Credit Card at the Pump?

Q: Is it a good idea to pay for gas with a credit card? 

A: On average, Americans pump close to 392 million gallons of gasoline a day. That’s more than a gallon for every American! Each day! With fuel prices spiking, you want to make sure you’re paying for that gas in the best manner possible. Many people reach for a debit card or cash when filling up on fuel, but there are several key advantages to using a credit card to pay for gas. Here are four reasons you may want to use your credit card at the pump. 

  1. Paying with plastic makes it easy to track your spending

Cash leaves no paper trail. Once you’ve spent it, you have no way of knowing where that money went unless you actively record the expenditure at the time of the purchase. When you pay with plastic, though, there’s always a record of the transaction. You can review your spending habits, or calculate how much you are spending in one budget category (transportation) to help you stay on top of your finances as best as possible. Just check out the credit card statement at the end of the month or billing period to see how much you’ve spent on fuel costs. 

  1. Earn rewards for every gallon

If you own a credit card that offers rewards or miles for every purchase you make, you can earn a lot of rewards by using your credit card to purchase the gas you’d buy anyways. In just one year, you may have enough rewards or miles to fund a full vacation! Just make sure to choose the card that offers the most bang for your buck.

  1. Fraud and theft protection

When it comes to protecting your funds from fraud, credit cards are the number-one choice of payment methods. Unlike payments made in cash or with a debit card, a credit card purchase can always be disputed if found to be faulty. Many cards offer a zero-liability plan in cases of fraud as long as the credit card company is notified within a predetermined amount of time. Finally, paying with cash always carries the risk of theft, but a stolen or hacked credit card account can easily be closed. 

  1. Free up your money

When you choose to pay with a debit card at the pump, you’re choosing to put your money on hold. Gas stations present a unique risk to their owners, as the consumer can fill up and drive away without paying. To avoid this form of theft, gas stations will immediately authorize cards by placing a hold on the debit card account as soon as the consumer initiates the transaction, which is before they’ve even begun to pump fuel into their car. The hold is generally between $50 and $150. After the consumer has finished pumping gas, the card will be charged for the appropriate amount. However, the hold on the card may not clear for several days. If you need every dollar in your account immediately after paying for gas, you may want to use a credit card rather than a debit card at the pump. 

Many drivers choose to pay for gas with cash to save on surcharges that some stations issue for payments made via credit card. However, if you use a rewards card and get cash back on every credit card purchase, the small surcharge can be more than offset by the rewards. In addition, some stations will waive the surcharge upon request. 

It’s important to note that, as always, credit cards should only be used responsibly, even when paying at the pump. Only use a credit card if you know you will be able to pay the bill in full before it’s due. Otherwise, the interest charges you’ll accumulate mean you’ll be paying for far more than the actual price of gas.

Using a credit card to pay for fuel can have unique advantages over other payment methods. The next time you’re at the pump, consider pulling out your credit card instead of paying with a debit card or cash. 

Your Turn: Do you use a credit card at the pump? Why or why not? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Step 6 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Pay it Forward

[Now that you’ve started paying down debt, you and your partner have tackled big money issues, and you’ve mastered the art of spending mindfully, you’re now ready to think beyond your own needs by learning how to pay it forward.]

Money management can sometimes feel inherently selfish. You’re earning, budgeting, saving and investing, all so you and those you love can enjoy a worry-free life on your own standards. But there is so much more you can do with the money you’ve been blessed with – as well as with your time, talents and possessions. Let’s explore five different ways you can make the world into a better place by paying it forward. 

  1. Donate funds to your favorite cause

The classic way to pay it forward can also be the simplest. Find a charity or two that speaks to your heart and make a donation that fits your budget. Ideally, it is substantial enough to make a difference, but any amount you are able to responsibly commit adds value and is appreciated. Be sure to verify the authenticity of the organization on a charity-vetting site like, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator or CharityWatch. Don’t forget to save your receipt so you can claim a charitable-giving deduction on your taxes. 

  1. Commit to do one random act of kindness each day

Kindness doesn’t have to be big or loud to make a difference. It doesn’t even have to be costly. Small things that mean a lot can really make someone’s day. You can offer to make a coffee for your coworker, feed a parking meter that’s about to run out for a stranger’s car, remove a branch or rock from the middle of a busy thoroughfare or walking trail, or let someone go ahead of you at a checkout counter. There’s so much you can do when you look to give. 

  1. Write thank you letters 

When was the last time you thanked your child’s teacher for doing such a fantastic job on providing your child with an education? When was the last time you thanked your parents for giving you life, a happy childhood and their ongoing love and support? When was the last time you thanked your mailperson? Pick up a nice set of thank you cards and spend 20 minutes writing thank you cards to the people in your life; those who do so much for you, but aren’t always thanked for everything they do. Your letters will likely be cherished by the recipients for many months to come. 

  1. Donate your time 

Unfortunately, there are numerous people in this world who are suffering from sickness, poverty, loneliness, mental health challenges or other hardships. With just a small donation of your time, you can help alleviate some of their suffering. You can volunteer at a soup kitchen, help bring cheer to hospitals, offer to babysit for a couple who is going through hard times so they can have a night out to themselves or make a habit out of visiting a lonely person. You can brighten someone’s day with your presence alone!

  1. Share what you have

Aside from money and time, there are so many ways you can use what you have to bring cheer into someone else’s life. You can donate old clothing to Goodwill or gift a friend or neighbor with a full set of your child’s outgrown clothing if it’s still in great condition. Offer to lend out your books to your bookworm friends. Run a low-cost, or even no-cost, yard sale for all the toys, furniture and other items in your home that you don’t use any longer. Share your unused sports equipment with children who are less privileged than yours.

There are so many ways to pay it forward and make the world into a better place. And when you give to others, you’re really giving to yourself by learning how to be a better, kinder person. 

Your Turn: How do you pay it forward? Share your best ideas with us in the comments. 

Don’t Get Caught in a Shopping Scam!

Shopping in 2022 is worlds away from what it was at the turn of the century, or even just a few years ago. According to retail research firm, Digital Commerce 360, ecommerce sales surpassed $870 billion in 2021, a 50% jump over 2019. Online shopping is quick, easy and convenient. 

Unfortunately, though, when a lot of shopping moved online, it also ushered in a wave of scams that are often successful. Some of these scams can be difficult for the untrained eye to spot, and many offer no way for the victim to reclaim their lost funds. Here’s what you need to know to recognize an online shopping scam and avoid being the next victim. 

How these scams play out

There are several variations to the online shopping scam. 

In one version, a shopper will scour the internet for a specific item in their desired price range. They’ll find the item retailing on a site at an attractive price and then proceed to make the purchase. They’ll share payment information, input their delivery address and complete the transaction. Unfortunately, though, the item never arrives on their doorstep. Alternatively, a cheap knockoff of the product will arrive instead of the item they’ve purchased. When the buyer tries to demand a refund, they are unable to reach the seller. 

In another variation, a shopper finds an item online and tries to make a purchase. They’ll be asked to input sensitive information, such as a credit card or checking account number. At this point, the shopper will be unable to complete the transaction and will continuously run into errors on the site. However, the scammers now have their information and can proceed to empty the victim’s accounts, or worse.

In a third version of the online shopping scam, a seller clicks on an ad, or on a site that came up in a Google search for one of their favorite stores. They’ll proceed to make an order, not knowing they’ve actually clicked into a bogus look-a-like site run by scammers. The rest of the scam will follow one of the scenarios described above. 

Red flags

Watch for these warning signs that you may have stumbled upon a shopping scam:

  • Prices are too good to be true. If you find an online offer for a new iPhone retailing at just $450, you’re likely looking at a scam. 
  • The offer urges you to act now. If an offer warns that the bargain prices it’s offering won’t last until sundown, it’s likely a scam. 
  • The seller demands specific means of payment. If an e-tailer insists that you pay via prepaid gift card or wire transfer, opt out. 
  • The website is full of typos and grammar errors. If the site is badly in need of editing, it may be run by scammers. 

Stay safe

Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from online shopping scams:

  • Only shop on safe, secure sites. Check the URL for the lock icon and for the “s” after the “http”.
  • Check the URL for proper spelling of reputable sites. Make sure the URL of the site you’re on matches the authentic URL for that retailer and that you haven’t landed on a spoof site. You may want to save the genuine URLs on your computer for future use. 
  • Avoid clicking on high-pressure pop-ups and banner ads. These are often scams.
  • Pay with a credit card when shopping online. A credit card offers the most protection for your purchases. 
  • Never share personal information with an unverified contact. Don’t input your credit card number or account details unless you’re absolutely sure you’re dealing with a reputable website. 

If you’re targeted

If you’ve fallen victim to an online shopping scam, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage. 

If you’ve paid via credit card, call the company to dispute the charge. At this point, you may want to consider closing the card and placing a credit alert and/or a credit freeze on your name. Next, alert the FTC about the scam. If the alleged retailer is on the BBB website, you can let them know, too. Finally, let your friends know about the scam so they know to be aware.

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a shopping scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

The Ultimate Grad Gift Guide

Your soon-to-be grad has worked super-hard to reach this momentous occasion and to have their diploma in hand. Celebrate with your grad and show them how proud you are of their hard work and dedication with these low-cost, but awesome, gifts!

  1. ID lanyard

Make it easy for your grad to carry their ID and wallet around campus or the workplace. Super-cute and durable, these lanyards make the perfect graduation gift. 

  1. Oh the Places You’ll Go

You can’t go wrong with this Dr. Seuss classic! Whimsical, yet inspirational, it’s a great read for the older teen setting off into the big world of adulthood. Add your own words of wisdom to the front inside cover for a personalized touch. 

  1. College survival kit

Hit the dollar store and scour the aisles for a big basket and all sorts of stuff you can add to it for making a college survival kit or house/apartment warming kit. You can include essentials, like flip flops and hair ties, kitchen utensils and hand soap. Don’t shy away from having fun by adding extras, like Bluetooth speakers, wall decals and more!

  1. “Open when” letters

Your recent grad’s got a long road ahead of them, but you can make it a little easier with a few well-worded missives. Pen some letters for your grad to open at specific milestones and/or at more challenging times, such as after the first round of final exams, when they’re feeling homesick, when they need a laugh, after handing in their first term paper, etc. Your letters will be the gift that keeps on giving throughout their time in college.

  1. Picture collage

Help your grad have the most awesomely decorated room in college with a fantastic homemade picture collage! Check out their social media pages for the best snapshots of your grad and their friends and family. Then, put together a low-cost, meaningful gift they’ll always treasure. As a plus, they’ll think of you every time they see the collage hanging on their dorm room wall.

  1. Laundry essentials

Spring for an adorable laundry hamper and fill it with all your grad needs to master the wash. Think detergent, dryer sheets, stain remover and more. Add a cute note, like “Have LOADS of fun in college!” to complete the gift. 

  1. Chef’s special

Is your grad a foodie who’s thrilled to prep their own meals? A kitchen-phobic young adult who is worried about being in charge of their own meals? Either way, they’ll love a chef package to help them out. Take a huge mixing bowl, Bundt pan or another large, round cooking essential, and fill it with all they need to master the kitchen. You can load it up with spatulas, measuring cups and spoons, a cute apron, oven mitts, a skillet and more. To make it even more personal, fill a small cookbook with your favorite easy recipes for your grad to try out. If you don’t have a collection of recipes, you can purchase one of the many college cookbooks you’ll find on sites like Amazon.

  1. Bright light

If you’re looking for a cute way to present a cash gift to a grad, try this bright idea: Throw some money in a fake lightbulb and add a note that says “Wishing you a future that’s as bright as you are!” For a variation of this idea, insert cash into the photo slot of an empty picture frame and add a note that says, “In case of emergency, break glass!” Cash is always appreciated, and a creative presentation makes it personal and fun. 

Your grad is off to college or into the workforce soon. Show them how proud you are and prepare them for the exciting years that are ahead. Use these ideas to find the perfect low-cost gift for your grad. 

Your Turn: Have you found the perfect low-cost gift for your grad? Tell us about it in the comments. 

5 Ways to Survive the Summer Slump

When the days stretch on endlessly and the summer sun beats down on the sidewalk, productivity dips. The dreaded summer slump hits businesses when daydreaming employees become less productive, part of the team is out on a summertime getaway and the stream of customers slows to a trickle. 

The summer slump is inevitable for most businesses, but with good planning you can sail smoothly through the summer months without taking a big hit. Here’s how:

  1. Plan ahead

Instead of waiting until you’re half-staffed in mid-July, establish a clear policy for taking summertime leaves. You can ask all team members to let you know when they plan to take time off at least two months in advance, only allow a specific number of employees to take off at a time, or limit the number of employees who take off at the same time from a single department. You might even choose to shut down completely for a week or two to keep productivity levels up for the bulk of the summer. Host a pre-summer team meeting and make sure each employee is clear on the policy or plan. 

  1. Strategize for the holiday season

Whoever said you can’t have Christmas in July? Take advantage of the slower summer season to come up with a great strategy for the upcoming holiday season.Team members will have more time to devote to meetings and planning, and preparing for the holiday rush well before the school year even starts will give you a leg up on the next quarter.

  1. Host a summer bash

Draw customers to your store or website by hosting a spectacular mid-summer bash. Don’t wait until Independence Day or Labor Day to slash your prices; do it for no reason at all during the slowest time of summer. When you’re the only business running a sale, you’re more likely to attract customers. 

  1. Improve your social media presence

Use your spare time during this season to up your game on social media. See if you can improve your brand’s online persona, find ways to make your blog shine and dream up a zany summertime video contest to share with your customers. You can also choose to meet with a professional social media consultant to see how you can improve your online presence.

  1. Learn new skills

Summer presents a great opportunity for acquiring new skills that can help you grow your business. Sign up for an online or in-person course, reach out to an expert for some one-on-one coaching or read an instructive book on a subject that’s closely related to your business. Broadening your knowledge and skill set is always beneficial for your business. 

Business might be slower during the summer, but you can find ways to limit a productivity lapse and to grow your business in the long-term. Follow these tips to make the most of your time this summer. 

Your Turn: How does your business survive the summer slump? Share your tips with us in the comments. 

Should I Buy Out My Lease?

Q: My lease agreement is nearing its end, and I’m getting many offers to buy out my lease due to the current state of the economy. Should I ignore the hype, or is it really a good idea to buy out my lease?

A: With cars in hot demand, and selling at all-time high prices, many lease customers are looking at trade-in values for their vehicles with the intention of buying out their lease. While this can be a smart choice for many consumers, it’s important to consider all relevant factors before making a decision. Here’s what you need to know about buying out your lease.

What is a lease buyout?

Many drivers are confused by the offers they’re getting and the promotions they’ve seen for buying out leases. How is it possible to buy a lease when a leased vehicle, by definition, is essentially a rented car?

First, buying out a lease involves paying the car’s “buyout price” as specified in the lease contract, which makes you the car’s new owner. Second, it’s important to establish that buying out a lease generally makes the most sense when you are nearing the end of your lease term.   Finally, this may necessitate taking out an auto loan to afford the buyout price, just like you might do when purchasing a new or used car at a dealership.  

How can I determine my car’s buyout price?

To estimate how much you’d need to pay to buy your leased car, look for the term “residual value” in your lease contract. This tells you what your leased vehicle is expected to be worth at the end of the term, which may be months or years away. To reach your vehicle’s buyout price, add the residual value to any remaining payments. For example, if your car’s residual value is $25,000 and you owe another 10 payments of $500, the car’s buyout price is $30,000. Of course, the more time left on your lease, the higher price you can expect to pay to buyout.

Will I need to pay any fees in addition to the buyout price?

Depending on your home state, your vehicle’s buyout price may be subject to an auto sales tax. Your lender may also charge additional fees, such as a ‘purchase option fee’. It’s important to know about any additional fees you may need to pay in addition to the buyout price and to 

estimate the total you’ll be paying before deciding to purchase a leased car.

The good news is that you won’t be accountable for the typical lease-end fees, which can include the costs of reconditioning the vehicle for resale, fixing any damage the car may have incurred during your term, and an over-mileage penalty for every mile you may have driven over the official limit.  

What are the advantages of buying out a lease?

Many drivers are opting to buy their leased vehicles now due to the current state of the auto industry. Supply is low and both new and used cars are in high demand. A driver nearing the end of their lease agreement may find it challenging to purchase or lease another car. Buying a car you already lease will give you first dibs at a hot commodity.  

Some drivers are choosing to capitalize on the high demand for used cars by buying out their leases and then flipping the car to a dealership or selling it privately to a new owner. They assume they will earn enough from the sale to help offset the price of a new car. While this may be true, it’s important to remember that it may be difficult to find a new car in a desired model and at an affordable price.

Before taking out a loan to buy out a lease, find out what your car is actually worth. Due to the state of the market, it’s likely worth more than you’ll pay. However, if it’s worth less than the buyout price, you’ll be upside-down on your loan, which is never a good idea. In addition, you may find it difficult to qualify for a loan in an amount that is higher than the value of the asset.  

How do I buy out my lease?

If you decide to go ahead and buy out your lease, you’ll first need to run the numbers as described above to be sure it’s a financially responsible decision. When you have the total buyout price, your next step is to work on financing. You can choose to take out an auto loan or a personal loan to help cover the costs. 

Next, you’ll contact the company behind your lease and complete the purchase. The sale process will be similar to the sale of any car. Finally, be sure to notify your insurance company about the change in ownership of your vehicle. Leases generally require plans with low deductibles and high premiums, so you may want to choose a new plan with higher deductibles and lower monthly premiums.

If you’re looking to finance an auto loan for a lease buyout car, look no further than Advantage One Credit Union! Our auto loans offer low interest rates [see for current rates], easy payback terms and a quick approval process. Call, click or stop by to get started or discuss available options!

Your Turn: Have you bought your leased car? Tell us about your experience in the comments. 

What to Buy and What to Skip in June

Summer is here and it’s time to work on your tan–and on finding big bargains! Though there are no major shopping holidays in June, you can still find fantastic deals on all kinds of products. There are some purchases you should skip this month, though, and we know what they are. Here’s what to buy and what to skip in June.

Buy: Swimwear and lingerie

Get ready to hit the beach in style! Retailers offer steep discounts on swimwear as summer gets underway, and you can pick up a sweet deal on the swimsuit of your choice. Also, Victoria’s Secret famously hosts one of its semi-annual sale events in June, so also add lingerie to your “to buy” list!

Skip: Grills

Grills are in high demand this month, so they are retailing at full-price. If you’re looking to upgrade your grill, wait until mid- or late summer for a better deal. As with most timely products, the longer into the season you wait, the more you’ll save.  

Buy: Dinner for Dad

It’s Dad’s time! Restaurants know you’ll be taking him out to eat, and they offer great deals on meals to lure prospective diners inside. Some of these discounts might only be available through gift card purchases, so be sure to check it out in advance. 

Skip: Mattresses

If you need new mattresses, you’re out of luck. The Memorial Day sale events, which happened last month, will typically offer the best discounts on mattresses. If you’ve missed out, you’ll want to wait until Labor Day to score a deal.

Buy: Workout wear and gear

Consumers are building their beach bodies this month, and retailers want in on the action. Check out your favorite brands for steep discounts on workout wear and gear throughout the month of June. Getting fit is always easier – OK … a little more fun – when you’re outfitted in style!

Skip: Brand-name clothing

Don’t go all out on designer clothing this month, unless you love paying full price. In just a month from now, you can save hundreds of dollars on brand-name clothing, handbags and shoes from most major department stores, partially due to the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Put the designer wardrobe on hold, and save a bundle.

Buy: In-season produce

The fresh fruits and vegetables are especially abundant this month. You can enjoy great prices and full flavor on in-season produce all June. Pick up some refreshing watermelon, stock up on all kinds of berries and load up the crisper with stone fruit of all kinds. You can also bring your barbecue dinners up a notch by grilling fresh and in-season corn on the cob, summer squash and even tomatoes. 

Skip: Electronics

School’s out, and so are the deals on laptops and other electronic devices. Older tech has been cleared out, so you won’t find discounts on last year’s models in June. If you need to upgrade your electronics, wait it out a bit until the back-to-school sales start in July and August. 

Buy: Tools and paint

The best deals on tools and paint won’t hit stores until November, but you can still pick up a sweet bargain on these home-improvement essentials in June. Discounts are generally offered around Father’s Day. Look for sales on these items at major home improvement stores, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, to stock up on all you need for your DIY summer project. 

Skip: Patio furniture

You might be spending hours of each day outside this month, but that doesn’t make it an ideal time to furnish your patio in style. Outdoor furniture retails at full-price this month, and won’t start to see discounts until deep into the season, in another month or two. Wait it out a bit to save a ton.

Use the tips here to know what to buy and what to skip this June. 

Your Turn: Have you picked up any great deals in June? Tell us about it in the comments. 

15 Fun Gifts for Dad that Don’t Break the Budget

It’s Dad’s time, and you want to go all out to make your all-time favorite hero happy. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you need to drain your wallet. You can make Dad’s day, and keep your budget, too. Here are 15 fun and low-cost gifts that’ll make Dad smile this Father’s Day.

  1. IPhone, Apple Watch and AirPod charging dock

This awesome charging dock can give some juice to an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods all at the same time. With a sleek design and sturdy structure, the dock is compatible with Apple Watches and iWatches of all sizes and styles, and with all iPhone models as well. Get Dad’s 3-in-1 charging station for just $19 on Amazon

  1. BenShot pint glass with real golf ball

Does Dad love to golf? Surprise him with this unique pint glass that has a real golf ball embedded in it. Make him smile every time he fills up a frothy glass. Just $26 on Amazon.

  1. KingCamp foldable fire pit

This awesome travel fire pit is like a campfire on the go. The rollable stainless steel net and folding legs are collapsible and compact enough to take anywhere. No assembly needed—just unroll and light up! Get yours here.

  1.  Classic charades

You don’t have to spend much to make Dad happy. The classic game of Charades, just $12 at Chroniclebooks.com, will help create warm family memories well beyond Father’s Day.

  1. Open bottle wine rest

This adorable mountain-shaped wine bottle rest is the perfect gift for the outdoorsy dad who loves to enjoy a good glass of wine and save the rest for later.

  1. 6. Rainbow socks pizza socks box

Everyone knows you can never have enough novelty socks. The pizza-box packaging of these socks makes them a super-fun Father’s Day gift. Just $26 on Amazon

  1.  Baby Yoda device holder

Let the Force be with Dad when you give him this device-holder that’s shaped like a baby Yoda. Prop up phones, video game controllers, and more. $25 on UrbanOutfitters.

  1. Bluetooth speaker beanie

With its built-in Bluetooth speakers and a super-warm design, Dad won’t want to take this beanie off all winter! Just $28 on Amazon.

  1. Mosiyeef pop-up wallet with money clip

Dad can finally toss that overstuffed and worn-out wallet when you gift him this minimalist, ultra-modern one! Crafted from aluminum and stainless steel, this pop-up wallet is lightweight, yet functional, holding up to six cards at a time, all of which can pop up at the push of a button. Available in 16 colors for only $19 on Amazon.  

  1.  Fitness dice

At-home workouts are fun again with this innovative fitness dice set. Every roll gives you one out of 45,000 possible routines, all with no equipment required. Only $19 at uncommongoods.com.

  1. Bean Box coffee subscription

If Dad loves his morning cup of Joe, he’ll love getting a regular delivery of fresh bags of whole bean coffee from artisanal brand Bean Box. Subscriptions are highly customizable and start at just $16.50.

  1. Chillsner

Dad will never have to wait for his drink to chill again when he has this nifty little gadget. Keep the Chillsner in the freezer and pop it into any drink for an instantly chilled beverage. $10 at uncommongoods.com.

13.  Marvel’s greatest comics

Let Dad dive into an anthology of the greatest Marvel comics of all times, including all-time favorites like Iron Man, Captain America and more. Get the collection here.

  1. Harry’s Truman shave set

Dad will look dapper when he uses this luxury shave set, complete with a signature handle, textured rubber grip, three German-engineered blade cartridges, foaming shave gel and more. $15 from Harry’s

  1. Zippo FireFast torch

It’s a blazing flame whenever Dad wants it. Ultra-hot and precise, the torch will help Dad get his outdoor fire pit going, add some char to his entree or dessert or light up a dark campsite. $15 on Amazon.

It doesn’t cost much to make Dad happy. Use this guide to find the perfect gift for Dad that doesn’t break the budget.

Your Turn: What’s your gift to Dad this Father’s Day? Tell us about it in the comments. 

4 Ways to Stay Financially Fit this Summer

Ahh…summer! The season of flip-flops and sunscreen, of lemonade and baseball games. What’s not to love about summer?

Unfortunately, though, summer is also the season of overspending for many. When the sun is blazing across a cloudless sky and the day stretches on with endless possibilities, purse strings are looser and cards are swiped with abandon. But nothing kills summer fun like a busted budget and a mountain of debt. So, how can you stay financially fit this summer?

Keeping your finances intact throughout the summer is well within reach if you’re ready to plan ahead and make responsible choices. Here are four hacks for a summer of financial fitness. 

  1. Prepare for a possible change in income

If you’re a freelancer, business owner or you get paid per diem, you can expect to see a drop in income during the summer months. Business is notoriously slower across a wide range of industries during the summer, so it’s best to be prepared for this reality. To avoid dipping into savings or going into debt, you can trim your discretionary spending and use the extra funds to cover non-discretionary expenses. You can also choose to find a side hustle for the summer to cover the gap in your income. 

  1. Get your budget ready for summer

Your budget will see some changes in the summertime, and it’s a good idea to prepare in advance instead of being caught unaware. Here are some changes you can anticipate:

  • Higher utility bills. With the AC blasting, your energy costs will likely be higher. Water costs can rise, too, especially if you water your lawn and any outdoor plants and flowers on a regular basis. 
  • Increase in fuel prices. Just when you thought it couldn’t go any higher, the price of fuel is likely to jump again in the summer. 
  • Travel expenses. Of course, if you’ll be traveling this summer, it’s going to cost you. If you haven’t yet budgeted for your getaway, start saving up and/or trimming costs from other categories in your budget now.
  • Social events. It’s wedding season, and they don’t come cheap, even if you’re not the one in the white gown. You may also receive invites or host other events during the summer months, such as family reunions, block parties, anniversary celebrations and more. It’s best to budget for gifts, the travel costs of attending these events and of course, for the expense of hosting, if applicable.
  • Activities for kids. School’s out, and the kids need to be kept busy. Aim for free activities whenever possible, but you may want to set aside some funds in your budget for occasional activities that have a price tag attached. 
  1. Create a vacation budget 

Aside from adjusting your monthly spending plan, you’ll want to build a workable budget for your summer getaway to avoid overspending. Money choices are nearly always better made in advance, so plan for every conceivable expense during your vacation. Attach a dollar amount for your hotel stay, car rental, food costs, transportation expenses, entertainment and outings, gifts, and any other cost you might have. Leave a bit of wiggle room for miscalculations, but try to keep your budget as close to the actual cost as possible. While on vacation, be careful not to go over budget and be open to a last-minute change of plans if some expenses end up being substantially higher than expected. 

  1. Review and adjust as necessary

Like going off a diet, blowing a budget is never an excuse to go all out and overspend without sparing a thought to the consequences. To avoid falling into this trap, resolve to review your budget and your overall spending on a regular basis throughout the summer. You can choose to do this weekly, or bi-weekly, but be sure to take a careful account of every dollar in and every dollar out. Being aware of the state of your finances in real-time instead of waking up after the damage has been done will make it easier to make responsible choices going forward. 

The temptation to overspend is especially strong during the summer. Follow these tips to keep your finances intact throughout the summer. 

Your Turn: How do you plan to stay financially fit this summer? Share your tips with us in the comments.

Step 5 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Practice Mindful Spending

Creating a budget and deciding to stick to it is easy; it’s actually carrying through on your plan that’s the hard part. For too many people, financial responsibility ends at having good intentions and real life gets in the way of all well-laid plans. A large part of the discrepancy between what they want to do and what they actually do is caused by their failure to spend mindfully. When every indulgence and impulse buy is just a swipe away, it can be super-challenging to rein in that spending instinct – but it is possible. Here’s how to learn the art of mindful spending. 

Find alternative ways to de-stress

Too often, people claim they need “retail therapy” and use it as an excuse to practice mindless spending. But choosing to turn to shopping for alleviating stress, dealing with a challenging situation or just to escape real life for a bit makes it very difficult to make smart, responsible choices. In addition, the bills, or debt that will likely accumulate as a result will increase stress levels considerably. Instead, it’s best to find another way to lift a heavy mood. Find someone to talk to, take a long, hot bath, go for a jog while listening to your favorite pick-me-up playlist or take up a forgotten hobby again. 

Consider disabling the one-click feature for online shopping

If you’re big into online shopping and often end up buying more than you’d planned, you may want to disable the one-click feature on sites like Amazon. You can also choose not to have your device “remember” your payment information so you have to input it whenever you shop. The more resistance or friction required to complete a purchase, the greater the chances of that purchase being a mindful choice and not a decision you’ll soon regret. 

Leave your cards and cash at home

When you don’t plan on spending any money, don’t take any with you. For safety reasons, you may choose to carry a card with you, but it’s a good idea to keep it as out-of-reach as possible. If you make all your payments with your phone, keep it tucked away, too. Similarly, if you’re hitting the shops to pick up a specific item, bring just the amount you’ll need for the purchase and nothing more. 

Put large purchases on hold

One of the best ways to avoid buyer’s remorse is to put all large purchases on hold. Set your own dollar amount for what you consider to be a large purchase and resolve to wait a while before completing any purchase in that amount or more. For example, you can decide to wait two weeks for every purchase of $50 or more. Delaying a large purchase will give you time to think it over and consider whether you really want to spend this money now. Of course, if you’ve been saving up for a large purchase for a while, you’ve already thought about the purchase and decided it’s worthwhile. 

Avoid temptation

It’s hard to keep telling yourself no when temptation is constantly flashing across your screen. Opt out of social media accounts that get you to spend more than you should, and unsubscribe from email lists. Avoid browsing on brand sites that often trigger overspending and only visit when you need to make a purchase. You can do this in real life as well, being careful to avoid shops that provoke mindless spending. Similarly, when shopping for groceries, keep away from aisles and checkout counters that cause you to overspend and purchase more than you have on your list. 

Mindless spending can be the undoing of the most carefully-crafted budget. Follow these tips to learn how to spend mindfully. 

Your Turn: How do you practice mindful spending? Share your best tips and tricks in the comments.