After a year spent indoors, everyone wants to have a hot girl summer in 2021. But when your financial situation is still recovering from the pandemic, can you really afford to?
Whether you’re struggling to get by or just looking to save a few bucks, use these tips to go big this summer – without going over budget.
Cash in rewards points
Millions of Americans stocked up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectants during the pandemic. But many consumers inadvertently hoarded another item: credit card rewards points.
If you’re planning to reunite with high school friends or travel to a bachelorette party, cash in your points and miles to save on the trip. If you had to cancel a vacation due to the pandemic, redeem any remaining travel credit.
If you have more rewards points than you need, you may be able to redeem them for cash or as a statement credit on your card, which you can then use toward your trip.
Don’t have any rewards cards? Now may be a good time to sign up. Chase is currently offering a 100,000-point bonus for new cardholders who apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, or a 60,000-point bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Depending on where you’re going, that’s enough for a couple of flights or hotel stays.
Invite friends over for a swap
My new favorite tradition with friends is to host a swap. Everyone brings items they no longer need, and we take turns picking new-to-us items. Last time I got three dresses, a pair of Madewell overalls, a curling iron, and a dog bed.
You’re not limited to clothes at a swap. I encourage my friends to bring anything, including books, kitchenware, makeup and home decor. It’s a free way to get new items, and it encourages you to declutter your house.
Drink like a college student
Back in college, most people would have a couple drinks at home before venturing to the bars. If you’re going out with friends, consider starting with a drink or two at home.
Another money-saving trick is to eat a full meal before you go out, so you’re not tempted to grab pricey appetizers. If you’re getting drinks with your friends, limit yourself to basic cocktails instead of specialty cocktails, or stick to the draft list instead of buying a fancy bottle.
Create rules for yourself
Now that the world is opening up, it’s tempting to throw your budget away and treat yourself to everything you missed during the pandemic. Before doing that, set up some ground rules to keep yourself from going overboard.
For example, make a rule that if you’re getting dinner or brunch with friends, you won’t get take-out that week. These basic rules will help you spend less without having to give up what really matters.
Use a cash budget
Instead of bringing your credit card with you on a night out, only take the amount of cash you want to spend. You can still use your phone to order an Uber or Lyft, but you won’t have the temptation of a credit card. Decide how much you’re comfortable spending and only bring that amount.
Join a sports league
Group sports leagues like softball, soccer, or kickball are one of the most affordable ways to hang out with friends and get some exercise at the same time.
Most group leagues cost between $50 and $75 a person, depending on the sport, and usually last around six weeks. Sometimes you’ll even get a discount at a local bar where you can hang out afterwards.
Plan a budget-friendly trip
For the past few years, my college friends and I have met up every summer at my in-law’s lake house. The house is located near a small town in Indiana, only a few hour’s drive for most of us.
Instead of picking a more exotic locale, we prioritize saving money. It’s free to stay there, and we split the cost of groceries. I usually spend about $100 on gas, food, and drinks for a three-day trip.
If you’re considering a getaway with friends, get creative. Don’t automatically book a trip to Vegas or Miami. Pick a spot that’s close enough to drive, or near a popular airport where flights will be less expensive.
If you’re not lucky enough to have access to a family vacation home, look on Airbnb and VRBO for affordable destinations. Find a house with a stocked kitchen so you can cook most of your meals.
Pro tip: Use Mint’s free travel budget calculator to help you plan your next adventure.
Budget for it
When the world shut down last year, most of us got used to spending less on gas, bars, and new clothes. But as things start to open up, you may find your spending ramping back up.
Use this time to revise your budget and allocate money toward restaurants, rideshare services, and new outfits. As things return to normal, you may have to change your budget a few times before finding a happy balance. Give yourself some grace, as circumstances may change rapidly.
If you find budgeting for one month at a time difficult, give yourself a weekly allowance to use for non-essential purchases. Redirect some of your pandemic habits, like ordering take-out a few times a week, to your rediscovered social habits, like getting dinner with your friends.
Talk to your friends
While some consumers survived the pandemic without getting laid off, millions of Americans lost their jobs and remained unemployed for months. So while your friends may be ready to party, you might be focused on rebuilding your savings.
If you suffered financially during the pandemic, you may not be able to keep up with your friends this summer. Even though it may seem awkward to discuss your money problems openly, it’s better than making excuses.
If you lie about why you can’t hang out, your friends will think you’re avoiding them. But if you’re honest, they may accommodate you by suggesting budget-friendly activities. Give them the chance to understand, even if it means having an uncomfortable conversation. Who knows – one of them might be struggling as well, but too afraid to speak up.