12 Money-Savvy Vacation Tips Help Families Take a Break

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Bills.com suggests ways to mesh funds, family and fun this summer

This summer's prices are melting wallets faster than the July sun liquefies ice cream -- but Ethan Ewing, president of Bills.com (http://www.bills.com), has compiled a list of ideas to help families fit the fun they want into the funds they have.

"Memorable summer breaks can be had even for those whose wallets are a little bare this year," Ewing said.

With gas prices averaging 97 cents per gallon higher than 2007 and food prices more than 5 percent higher than they were a year ago, consumers are feeling the pinch. In another recent survey, travelers were advised to budget $244 per day for food and lodging for just two adults traveling.

For those feeling pressured by rising costs, Ewing suggests these ideas:

1.    Make a budget. First, decide how much you can spend on vacation. For future trips, put vacation costs into your annual budget and save a little each month (even the change from your pockets every day will help). Do not go into debt to take a vacation.

2.    Timing is everything. A two-week tour can require a great deal of planning, packing, and expense. As an option, remember that fun can fit into a long weekend, too. If you want to visit a tourist hotspot, plan your trip during the week to avoid crowds.

3.    Stay put. A great way to save money is a "staycation," a vacation where you stay at home. Visit tourist sites in your hometown that you have never seen, eat at a restaurant you always wanted to try, or order in. Turn off the phone, ignore e-mail, and hit the game center, run through the sprinkler, finish a project, or roast marshmallows and sleep under the stars in your own backyard.

4.    Compare rates. If you travel far, carefully consider airfare, gas prices and travel time to find the best way to travel. Order plane tickets well in advance of your trip for the best prices. Traveling mid-week can save a bundle. Consider, if you fly, whether you must rent a car. If you visit a city, you might be able to get by with public transportation instead of a car rental -- saving hundreds of dollars.

5.    Camp out. Save on lodging by camping in a tent, RV (borrowed, rented, or owned) or at a rental cabin. Bring food and linens and "rough it" so you can splurge on an activity, from a simple hike to a wild ride at an amusement park. Visit a state park near your hometown or in a destination you have longed to visit.

6.    Visit loved ones. Staying with friends or relatives is a time-honored money-saver. Just be sure to treat them to a nice meal out and spring for a grocery shopping trip while you are there -- and pick up after yourselves.

7.    Save with a home away from home. Save money on lodging and meals by staying at a place where you can prepare your own meals and spread out in more space than a hotel. Trade homes with a friend or relative, rent or trade through a reputable home exchange, or housesit to save big on a longer stay -- even in a foreign country.

8.    Get hotel deals. When renting a hotel room or condo, check "pick your own price" Web sites and bid for the lowest price you can. Also check sites like eBay, where time-share owners sometimes liquidate unreserved rentals at great prices. Then find out what your hotel offers - from a nice pool to free afternoon snacks - and make the most of it.

9.    Coupon crazy. Before you go to your destination, go online to select activities you might want to do. Then search the Web for your activity and the word "coupon." Many places offer two-for-one, free lunch, kids-free or percentage-off coupons online. Print them out and bring them along to save.

10.    Eat in. Pack a picnic lunch and eat at the park. Use the hotel room's microwave, or order a pizza from the local Italian restaurant instead of dining out.

11.    Drink water. Refrain from ordering soda or, especially, alcoholic beverages at every meal. You'll save $2 to $8 per person, per meal -- and your waistline will thank you.

12.    Walk. The best way to see a new place is to experience it. Wear comfortable shoes and take a walking tour or just explore. It is good exercise -- and won't break the bank.

"It is possible to take a break this summer and enjoy your family, your friends or just the warm summer breezes without spending a bundle," Ewing said. "Vacation is a great way to relax and rejuvenate -- on any budget."

Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com (http://www.bills.com) is a free one-stop portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. As the online portal to Freedom Financial Network, LLC, the company has served more than 40,000 customers nationwide since 2002 while managing more than $1 billion in consumer debt. Its RSS feed is available at http://www.bills.com/news_releases/.

In 2008, Entrepreneur Magazine ranked Bills.com as the No. 3 fastest-growing U.S. company on its Hot 100 list. Bills.com also was named a finalist as "most innovative company" in the American Business Awards in 2008. Company co-founders and co-CEOs Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh were named to the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal's "40 Under 40" list in 2008, and received the Northern California Ernst & Young 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year Award for online services.

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Aimee Bennett

Ethan Ewing
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