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Entertain Your Family This Summer Without Breaking the Bank

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Entertain Your Family This Summer Without Breaking the Bank

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy — but paying for it can be hard. These next few months can take a real toll on the family bank account.

Whether it’s a trip abroad or costly day camps for kids, arranging activities that you really can’t afford can do a world of damage to your wallet and leave you mired in credit card debt.

“We’d all love to head to Europe or take the kids to Disney World,” says Carrie Houchins-Witt, a financial advisor in Coralville, Iowa. “But before setting lofty expectations, you need to revisit your budget to see if you have stayed on track.”

Here are some more tips on how to stay busy without going overboard.

Use your flexible spending account to pay for day camps

If you’ve already set up a dependent care flexible spending account (FSA), you can use that money to pay for child care. Up to $5,000 of your pretax income can go into a dependent care FSA each year, and parents can use that cash to cover day camps, Houchins-Witt points out. Overnight camps don’t qualify.

There are a few other eligibility requirements to be aware of, she says. Children must be younger than 13, and you and your spouse need to be working or actively seeking employment while kids are at camp.

Plan a stay-at-home vacation

Although the strong dollar may tempt you into traveling abroad, doing so can still cost an arm and a leg, especially if you have children. Instead, consider planning a stay-at-home vacation, or staycation.

Explore museums and other famous landmarks around your hometown, and keep an eye out for discounts for children and senior citizens. Although cooking meals at home instead of going out can further cut costs, try not to work too hard during your time off.

“Treat a staycation like any other vacation,” says Julie Hall, a spokeswoman for AAA, the motorist advocacy group. “Set a budget and a daily itinerary. Unplug from work. Don’t run errands or spend time on household chores.”

Go on a road trip

Consider dusting off your Rand McNally road atlas — or hitting up Google Maps — to organize a road trip. This can be ideal for families who long for a change of scenery but would rather not dip into savings to finance a far-flung getaway.

“Get the whole family’s buy-in by checking out books from the library and gathering around the map together to plan your route,” says Houchins-Witt, who will be taking her 7- and 8-year-old sons to Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park this summer.

To get a sense of how much you’ll spend on gas, Hall recommends AAA’s fuel cost calculator. Factor that estimate into your budget to figure out how much money you can spend on other activities while traveling.

Book wisely

If you’ve managed to set aside some money for a trip but are still struggling to stay within your budget, consider bundling your various reservations, says Ingrid Belobradic, an Expedia travel expert.

“Book your flight and hotel, flight and rental car, rental car and hotel, whatever the combination, together to save major bucks,” says Belobradic. Travelers, she says, can save hundreds of dollars by opting for package deals. Doing so allows “those savings to go toward activities for your trip.”

Timing also plays an important role. Increase your chances of a seating upgrade by traveling during off-peak flight times, Belobradic says. Expedia research shows that people can save the most money on airfare by booking Thursday departures and Monday return flights.


The takeaway

There’s plenty of fun to be had in your hometown or on the open road. These more affordable kinds of summer adventures can allow you to build family memories without emptying your wallet.

Of course, if you’ve worked hard to save up for a trip abroad, you needn’t abandon your plans. But don’t forget to be a smart shopper. Booking your flights on certain days or taking advantage of package deals can help get you to your summer destination while keeping your financial outlook sunny, too.

-Tony Armstrong, staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet.

Tips to Prevent Identity Theft and Fraud - www.nerdwallet.com

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Tips to Prevent Identity Theft and Fraud - www.nerdwallet.com

Tips to Prevent ID Theft and Fraud from our friends at www.nerdwallet.com

Recent data breaches at retailers such as Target and Home Depot might have you worried about identity theft and fraud, but you can minimize the risk of it happening to you. Here are a few strategies to keep your information safe both online and off.

Online Security

Make your passwords complex, with a mix of numbers, letters and keyboard characters and change them regularly. Keep them at least 10 characters long. Also update them at least once a year and don’t share them with anyone.

Before anything else, confirm that the network and the website you’ve reached through it are secure. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks such as in a coffee shop when sending private information. Check to see that the site you’re on is secure by looking for “https” in its address and a padlock symbol. You may be able to use your phone to set up a mobile hot spot when you need to go online in public spaces.

Check your bank and credit accounts regularly to catch signs of theft or fraud. Examine monthly statements. If you see any unfamiliar transactions, notify your bank or card issuer immediately to limit your liability. Also, watch carefully for notices from state and federal tax authorities, as tax-related identity theft is an increasing problem. Check out this Internal Revenue Service guide for more information.

Set up email notifications with your bank. When using online services, financial institutions like Benchmark Bank let you create emailed notices when your account settings are changed, so you’ll be alerted if that happens without your permission.

Offline Measures

Keep sensitive information out of sight. Don’t leave any personal or financial documents in plain sight in your car, home or workplace. Purchase cabinets or a carrying case with locks and store them there.

Limit the cards you carry. When you’re out running errands, take only one or two credit and debit cards and leave the rest at home. In case of theft, you’ll have spare cards to use.

Shred old receipts and statements. Don’t just throw away your mail. Cut up unnecessary or outdated receipts, credit card offers, medical and bank statements, insurance forms and other forms with sensitive information so they can’t fall into the hands of potential criminals when you toss them out.

Consolidate emergency contact information. If you experience identity theft, you’ll want to have all the numbers and websites you need close at hand. This includes your bank’s fraud hotline number, credit card issuers and your personal contacts. You’ll also want to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. For steps on that, see the Federal Trade Commission page.

Keeping your information protected both online and offline can take some time and effort, but the enhanced security will reduce the risk — and cost — of identity theft.

Spencer Tierney, NerdWallet

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