Summertime and the savings is easy

Is your savings account feeling a little dry? Summer is a great time to pour some extra cash into your savings. The summer months present all sorts of great opportunities for saving. All you need is a willingness to pay attention and take advantage of the summer's special circumstances.

Summer can seem like an easy time to spend money like water. There are summer vacations to take, summer camps to pay for if you have kids, and summer sales on everything from new clothes to appliances. How can you hold onto your cash during the hot months?

By keeping a cool head and looking for sweet summer savings instead of seizing every chance to spend.

Expenses are lower

First, recognize that your regular expenses on things like utilities take a dive in the summer. You're not paying massive heating bills during this season, which can mean hundreds of dollars a month in savings (assuming you can accept having a pretty warm house, and don't need to run air conditioning all day long).

Longer days mean having the lights on less often. Fair weather may mean you can park your car and walk or bike to work. Given the high cost of gas, you're looking at a sizable savings if you can cut back your car use and do your commute and errands on foot instead.

You can also save on groceries. Whether you join a CSA or patronize your local farmer's market, you'll likely find that prices for fruits and vegetables go down during the summer growing season as well.

Fun is free

In the dead of winter, I'll pay $8 for a day pass to the nearby indoor playspace so my kids can romp and shout with abandon. It's worth it to get them out of the house for a few hours. In summer, the playground offers the same kind of fun for free.

Going beyond the playground, summer offers us a chance to get outside for hiking, berry picking, swimming, biking and all kinds of free or cheap outdoor activities. Winter sports like skiing generally require expensive equipment and lift passes to fully enjoy. In the summer we just fall out the front door and zoom off on our bikes or on foot, heading for outdoor adventure.

Even if you don't live in a cold climate where the outdoors is pretty much closed for business half the year, you'll find summer a sweet time for free outdoor fun. My hometown hosts frequent free concerts, a weekly free film night and a weekend-long family-oriented street fair. There are also any number of arts festivals and Old Home Days in the surrounding communities. We can spend our summer evenings and weekends enjoying free cultural events and the great outdoors at the same time.

Savings are sweet

So you're spending less and having fun for free. Summer is great, right? Careful. All the money you save on those lowered expenses can disappear into spontaneous ice cream outings and trips to amusement parks if you're not paying attention.

To make the most of your summer savings, do some homework. Calculate what you're not spending on heating bills and gas for your car. Then set up an automated deposit to whisk that money away into your online savings account as soon as your paycheck comes in. If you don't see the money sitting in your checking account, you'll be less tempted to splurge.

Keeping your savings in a dedicated online savings account at a bank like ING Direct is a great idea. Not only will you be less tempted to touch your nest egg, but you'll earn a higher interest rate on the money you're saving. It can also be a fun game to see your savings grow over the course of the summer. It's a great feeling to look at a bank statement and think with pride, "There's all the money I didn't spend!"

The summer can be a great season to kick-start a savings goal, like seeding your emergency fund, saving for a big purchase or even saving up for next summer's vacation. You may not be able to maintain that savings rate when your winter expenses kick back in, but you'll have gotten a good head start on your goal.

What will you do with your summer savings?

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