How to drive down you vacation budget

The 4th of July holiday weekend is typically the busiest time for auto travel. According to AAA, more than 37 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles over this holiday weekend (down a bit from 2008). While gas prices are a bit lower than last year’s $3+ per gallon, they have risen recently—possibly making this summer’s last-minute, carefree road trips unrealistic for some. Before you give up on your dreams of a family vacation, take the time to sit down and develop a plan. Following are a few suggestions to make this summer’s vacations more enjoyable and less draining on family pocket books.

-Avoid paying with plastic. Planning to pay for gas by credit card is definitely not a wise financial move; gas cards typically have higher than average interest rates than other credit cards. If you must use credit, use a general purpose card with affordable terms and make a plan for a quick pay off.

-Create a budget. If you know you will be paying more for gas, seek other areas to cut expenses. For example, consider packing food for the drive rather than purchasing it along the way. Skip the costly premium gas unless your car actually needs it; it will not get you better mileage or more power.

-Plan out your trip. Gas prices vary quite a bit from one city to another. Plan out your route so that you don’t get stuck paying extra for gas because you have no choice. Visit GasPriceWatch.com to compare gas prices.

-Drive sensibly. Excessive speed and a lot of accelerating and breaking can waste gas. Driving sensibly can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent when driving at highway speeds and by 5 percent when cruising around town. Using your cruise control is one good way to regulate your speed.

-Look into alternatives. Research other methods of transportation including traveling by bus or train. Not only could you save some money, but the trip could be considered an adventure in and of itself.

Finally, if you can’t afford the rising cost of transportation, explore your own state. Visit the local Chamber of Commerce or Visitors Bureau to find out about free or low-cost entertainment and activities. You may be surprised to discover local parks, playgrounds, museums, community concerts, annual festivals, art exhibits, fairs and craft shows to enhance your summer without breaking your budget.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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