Ways to save on summer essentials

Deals expert offers tips for saving big this season

If you plan to have fun this summer, you don’t have break the bank to do so.

“Saving money doesn’t have to sabotage your weekend plans; there are plenty of hassle-free ways to pay less for the items you want and need this summer,” said Kendal Perez, a deals expert, offers money-saving tips on her blog, HassleFreeSavings.com.

Perez is the marketing coordinator for Windsor, Colo.-based Kinoli Inc., which manages money-saving websites, including GiftCardGranny.com and MrFreeStuff.com, and has contributed savings advice to MSN Money, TIME Moneyland and Fox Business.

We asked her to tell you how you can save on summer essentials while at home and on vacation. Here are her expert tips.

Dine with gift cards.

“Escaping the summer heat often means friends and family gather on back patios or in air-conditioned dining rooms of restaurants,” Perez said. “You can save up to 30 percent on your bill by purchasing discount gift cards from GiftCardGranny.com to such restaurants as Olive Garden [Italian Restaurant], Panera Bread, Outback Steakhouse and many more. Just be sure to order several cards in advance so you have them on hand when hunger strikes.”

Look closely at labels.

“There’s no need to splurge on name-brand sunscreen to get the best protection,” Perez said. “Look for the words ‘broad spectrum protection’ on the label, and make sure avobenzone is one of the active ingredients. Both of these components offer the same protection in both generic and brand-name sunscreens.”

Pack snacks for savings.

“Road trips are a summertime must, but fuel and food costs add up quickly,” Perez said. “Avoid convenience store markups by packing your own snacks and drinks in a cooler, and use the money you save toward your fuel budget.”

Spend less on summer style.

“Sundresses, graphic tees and lightweight shorts are go-to garments after a long day in the sun,” Perez said. “Save on these summer staples by scouring racks at such discount retailers as T.J.Maxx and Marshalls, or use coupons to offset the cost of pricier items that transition well into fall.”

Find free things to do.

“Whether you’re road-tripping to a nearby town or chilling in your own ‘hood this summer, search for free sources of entertainment,” Perez said. “Sites like MrFreeStuff.com offer lists of free things to do in major cities, including such activities as hiking, concerts, brewery tours and must-see landmarks. If there’s not a list for the city you’re visiting, contact their visitor center for advice on free or cheap things to do.”

Use dollar-store party supplies.

“The summer isn’t complete without some outdoor entertaining, but party accoutrements can add up fast,” Perez said. “Hit up your local dollar store for disposable cups, plates, utensils and more, and also pick up some fun favors — like leis and activity sets — for visiting kids. Take attendees up on their inevitable offer to bring something, and save on the cost of hosting.”

Shop for shoes online.

“Espadrilles, flip flops and strappy wedges are all the rage for summertime footwear, but in-store offers aren’t the only deals shoe lovers should be looking at,” Perez said. “Browse online retailers like Piperlime and Endless(.com) for a great selection of footwear for women, men and children. Take advantage of free shipping both ways from these e-retailers by ordering multiple sizes and returning what doesn’t fit.”

Be smart about fuel prices.

“Whether you’re renting a car in a new place or cruising in unfamiliar territory near your hometown, use the GasBuddy app to help you save on fuel,” Perez said. “The app locates nearby gas stations and lists their current fuel price, letting you easily find the cheapest price.” [Note: Go to http://gasbuddy.com/ for more information.]

Tone up for free.

“Ditch the fitness clubs, and use the great outdoors to keep your beach body intact,” Perez said. “Creating an at-home exercise program now will help you save later when the weather turns cooler, since you can easily achieve your fitness goals without pricey club memberships. Take advantage of the warm weather and get your heart pumping by jogging, biking, swimming or playing tennis.”

Shop for the season.

“Summer is a great time to score fresh produce at a lower price than the rest of the year, since most items are in season over the warmer months,” Perez said. “Head to the farmers’ market for local fare, or buy what’s on special at your chain supermarket using promotion rotations to enjoy different produce every week.”

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