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How to enjoy your Labor Day 2016 weekend without racking up a credit card balance

By David Rathmanner

It’s Labor Day 2016 and time for that last big blast of summer, with trips to the beach, concerts and movie blockbusters.

The season can be expensive. If you have children, that becomes even truer; research shows that the average family spends $600 per child for summer activities. Furthermore, the warm weather and slower pace at work can make you forget about your finances, so it is easy for spending to get out of control and to build up credit card debt.

However, you do not need to spend a ton of money to have a great summer and holidays like Labor Day 2016. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the season and relax without racking up debt. Follow these steps to enjoy your summer without maxing out your credit cards:

Review your family’s finances: Before you make any plans or book a hotel, make sure you understand your finances completely. Ensure that you have adequate savings and if you have debt like student loans, that you are making your payments and are driving the balance down. Make goals for the rest of the year to keep you focused and to improve your financial picture.

Plan your spending: It is too easy to get caught up in the vacation feeling and start making impulse purchases. That can cause you to blow your budget quickly and end up with a lot of stuff you do not need. Instead, make sure you make a plan for your spending over the summer, budgeting for things like camp, vacation, eating out or whatever you and your family enjoy. And, you should look to cash in your credit card rewards to lower the costs of trips. You can look for points transfer programs to maximize the value of your hard earned points. If you have a detailed budget, you will be more likely to stay on track.

Be realistic: If you have credit card debt and little savings, that week-long cruise you were dreaming of this summer is just a bad idea. While you can rationalize it to yourself, it is a poor decision that could severely impact your finances. Be realistic and practical about what you can afford and plan accordingly. A stay-cation may be the best choice for you this year, so check out free and low-cost activities in your area. From concerts to outdoor movies, there are great frugal activities in most cities during the summer.

Stay on top of debt: Even as you work to prevent adding to your credit card debt, don’t neglect your balances over the summer. If you have been making extra payments towards your debt, keep that system going to keep making progress. Regularly check up on your accounts to ensure there are no illegitimate charges and to keep your credit score in good standing. In addition, you could consider using a balance transfer card to lower your interest expenses. Balance transfer cards are offered by most credit card companies such as American Express, Discover, and Capital One.

Automate payments (and savings): Paying your bills on time is a major part of your credit score; if you always make your payments on time, your score will be higher. Over the summer, set up auto-payments if you have not before. That way, your credit cards will be paid off automatically and on time each month, without you having to worry about it. Additionally, set aside an amount each month to save for retirement or your emergency fund. By making it something that just happens, you will not miss the money withdrawn.

Plan for next year: If this summer was not what you hoped it would be, start planning now for next year. Figure out how much your dream vacation would cost and set up a sub-account in your savings for a holiday fund. Each month, contribute to that account so that next summer, you can pay for your vacation in cash.

The summer months can lull you into vacation-mode and cause you to spend more than you should. By taking these steps and evaluating your financial situation, you can come up with a plan to make the most out of the summer without building up credit card debt.

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