Summertime usually means a little more downtime—but instead of using it all to splash around in the pool, consider shoring up your finances, too. We asked top financial experts throughout the country for ideas on how Americans can improve their financial lives as the temperatures outside soar. Here are 20 of their best ideas:
1. Start plotting for that raise. Farnoosh Torabi, author of Psych Yourself Rich, says summer is the perfect time to stand out at the office, especially as coworkers start leaving early on Fridays or taking week-long breaks. "Come fall, you'll have built some impressive momentum and can ask for that raise with even more confidence," she says.
2. Clean out your closet and sell the leftovers. "It might be sweltering outside, but fall fashions are already hitting store shelves, so now is a great time to do a little closet cleaning," says Linda Descano, president and chief executive of Women & Co., a website aimed at women and published by Citigroup. Then, she suggests, earn money by selling unwanted items at a secondhand shop or through eBay.
3. Make money through creative methods. Torabi suggests selling used electronics online through sites such as gazelle.com, hosting a large yard sale with a neighbor, or, if you live in a destination popular among tourists, renting out your driveway to visitors through a site such as parkatmyhouse.com.
Overhaul your savings and spending habits.
4. Don't be tempted by higher-yielding accounts. Helaine Olen, author of the forthcoming personal-finance book Pound Foolish, warns, "Any adviser or broker who promises to increase your return should be jettisoned at once." That's because increasing one's yield requires taking on more risk—not something anyone should do with their short-term savings. She suggests keeping your money safe in a money-market fund or FDIC-insured bank account instead.
5. Take advantage of easy-to-use budgeting tools. To maximize your hours at the pool or beach, consider using a online budgeting tool that allows you to quickly see and manage all your accounts, from 401(k)s to mortgages to bank accounts, in one place, suggests Descano. That way, she says, you'll have an easy-to-access snapshot of your net worth.
6. Consider moving. Carmen Wong Ulrich, president of ALTA Wealth Management, a financial planning firm, says homes can turn into people's biggest expense, and biggest headache. "It may be your culprit when it comes to never feeling like you can catch up or get ahead, financially or even professionally," she says. That's why she recommends thinking about whether downsizing makes sense, and calculating how much you could save each month by doing so.
7. Refinance. Interest rates continue to march along at all-time lows, which means homeowners might be able to increase their monthly cash flow by refinancing, says Olen. If rates end up dropping again, you can always refinance again, she adds.
Go on a different kind of vacation.
8. Check amenities in advance. Chris McGinnis, Best Western's business travel expert and blogger at youmustbetrippin.com, suggests always checking to make sure what he calls the "three key amenities" are included in your hotel rate: Wi-fi, breakfast, and parking. He estimates that a family of four can save at least $50 a day that way. A new hotel booking website, room77.com, makes it easy for users to filter search results based on availability of those amenities, he adds.
9. Wait until late August. Since many children are going to back to school earlier, toward the end of August, traveling at that time can often result in incredible deals. "Rates and fares take a big dip as demand begins to wane around August 20. Most fall sales begin around then," says McGinnis.
10. Get creative with "staycation" plans. If you decide to stay home to save money, then Ornella Grosz, author of Moneylicious: A Financial Clue for Generation Y, suggests using sites such as Groupon, Living Social, and Bloomspot.com to snag the best deals in your neighborhood.