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  • The staycation. Summer's money saving grace.

    by:
    Laurie Campbell

    Canadian families will spend an average of $3,073 on summer travel this year, according to a recent study by BMO Financial Group. Ontarians, with average vacation spending set at $3,016, rank second behind British Columbians, who will spend $3,572. Quebecers will spend the least at $1,978. Through September of 2013, 83 per cent of Canadians plan on taking a vacation, the top travel destinations being the U.S., Europe, and Central and South America.

    I look to my home province of Ontario for insight into what might happen if, for just this year alone, thanks to proper financial planning families decided to save some money by sticking close to home for a summer break. Would this mean making a huge sacrifice in terms of experiencing much-needed R&R over the summer months? Will spouses and kids fall into deep pits of depression, gloom, and boredom? The answer is not at all if you’ve got a handle on how to plan a “staycation” – otherwise known as taking your summer leisure locally on the cheap.

    Just ahead, I’m going to provide some budget tips regarding staycations. But before doing so, let’s return to the $3,073 I earmarked for savings rather than big-time travel. Think of it as a tidy sum for disbursement over the course of a family fiscal year starting after the next Labour Day weekend (the unofficial close of summer). It doesn’t take much imagination to see how a family could spend that money to good effect on things other than travel, and perhaps ease monthly budget concerns a little - or a lot.

    Smart debt management over the summer can make a big difference over the whole year, with a view above all to avoiding debt problems.

    Think in terms of what more than $3,000 could cover in relation to back-to-school costs alone - new clothes for the kids, school supplies, lunch money, transportation, sports equipment, even college fees. Think of small family pleasures regularly experienced over a longer term; for instance, nights out for dinner, a movie, or a special event. Imagine easing the financial strain of the Christmas season simply with some wise financial coaching. And the list goes on.

    Truth is, plenty of Canadians get their summer fun at the high cost of credit card debt. So the R&R that’s designed to relieve stress only adds to it when the bills come due.   Thus, we come to the idea of the staycation, which as a matter of fact is growing in popularity according to recent studies. A growing number of Canadians feel they can’t afford vacations to far-flung destinations and are looking for things to see and do right here at home. Thankfully, we live in a country rife with natural beauty just waiting to be explored again and again. Not to mention, our cities and local communities feature plenty of cultural offerings. Just take the time to learn more about your community and region – wherever you are in Canada - and you’ll soon see what I mean.

    With research and a little financial coaching from Credit Canada, a staycation can be both fun and rejuvenating. But you’ve got to get serious about the matter, treating the staycation with the same respect you would give to a vacation to an exotic clime. To begin with, avoid a random approach. Set a start date and an end date for your staycation. Then – with the help of all the resources available through the Internet - plan all that you can see and do during the time period. Otherwise, you could end up spending valuable leisure time on projects like cleaning out the garage, watching TV, cruising Facebook, or simply brooding.

    Put yourself in the mindset of a traveller who might be travelling to distant shores. Direct incoming phone calls to your answering machine; put emails on hold; declare a moratorium on Internet communication. Or if that’s too much to ask, then have some fun providing an imaginative online travelogue about your staycation, again treating it as an exotic adventure. The key here is to assume the attitude of a tourist in your own community and region.

    Absurd as this might sound, it can actually be a lot of fun. Get the whole family into the swing of acting like tourists, dressing like tourists, and being as curious as tourists. Indeed, challenge family members to come up with ideas for local places to visit and things to see and do. Take lots of photos of everyone having a ball.

    Here are some tips for making a staycation memorable and fun:

    • Check out local festivals, fairs and free events in your area.

    • Visit local or regional museums and historical sites.

    • Sign up for www.groupon.com and get 50 to 70 per cent off recreational activities and restaurants in large urban centres. Discounts are also found through www.livingsocial.comwww.wagjag.com.

    • Visit interesting parks and wilderness areas within reasonable driving distance from home; look into beaches, campgrounds, and habitat featuring wildlife. Consider day trips involving cycling, hiking, canoeing etc.

    • For the more adventurous, try camping free of charge along a lake or river somewhere off the beaten track in your region.

    • Purchase “entertainment booklets” for your city (or largest nearby city); the booklets offer all kinds of two-for-one coupons for activities and restaurants.

    • Depending on your region, you might create your own wine tasting tour (with a designated driver, of course); or you could spend a day picking fruit, fishing, tracking birds etc.

    • Look into what your community offers in terms of recreation programs and consider enrolling in them.

    • As part of the staycation, build plans around learning new hobbies or skills – nature tours, photography courses, cooking classes, art courses etc.

    • If lakes are accessible by day trip, take full advantage of them as destinations. Swim, rent a boat, explore lakeside trails, enjoy the scenery, or just soak up the sun on a warm beach.

    • You and the family can include volunteer work in your staycation plans: identify a cause, festival, or event that you and the kids like and sign up.

    • When you find yourself in peaceful surroundings, you might want to have a good book in tow; few soul- nourishing pleasures match reading a good yarn while swinging in a hammock or reclining on a beach on a warm summer day.

    • Some old-fashioned fun can be built into your staycation plans: a drive-in movie; a neighbourhood potluck BBQ to launch or close your staycation.

    These are just a few idea starters. Above all, remember that if you put your mind to it, you can create your own fun this summer without spending a lot of coin. Also, don’t pass up the opportunity to use credit card or grocery store reward points to fund part of your staycation. Check to see what points you have to put towards things like free movie passes, free restaurant gift cards, or free admission to local or regional attractions.

    May the sun – and a pleasing bank balance - guide you this summer.

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