IF YOU’RE GOING to spend some time at the Shore this summer, you can do it without going broke. It just takes some planning, some budgeting and lots of discipline. Here’s what you need to remember to be certain your Shore vacation isn’t a budget buster.
WHAT YOU CAN BUDGET FOR
You know you’re going to have to pay for a hotel or house rental and you know how many meals you’ll have to provide for your family. But before you book a place, look for some deals. For example, some hotels offer discounted meals at certain restaurants, while you can find coupons for local supermarkets if your rental has a kitchen. If you’re not sure what’s available, check out the town’s website before you book, or ask your real estate agent to send you those free magazines that are filled with discount offers.
There’s no rule that says you have to eat every meal in a restaurant or standing at a counter on the boardwalk. Many hotels offer kitchenettes in their rooms, and while you may not be able to whip up pancakes, omelets and bacon, you can certainly dish out cereal and less exotic — as well as cheaper — fare. Breakfast out for a family of four can easily cost up to $50 a day. Compare that to a box or two of cereal, a gallon of milk and some store-bought OJ. You can save hundreds of dollars.
Write down an actual budget that includes meals in, meals out and everything in between. Also, look for a rental or hotel that offers beach tags as part of your fee. Just make sure not to lose the tags, which could cost $100 each to replace.
WHAT YOU SHOULD BUDGET FOR
If you plan to pack lunch from home and hang out on the sand all day, each day could be relatively inexpensive. But few people do the Shore like that. Especially if you have kids, there will be temptations around every corner. Consider these discretionary expenses — the wants, not the needs — and include them in your budget.
Add to your spending plan: tickets for amusement rides and money for arcade games. If you expect to spend a day taking surf lessons or another activity, budget for that, too. If you have kids, consider giving each a spending allowance for souvenirs. If little Sally throws a tantrum because she just has to have that hermit crab (and a cage, and ongoing food costs and extra shells for the crab as it grows), but her allowance is gone, don’t give in.
And if boardwalk ice cream is your nightly ritual, add that to your budget.
ANTICIPATE THE UNEXPECTED
Be ready for a day of bad weather. If it rains and you need something to do with the family — museum, an aquarium, a movie — it will cost you. You can beat the cost by bringing your own fun, such as board games or a couple of family favorite DVDs. Or create some fun. If you’re not afraid to get wet, try a scavenger hunt of sorts along the boardwalk.
Pack an emergency bag from home to replace broken flip-flops, missing bathing suits, lost beach towels and other items the family might need. Bringing from home is cheaper than buying new. Same goes for medications, bandages and other first-aid items. You can buy them at the Shore, but they’ll cost more. And don’t forget the extra sunscreen, the price of which is always higher near the sand.
FIND WHAT’S FREE
Throughout the summer, there are plenty of free things to do. You can find activities in those free magazines. Or just go for a walk along the boardwalk (on the side opposite the shops), where you’ll find musicians, jugglers and entertainment of all kinds.
CASH IS KING
Whatever your budget, you will save money if you bring cash. Having cash on hand will help you avoid last-minute withdrawals from ATMs not associated with your bank, which charge fees. And sure, you can use a credit card, but if you haven’t set money aside, you could spend months paying interest on that cheesesteak meal, making it, ultimately, as expensive as an actual steak dinner.
Karin Price Mueller, the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com, writes the Bamboozled consumer affairs column for The Star-Ledger, and the Money and Biz Brain columns for Inside Jersey. Send your money questions to her at Bamboozled@njadvancemedia.com.