Whether you’ve opted to celebrate the 4th of July close to home or by traveling to a far off destination, there are plenty of ways to host and attend festivities that won’t set your budget on fire. Here are seven to get you started.
Don’t toss that circular.
Even low-key backyard barbecues can add up to unexpected costs — providing food, condiments, drinks, and flatware can put a serious dent in your budget. To manage your expenses, plan in advance. Teri Gault, CEO and founder of The Grocery Game, an online tool that helps you find and compare grocery prices on thousands of items in your area, says, “The best deals for holiday meal planning are usually right under your nose — advertised in the store’s weekly circular. The maximum ‘limit’ per customer stipulations are usually an indicator of a killer deal, and if it’s something you know you’ll use, then stock up and ‘stack’ deals using a manufacturer and/or store coupons in tandem with the promotional pricing.”
You may not need five containers of steak sauce the store is practically giving away for free NOW, but Labor Day is right around the corner. Think of the future events you’ll hold and stock up when you find outstanding deals of at least 50% off on condiments, salad dressings, chips and even meats you can freeze. Gault says to choose a day when the sales week starts at the supermarkets in your area, pull up store circulars online, and then make a plan to snatch up great deals before they’re gone.
Find value on spirits.
If your 4th of July celebrations involve toasting with a few drinks, check out www.saveonbrew.com, a price search tool that polls over 50,000 stores and includes over 250,000 advertised beer sales based on your zip code. If wine is on your list, check out BevMo for their famous “buy one, get one for 5 cents” deal.
Don’t lose out on last-minute rates.
If you failed to find an affordable 4th of July getaway, it’s not too late, provided that you’re willing to be flexible and potentially haggle a bit. Gault suggests researching travel websites to check availability and gauge bargaining power. For example, hotels that have several rooms available close to the actual 4th of July holiday may present an opportunity to get a deal. Contact the property about a day in advance, speak to the manager, acknowledge that there are several vacant rooms left, and offer a discounted rate.
The same idea applies to lake houses, cabins and beach homes that are still available at the last minute, especially if you can contact the property owner directly. “A little bit of research can go a long way on Priceline, too,” says Gault. “I choose 4-star properties and research what they’re currently going for in the area I will bid on. Then, I typically bid about half the cost. I’m able to stay in 4-star hotels for less than the cost of a 2-star in most cities I visit.” (If you’ve already booked a hotel that allows a full refund upon cancellation, you can put more money back in your pocket by rebooking with the same strategy).
The logic applies to rental cars, too. Often, certain types of rental vehicles, like SUV’s and minivans, are hot commodities during peak family travel times. As a result, however, the rental car company may have an abundance of sporty or luxury vehicles they’re willing to updgrade you into at a steep discount, or even for free — but you have to ask.
Access free entertainment.
If you listen to books on tape or set the kids up in the backseat with a DVD during travel, Gault advises taking advantage of free entertainment resources. Search online for “free classics audio book downloads” to access thousands of books on tape and stock up on DVDs at the library, so kids will have “new” movies to watch during travel or down time at the hotel.
Think outside of the box!
Free firework displays and parades are easy to find on the 4th, but when you’re searching for different experiences or visiting a new location, look into the websites of state parks and ranger offices, which often offer deals on events and excursions that you’d otherwise never hear of. “Eight of us once got a half-day ocean kayaking excursion for free with the California state park service,” says Gault. “It would have cost us over $800 to rent kayaks for the same amount of time.”
If a day at the amusement park is on your list of to-dos this 4th, search out discount coupon deals offered through local grocery store chains or chambers of commerce. And don’t forget about rewards or partner deals your credit card company may offer. For example, this July and August, Discover is offering cardmembers up to 5% Cashback Bonus at theme parks and an automatic 5% Cashback Bonus at all Six Flags parks across the country.
If you’re taking a cooler to watch the fireworks or traveling long distance by car, Gault says that many fast food restaurants will fill your ice chest as a complimentary service for travelers. If you’re hosting a cookout or bonfire, she suggests checking the classifieds ads or Craigslist for construction sites and other service providers looking to unload free firewood.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer based in Columbus, OH. The founder of Wellness On Less, she also writes on small business, consumer interest, wellness, career and personal finance topics.