Summer Debt Diet

1 Defeat the Heat:
Cut electricity bills that tend to scorch wallets in summer by signing up for balanced billing with your provider. “You pay a 12-month average instead of getting a shocker in the mail in summer,” explains Houston-based certified financial planner Cheryl Creuzot, president and CEO of Wealth Development Strategies LP. Set the thermostat at 78 degrees or higher, and use drapes or blinds to keep out the sun. Focus on cooling the rooms you use most, keeping doors closed. Fans, especially ceiling and attic fans, bring the chill as well.

Insulating and sealing your place can save 20 percent on annual cooling and heating costs. For more info, go to energy.gov.

“Improvements such as this save you money and increase property value, which is attractive to potential buyers down the road,” says New York City-based certified financial planner Scott Kahan, president of Financial Asset Management Corp.

2. Keep Kids Happy:
Private sleep-away camps can run $500 to $1,000 a week, so look into what your church offers in the way of Bible study camps or check out Passportkids! at passportcamps.org, at about $250 a week. Day camps can provide activities at a reasonable cost as well. Research what’s available near you by googling your town and  “low-cost camps.” Visit the community pool, beach or lakefront for splash without spending cash. Bowling and roller-skating are lifesaver sports on those inevitable rainy days, so hit kidsbowlfree.com and kidsskatefree.com to see what you can score nearby.

3 Travel on a Dime
Have fun with fewer frills by choosing a vacation cottage or apartment rental, which is usually cheaper than a hotel room, especially if you go in with other folks. Look for last-minute deals that result from cancellations. Also, consider pitching a tent for some outdoor family fun. “On average, a campsite costs between $20 and $40 a night,” says Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of OutdoorAfro.com, a social community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces. “But an outdoor vacation doesn’t have to mean roughing it. You can have all the comforts of home—a real bed, a real bathroom—at a camping lodge in a national park and still save money compared to [what you’d spend in] hotels.” For campground info, visit outdoorafro.com/resources/.

4. Get Everyone a Side Hustle:
Good news! Businesses planning to hire hourly summer employees expect to add an average of 30 workers this year, up from 27 last year, according to a survey conducted for the job placement company Snagajob. Plus, summer is the season to put skills and talents toward your own business. .Teachers can tutor, for instance; athletic enthusiasts can. coach, referee/umpire or train. Anyone up for hard labor can find lawn care, house painting and handyman tasks. If you’re artistic, do face painting or go into party planning; and with so many folks leaving town, pet-sitting gigs abound. For kids, try online career and recruitment site Teens4Hire (teens4hire.org), free to young adults 14 and up. Mature young folks can do yard work, cleaning garages/basements, running errands, babysitting, while young ones can do light housework.

6. Eat to Save:
The drought of 2012 is proving brutal on food prices now—with beef, dairy and grain products predicted to rise by as much as 4 percent. .To eat well without going broke, patronize local green markets.
.for low-cost, in-season produce. Buying in bulk makes sense, too—but do so wisely. Be armed with a shopping list and a calculator (to compute if unit prices really add up to savings on that 10-pound can of tuna), and only buy what you can store, freeze and ultimately eat. Download a free guide to bulk buying at frugallysustainable.com and search “buying in bulk.” See our coupon story on page 101 for additional saving tips.
It’s not too late to plant a patch or join a community garden—just put in fruits and veggies that thrive in heat and sun. Download a free guide at  extension.umn.edu and search “planting vegetables.”

7. Curb the Car:
Americans spend one-fifth of their income on their cars. When Tammy Strobel discovered how much she was pouring into hers, she sold it and redirected the money toward diminishing debt. “In four years I paid off a $30,000 student loan,” says Strobel, author of You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap). Selling your car needn’t mean being stranded. The success of Zipcar, which gives urbanites access to vehicles by the hour or day for less than traditional rental rates, inspired Hertz to start the similar Connect—so now there are two sources for low-cost wheels when you need them. Other ways to go “car lite” include, biking, public transportation, carpooling and working more from home. Start small—go car free for a day, then a weekend.

8. Keep it Simple:
Plan your summer activities around what really matters. Catch fireflies with your kids, log some long-neglected phone time