May 26, 2014 at 11:17 AM ET
Purchasing summer fun gear doesn't have to melt your wallet. Though the economy is warming up along with the weather, savvy shoppers are keeping their mind on their money as much as they're watching the beach forecast.
Here are a few tips to make sure you have extra money for the things that matter most... Bomb Pops and roller coaster tickets!
"You can get your sunglasses on the cheap at eBay or Amazon, as long as you're not overly fashion-conscious," said Andrew Schrage, co-founder of the personal finance site MoneyCrashers. Just look for ones that are polarized or with UVA protection. Costco has a line of affordable sunglasses too, though selection is limited.
Name-brand sunscreen doesn't mean premium protection. And the FDA has no evidence that increasing the SPF beyond 50 does anything more for your skin than lower SPF ratings. The FDA has proposed a rule that sunscreen manufacturers are only allowed to list "50+" as the maximum value.
Instead, your two best bets cut the marketing and pass the savings on to you. Wal-Mart's generic brand of 50 SPF sunscreen, "Equate," costs only $0.47 an ounce compared to upwards of $6 for some brands. It was the second-highest rated sunscreen in a Consumer Reports test. Target's in-house SPF 50 sunscreen spray "Up and Up" got even higher ratings. It costs $0.80 an ounce.
Unless you're paying for a particular fashion statement, a low-cost swimsuit often works just as well as a top-rack item. If you're worried about durability, just follow simple care instructions to extend their life. Rinse them with fresh water in a sink after each use. Air dry. And never ever put them in the dryer or you'll get back a piece of shriveled fabric.
You can save a few bucks and make your own bug spray. And by controlling the ingredients, you'll also make sure it doesn't contain anything that's worrisome. For instance, some parents look to get bug sprays without DEET.
"We make our homemade bug spray every year since there are a lot of mosquitoes where we live and I don’t like putting chemicals on the kids," said Katie who blogs at wellnessmama.com and doesn't use her last name online to protect her privacy. One of her recipes recommends starts with filling a bottle halfway with distilled water. Then fill the other half with witch hazel. Drop in a half teaspoon of glycerin and 30-50 drops of essential oils. Pick natural mosquito repellents like citronella, clove, lemongass, tea tree, ceder, lavender or mint. The more oils you use, the more it keeps the mosquitoes at bay.
Use Target or Wal-Mart to save on beach towels. "All you need is one made out of 100% cotton," said Schrage.
Two words for saving on pool toys: dollar store. Javier Mejia, who runs a blog devoted to his love of the local dollar store, used to pick up pool noodles and taught his kids to swim using arm inflatable arm floats from the local Dollar Tree. Little squirt guns were also a bargain. "You usually got like 3-4 per pack so they were fairly disposable and only lasted one trip to the pool at a time. But for a buck, who cares?" he said.