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Burn away fat from your summer budget

Planning a vacation? Before you sip those umbrella drinks, TODAY Financial Editor Jean Chatzky identifies six easy and smart ways to save some summer cash.
/ Source: TODAY

It's finally starting to feel like summer. For many of us, that means a slew of expenses are heading our way—higher gas prices, baby sitters and camp for the kids, and vacations, which can easily cost thousands of dollars. We put a lot of emphasis on getting our bodies in shape for those trips to the beach, but what about our finances? According to the Travel Industry Association (TIA), travel prices are already up 2.8 percent over last year, and many people expect that number to rise a bit more in the coming months. I'm not saying you shouldn't take a load off and spend time with the family this summer. Everyone needs a break. But it's important to prepare for the drain a vacation can put on your wallet in advance, so you don't end up digging into savings or charging up your credit cards. The point is to ease stress, not add to it. So how about spending the next few months cheaping out? Literally go through your budget and start slashing costs wherever possible to come up with the cash. I'm not suggesting, mind you, that you do without. Instead, I want you to look at less-expensive ways to get your fixes in fashion, news, technology and food. In the process, you'll build good habits that, if you stick with them, will help you become much richer (by adding to your savings) in the months and years to come.Get crafty with your coffeeYou can always find a way to pay less for your favorite treats, and Starbucks is no exception. If you order a grande coffee but often can't finish the whole thing, it's time to downsize to a tall or, better yet, a short. It holds eight ounces, which is a standard cup, and a Starbucks spokesperson tells me it's available in all stores—though not on the menu; you have to ask.

At the one near my office, there's a 34-cent difference in cost, which adds up to a free cup each week. Even if you're not up for trimming your cup, you can still save by making your latte a misto, which leaves out the espresso and comes with a much lower price tag. Forgo bottled and sparkling water for tap
Americans spent about $11 billion last year drinking bottled water, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp. That's a lot for something that flows—for free—from the faucet in your kitchen. A bottle of water costs, at minimum, about $1, and trendy brands like Fiji and Evian can run even more. Worse, many of us polish off a few bottles a day. You can save literally hundreds of dollars a year by simply drinking tap water. If you're nervous about the quality, install a $29 filter; if portability is your concern, purchase a reusable bottle at a camping or sporting-goods store. Not only will you be saving money, but you'll also be doing your part to help the environment. Stop paying for long distance
Assuming you already have broadband Internet access, switching to an Internet provider for long distance can save you about $400 a year. That's $100 over the next few months. Personally, I'd suggest looking at Skype. Skype to Skype calling (where you call one of the other 171 million registered users) is free. You can also call non-Skype users for a flat fee of $29.99 a year. And to receive incoming calls on your own phone number, you'll be charged $38 a year. Pretty cheap, and a major perk if you're a frequent traveler, because you'll be accessible on your local number no matter where you are, says Jennifer Caukin, director of corporate communications. Read online—or at the library
Lately, I've noticed that many of the magazines and newspapers I read are posting their content online for free. There aren't many stories I've wanted to read that are not available. If you stopped buying a newspaper a day and a magazine a week AND borrowed a book a month from the library instead of buying it you could save about $160 for your vacation.Go genericOpting for store over name brands in grocery or drugstores can save you 20 percent to 50 percent. Things like over-the-counter meds are easily found in generic forms that mimic brand names ingredient for ingredient, and are regulated by the FDA in the same way. Just read packaging carefully to be sure you're getting what you want—if it's not going to cure what ails you, it's not worth the savings. Pick up some sunblock for your trip while you're there. Erin Pensa, a spokeswoman for CVS/Pharmacy, says that store's label will cost you 30 percent less than national brands. At the grocery store, buying produce, canned goods and pantry staples like flour, sugar and salt can save 50 percent without cutting quality, according to Consumer Reports. With Americans spending about $280 on groceries each month, and another $50 at the drugstore, the total savings is significant. Groom yourselfDepending on how high maintenance you are, you could save big bucks by forgoing the salons and spas for a little bit of pampering at home. Say you get weekly manicures, monthly pedicures and the occasional blow-dry. We can't ask the men in the house to skip haircuts -- they'll look disheveled. But if you paint your own nails and do your own hair for three months, you could add another big chunk to the till -- as much as $300.

If you're still short: Put a three-month moratorium on clothes, shoes, videos and other nonessentials. Too much of the vacation budget is spent before you leave home, on things like resort wear and beach toys. Look, what do you need more? Another pair of pants or a week on the beach? I know I'd choose the latter. Explain it to your kids that way, and you'll easily come up with the rest of your budget.

With reporting by Arielle McGowen.

Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .